Last week we featured the documentary finalists in Vimeo's film contest. Winners in eight categories were announced last weekend, and the overall contest winner was the video we showed on Monday.
If you haven't watched Last Minutes With Oden yet, do it now. It's a simple but heart-wrenching story about a man named Jason Wood — and his struggle to say goodbye to Oden, his dog. Surprisingly, filmmaker Eliot Rausch told me over the phone that "[Wood] hated the fact that the film won."
Advisory: Some of the language in this video is not suitable for all audiences. Sensitive viewers should note the video contains scenes of a dog being euthanized.
He is "a radical, Mother Teresa-type-person," Rausch explained. "They call him the Mayor of Long Beach ... His life is dedicated to loving on the forgotten people." That's because Wood, in a sense, is a 'forgotten person' himself. He is a convicted felon and former drug addict who spent 10 years in jail. Although he has been clean for 10 years, and has made it his new life mission to help others, Wood can't seem to get a job — or get by.
According to Rausch, Wood had severe ADHD growing up, and was heavily medicated, which led to drug problems. He is clean now, but the long-term ramifications of drug use stick with him to this day. His teeth, for example, are practically rotting out of his mouth. Which why he requested that, if Rausch win any money, he simply reward him with new teeth.
But Rausch's goal is much bigger than teeth. He and his production partner Luke Korver are finding stories that are intensely difficult to tell — but also intensely human, often with religious overtones. They are talking to people who may seem powerless, but who ultimately triumph. They are forcing viewers to watch difficult things — and driving home the simple fact that life is both tough and sweet for everyone.
Wood, though, still jobless, is failing to see the impact this might have in his daily life. He has made it his mission to help those around him — those with very serious struggles. Meanwhile Rausch and Korver (known as Phos Pictures) have made it their mission to bring those struggles to a wider audience. But if it doesn't make life easier for Wood and those who are scraping by, what's the point? It raises an interesting question, and puts Phos Pictures, as winners, in something of a moral quandary.
I suppose the idea behind most documentaries is that they not only inform, but also potentially incite some sort of action. I'm not sure what, if anything, will come of this documentary. Or of the long-form biographical documentary about Wood, currently in the works. Or of the rest of the ongoing series, "8 lives." But I'm sure that these guys are to be watched. To say nothing of their documentaries.