After having reviewed two other short films from director Taryn Hough, I wasn't particularly surprised to open up my e-mail and find the talented filmmaker sharing yet her latest film. One of the joys of reviewing shorts and indies is that you begin to build a relationship with the filmmakers, actors and other industry professionals as they grow in their careers.
While The Last Doll Lady is unlike anything Hough has directed yet, it's a bold and wonderful turn for Hough as she's created with The Last Doll Lady her best film yet, an intelligent and insightful film that feels like it's both an insight into history and stunningly relevant to the cultural and political climate here in the United States these days.
The Last Doll Lady centers around Selma Bukstein, who is best described as a 91-year-old national treasure, a woman who has spent the better part of the last 60 years known as "the doll lady," a kinda sorta title that began in the 1950's when a free program called Dolls for Democracy was started that would take women into local schools to teach children, through the use of hand-carved wooden character dolls, about why racism and intolerance is wrong.
Over the years, Dolls for Democracy has faded into obscurity but Bukstein, one of the original doll ladies, has made it her life's mission to reignite America's passion for the program's hopeful message. At 91, Bukstein is the last of the doll ladies but, as you'll learn from watching this delightful short film she's relentlessly devoted to that message of hope and determined to get that message flowing again at a time when we could really use it.
It was only moments after watching The Last Doll Lady that I e-mailed Hough, even before I'd started this review, and encouraged her to submit the film to Indy's new Indy Shorts International Film Festival, a festival presented by Indy's internationally acclaimed Heartland Film Festival. Indeed, The Last Doll Lady radiates that power of film to change the world and the power of one person to improve the lives of others.
The Last Doll Lady has already been having quite a bit of success on the festival circuit including picking up the Audience Choice Award for Documentary at California's Culver City Film Festival, being named runner-up for Best Documentary Short at Action on Film, being a finalist at the Marquee on Main Film Festival in North Carolina and Minnesota's Highway 61 Film Festival, and screening at Shortz! Film Festival and Wisconsin's Big Water Film Festival. I have no doubt the honors will continue.
While Hough, whom I've never met, always seem to radiate personality in her short films, The Last Doll Lady feels like a special little film and one can almost feel Hough's affection for the subject matter in every frame. Hough wonderfully captures Bukstein's passion, while also not turning the film into nothing but an "up with people" session. Instead, The Last Doll Lady is simply a poignant tribute to a wonderful woman who has spent the vast majority of her adult life trying to make life better for others and doing so by reaching out to, in particular, kids but also by presenting the program to other adults in what feels like a drive to find other doll ladies to continue the program once she's no longer able to do so.
With intelligence and sensitivity, Hough has crafted her best film yet with The Last Doll Lady, a wonderful little doc short that will leave you smiling and grateful and, yes, even a little more aware.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic