Dee Hibbert-Jones and Nomi Talisman of "Last Day of Freedom" at the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival
“Last Day of Freedom,” an animated short from the minds of Dee Hibbert-Jones and Nomi Talisman, took home two prizes at this year’s Full Frame Documentary Film Festival: Best Short and the prestigious Center for Documentary Studies Filmmaker Award, an exceptional honor for two relatively unknown voices on the documentary scene.
The San Francisco-based Talisman is a freelance artist and producer of film, photography, and animation. Hibbert-Jones is a professor of digital art and new media at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Her other film credits include “Living Condition,” another collaboration with Talisman. Like “Last Day of Freedom,” “Living Condition” is an activism-driven animated project centered on a very real issue — the impact of the death penalty on families.
That’s one of several themes that “Last Day of Freedom” explores along with veterans’ affairs, racism, and mental health issues. It provides an animated glimpse into the thoughts and memories of the real-life Bill Babbitt as he cares for his brother, Manny, who struggles with PTSD. Bill struggles himself when he realizes Manny has committed a serious crime and he must do something about it.
In response to the awards, Talisman shared, “We’re doubly stunned.” After they received the honors from the Full Frame Grand Jury, the filmmaking pair was happy to share with us how they came to make “Last Day of Freedom.”
Dee Hibbert-Jones and Nomi Talisman on Their Full-Frame-Honored Short “Last Day of Freedom”
According to Talisman, “I had a day job with a nonprofit organization in San Francisco that does death penalty plea work. I started thinking that the stories here are totally incredible, and these are the stories that really don’t get out there.”
Following through on that idea, Talisman and Hibbert-Jones eventually learned about the Babbitt brothers after approaching the organization about making a film. Talisman explained, “So Dee and I … said, ‘Hey, we want to kind of develop that into something that might be a film or an art piece,’ and they were totally supportive. One of the people said, ‘You need to talk to Bill Babbitt, he’s an amazing storyteller.’”
Turns out that lead was a fortuitous one. “Bill is just such an incredible person, and he really opened up his heart to us,” Talisman added. “So we immediately knew this was a story we had to follow through with.”
Lifelong animators, there was only one way they wanted to tell Babbitt’s story. Talisman said of animation’s benefits, “We wanted to allow different ways to see, understand his story, to bring a sense of intimacy.” It’s obviously a choice that festival goers agree with; in addition to the Full Frame recognition, “Last Day of Freedom” received the Best Short Audience Award from the San Francisco DocFest, the 1st Place Justice for All Award from the (In)Justice Film Festival, and was an official selection at the Newport Beach Film Festival. It’ll be screening next at the Rhode Island International Film Festival.
Talisman noted the degree of difficulty in producing even an animated short. The film contains “about 30–35,000 frames, which we’ve been drawing over a period of time. Some of the lip sync is drawn exactly from his [Bill’s] video. So we’re drawing and kind of fitting the line drawings over the video so we could get the exact movements of his mouth, and then you can see the intimacy. You could move in very close, you could see the tears, the wrinkles on his face.”
Sounds like a lot of hard work that has paid off with the acknowledgment it deserves. We’re glad “Last Day of Freedom” will be sharing Bill’s story and the important issues it drives home throughout this festival season and beyond.