Because they didn’t get nearly enough airtime: More from Oscar’s amazing short documentary winners

Before tonight’s Oscars, you might not have heard of Ellen Goosenberg Kent and Dana Perry, the women who won the Academy Award for the best documentary short for their film Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1. 

But these amazing women are worth knowing, beyond just the brief seconds they were allotted for their Oscars speech, Kent, who directed the film, used her time on-stage with producer Perry to thank “the veterans and their families who are brave enough to ask for help.”

As the music cuing their exit from the stage started, Perry stepped up to the mic and dedicated the award to her son, Evan, who she lost to suicide. “We should talk about suicide out loud,” Perry stated. (Later, in another deeply must-see moving speech, Oscar winning screenplay writer Graham Moore continued the conversation.)

Kent and Perry’s film, which is available to watch on HBOGo, focuses on a suicide prevention hotline for veterans. Suicide, as Perry mentioned in her speech, is a subject that held particular emotional resonance for her: In 2005, Perry’s 15-year-old bipolar son Evan killed himself.

Evan told a reporter at Philly News that during the filming of the short, she would sometimes be overcome with grief. “I felt like putting my fist through a wall,” Perry said. “It never occurred to me to call a hotline.”

As she listened to the veterans being counseled, Perry questioned whether she might have been able to do more for her son’s mental wellbeing. “”I felt angry and frustrated…Why didn’t I think of that?”

That emotional connection that she had to her documentary subjects was channeled in the film, a balanced look at the ongoing trauma that veterans face when integrating back into civilian life. Crisis Hotline focuses on a particular center in New York that fields over 20,000 calls a month from veterans in desperate need of emotional support. Because of privacy issues, the film explores their trauma through the actions and comforting words of the response team on the other end of the line.

“These people are heroes,” said Perry in an interview with her alma mater, Connecticut College. “They’re handling people who are literally on the verge of taking their lives. They show tremendous empathy and calm.”

Like the filmmakers themselves, these responders aren’t afraid to confront an issue that still remains somewhat taboo. “Fighting stigma is a big part of what we were trying to do,” Kent told Philly News. “To show that it’s brave, not weak, to seek help.”

At the end of their speech last night, just before they were ushered off the stage (and before a way off-color quip from NPH), Perry triumphantly held her Oscar and dedicated the win to her late son. “This is for him,” she said.

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