Friday, January 13, 2012

Maryl eyes: Oscar’s Documentary Shortlist

The Oscar nominations will be out Tuesday, January 24. It’s the documentaries that interest me most. That was the film genre I worked in years ago. I even had one qualify for the documentary shorts category. There were 124 films that qualified for feature length documentary consideration this year and that list has been shortlisted down to fifteen. I’ve had a chance to see and enjoy only four so far.

Buck and Bill Cunningham revealed the rare livelihoods and personalities of two unusual men. Buck is a real live horse whisperer and was the inspiration for the film Robert Redford made famous. As remote as that profession is, it’s his back story that will make you wince. Bill Cunningham is the photographer and octogenarian who chronicles fashion trends on the streets of Manhattan, on his bike, for the New York Times. These boys are still on their first lives and probably permanently but they're having fun. 
Pina, the documentary on the brilliant German dancer and choreographer Pina Bausch, is one of only two documentaries on the short list about women. (The other one is on Dr. Jane Goodall.) Dance may not be to everyone’s taste but experiencing Pina’s expressive ballets explains why she was so loved and appreciated. Especially since the director, Wim Wenders, shot the film in 3D with his camera moving among the dancers. Unfortunately the film winds up being a tribute to Pina as she died suddenly just before production began. One can only imagine what she would have done second. 
That last somber thought underlies We Were Here, a documentary on the aids crisis in San Francisco. What makes this one especially moving is the five individuals who actually lived through the epidemic right there on Castro Street and tell us what it was like with heavy heart and tears. I remember travelling to SF during that time, looking up an old friend, David deCastro (apropos), and learning he had just died of AIDS the week before. He was a young man who bravely came out while in college and needed the freedom to express himself.  David was my best dance partner ever and a talented artist. Here was a first life that was just getting off the ground.

Over 15,000 people died in San Francisco during that dark period. AIDS drastically affected the death rates in New York City as well. But today better HIV testing and treatments are behind NYC’s recent highest life expectancy statistics. It would be a different world if we hadn’t lost so many to AIDS. We miss those that didn’t make it this far and value our second lives that keep getting longer.

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