Thursday, April 12, 2007

Day 1 of 4 of Full Frame Documentary Film Festival

We love attending Full Frame, the country's largest documentary film festival. I'll copy below the review of the Festival that I published in the current issue of Saathee Magazine, for which I am the film reviewer.

Today we were at the Festival from its first film at 10a through one of the last, ending at almost midnight. Robert, Mary and Katrina was a film my wife and I both liked that had no action but was an interview with an elderly couple who survived Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans; their story and how they talk, one's thoughts intertwined with the other, makes for a good story. Radiphobia was shown immediately after and was a chilling and beautifully made film about the aftermath of the Chernoybl nuclear powerplant disaster.

Our favorite films were For the Bible Told Me So, which looked at contemporary Christianity and its varied views on homosexuality, and The Rape of Europa, a film 7+ years in the making that comprehensively covers the Nazi targeted wholesale theft of artwork as well as their goals of destroying Slavic culture. A short film, Rückenlage, dreamily describes Rudolf Hess' solo 1941 flight to Scotland to offer peace to England.

The opening night film, Castells, was somewhat disappointing. Indeed, it was an interesting story about a Spanish team of human pyramid builders; they carefully craft building towers of themselves. But the approximately 2-hour film could have been, my wife and I both think, much more effective at keeping the viewer's interest if it were much shorter.

In the approximately 10p-midnight slot after the opening night party, there was a short that I didn't much like about indoor motorcycle acrobatics called Motodrom. But the film Comrades in Dreams was quite good, portraying folks in Maharashtra India, Burkino Faso, North Korea, and Wyoming, each of whom had a love for film and showed enthusiastic audiences films. One thing that was particularly interesting and quite humorous about the North Korean story was the strong indoctrination seeming implicit in so much of the daily life, including praise for North Korean culture, to the point of a woman's not responding to a man's photograph in an attempted arranged marriage was seen not just as an affront to him, a kim chi reseacher (!), but to kim chi itself!! (Indeed, never fear, she atones!)

My review in the April 2007 Saathee Magazine, which is oriented toward a South Asian readership follows.

April showers may bring May flowers, but April also brings the country’s leading documentary film festival, Full Frame, to Durham, North Carolina. Saathee readers in the Carolinas are lucky to have so nearby this Festival, which attracts an international audience to well-attended screenings. Many of these films premiere at the Festival and filmmakers are usually present to take questions immediately after the screening of their films.

At the Festival, you can select sometimes from seven well-made and interesting films playing at the same time, meet people like Mira Nair or Ken Burns and ask them a burning question that you’ve always had about one of their films, be moved by brand new films never before screened and meet their directors, attend parties, rubbing shoulders with industry executives and filmmakers, participate in discussions, and much more.

The Festival is a great venue for dispelling any notions that documentary films may be dull. At this year’s Full Frame Festival, for example, one can experience stories masterfully told about topics such as a Catalonian 400-person human pyramid building team who engineer human towers more than 30 feet tall in their travels; an unconventional British gangster; a 91-year-old violinist’s trip, fulfilling a decades-long desire, with his grandson; global warming; seeking reconciliation in Greensboro, NC; Iraq; Nazi plundering of art; the first woman to hijack an airplane; the last absolute monarchy in the world, a country with the highest HIV infection rate and lowest (under 33 years) life expectancy (Swaziland); “Nollywood”, the new Nigerian film industry; 20 years worth of answering machine greetings; an Indonesian pupeteer and performance artist; a humorous look at human hands; and the Helvetica font.

I had reported, in the May 2006 issue of Saathee, that at the 2006 Festival there seemed to be more films about India than any other country except the United States and Iraq. This year the statement may stand if expanded to South Asia. Nömadak Tx (Raúl De la Fuente, 2006, 89 minutes), reviewed in detail in this issue, is a not-to-be-missed film with the opening scene in Mumbai and about a fifth of the film taking place in India.

Shame (Mohammed Naqvi, 2006, 110 minutes) is about Mukhtaran Mai and her shocking story that ends with much promise. In 2002, the 30-year-old woman from Meerwala, a remote Pakistani village, was sentenced by the tribal council to be raped by a group of men in retaliation for an alleged crime that her brother had committed. With no police presence in the village and with the feudal precedent of self-victimization or suicide, she musters the courage to travel to town to file a police case, in spite of death threats. Her case attracts governmental and then international press and human rights attention, and results in her being praised with awards for bravery and travel abroad to speak, as well as being given a handsome amount of money with which she builds the village’s first school. I recommend this film not just for its sensitive treatment of the matter and the inspiring story of Mukhtaran Mai, but also because of the beautiful cinematography that paints, at times, a welcome and almost surrealistically dreamy veneer on a chilling episode.

The Begum family of Bangladeshi origin living in London have taken Simon Chambers under their wing, partially out of concern for his remaining a bachelor. As he witnesses the remarkable pressure to get their London-raised daughters married off, preferably to men in Bangladesh from respectable families, he gets their permission to film them and directs and produces Every Good Marriage Begins With Tears (2006, 61 minutes). The characters are interesting – an overbearing eldest married sister, foul-mouthed sister Shahanara whose father had exorcised her from the family because of her Western demeanor, and religious sister Hushnara who is engaged (in periods when she doesn’t change her mind) to marry a man in Bangladesh and leave England.

Match Made (Mirabelle Ang, 2006, 48 minutes), though not about the subcontinent, is about a Singaporean matchmaking agency. Apparently, there is an industry of searching for attractive young women in impoverished rural Vietnam and bringing them to homes in Ho Chi Minh City. There, the women bide their time doing chores until a client appears to evaluate them. Three at a time and often giggling in embarassment, they are brought in for an immediate assessment (on no meaningful criteria that I could discern). Within minutes, perhaps a dozen or more women are considered and, as in this case, one may be selected. Seventy-two hours later they have married, after a “medical check” for “purity”, and the client is driven to the airport to return to Singapore, the bride’s immigration matters pending. What kind of marriage do the couple in the film have and how do they communicate as they speak different languages? A documentary worth seeing, I felt that the bride selection process was not only demeaning to the women, but also insulting to their sense of pride in their country and culture.

There are many other excellent films at Full Frame. In a real sense, each film has earned its place; 82 films in competition eligible for awards were selected out of over 1000 submissions.
A film that I highly recommend is Run Granny Run (Marlo Poras, 2007) about legendary activist Doris “Granny D” Haddock. At age 90, she had walked 3200 miles across the length of the United States, including climbing the Appalachian Mountains in a blizzard and skiing in to Washington, D.C. to draw attention to campaign finance reform. This film picks up in 1994 when “Granny D” at age 94 jumps in to run for the Senate when one candidate unexpectedly drops out with just four months before Election Day. How does she proceed, refusing money from special interests while running against a well-funded incumbent? Seeing democracy in action through the campaign of this lovable, persistent, and principled woman is a story that is heart-warming, inspiring, and downright fun.

A total of over 100 films will be shown. In addition to the films in competition, there are other curated films, films in the Southern Sidebar Series about the American South, and special films, including the new <frameset>, featuring short videos that premiered online. There are also panel discussions, workshops about filmmaking, and parties. This year, there will be a curated series of ten important filmmakers, including Mira Nair, Michael Moore, and Martin Scorsese, each showing a film important to their own growth as an artist. For example, Mira Nair will be screening The Battle of Algiers (La Battaglia di Algeri; Gillo Pontecorvo, 1966), a powerful neorealistic film shot in documentary style about the savagery of urban warfare in the context of the Algerian struggle against French colonial rule.

The festival runs from Thursday through Sunday. The days are quite full from 9a or 10a till past midnight, with multiple concurrent venues. There’s a lot to choose from! I recommend taking Thursday and Friday off or at least attending those evenings, and spending the entire weekend at the Festival in downtown Durham. The best way to experience the Festival is to purchase a pass (if still available; they sometimes sell out), but you can also purchase tickets to particular screenings or events.

Visit Full Frame online at for complete details. You can also reach them by phone at 919-687-4100.

Note: All pictures and Full Frame logo courtesy of the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival, and used with their permission.


Post a Comment

<< Home