Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Full Frame 2011 - a doc lover's 4-day weekend.


Last week Ted flew in and we began our annual rite of Spring, the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival.

For those deprived souls who don't have a film festival, this is how it works. You choose the films you think you want to see based on subject matter and film maker, neither of which is a sure indicator that the film will be good. The doc you weren't sure about becomes a surprise favorite while the film maker you love and would gladly grip her next project for free, serves up a yawner.

This tricky process mirrors our larger life choices, only with less vomiting and tears. Some films will surprise you, some will disappoint and some you will miss just because you can't see 'em all. My advice is to concentrate on the good films and forget about the inevitable stinkers.

With that in mind, I won't dwell on the disappointments, any more than I would on ex-girlfriends, blog trolls or unsatisfying novels.

In chronological order:

Guilty Pleasures, directed by Julie Moggan, is one of those films that if I'd chosen it on subject alone, I would have passed. I would have missed a great documentary that is not about romance novels, but about love and commitment and sacrifice that, in the end, is more satisfying than any fantasy.

This was the festival's opening film and a great choice for a primer on storytelling, with each character getting their own 3-acts. It was also the American debut.

Buck, directed by Cindy Meehl is a gem. You should search it out. Beautifully shot and edited, it's a solid film with a no-nonsense character at its center. Here's the trailer: www.buckthefilm.com.

The Bengali Detective is another film with a strong character at its center. The film follows an entrepreneurial, self-made private eye as he and his team try to solve three cases, one a multiple homicide. The logistics of shooting in Calcutta alone are boggling.

Burma Soldier is the story of Myo Myint, a casualty of the civil war in closed off Burma. Myint went from being a young soldier to becoming a voice for the democracy movement, which landed him in a Burmese prison for 15 years. Myint made it out to tell his story, captured by film makers, Nic Dunlop and Rickie Stern, narrated by Colin Farrell.

One of the real joys of this festival is the opportunity to meet the directors of the films. In this case, the subject, Myo Myint, made a tearful appearance before a standing ovation at the Carolina Theater. A beautiful experience.

One Night in Kernersville, directed by Rodrigo Dorfman is a beautifully shot short about the John Brown Jazz Orchestra recording in Mitch Easter's studio. Not surprisingly, it won the award for best short at the festival.

Tabloid, by Erroll Morris. Highly entertaining and in Morris' words, “It’s a return to my favorite genre – sick, sad and funny ... It is a meditation on how we are shaped by the media and even more powerfully, by ourselves.”

Corman's World, directed by Alex Stapleton and featuring interviews with Martin Scorsese, Robert De Niro, Jack Nicholson and others who owe a large debt to Roger Corman. Corman is the producer and director who, it's said, made 400 pictures and never lost a dime. If you love matinees like Attack of the Leech People then you've seen Roger Corman's work. Great stuff.

Every one of these docs is a class in how to tell a story. Each is different, each has its own POV and voice and each is worth the effort to look them up. You won't be disappointed.

As usual, I missed a number of award winners: Scenes of a Crime, How to Die in Oregon, Pit No. 8 and several others were honored on Sunday. They'll go on my Netflix queue.

A special thanks to archivist Rick Prelinger who screened some fascinating selections like Buddy Can You Spare A Dime?, Strictly Propaganda and America Lost and Found.

Full Frame, I love you.