Drug Use, Disability and Elder Rights Take Center Stage in 3 Documentary Shorts Aiming for Oscars

9:00 AM 11/10/2017

by Mia Galuppo

Among the small but significant projects in contention are three timely tales of those waging wars against injustice in 'Heroin(e),' 'Hale' and 'Edith+Eddie.'

Courtesy of Rebecca Kiger/Netflix; Brad Bailey; Laura Checkoway

Edith + Eddie, Hale and Heroin(e) tell stories that lie behind some of the most pressing political concerns that the country currently faces. Three filmmakers behind these shorts talk about using their lens to document the personal struggles that surround elder rights, disability rights and the opioid crisis.

This story first appeared in a November standalone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

  • Edith+Eddie

    Courtesy of Laura Checkoway

    Edith+Eddie, from journalist-filmmaker Laura Checkoway, takes a look at aging, ageism and elder rights through the love story of Edith Hill, 96, and Eddie Harrison, 95, who have been dubbed "America's oldest interracial newlyweds." Checkoway spent a year and a half filming the couple and documenting their relationship, which eventually took a tragic turn. "It's a love story, but it turned out to be a heartbreaking story as well," she says. The couple becomes embroiled in a legal battle with Hill's daughters over her estate and her rights after she is diagnosed with mild dementia. Eventually the couple is separated from each other and from their Virginia home, while Hill is given a court-appointed public guardian. "We thought that what happened with Edith and Eddie was a crooked situation in a small town in Virginia and then come to find out this is happening to elders across the country," says Checkoway. Now the plight of seniors has a high-profile advocate in Cher, who came across Hill and Harrison's story and decided to board Checkoway's film as an executive producer. Adds the director: "There are many elders whose lives are at stake, and it hasn't been a part of the public conversation unless something like this happens to them."

  • Hale

    Courtesy of Brad Bailey

    Brad Bailey first met Hale Zukas in 2016 at UC Berkeley, where the director was pursuing a master's in journalism. "Hale is a Berkeley institution," says Bailey. "He shows up at events, and enjoys himself like everyone else and then zooms away after." Born with cerebral palsy and confined to a wheelchair, Zukas introduced himself to Bailey using a pointer attached to a helmet and a letter board. After a cursory Google search, the student found out that Zukas started the first major advocacy group run by people with disabilities. In the '70s, he was launching the disability movement; he later went on to fight for public transportation that could accommodate the differently abled.

    "Hale essentially designed how you can get on and off the trains for people with disabilities," says Bailey, adding that Zukas, 73, still sits on the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) transit accessibility board. "Berkeley is known for the free speech movement, but it should also be known as the birthplace of the disability movement."

    The fight for the rights of the disabled continues. Recently, disability rights advocates, some in wheelchairs, were forcibly removed from outside of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's offices while protesting his proposed health care plan, which included cuts to Medicaid. "My father is disabled, and disability affects everyone," says Bailey. "[Hale] shows what people are capable of if they don't quit."

  • Heroin(e)

    Courtesy of Rebecca Kiger/Netflix

    Peabody Award-winning filmmaker Elaine McMillion Sheldon looked at the opioid crisis from the perspective of three women on the front lines in Huntington, West Virginia, which has been called the overdose capital of America. "The majority of addiction films are centered on the use — it's a lot of spoons and needles. It's really hard for the average viewer with no relationship to addiction to watch and understand," says Sheldon, a West Virginia native who produced the short with the help of the Center for Investigative Reporting's Glassbreaker series, which funds work from female directors. Heroin(e) centers on a fire chief, a drug court judge and the head of a Huntington ministry that provides meals to homeless addicts. "The country looks at West Virginia right now as backward and blames us for Trump, but we have these amazing women working against a society-wide issue," says Sheldon. Drug overdose is the leading cause of accidental death in the U.S., with opioids accounting for the majority of those fatalities. Still, the helmer says the human toll is best communicated through first-person narratives: "Stats roll over people these days. Those don't hit people as much as a story."

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