Saturday, April 14, 2012

Full Frame Documentary Film Festival 2012: Day Two

There was a lot more hustlin’ and bustlin’ about for the second day of Full Frame 2012, which is always the case because of the bigger Friday crowds. I made my way through them to see:

MR. CAO GOES TO WASHINGTON (Dir. S. Leo Chiang, 2012) Well, I’ll be! An actual likable Republican congressman! Serving from 2009-2011, the Vietnamese American Joseph Cao was the first Republican to serve in Louisiana since 1891. Cao was also the only Republican that voted for Obama’s health care plan, which caused a wee bit of controversy in his party to say the least. Chiang’s well constructed narrative makes for a punchy polidoc which eschews flashy conventions in telling a straight story. Sort of like its subject.

Next up, a special program: the 40th Anniversary of New Day Films, a major distributor of social issue documentaries made by filmmakers that run the company. Four films from the early ‘70s (mostly ’71) were shown: “Anything You Want To Be,” “Betty Tells Her Story,” “Growing Up Female,” and “It Happens To Us.” After viewing them I tweeted that the shorts: “seemed like the link between the artier '60s educational films and '70s afterschool specials.”

Then it was time for one of the big events of the fest – the U.S. Premiere of Ross McElwee’s PHOTOGRAPHIC MEMORY. McElwee is a long friend of Full Frame, and this year he’s curating the Thematic Program, so it was no shocker that the line to Fletcher Hall stretched well around the block. In his intro he acknowledged the huge turn-out, but joked that 50% of the crowd are his relatives.

PHOTOGRAPHIC MEMORY deals with McElwee’s relationship with his teenage son, Adrian, who is always lost in screens (TV, laptop, cellphone, video cam, etc.).

McElwee compares how he was at that age to Adrian, and gets lost himself in the memories of living in France in the ’70, working as a wedding photographer and falling in love with a young woman named Maud.

It’s a rambling film, but quite a lot sharper and breezier than McElwee’s work in the past, even if it really doesn’t offer much insight except that, yep, it’s a small world and that the more things know. But that McElwee’s movies are really just unassuming visual diaries than they are hard-hitting documentary studies is the crux of their charm.

The final features I took in to finish off Friday night were Colm Quinn’s 2010 short NEEDLE EXCHANGE, and Jesse Wile’s feature-length JASON BECKER: NOT DEAD YET. Quinn's film is about a couple of long-time friends who tattoo each other – it’s amusing but so brief it’s barely there.

NOT DEAD YET tells the incredibly affecting tale of the virtuoso heavy metal guitarist whose career was cut short when he was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s Disease. Becker lost the ability to speak, yet has still kept composing by communicating with his eyes via a system developed by his father, artist Gary Becker.

It sucks that the guy can’t get on stage and shred in front of thousands of fans, but he’s still alive and thriving as this heartfelt rock biodoc amply displays.

Whew! Another day of documentaries is done. Please check back for coverage of Days 3 & 4.

More later...

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