Movie News & Reviews

Oscar’s documentary shorts: Timely issues and intimate portraits

“Heaven Is a Traffic Jam on the 405” is a documentary portrait of artist Mindy Alper.
“Heaven Is a Traffic Jam on the 405” is a documentary portrait of artist Mindy Alper.

This year’s Oscar-nominated documentary shorts fall, for the most part, into two tidy categories: the issue-oriented and the personal.

The two issue-oriented films, coincidentally, grapple with rehabilitation: “Heroin(e)” is a grim yet inspirational look at efforts to confront the epidemic of drug addiction in Huntington, W.Va., by several women. (The film is also available via Netflix streaming.)

The second is “Knife Skills,” which profiles a Cleveland-based program that teaches culinary skills to former prisoners.

Both movies offer a sense of hope without sugarcoating the very real challenges faced by their subjects.

Two of the personal films are distinctly intimate — “Edith and Eddie” and “Heaven Is a Traffic Jam on the 405” — while a third straddles the line between the personal and the political.

“Edith and Eddie” is both a heart-warmer and a heartbreaker, focusing on 96-year-old Edith Hill and 95-year-old Eddie Harrison, of Alexandria, Va. Married in their 90s, they are shown fighting to remain together, despite efforts by one of Edith’s daughters to separate them.

“Heaven Is a Traffic Jam” is a profile of Mindy Alper, an outsider artist in Southern California who has struggled with depression, anxiety and other challenges. The title comes from Alper herself, who professes to love nothing better than sitting in her car in bumper-to-bumper road congestion, one of the few situations, besides artmaking, in which she feels at peace.

The third is “Traffic Stop.” In 2015, Breaion King, a 26-year-old black schoolteacher, was pulled over for a minor moving violation in Austin, Texas. The shocking dash-cam footage of the stop, in which she was roughly treated and ultimately arrested, takes up much of the film. But “Traffic Stop” is also a close-up portrait of King, who brings a much needed humanity to the disturbing viral videos we’ve gotten used to seeing online. (HBO, which produced “Traffic Stop,” will begin showing the film Monday, with sneak peeks available, via HBO Go, HBO Now and HBO on Demand, on Friday.)

(At the Tivoli)