Monday, April 08, 2013

Full Frame Documentary Film Festival 2013: Day Four

Whew! I'm exhausted but very satisfied from four days of non-fiction film fun at Full Frame Documentary Film Festival 2013. Please check out my coverage of Days One, Two, and Three.

Here's what I saw on the fourth and final day, Sunday, April 7th:


(Dir. Barbara Kopple, 2012)

After the Kennedys, the Hemingways were the “other American family with a horrible curse” as Mariel Hemingway describes them early on in Barbara Kopple’s very affecting and aptly named doc RUNNING FROM CRAZY.

In the film, Hemingway speaks at length about her family’s troubled history in which seven members have committed suicide. Her super model sister Margaux killed herself 35 years to the day that her grandfather, Ernest Hemingway, likewise took his life.

Footage Margaux shot in the ‘80s for a never completed doc about the legendary writer in which she visits and interviews family members is some of the most fascinating of the clips here. Margaux was, like her grandfather, what Mariel called a “heavy liver,” so she emulated his partying lifestyle, a lifestyle that Mariel was repulsed by as we see when she is saddened by the empty bottles of booze that litter her grandfather’s grave.

Except for some brief excerpts, Mariel Hemingway’s film career is not given much screen-time because the focus is on her personal struggle to distance herself from her family’s demons. She has two daughters (one a supermodel) from a previous marriage who she worries about, and a boyfriend, Bobby Williams, that she rock climbs with (a bit with them bickering in their car out in the desert is priceless) so we get to know her concerns in absorbing detail. 

Kopple’s doc is a heartfelt and entertaining examination that doesn’t get too sentimental or fluffy piecey. Mariel never met her famous grandfather (he cut his life short 3 months before she was born), but his personal influence is obviously enormous over her and the rest of the family, as much as his writing is over the literary world. This fine film makes a good case for that I must say.

THE EDITOR AND THE DRAGON: HORACE CARTER FIGHTS THE KLAN (Dirs. Walter E. Campbell & Martin M. Clark, 2012)

“I never wrote an anti-Klan editorial that I enjoyed writing, I write those editorials because in my mind that was a duty.” Says former newspaper man Horace Carter (pictured on the right with the film makers) in this short doc that every North Carolinian should see. Carter was the editor and publisher of the Tabor City Tribune here in N.C. and in 1950 he wrote in his paper that the Klan was “the personification of Fascism and Nazism.” This got a lot of negative feedback in the community and earned Carter a visit from Thomas Hamilton, Grand Dragon of the Association of Carolina Klans.

Luckily, film makers and UNC graduates Campbell and Clark got Carter on camera before his 2009 death to tell his tension-filled tale that led to him getting a Pulitzer Prize in 1953. Photos, archival footage, new interviews, and Morgan Freeman narration make up the doc may be in too much of a History Channel-style, but that may be the most appropriate angle for this material. Full Frame was world premiere of the must see doc, so no word about a theatrical release or television broadcast yet, but I’ll keep you posted.

(Dir. R.J. Cutler, 2012)

This solid polished biodoc, which premiered on Showtime last month, tries to get into the mind of the former President, sorry Vice President, and finds that it's a dark defensive place. Director Cutler (the docs THE SEPTEMBER ISSUE, A PERFECT CANDIDATE) gets Cheney to sit down and discuss the highs and lows of his political career, so we get to go through Watergate, the Iran Contra hearings, the 2000 election recount, 9/11, weapons of mass destruction, and the war in Iraq all over again. Yep, mostly lows; all the stuff many of us have been trying to forget for years.

Cutler's one on one chats with the Dark Lord (sorry), are augmented by interview snip-lets by the likes of Bob Woodward, Bob Suskind, and Cheney biographer Barton Gellman along with file photos, and news footage with narration provided by Dennis Haysbert (best known for being the first black President in the world that the popular Fox show 24 took place in). The takeaway from this film is that Cheney doesn't concede to anything. It's apparent that the man, who at age 34 during the Ford Adminstration became the youngest White House Chief of Staff in history, has a ginormously self righteous ego especially when he repeatedly says that he regrets nothing.

Cheney says that he “doesn’t spend a lot of time thinking about my faults,” but for the almost two hour running time of this doc we sure do.

(Dirs. Drew DeNicola & Olivia Mori, 2012)

I have to admit I'm way biased about this doc as I'm a big Big Star fan who contributed to the production's Kickstarter campaign a few years back. The feature length debut by Drew DeNicola and Olivia Mori assembles a passionate cast of fellow musicians, rock critics, to tell the story of the power pop band who should've been Beatle-sized superstars in the early '70s but alas the stars did not align.

Big Star, made up of Alex Chilton, who sadly passed in 2009, Chris Bell (died in a car accident in 1978), Jody Stephens, and Andy Hummel, is the favorite of many music snobs so much of the material will be familiar to fans. Non-fans will probably appreciate it too because there's plenty of funny anecdotes and personal insights into the music that make it a worhwhile primer.

With their mix of heartbreaking vocals and shimmering guitars that made such incredibly catchy non-hits as “September Gurls,” “Thirteen,” “Ballad of El Goodo,” and “In the Street,” among many others (well, three albums worth anyway) Big Star is a band that deserves more recognition and this film, which gets released theatrically this summer should help that happen (at least a little, I'm not talking about a Rodriquez-style revival).
As a fan I, of course, have criticisms of certain areas being glossed over (though they made the right decision in glossing over the band's 2005 reunion album In Space), but the doc works as a visual overview of Chilton and company's history, encapsulating the precious little original footage shot of the band (only 20 minutes or so exist), with the usual but necessary doc decorations (talking head interviews), photos, etc. in an extremely appealing package.

Before the film, N.C. native, and former Alex Chilton protégé, Chris Stamey and his band The Fellow Travelers played an all too brief set of Big Star classics. You can watch them play “September Gurls” here (other songs from the performance are accessible from that page). 

Well, so that's another Full Frame! Time for me to get some much needed sleep.

More later...


dogogo said...

Nice news

Stanley Workman said...

Where were you when Art changed?

Documnetary Films said...

Great review..thanks.