‘Last Day of Freedom’ is riveting story of the loss of a Black vet to PTSD and mental illness

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BILL BABBITT IS in agony discussing his younger brother’s life of struggle and eventual date with the death penalty. Illustration courtesy of Last Day of Freedom.   

By Elaine Hegwood Bowen, MSJ, Chicago Crusader

When Bill Babbitt realizes his brother Manny has committed a crime, he agonizes over his decision–should he call the police? “Last Day of Freedom” is a richly animated personal narrative that tells the story of Bill’s decision to stand by his brother in the face of war, crime and capital punishment.

This film is a portrait of a man at the nexus of the most pressing social issues of our day–veterans’ care, mental health access and criminal justice. And while there has been much furor over the lack of Blacks in this year’s Oscar line-up, “Last Day of Freedom” has been nominated as Best Documentary Short Subject. It covers the tragic story of Black Veteran Manny Babbitt and his downward spiral after serving time in Vietnam.

The brilliance of the documentary is that it has been created from more than 32,000 hand-drawn images and has garnered international film attention, winning numerous awards since its premiere at Full Frame Film Festival in April 2015. The fact that it is in illustrated form doesn’t make it any less chilling and provocative. Bill tells the story of his brother, beginning with their childhood and detailing how Manny became disillusioned with life after serving his country.

During a car accident at age 12, Manuel Pina Babbit sustained injuries that limited him physically and mentally. At 17, he enlisted in the military although he had been a slow learner in school. He had previously dropped out, but he was able to serve two tours of duty. Bill was upset when he found out that his younger brother had enlisted. Afterward and after two failed marriages, Bill said his brother was diagnosed with schizophrenia, and he watched as Manny “chased shadows of imaginary soldiers.”

After drifting off from reality and some mental health services, Manny is charged with killing a 78-year-old woman in Sacramento, California. He is only accused after news accounts of the death and the circumstances and evidence pointed to him. Bill turned his brother in, thinking that he was going to get medical help for his posttraumatic stress disorder. But this was not the case. On his last day of freedom, his older brother lured him out of the house and into the eager arms of waiting police officers by promising him that he would teach him how to shoot pool.

Manuel Pina Babbitt was eventually sentenced to death by lethal injection, which was carried out on May 4, 1999. “Last Day of Freedom” is a harrowing account of a brother’s love and how this love ultimately manifests itself into what Bill says was “blood on the hands” of all involved.

The film is part of a “shorts” slate presented by ShortsHD™, the only short film channel, in association with Magnolia Pictures, which is premiering at theatres across the country. It is also streaming on Netflix.

“For viewers, short film offers an abundance of dynamic stories, which are told in ways that they cannot be or are not being told in feature film, including films that may be uniquely relevant to their cultures. As the short film genre continues to pick up in popularity and competitiveness, with it comes an increase in the quality of production and diversity of voices,” said Carter Pilcher, Chief Executive at ShortsHD™.

For more information and a trailer about “Last Day of Freedom,” visit http://www.lastdayoffreedom.net/

First time filmmakers Dee Hibbert-Jones and Nomi Talisman have been working together since 2004, collaborating on art, film and interactive projects that look at the ways power structures and politics impact everyday lives. Dee is originally from the United Kingdom and is an Associate Professor of Art and New Media at UC Santa Cruz; Nomi was born in Israel and is a freelance editor and animator.

 

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