Unclaimed In Los Angeles By Melissa Balan

Unclaimed In Los AngelesBy Melissa Balan & Marriah KernShort Film Review

L.A. Based filmmakers Melissa Balan & Marriah Kern‘s summer of 2020 release Unclaimed in Los Angeles is a short exploration of what happens to the 1500 or so people who die every year in L.A. County without any relatives or next of kin present to claim them. Balan is known for other, longer films such as Brothers in Arms (2012) and Sanskriti (2015) and now works for global media company Condé Nast in post-production. With this short doc, they shine a light on an interesting subject that not many people think about, namely the fate of people who die without connections or relatives to take care of their funeral.

Unclaimed In Los Angeles By Melissa Balan

The focus lies on Evergreen Cemetery, the oldest cemetery in Los Angeles, where the deceased in question are buried (and have been for the past 100 years). They highlight the annual funeral service where bodies that have remained unclaimed for three years are interred and remembered. During the service there is an emphasis on how these people, though unclaimed after death, lived among the many citizens of Los Angeles and shared their lives with them: they went to the same schools, stores, places of work. Everyone is equal in death. As we hear the words spoken at the service, Balan & Kern show scenes and places in L.A., strengthening the ties between the city and the people that lived and died in it.

Unclaimed In Los Angeles By Melissa Balan

A unique feature of the service is that Father Chris Ponnet, the priest in charge of leading the service, wanted it to be as inclusive as possible. It has become an incredibly diverse service, and in the documentary we can hear prayers and elements from many spiritual traditions. It’s heartwarming to see how many people attend the service, considering all the deceased are entirely unknown to them. The documentary shows the quiet dignity we all deserve after we pass and it conveys the message that no one is ever truly alone.

At just over 13 minutes it is a rather short documentary, yet it does not feel brief or incomplete. The documentary is simple and straightforward, showing L.A. on an uncharacteristically rainy day during the service, and otherwise simply explains what happens to the deceased people and the process they go through before being buried. We hear a more cut and dry description of this process from the coroner and a more spiritual one from Father Ponnet. Through different voices, Balan & Kern create a calm and almost comforting tone, which is truly commendable considering the subject matter.

It’s impressive how Balan & Kern manage to evoke strong emotions in such a short documentary. Their choice of simple piano music as a background track, with many pauses and space for silence, only allows the viewer to feel them more intimately. Though Unclaimed in Los Angeles is about death, it is also about warmth and human connection and the documentary is anything but bleak. A comforting portrayal of people passing on and being remembered.

Unclaimed In Los Angeles By Melissa Balan And Marriah Kern