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Posts Tagged ‘“My Nephew Emmett”’

2017 OSCAR-NOMINATED LIVE ACTION SHORTS  Overall rating: A- (Opening Feb. 9 at the Tivoli)

“DEKALB ELEMENTARY” (USA, 20 minutes)  B+

It’s a torn-from-the-headlines concept that could have been exploitative.  Instead Reed Van Dyk’s “DeKalb Elementary” his all the right humane notes.

The office of an elementary school is invaded by a young man (Bo Mitchell) with an assault rifle.

“This is for real,” he tells the office lady (Cassandra Rice) behind the counter. “We’re all going to die today.”

The next 19 or so real-time minutes are both hair-raising and wrenching. The shooter takes a few potshots at the police who have converged on the school, but mostly he’s freaking out. He says he’s a mental patient with nothing to live for.

The desk lady immediately gets to work proving him wrong, calling him “Sweetie,” dispensing maternal comfort and carrying on a telephone conversation with the cops.

Tensely paced and powered by two wonderfully subtle performances, “DeKalb Elementary” will stick with you.

“THE SILENT CHILD”  (UK, 20 minutes) A-

Chris Overton’s “The Silent Child” is like “The Miracle Worker” condensed to 20 insightful minutes.

Libby (an astounding Maisey Sly) is an adorable 6-year-old living with her parents and teen siblings in England’s rural midlands. But she’s deaf, and over time she’s figured out how to use that to pretty much get whatever she wants.

Overworked and time strapped, her parents hire a therapist, Joanne (Rachel Shenton, who also wrote the screenplay), to spend days in the home, preparing Libby for public school.  The girl quickly picks up the basics of sign language; not unexpectedly, she bonds with Joanne, the only other person with whom she can fully communicate.

But their relationship spawns new problems. Libby’s mother Sue (Rachel Fielding) and other family members are too busy to learn signing; rather than make that effort they want  to emphasize lip reading as Libby’s main communication skill. And then there’s old-fashioned jealousy, as it dawns on Sue that she’s losing her daughter to another woman.

“The Silent Child” is in a sense propagandistic. Shelton is an advocate for the hearing impaired, and the film is intended to educate and change minds.

But that cannot diminish its effectiveness as drama.   This is a quiet heartbreaker.

“MY NEPHEW EMMETT’   (USA, 20minutes) A

One of the most shocking and horrific episodes of the Jim Crow era comes wrenchingly to live in Kevin Wilson, Jr.’s “My Nephew Emmett.”

The subject, of course, is the torture murder of 14-year-old Emmett Till, a Chicagoan visiting relatives in Mississippi in 1955 when he reportedly whistled at a white woman.

The focus here is less on young Emmett (Joshua Wright), who is seen only fleetingly at the beginning and end of the film, than on  his uncle, Mose Wright (L.B. Williams), a preacher who learns too late of his nephews unthinking transgression, and spends a soul-shaking night standing guard with a shotgun, awaiting the redneck posse that will surely come for the boy.

The film has been impeccably mounted and perfectly acted. Special kudos to Jasmine Guy (yes, the “A Different World” star) as the preacher’s wife and Dane Rhodes as the profane and intimidating leader of the lynching party.

Prepare to be shaken.

“THE ELEVEN O’CLOCK”  (Australia, 13 minutes) B

Derin Seale and Josh Lawson’s “The Eleven O’Clock” plays like a classic Monty Python sketch, an absurd situation fueled by delightful wordplay.

Here’s the setup:  An 11 a.m. appointment in a shrink’s office.  The doctor’s new patient is a megalomaniac who believes himself to be a psychiatrist.

The problem facing the viewer: We don’t know which of these two pomposities (played by Lawson and Damon Harrison) is the mental patient, and which the M.D.  Both insist they are the psychiatrist. This leads to spectacularly gnarly exchanges like this one:

“I don’t think it’s healthy for a doctor to pretend to be a patient for a patient who thinks he’s a doctor. Wouldn’t you agree?

“I would…except you’re not a doctor talking to a patient. You’re my patient who thinks he’s a doctor talking to a patient who thinks he’s a doctor indulging the illusions of a patient who thinks he’s a doctor.  Is that clear?”

Perfectly.“WATU WROTE / ALL OF US” (Germany, 22 minutes) A-

The brotherhood of man gets a brief but intense examination in Katja Benrath and Tobias Rosen’s “Watu Wrote/All of Us.”

Based in real events of a few years ago, this moral thriller unfolds on a bus ride from Nairobi, Kenya, through the civil war-torn borderland with Somalia.

A young woman (Adeline Wairimu) keeps to herself. She is a Christian, and as such is a target for the Islamic militants who ravage the countryside. At one point she reveals that her husband and child were murdered by a militia; she is only taking the risk of returning to her home town because of her mother’s failing health.

Understandably paranoid, she bristles when approached by a Muslim teacher (Abdiwali Farran) heading north for the birth of his fifth child. But when the bus is stopped by trigger-happy militants and the Muslim passengers are ordered to identify their Christian fellow travelers, the result is an I-am-Spartacus moment that hammers home themes of personal bravery and shared humanity.

Technically proficient and brimming over with slowly-building tension, “Watu Wrote / All of Us” sticks with the viewer long after the lights come up.

| Robert W. Butler

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