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Oscar nominees are all winners

The four documentary shorts on a single bill will break your heart, then gladden it.

March 02, 2007|Kevin Crust | Times Staff Writer

The art of perseverance, manifesting itself in a variety of ways, is the dominant theme among the four "Academy Award Nominated Documentary Shorts." Although screening too late to help you win the Oscar pool, you have a chance to see if you agree with the academy's vote.

Leading off is this year's Oscar winner, Ruby Yang and Thomas Lennon's "The Blood of Yingzhou District." It's a heartbreaking portrayal of the situation facing children in rural China who have been orphaned by AIDS.

The filmmakers spend a year with children who encounter ignorance, discrimination and being ostracized, sometimes even from their own extended families. At the center of the film is Gao Jun, an HIV-positive toddler, who neither speaks nor shows any of the joy of children his age. His journey to find a home where he can be accepted is the bright light amid the darkness of this tragic situation.

Bleak circumstances also face the thousands of people who call a large, toxic Guatemala City garbage dump home in "Recycled Life" by Leslie Iwerks and Mike Glad. Narrated by Edward James Olmos, the film chronicles the hardscrabble existence experienced by the families who eke out a living finding their food and livelihoods among the refuse the rest of the city throws away.

A January 2005 fire drew attention to the conditions in which people were living. The filmmakers find hope in some of the reforms being enacted and the work being done on behalf of the dump's residents.

The upbeat "Rehearsing a Dream" focuses on the 17-year-olds who participate in National Foundation for the Advancement of the Arts' youngARTS Week in Miami. The event brings together aspiring performing and visual artists with professionals such as Vanessa Williams and Mikhail Baryshnikov.

Actors, dancers, singers, musicians, painters, photographers, writers and filmmakers work on their craft while receiving instruction from the professionals. Filmmakers Karen Goodman and Kirk Simon capture the joy the students feel in being surrounded by their talented peers as well as the challenges faced by serious young people considering careers in the arts.

The shortest film is Nathaniel Kahn and Susan Rose Behr's "Two Hands," which details pianist Leon Fleisher's decades-long struggle to return to the stage after a debilitating ailment sidelined his career. Some viewers will recall Kahn's 2003 Oscar-nominated documentary feature, "My Architect," an exploration of the life and career of his father, architect Louis I. Kahn.

In 1965, Fleisher was stricken by focal dystonia that caused two fingers on his right hand to curl like a claw. In a deftly rendered 17 minutes, the filmmakers bridge the worlds of art and science as an unorthodox treatment provides Fleisher the opportunity to perform once more.

"Academy Award Nominated Documentary Shorts." Unrated. Running time: 2 hours, 15 minutes. At Laemmle's Grande, 345 S. Figueroa St., L.A. (213) 617-0268

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