PBS Short Film Festival 2021 Review: Highway Mike, Chef Steven, and Atomic Nancy

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Highway Mike is an incredibly difficult film to watch. I love the service that Mike does for his community as an outreach worker, but it is still heartbreaking to know that he must do this type of work. In the film, Mike explains to the camera crew that he typically walks along the highways near Washington Heights in New York, in search of addicts. It is here, deep in the thick brush and tangle of branches, that Mike finds those in need of his services. Meandering further down a dirt path, Mike hopes to save someone’s life with a few words of encouragement, clean supplies, and a compassionate heart.

In a world where it is easy to believe that you are forgotten, Mike and the other outreach workers attempt to change the narrative in the lives of the people that they meet. Being a former addict who used to live on the streets in Washington Heights, Mike can relate to the fight that many of these addicts are feeling. Mike talks about the vicious cycle drugs play in people’s lives and reveals how the battle to stay sober is a life-long one.

The film really brings to light the struggle of addiction, and especially as it has played out in the lives of people of color throughout history. This project highlights how drug use in the 70s and 80s had largely been overlooked, especially in poor communities of color. According to Mike, death, HIV, and hepatitis C, along with the association with drug use, was always present but no one felt the need to address the problem. Mike reveals that the issue with most addicts is not the drug use itself—it is addressing why they turn to drugs in the first place.

Chef Steven is another notable film that I liked. Similar to Highway Mike, the film follows the life of a Baltimore Maryland chef named Steven Allbright who has made it his life‘s mission to provide meals to the people of Baltimore.

From the film, you can tell that chef Steven cares a lot about his duty to service. It’s not only about the presentation and the quality of food, but the overall impact each meal has on a person’s life. Working out of the Franciscan Center of Baltimore, a soup kitchen that also serves as a community resource center, chef Steven believes that the trials and tribulations that he has experienced over the course of his life have all been to get him to where he is today. The Franciscan Center has given chef Steven a purpose in life, and in turn, he and his kitchen staff strive to infuse that same purpose back into the Baltimore community.          

Atomic Café is such a fascinating film. Though the film ultimately depicts the ending of an era, it also details the vibrant beginning of the J-town party scene in Downtown Los Angeles in the 70s. I love how the Atomic Café starts out as a crazy dream come to life, and soon evolves into a family business spanning multiple generations. I believe that although the café was demolished, the spark of what the café was lives on forever in its former owners, Atomic Nancy and her father, as well as the many patrons that frequented the place over the years.

Additional films worth watching:

Ms Diva Trucker

This is a heartening film about a female trucker who travels across the United States, alone with just her dog and her Instagram followers. Life on the road is dangerous, but according to Ms Diva Trucker, she would not have it any other way.

Forward Journey

This is an avant-garde film that oddly sucks you in, even though you are clueless to what is going on. The motivation of the film is not readily apparent, but the film does stand out with its beautiful cinematography.        

Guest of Honor

This is a short film about the importance of organ donation. The film provides a potential scenario of how a person’s selfless gifts of life can one day positively impact those who are still living.