Wednesday, April 10, 2024

Full Frame 2024: Part Two

My second day at the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival in downtown Durham was my busiest day of watching films on the big screen in a long while. And the whole day was spent in Fletcher Hall, the main stage at the Carolina Theater, with its 1,048 seats and two balconies. 

Saturday morning, I attended the Remembering Nancy Buirski event, in which a host of the Full Frame founders colleague friends, including Co-Festival Director Sadie Tillery, filmmakers Yance Ford, Chris Hegedus, and Sam Pollard; Center for Documentary Studies Director Tom Rankin, and Buirskis sister, Judy Cohen, gave really touching, really emotional testimonies to the recently passed Full Frame founder and filmmaker.

POWER (Dir. Yance Ford, 2024)

Ford’s follow-up to his excellent Oscar nominated doc, STRONG ISLAND (which I called “one of the strongest documentary documentary debuts I’ve ever seen,” when it screened at Full Frame 2017), is a fascinating thesis on the history of policing in America. In a thorough effort to find the roots and cause of where we are now, Ford calls upon writers, scholars, and most dominatingly, Minneapolis Police Inspector Charles Adams, to put into perspective the issues that result in extreme brutality through the dawn of the first forces to the modern day tragedies of Rodney King and George Floyd. This compelling, and often disturbing, doc will premiere on Netflix later this year.

UNION (Dirs. Stephen Maing & Brett Story, 2024)

“We want to thank Jeff Bezos for going to space because while he was up there we were signing people up.” - Chris Smalls, President of the Amazon Labor Union

The struggle of current and former Amazon employees in Staten Island fighting for their rights against Jeff Bezos’ mega corporation is captured with grit in this scrappy yet vivid doc. The story is largely headed by the strong-minded Chris Smalls, who was fired for protesting work conditions from the company’s New York warehouse in 2020, and founded the ALU. We follow Smalls as he mans a stand across from the ginormous fulfillment center (shot so ominously it comes off like the Watergate in ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN), and urges passing workers to unionize. The friction between Smalls, and his colleagues is palpable at moments, but the sense of community is undeniable especially when times get tight. UNION is a crowd pleaser of a impactful doc that should be sought out when it, with hope, opens wide after its run on the festival circuit. 

ENO (Dir. Gary Hustwit, 2024)

At past Full Frames, Saturday night was often when a music documentary, or rockumentary, was given the spotlight with previous years featuring such illuminairies as Arcade Fire, the Avett Brothers, Nick Cave, the Magnetic Fields, the National, and Pussy Riot, so I was elated to see that this year’s subject is one of my favorite figures in modern music: Brian Eno. 

Though he’s more known as a producer (U2, Peter Gabriel, Talking Heads, Devo, lovers of art rock well know his performing chops as shown here in rare live footage of his tenure in Roxy Music, and in the studio working on his seminal ambient solo work (one of his early albums is actually called Ambient 1: Music for Airports).

Thing is, this experimental film, billed as “the world’s first generative cinematic documentary,” is presented from a code via custom made software that determines different routes in which to assemble the scenes so it’s different every time. In a Q & A following the screening, director Hustwit said that the version that was shown at Sundance had a lot more Laurie Anderson cues in it. So it’s kind of a Choose Your Own Adventure-style kind of doc presentation. That’s fine and all, but I just want to know if there’s a version that has more Devo.

As a fan, I’d like to see multiple takes on this material, so I’m sure I'll be revisiting this in the future. Hustwit’s ENO gives hope that more music-themed docs will attempt anti-Wikipedia-type run downs of careers, and mix it up a bit. But even without the flashy packaging, Mr. Eno is more than enough of an engaging artist to spend time with, and this doc is at its best when it cools it with the code, and just hangs with him.

More later...

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