Dee Hibbert-Jones and Nomi Talisman are first-time filmmakers whose short film, LAST DAY OF FREEDOM, has been short-listed for the Oscars™. The hand-drawn animation tells the story of Bill Babbitt and his beloved brother Manny, two men who were let down by the system in which they placed their trust. When Bill realizes that Manny has committed a murder, he does the right thing. Assured by the police that it wasn’t a death-penalty case, he is horrified when it turns into one, and even more so when the reasons for it are made manifest. The phrase they used when describing their approach to the story was that they were unpacking complexity, and it’s a phrase that perfectly sums up how systemic failures, as examined in their film, led to not one, but two deaths. It’s also a phrase that perfectly sums up why their film is so powerful.
When I spoke to the duo on December 28, 2015, the first thing I wanted to know, though, was why animation, and in particular animation that doesn’t rely on computers, was their medium of choice. We went on to talk about the power of animation as opposed to live-action, why hand-drawing was worth the effort, and what the case of Manny Babbitt says about systemic failure that affects all of us. We also talked about the effect of telling his story has had on Bill, and the effect of hearing and animating his story has had on the filmmakers. Hibbert-Jones is an Associate Professor of Art & New Media at UC Santa Cruz. Talisman is a freelance editor and animator.
LAST DAY OF FREEDOM make the case that systemic failures over many years were ultimately responsible for the deaths of two people. One was Manny Babbitt, a Vietnam vet with a history of PTSD and other health issues that were never addressed, nor taken into consideration during his trial. The other was the woman he murdered during a dissociative episode resulting from his PTSD. Told as a narrative by Manny’s brother, Bill, the filmmakers illustrate the key moments of Manny’s story with haunting images and the all but unfathomable grief felt by Bill, who not only mourns the loss of his brother, but the role he feels he played in his execution by the state of California.