Over the course of four days, I toured the world. Early Thursday morning, I went from Quincy, Mass., to Amposta, Catalonia, Spain. Next, I went from Havana to Tel Aviv. And later that day, I traveled from Chile to Jamaica. And I did it all without boarding an airplane. My globetrotting was managed within a few blocks in Durham, NC, at the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival. Celebrating its 15th anniversary this year, the superbly orchestrated event offered more than 100 films for festival goers. My friends and I saw 17 of them.
Our journey began in Quincy, Mass., where “Young Bird Season” introduced us to pigeon racing. “Nation” took us over to Amposta, Catalonia, Spain where we followed athlete Jesus Navarro as he trained throughout the countryside. “Unfinished Spaces” brought us views of the remarkable, lush beauty of Havana and “Sivan” put us among feverish fans in a soccer stadium in Tel Aviv. A Chilean beach and Jamaica were our final destinations of the day via “The Lifeguard” — an interesting character study — and “Marley,” an incredibly comprehensive look at legendary musician Bob Marley, respectively. Our travels continued like that over the next three days as we attending more screenings.
I’ve been fortunate to attend Full Frame for the last few years, and each year it gets better and better. I’m a big fan of documentaries so going to the festival is an incredible treat. Directors, producers and even some of the subjects of the documentaries are on hand for Q&A sessions after the screenings. There’s a mixture of old and new films. For example, Stanley Nelson was being honored this year, so there was a screening of “The Black Press: Soldiers Without Swords,” which Nelson made in the late 1990s. And among the new docs were many domestic and international debuts including world premieres of “The Waiting Room,” “Fanuzzi’s Gold,” and “Herman’s House.” There were old and new stories, too. In fact, one of this year’s edge-of-your seat docs, “The Imposter,” focused on a plotline that happened more than 15 years ago.
While I’m glad I saw all of the 17 docs I screened, there were a few standouts for me:
- Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry
- Beauty is Embarrassing
- The Black Press: Soldiers Without Swords
- Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel
- The Imposter
- The Queen of Versailles
Of these, my very favorite has to be “Beauty is Embarrassing,” in which director and cinematographer Neil Berkeley trains his lens on Emmy-winning artist Wayne White. If White’s name doesn’t (yet) ring a bell, his creative endeavors should. His iconic creations have been seen on “Pee-Wee’s Playhouse” and in music videos for Peter Gabriel and the Smashing Pumpkins. Shortly after the documentary begins, White prepares us for what’s to come as he declares, “I want to try everything I can. I want to take this painting idea and see if you can do a puppet version of it. I want to take this cartooning and turn it into a set. I want to take this set and turn it back into a painting.” Oh, and Josh and Chuck — if you’re reading this, I got to speak to Neil Berkeley briefly after the screening — he’s a fan of Stuff You Should Know and was sad to learn he’d missed y’all at SXSW.
If you can’t make it to Full Frame, don’t let that stop you — maybe you can attend another film festival. There are loads of them going on year-round. For example:
- Arizona International Film Festival
- docfest (New York International Documentary Festival)
- Hot Docs (Canadian International Documentary Festival)
- LA Film Fest (Los Angeles Film Festival)
- Sheffield Doc/Fest (Sheffield International Documentary Festival)
- Silver Docs (AFI/Discovery Channel)