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Considering that the short films in the “Face the Music” series focus on two deaths, a chemical burn victim, a ship stranded in the Antarctic, and only one musician, the title seems rather flip. Despite the unfortunate marquee, however, these docs fascinate, and any missteps are usually minor. The most riveting is Beyond Recognition: The Incredible Story of a Face Transplant, which has 44-year-old Carmen recount the experience of her ex-husband attacking her with lye, leaving 80 percent of her body burned. Her face was massively disfigured—shown in a horrific fade from an old photo to one after the assault—resulting in a full facial transplant from a donor whose daughter Carmen later meets.
Fast Ice: Rescue From Antarctica amazes throughout its 20 minutes, not only because of the crisis of a research ship trapped by ice (“Some people were concerned,” a passenger says unnecessarily), but mostly because of the spectacular shots of frozen vistas, proving that Mother Nature can be both beautiful and cruel. This thought is also reflected in the less successful Sati, the story of an obsessive mountaineer who died doing what he loved. Footage of one of his journeys is combined with the melancholy musings of his widow, whose words teeter between heartbreaking and a little too rehearsed.
More obviously “directed,” however, is A Paradise, the telling of a 12-year-old Cuban boy’s suicide. There’s hardly a story here; apparently suicide is an epidemic in the boy’s village, but the film doesn’t go deeper than that fact, and the testimony of the child’s bereaved parents, punctuated by silence and vacant stares, comes off as overly staged. The cheeriest short is Amanda F—-ing Palmer on the Rocks, which highlights the Dresden Doll’s extensive use of social media and crowdfunding to help her put on shows and, like the rest of us, share her opinions about what’s going on in the world and her life. The doc is sprinkled too frequently with tweets, blog posts, and news snippets that become distracting, but it’s ultimately about art versus commerce, following the backlash to Palmer’s use of Kickstarter and volunteer musicians for her live shows. The film takes on too much, however, and in the end, you don’t feel like you’ve gained much insight into the artist at all.