The less big-name awards on the upcoming Oscar lists provide some of the most interesting topics. Among the best documentary shorts showing, in an event opening on Friday, February 9 at the Christopher B. Smith Rafael Center, is Knife Skills. Thomas Lennon profiles Edwins, a sort of haute-cuisine academy/working French restaurant in Cleveland’s Shaker Square. Students are recruited from the ranks of some of the 650,000 convicts released every year in the U.S. The program isn’t for everyone—the success rate of one class was about 35 out of 120. The equation that hard work builds self-esteem always has some variables in it.
Lennon is honest about the problems that impede the aspiring cooks and servers, even while working in a commercial-grade style of filmmaking: Despite the knife in the title, it has little cutting edge.
Edith+Eddie is about a 90ish couple in love, separated by relatives who are convinced that they’re unable to care for each other. But it kept the eyes dry even as it flaunted its sadness. Heaven is a Traffic Jam on the 405 gives us the privilege of meeting Los Angeles artist Mindy Alper, whose ink drawings and paper-mache sculptures astonish—even more so when we hear about her terrible struggle with a series of mental illnesses.
The one to beat at the Oscars is Heroin(e), a knockout short funded by The Center for Investigative Reporting. It’s set in the town of Huntington, West Virginia, where the OD rate is 10 times what it is in the rest of America. It profiles three women fighting against the crisis. Director/producer Elaine McMillion Sheldon, a local, was extended a great deal of trust. But she has far too many good interviews here to write off this short film as the work of a lucky observer who was in the right place at the right time. McMillion displays a probing sensitivity here that credits the best traditions of documentary filmmaking.
2018 Oscar Nominated Short Films, opening Friday, February 9, Christopher B. Smith Rafael Film Center, 1118 Fourth St., San Rafael; rafaelfilm.cafilm.org.