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Heaven Is a Traffic Jam on the 405.Heaven is a Traffic Jam on the 405 (2017)

This forty-minute film about the artist Mindy Alper premiered at the Austin Film Festival, where it won two awards. It later won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Short Subject in 2018. Alper is an artist from Los Angeles (and thus the 405 freeway of the film title) whose work has been featured in numerous galleries — paper mache, sculpture, ink drawings, and paintings. The last few minutes of the film feature one of her exhibitions. But what really drives this movie is its story of Alper's lifelong struggles with severe mental illnesses. As she rocks back and forth, and wrings her hands, she describes in excruciating detail her many symptoms — acute anxiety, clinical depression, OCDs, migraines, phobias, suicidal ideation, and hallucinations. These were clearly aggravated by a complex relationship with her mother ("too little touching") and her violently abusive father ("too much touching"). She also describes her extensive medical efforts to treat her symptoms in order to regain a semblance of normalcy — psychiatric hospitalizations, electro-convulsive therapy, a complicated regimen of dozens of pills, and, most redemptive of all, a long relationship with a therapist named Shoshana Gerson. And it is Gerson who is the subject of much of Alper's work. Kudos to director Frank Stiefel for this compassionate exploration of such a complicated subject that is too often ignored. I watched this film on Netflix Streaming.

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