Launched fifteen years ago (originally as the Double Take Documentary Film Festival), the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival annually brings over one hundred new and retrospective non-fiction films to Durham NC over the course of four days. Typically screening each film only once, forcing audiences to decide between as many as five simultaneous choices, organizers generate a real sense of urgency around every screening. While I’ve sadly only been once, the festival proved to be a well curated event with a notably erudite and diverse audience drawn from the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill Research Triangle.
Running April 12-15, Full Frame 2012 includes more than fifty new documentary features in addition to shorts and retro programming that includes a four film tribute to Stanley Nelson and a ten film series around the theme of family, featuring notable titles like Doug Block’s 51 BIRCH STREET, Marco Williams’ IN SEARCH OF OUR FATHERS, Alan Berliner’s INTIMATE STRANGER, and Lucia Small’s MY FATHER, THE GENIUS. Among the lineup are a number of fantastic films I’ve written about previously that screened at other festivals like Toronto, IDFA, and Sundance, but my eye was drawn to a number of titles making their premieres here that, for the most part, I haven’t seen yet but would put on the top of my list if I were attending.
Seven feature docs make their official world premiere in Durham. Included here are a couple that I’ve seen at different stages and absolutely recommend as must-sees: Peter Nicks’ THE WAITING ROOM, a verité look at an ER in Oakland CA; and Angad Singh Bhalla’s HERMAN’S HOUSE, which explores the unusual friendship and collaboration between a man in solitary confinement and an artist who helps him figuratively escape. Other intriguing titles debuting here are Andrea Sisson and Peter Ohrs’ I SEND YOU THIS PLACE (pictured), an experimental exploration of a family mystery in Iceland; and Paul Lovelace and Jessica Wolfson’s RADIO UNNAMEABLE, about an early 1960s countercultural radio pioneer.
Coming to North America for the first time are nine titles, including Anu Kuivalainen’s striking ARANDA, a durational, existential film set on a Finnish marine research ship about humanity’s desire to understand the unknowable; and Jason Arthurs’ hopeful WITHOUT A FIGHT, in which a soccer competition in the middle of one of Kenya’s biggest slums holds the promise of unifying opposing groups. Also making its North American premiere here is Ilse and Femke van Velzen’s JUSTICE FOR SALE (pictured), exploring the Congo’s troubling legal system; and Amélie Saillez’s THE KINGDOM OF MISTER EDHI, observational study of a philanthropist’s efforts to aid suffering women and children in Pakistan.
A handful of titles make their US premiere at Full Frame, including Tom Fassaert’s AN ANGEL IN DOEL (pictured), a portrait of a Belgian village slated for destruction, and of the few remaining holdouts who resist the change; and Fernand Melgar’s SPECIAL FLIGHT, which profiles the inner workings of a Swiss detention center for immigrants denied political asylum, many who have called Switzerland their home for decades with no issue.
Finally, among other titles appearing at Full Frame that I haven’t had a chance to view yet are S Leo Chiang’s MR CAO GOES TO WASHINGTON (pictured), which, as signaled by its title, updates Capra by following a Louisianan Republican Vietnamese-American congressman as he faces the harsh reality of politics during his 2010 re-election campaign; and Volker Sattel’s UNDER CONTROL, a formal, evocative study of Germany’s nuclear power plants.