Friday, April 15, 2011

Full Frame Documentary Film Festival 2011: Day One

Well, it's that time of year again - time for the 14th Annual Full Frame Documentary Film Festival in, and around the Carolina Theatre in downtown Durham.

Of course, I'm only gonna be able to see a very small amount of the 100 or so films over the 4-day run of the fest, but I think I've made some good choices.
Here's what I saw today:

EVERYBODY'S NUTS (Dir. Fabian Euresti, 2010) 

This 14 minute short concerns immigrant farm laborers in the San Joaquin Valley, California. Oil has contaminated the water supply, and worker's lives as well as livelihoods are threatened. Over still shots of the terrain, the film's auteur Euresti, who hails from the Californian area, plainly narrates. His conclusion that tells us that the title doesn't mean what we think it does is affecting, but the film is too vague to fully engage. It's spare length is thinking in the right direction though.

(Dir. U. Roberto Romano, 2011) 

Also about immigrant workers, this close to full length feature (80 minutes) has the opposite problem - it's overlong, repetitive, and a bit strained. Still, its story of 3 child laborers who spend more time in the fields picking crops than in their classrooms, is expertly filmed with a lot of genuine heart. The film makers including Romano, and EVERYBODY'S NUTS director Euresti were on hand at a Q & A following. An audience member made a great point about photos and text that appeared in the end credits of HARVEST of former child laborers who've gone on to have successful lives. The film maker interestingly agreed that it sent the wrong message and wants that element removed.

(Dir. Peter Richardson, 2011)

A truly great documentary about an extremely painful and controversial subject - Oregon's "Death With Dignity Act" which allows physician assisted suicide. Richardson, who appeared at an after film Q & A, aims his lenses at several patients dealing with disease who've made the decision to take their lives.

The film is dominated by Cody Curtis, a 54-year old mother of two, who is suffering from liver cancer. Curtis's aplomb, and her intense yet sharp questioning of her situation leads to some heavy philosophical moments, but more to heavy tears. I've never heard more people sob at a movie before, and I have to admit my eyes weren't dry either.

There are times that it felt like maybe Richardson's camera was being too intrusive, but the director touched upon that in his comments afterwards, and his handling of the heartbreaking conclusion is admirable. Look for this when it airs on HBO this summer.

(Dir. Julie Moggan, 2010) 

A light fluffy, but very funny film that revels in the world of romance novels. It focuses on a British author (Roger Sanderson) who writes under the name Gill Anderson, book cover model Stephen Muzzonigro, a woman in India (Shumita Didi Singh), a Japanese woman (Hiroko Honmo), and a Warrington woman (Shirley Davies) who all may be too immersed in the fantasies they read.

It's amusingly edited with a lot of great quotes such as Sanderson's "marriage is the price men pay for sex, and sex is the price women pay for marriage." The audience appeared to love model Muzzonigro the most - his new age speak, the foodgasms he has everytime he eats, and the air-headed way he carries himself, all went over endearingly. When the man appeared with director Moggan for the following Q & A, moderated by "Big Fish" author Daniel Wallace, the applause was deafening.

(Dir. Kerthy Fix, 2010)

The final slot of the night is a great one for a rock documentary (or rockumentary, if you will), and this is a great one.

Kerthy Fix, who last year presented the festival with the excellent STRANGE POWERS: STEPHIN MERRITT AND THE MAGNETIC FIELDS, molded this tight 72 minute film out of 60 hours of concert footage filmed by the band's lighting designer Carmine Covelli. Not knowing much about Le Tigre, I was fascinated by their energy and politics - founder Kathleen Hanna describes them as "a self consciously feminist band" - and loved how full songs were included albeit edited together from different concerts. Fix did Q & A duty after the movie.

WHO TOOK THE BOMP? is going to have an outdoor encore presentation at Durham Central Park, Saturday, April 16th at 8:30 PM. No ticket is required as it's free admission.

Okay! Well, that's all for now. It was a fine opening day of documentaries - the only complaint I have is that they need a new animated film to play before the features. They've been using the same one the last few years and I'm tired of it.

More later...

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