Documentary Site started as an outlet for my interests in documentary 15 years ago. Since then, my presence has expanded to writing, managing Twitter fans, and connecting with makers, promoters, and fans of documentary. Probably three of the coolest things to come from this endeavor are being invited to write for POV, visiting Kartemquin studios, and leading a discussion after a screening of The Trials of Muhammad Ali. My current project involves watching and writing about 365 documentaries in 2014. Feel free to send along your suggestions via Twitter @documentarysite!

#365Docs: Library of Dust (62/365)

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I’m watching 365 documentaries and writing about each one in 2014. Tweet your suggestions to @documentarysite, or send an e-mail to hmcintosh@documentarysite.com. Read more.

Note: This post may contain spoilers.

Library of Dust is an ethereal yet very real documentary short about the cremated remains of deceased patients in an Oregon mental hospital.

Inspired in part by the David Maisel’s book of the same name, Library of Dust explores the ethereal through the photography of the copper canisters themselves. Over the decades, the copper turned bright green shades in its process of decay, adding something beautiful to what otherwise could be seen as sad. The sadness lies in that the ashes remain unclaimed by families, with many urns in storage for multiple decades.

Ondi Timoner and Robert James’s 2011 short is the exploration into mental health care in Oregon and these patients’ reclamations by their families. According to multiple interviews, patients historically experienced forced lobotomies, were admitted for speaking foreign languages, and even were admitted for refusing to do housework. While the field of psychiatric medicine has advanced significantly since then, the facilities within the hospital have declined. Fortunately, various actions have helped bring about new facilities.

Families also begin to claim the ashes of their relatives and fill in holes on their family trees. As one woman says, “We sprung her.” Some families bury the remains, while others wait, wanting to keep their relatives close for now.

This documentary packs a lot of information, ideas, and voices in a short span that easily could have been much longer. The meditative subject, tight editing, interwoven themes, and excellent cinematography make this short a compelling watch.

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Heather McIntosh
Heather McIntosh
Heather McIntosh started Documentary Site as a resource for documentary media and has greatly enjoyed the connections it has fostered over the years.