Docs around the clock at Full Frame Documentary Film Festival

by Mark Burger

It’ll be non-stop “doc ‘n’ roll” as the 16th Full Frame Documentary Film Festival gets underway Thursday, April 4. That’s right: All docs, all the time. All within a four-block radius in downtown Durham.

The festival, which runs through April 7, boasts more than 100 documentary films (featurelength and shorts) from around the world, many of which are making their US premieres during the festival. More than 12,000 films were submitted to the festival, proof of its growing popularity and visibility on the cinematic landscape.

“I love that over the course of four days, we have the opportunity to showcase the numerous innovative and exciting ways the documentary form continues to excel and evolve,” said Sadie Tillery, the festival’s director of programming, in an official statement.

“Some films are showing for the first time anywhere, while other titles have received accolades at other prestigious festivals. In the end, I simply hope these exceptional works will resonate with audiences and genuinely as they have with me. I’m honored to be a part of bringing non-fiction’s best of the best to Durham.”

This year’s festival will include a “Full Frame Tribute,” which features some of the best and most popular films to have screened at the festival over the years, a “Thematic Program” curated by filmmaker Amir Bar-Lev and the world premiere of The Guide, the latest film from acclaimed filmmaker Jessica Yu, whose credits include In the Realms of the Unreal (2004), Ping Pong Playa (2007), Last Call at the Oasis (2011) and Breathing Lessons: The Life and Work of Mark O’Brien, which won the 1996 Academy Award as Best Documentary Short Subject.

The Guide, which is about the restoration of a war-torn national park in Mozambique, will be screened Saturday along with Breathing Lessons.

The festival’s “Invited Program” will include 24 films being screened out of competition, including “Center Frame” screenings, which will feature post-screening panel discussions with filmmakers and special guests.

The self-explanatory “New Docs” festival program will include 51 films (36 features, 15 shorts) from the US and abroad, almost all of them making their North Carolina premieres.

Films in the New Docs program are eligible for the Full Frame Audience Award and other juried prizes. The festival’s award winners will be announced at the annual Awards Barbecue, which takes place Sunday, April 7.

This year’s opening-night film is director Dawn Porter’s HBO Documentary film Gideon’s Army, which follows the lives and struggles of Travis Williams, Brandy Alexander and June Hardwick, three young public defenders in the Deep South. The film has already received the Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award at the Miami Film Festival, as well as the Editing Award from the Sundance Film Festival, where it was also nominated for the Grand Jury Prize. Porter and subjects Williams and Alexander are scheduled to attend the festival.

“We are thrilled and honored to be the opening-night selection of this celebrated and beloved festival,” Porter said in an official statement. “This is the 50th anniversary of the Gideon decision guaranteeing the right to [legal] counsel, and we are grateful to be able to share this film at such a prestigious event during the anniversary year.”

A few of the other films being screened at this year’s festival are Carl Deal and Tia Lessin’s Citizen Koch, a profile of the late Edward I Koch, former mayor of New York City; Drew DeNicola and Olivia Mori’s rock doc Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me; Lucy Walker’s The Crash Real, which follows the recovery of snowboarder Kevin Pearce after a terrible brain injury; the world premiere of Patrick Creadon’s If You Build It, which examines the school system in Bertie County, NC; RJ Cutler and Greg Finton’s political documentary The World According to Dick Cheney; Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Verena Paravel’s Leviathan (not to be confused with the late- ’80s undersea monster movie — although it is about a fishing vessel); and Sebastian Junger’s Which Way is the Front Line from Here? The Life and Tim Hetherington, a tribute to the acclaimed filmmaker who was killed in Libya in 2011. Junger and Hetherington co-directed the Oscar-nominated documentary Restrepo (2010).

Of course, those are only a few of the many movies scheduled to be screened — and discussed and debated — throughout this year’s festival.

The Full Frame Documentary Film Festival is an ongoing program of the Center for Documentary Studies, with Duke University as its title sponsor.

For more information, to order tickets, and for a complete schedule of events and venues, visit the festival’s official website: