Friday, April 05, 2013

Full Frame Documentary Film Festival 2013: Day One

It was a dark and rainy first day of the 16th Annual Full Frame Documentary Film Festival at the Carolina Theatre (and a few accompanying venues) in Downtown Durham, one that felt darker and rainier when news spread that Roger Ebert died.

Since I have a lot of film loving friends on Facebook, it seemed like every one of them posted a link, fond memory, or sad acknowledgement of the man who was possibly the most famous movie critic ever. I’ll post my own tribute to Ebert very shortly, but in a “show must go on” spirit let me tell you about the non-fiction films I saw today at Full Frame:


(Dir. Shola Lynch, 2012)

This was one I’ve been looking forward to the most and it didn’t disappoint. Shola Lynch (who made the equally awesome CHISHOLM ’72) tells a story that everybody should know, the story of radical activist Angela Davis, whose trial on charges of murder, kidnapping, and conspiracy riveted the nation in the Nixon-era.

Recent interviews, archival footage, newspaper headlines, tastefully done recreations (Eisa Davis stands in for her aunt Angela in brief flashbacks to link passages), and a lively score by Vernon Reid (formerly of the band Living Colour) all combine beautifully in this labor of love that Lynch told the audience after the screening in a Q & A was 8 years in the making. FREE ANGELA goes into limited release tomorrow, Friday the 5th, so be sure to look out for it.

(Dir. Brian McGinn, 2012) 

Ashrita Furman, a man who has spent his life setting hundreds of Guiness World Records, is the subject of this short biodoc that amounts to little more than a human interest story. At first it’s fun to see him walking with a full milk bottle on his head, chopping apples with a Samurai sword, skipping in a marathon, space hopping, hula hooping in the world’s largest hula hoop and so on, but it drags when a trip to train to climb a mountain on stilts is squashed by poor planning. As the film is less than a half hour long, this definitely hurts it. Still, it’s a passable human interest story with some funny moments.

BATTERY MAN (Dir. Dusan Cavic & Dusan Saponja, 2012)

A much better short (55 min) biodoc about a very different kind of World Record breaker: Serb Slavisa Pajkic, a man who can use his body as an electric conductor. No joke, he can fry sausages with his hands and withstand 20,000 volts (he aims to try for 1,000,000 volts for the Guiness record) all the while baffling scientists. Pajkic uses his powers for showbiz purposes and for a questionable healing practice, examples of both are a blast to watch in this pleasingly punchy film. A Popeye-ish little guy who complains about people not wanting to shake his hand (can you blame them?), Pajkic dreams of being a “wireless laser man” and his attempts to go about this make this one Hell of a memorable little movie.

SPINNING PLATES (Dir. Joseph Levy, 2012)

The stories of three unique restaurants are intertwined in the first full length feature by Californian producer, writer, director Joseph Levy in an engaging way that radiates a lot of warmth.

We learn about the ups and downs of the very cutting edge Alinea in Chicago, Balltown, Iowa’s 150-year old Breitbach’s Country Dining, and the Mexican eatery Cocina de Gabby in Tucson, Arizona. Chef Grant Achatz of Alinea speaks of his passion for artistic food presentation that never wavers even when battling cancer of the tongue, we see the community of Balltown come together to rebuild their beloved Breitbach’s after it burns down twice in a 10 month period, and the young couple who opened Cocina de Gabby pull the heartstrings when speaking of their love of family helping them through tough financial times. It’s a well constructed, and sharply shot doc that could be a real art house crowd-pleaser if given the proper promotion.

Okay! That's all the doc talk I got for now. Tomorrow I will cover docs about Nixon (who cameos in FREE ANGELA btw), Napster, Muscle Shoals, among other subjects. Please check back and read all about it.

More later...

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