I got in line at The Beartooth Movie Theater just in time to miss the address. I was not disappointed. My ticket was for the Oscar nominated short documentaries. These pieces are paradoxically effective in that they address immigration issues and gun violence in a riveting yet nearly hopeless fashion. So you could have watched these honest pieces of art and arrived at the same world view you got by watching by watching the piece of work who gave you The State of The Union.
There are five films in this category so they show them on a dvd together. Some are more intense than others because of their tremendous tragedy as well as how well we get to know the people involved. Most of these stories I was aware of to some extent but seeing the actual people was shocking. It wasn’t just me either. I apologized to the friends I invited as I imagined it might be a fun evening together. It wasn’t a drag but they probably won’t let me pick out the movies anymore.
The most difficult for me was the interviews with the immigrant families in Sweden whose children suffer from Resignation Syndrome. The adults have been imprisoned, tortured, raped and now while begging for asylum, they find their children reacting to a complete loss of control by becoming basically comatose. If and when asylum is approved, the children slowly recover but what kind of God would allow this kind of suffering? This syndrome appears in immigrants to Australia as well. When studying family therapy we discussed one child taking on a symptomatic role so the family could get help but I never imagined this. The psychiatrist is spot on when she reminds the parents that their child has found a way out of suffering by falling asleep. The parents however do not have that option. Still the world turns more xenophobic with every revolution. The film is called Life Overtakes Me. Here is the trailer.
The next film takes a look at The Sewol ferry crisis and its aftermath in South Korea. I cringed at the well documented footage of officials waiting for a command to rescue the many students aboard and asking fishing boats to desist. The command comes after the ship has sunk. The government divers can not handle the task of retrieving bodies. The civilian divers are asked to desist. The outrage builds until at least one official is taken down. It’s hopeful that the people rise up eventually but hardly satisfactory that so many young people had to die. The film is called In the Absence. Here is the trailer.
St. Louis Superman chronicles the life and times of Bruce Franks Jr. who becomes a State Representative in order to confront gun violence. His older brother was killed in childhood by someone who used him as a human shield . The effort to pass his anti-violence initiative and the persistance of gun violence in the life of his family and friends nearly costs Bruce his sanity. Superman can not do it alone. Perhaps this is why the ferry story was more uplifting to me. I have never been one to believe trauma is best addressed alone or in a therapy office. I feel a full complement of peers who can hold each other together while transforming the feelings of powerlessness to shared power is most effective. Then again, there are always cultural and personal preferences. Here is the trailer.
The documentary about Skateistan, a school which teaches reading, writing and skateboarding in Kabul had more humor to share than the aforementioned films. We see girls laughing, cowering and arguing while they learn the rudiments of skateboarding. It’s clear that it takes courage to pursue almost any interest outside the home if you are a girl in Afghanistan, yet they persist. What made the biggest impression on me was the social services worker at the school. She reported that years ago under the Taliban she had been without a headscarf in her own home. A man came to the door and berated her for doing so. She slapped him in the face telling him that she had only one husband to tell her what to do and it wasn’t him. Her husband might even have to follow her lead occasionally as you don’t get much more badass than slapping The Taliban in the face. If you can believe it, this came across as one of the feel good movies of the bunch.
The last movie made me cry. Maybe all the hatred and violence built up. Perhaps I just identified with the older people in the film. Two immigrants who escaped the Vietnam War dance the dances they missed in their youth. In the final scene they appear aging and ageless in their choreography to We’ve only just Begun by The Carpenters. Their story of being lovers who became strangers who worked to be able to love again mixes well with the song which always reminds me of the sadness behind Karen Carpenter’s voice. I recall a story about American therapists who travelled to Africa to help deal with trauma. They were met with dismissal, the jist of which was – why should we sit alone with you and talk when we can dance together? Here is a segment from the New York Times on the film.
Opening myself to the vast pain of the world can be an invitation to depression and anxiety but that’s why I’m writing this post. It also opens me to the ability of art, play, and also patience to mitigate even the greatest of losses. Resilience is a quality that can be nurtured but will tested to some degree in us all. There is not yet a proven therapy that works for everyone in every circumstance to throw off the effects of oppression. It’s up to us to find our own way out together. Perhaps these documentaries will give you some hope as to the tenacity and creativity of the human spirit. Catch these in theaters now.