Feature: The 10th Annual Full Frame Documentary Film Festival

Note: This article was originally published in Technician on April 19, 2007.


Full Frame turns 10

The 10th annual Full Frame documentary film festival took place in Durham, N. C., last weekend and attracted filmmakers, press and visitors from all over the country. Approximately 120 films were screened, with around 80 being in competition for various awards.

The festival officially kicked off with a screening of Castells, a film by German director Gereon Wetzel that followed a human pyramid team in Catalonia, Spain. The film had viewers on the edge of their seats with its depiction of towers rising dozens of feet in the air, composed solely of human beings.

To honor the 10th anniversary of the event, 10 curators were invited to each present a film they felt was a particularly meaningful and relevant representation of the genre. The special guests included, but were not limited to: playwright Ariel Dorfman, author Walter Moseley, documentary filmmakers St. Claire Bourne and Michael Moore, and feature film director Mira Nair. Martin Scorsese also submitted a film, though he was unable to attend the festival in person.

Julia Reichert, director of A Lion in the House, presented Michael Moore's first film, Roger and Me, as her choice. She felt the film marked a turning point in documentary filmmaking, as it proved that documentaries could be humorous and entertaining, as well as reach mainstream audiences. In a conversation after the screening, Moore revealed that this was exactly what he was intending to do.

"I didn't used to watch documentaries. I thought they were very boring and afraid to say something, and I tried to make a movie that people would go see in shopping malls," Moore said. "I set out to do something different and break up the documentary form and put it back together again."

Moore also said his first documentary isn't really about the loss of thousands of jobs in Flint, Mich., after General Motors left the city. Underneath the surface, it's about the flawed nature of capitalism.

"It's about the evil economic system that we live under. It's a system that's unfair, unjust and it's not democratic," Moore said. "I don't know how many people will get that when they watch the movie. The only person in the film who actually says the word 'capitalist' is Pat Boone."

Another special event was the screening of Larry Flynt: The Right to be Left Alone, a new documentary about the life of controversial pornographer and first amendment defendant Larry Flynt. The film chronicles his rise to prominence as the founder of Hustler magazine, his numerous court battles, the assassination attempt that left him paralyzed and his run for president, among other things.

Director Joan Brooker-Marks was present for a Q&A after the screening, along with her husband Walter, the producer of the film. Larry's brother Jimmy also attended, and spoke about how cultural views of pornography have changed.

"I think people now are more comfortable with sexuality and with their bodies," Jimmy said. "They don't have the hang-ups we had years ago."

One of the surprises of the festival was For The Bible Tells Me So, a film by newcomer Daniel Karslake that focuses on the conflict between religion and homosexuality and whether such a conflict is biblical. The film follows five families and the backlash they face when a member of each comes out as being gay.

Karslake went on to win the Charles E. Guggenheim Emerging Artist Award due to his status as a promising first-time feature documentary filmmaker.

The director said he was inspired to make the film after receiving an e-mail from a boy in Iowa. The e-mail said: "Last week I bought the gun. Yesterday I wrote the note. But last night I happened to turn on your show and just knowing that someday I might be able to go back into my church, I threw the gun in the river. My mom never has to know."

After receiving the e-mail, he quit his job working at PBS, where he had interned on In The Life, a newsmagazine show produced for the homosexual community.

"That inspired everything I've done since," Karslake said. "I was meeting all these theologians who were saying some very interesting things on homosexuality. I saw that I could make this film, so I quit my job and I did."

The director also said he felt that too often religious people don't bother to investigate their beliefs and what the Bible actually says about certain issues.

"Open it up and read it," Karslake said. "So many people are just told what to think, and that's unfortunate."

This year's festival also saw the announcement of a new Full Frame archive. Starting now, all directors of award-winning films from 1998 onwards will have the option of having a print of their film made and stored within a special Full Frame vault at Duke University. Here are a few of the films Technician senior staff writer Andrew Johnson found to be most striking at this year's Full Frame Festival:

Lake of Fire

Directed by American History X helmer Tony Kaye, this film delves deeply into both sides of the abortion conflict dividing the country. Filmed over a period of more than a decade, Kaye is unflinching in his examination of the strengths and weaknesses of both arguments and provides a surprisingly balanced view of this controversial issue. This is the single best portrayal of the issue I have ever encountered, and it explores nearly all its facets, both philosophical and emotional. Both pro-lifers and pro-choicers would be wise to see this superbly crafted and visually stunning film, as it might provide a common ground for dialogue between the two sides.

For the Bible Tells Me So

For those people interested in the issue of homosexuality or biblical interpretation, this film provides a healthy dose of both. First-time director Daniel Karslake follows five families with homosexual members as they deal with the conflicts produced by their religious beliefs. Bishop Gene Robinson also plays a prominent role in the film, which provides an entertaining yet also extremely moving look at how homosexuality has been culturally interpreted -- or perhaps misinterpreted -- through the years.

Larry Flynt: The Right to be Left Alone

Anyone who's ever picked up a copy of Hustler magazine should find this documentary on its controversial founder, Larry Flynt, fascinating. The film contains numerous interviews with Flynt about his occupation as a self-confessed smut peddler and his campaign to defend First Amendment rights such as freedom of speech and freedom of the press. Flynt is such a funny and jovial guy, it's hard not to like him, despite what you may feel about his occupation. This film is perhaps made even more relevant by the current state of American politics. Highly recommended for those people looking for a lighter, yet still issue-driven, documentary.

The Killer Within

What would you do if you discovered that the person you loved the most was a killer? That's the question asked by this documentary that follows Bob Bechtel, an apparently kindhearted professor of psychology who decides to reveal his darkest secret to his family and the rest of the world: 50 years ago, while attending college, he killed a fellow student. Viewers are invited to reflect over themes of guilt, morality, blame and repentance. Bob is a complex individual, and you will find yourself amazed at his humanity in some instances and chilled by his lack of emotion regarding the instance in others. If you've ever wanted to get inside the mind of a killer, this is your chance.

Leila Khaled: Hijacker

Leila Khaled is perhaps best known as a the first woman hijacker, responsible for several terrorist acts on behalf of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. Decades later, filmmaker Lina Makboul talks to the freedom fighter about the reasons for her actions and interviews those aboard the planes. This film acknowledges the gray areas of morality and bravely tries to answer whether violence can ever be justified. Highly recommended.