“And then one day it came knocking on my door”
Directors Dee Hibbert-Jones and Nomi Talisman have quite the story on their hands thanks to the bravery of Bill Babbitt to allow his catharsis to be captured in a public forum such as film. A religious and loving man who watched his younger brother Manny leave for Vietnam after a troubled adolescence, Bill always saw hope. With two tours, myriad injuries, and a diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia later, however, Manny’s trouble had just begun. He was coping with this new life back in the States away from the violence of war, but sadly we’re talking about the late-70s and early-80s before PTSD became a legitimate concern for veterans. No one was equipped to help him when flashbacks hit and suddenly there was nowhere left to go.
The entire film is an interview session wherein Bill relays the story of Manny and what happened to set him on a course with fate in 1980. He isn’t making excuses for his brother or himself; he’s merely setting the record straight with facts from his perspective as a man led astray by the system. To hear him speak of Manny and the man he was is to see someone you know and love that got a raw deal in life and needed help. When the world doesn’t want to confront the issue, though, there’s often little to be done. So what do you do upon discovering tragedy occurred by his hands? Do you “help” him escape the consequences or do you trust justice will treat him right?
Bill chose the latter and he expresses the anguish that doing so provided. As tough a decision it was, however, he also acknowledges he had no choice. What’s to say another incident didn’t occur wherein Manny harmed a family member or a neighbor? What’s to say a car engine backfiring didn’t trigger a fight or flight mentality while playing with nieces and nephews like it had with his son years previous? Doing the right thing is ultimately the only choice we’re given because the other route renders the consequences of our own actions as deplorable as the initial event. Bill had a duty to himself, his community, and his brother to tell the truth and let the repercussions be felt. Manny simply wasn’t in his right mind.
It’s a tragic tale of agony and woe that somehow gets more excruciating as it continues. Because while Last Day of Freedom is about Bill’s compassionate actions and Manny’s heroic life marred by mental illness and an unforgiveable mistake, there’s still a place for the court system to be vilified for its faults too. Hearing about his lawyer’s ineptitude, the political climate concerning the death penalty pulling strings, and the complete lack of respect for PTSD as a reality will make you sick. It’s amazing that through it all Manny somehow remains alert, remorseful, and charitable. Reading about what he did for his last meal during the end captions shows how even convicted murderers can provide us a glimmer of hope for the future.
I only wonder how much more affecting it would be without the animation. There’s charm to the rotoscoping of minimal lines and colors scrawled above the footage, but I don’t see a purpose to the aesthetic decision. Using this effect allows imaginative room to maneuver scenes where they can’t actually go and yet the filmmakers never put anything onscreen real life couldn’t already do itself. Some rotoscoping looks like a Photoshop filter that begs asking what the artistic point even was. Use stock clips from Vietnam, throw family photos of Bill and Manny up, and show the former’s authentic emotions build without filter. The animation becomes as a barrier, distancing us from his humanity and that’s the exact opposite of what should be happening.
courtesy of Shorts HD