First of the quartet is now online: the moving I'm Not From Here
The New York Times Op-Docs series has quickly gained a reputation for showcasing excellent documentary shorts. The first in a new batch of four films is now posted to the platform: I'm Not From Here co-directed by Maite Alberdi and Giedre Zickyte.
A 91-year-old woman named Josebe is the focus of Alberdi and Zickyte's short, which is both humorous and poignant. We learn that Josebe was born in the Basque Country of Spain, but emigrated to Chile decades before. The nonagenarian is undoubtedly in better physical shape than most of her fellow residents in a Chilean retirement home. But as the film progresses we begin to wonder just how mentally sharp she is regarding her surroundings and circumstances.
"As so much of our world’s population ages and faces the attendant burden of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, the rest of us are left to consider the collective mysteries of memory. When just about all is forgotten, how do we process what remains?" the filmmakers wrote in a Times piece accompanying their documentary.
Zickyte, a native of Lithuania, attended a screening of her film in Los Angeles as part of the IDA Screening Series. Joining her were Kathleen Lingo, Op-Docs series producer and curator, as well as the three other filmmakers whose work will soon appear on the New York Times site: Megan Mylan, director of Taller Than the Trees; Daphne Matziaraki, director of 4.1 Miles, and Joshua Seftel, director of The Many Sad Fates of Mr. Toledano.
Taller Than the Trees, like I'm Not From Here, deals with aging and infirmity. Three generations of a family in Tokyo are represented in the film: advertising executive Masami Hayata, his young son, and his mother who is in the last stages of her life and in need of round-the-clock care.
The backdrop to the film is the bracing reality of Japan's burgeoning population of elderly -- and the shortage of younger family members to provide them care.
Fear of death might be said to underpin The Many Sad Fates of Mr. Toledano, in which filmmaker Joshua Seftel spent three years documenting an ambitious art project by brilliant photographer Phil Toledano.
As the director's website puts it, "Seftel follows as Toledano uses DNA tests, fortune tellers, and a prosthetic makeup artist to envision the many dark possibilities that might await him, including obesity, desolation, stroke, isolation, suicide, and violent death. Over the course of three years, Toledano becomes dozens of characters and captures these bleak possibilities in a series of haunting photographs."
Matziaraki just won a Student Academy Award for her film 4.1 Miles documenting the refugee crisis in Europe. She spent harrowing days on a Coast Guard cutter off the shores of a Greek island, capturing dramatic rescue attempts as the crew encountered countless refugees set adrift in overcrowded boats.
"I am from Greece. I'm very connected to my home, of course," Matziaraki told the audience during a Q&A following the IDA screening. "Living away [from Greece] and seeing something so dramatic happening at home really made me want to go and see with my own eyes what's going on there... Unfortunately, what I saw was actually much worse than what I had ever read or imagined. I always say that I wish I didn't have to make this film but going there I felt I really didn't have any other option."
I'm Not From Here debuted on the New York Times website earlier this week. The three remaining shorts will be posted in the coming weeks, Lingo said.
"These are such beautiful films," said Simon Kilmurry, the IDA's executive director, who moderated a Q&A with the directors.
Kilmurry gave credit to Lingo and the New York Times for providing a platform for shorter work. "It's so exciting to see how short films are being embraced so widely," he said.
Matthew Carey is a documentary filmmaker and journalist. His work has appeared on CNN, CNN.com, TheWrap.com, NBCNews.com and Documentary.org.