Full Frame ’16: Eight highlights from the Durham doc fest

Full Frame programming chief Sadie Tillery highlights eight documentaries having world or North American premieres at the Durham, North Carolina-based festival this week. (Pictured: Out Run)
April 6, 2016

Spring is a busy season on the festival circuit for doc makers, with Tribeca, Hot Docs and Cannes drawing industry and press with the prospects of deal-making.

A few weeks after SXSW and just days before Tribeca, the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival takes over Durham, North Carolina, to offer producers and directors a reprieve from the industry craziness over four days in April.

“Full Frame is a filmmaker’s festival. I want to give filmmakers an opportunity to celebrate their work,” says Sadie Tillery, the festival’s director of programming. “We’ve been conscious about making space for the documentary community to relax, come together and see each other’s films without the marketplace dynamic.”

The 19th annual event, which kicks off on Thursday (April 7) and runs until April 10, will host 13 world premieres, six North American premieres and two U.S. premieres, including Adam Irving‘s Off the Rails, Leo Chiang and Johnny Symons’ Out Run (pictured), James Demo’s The Peacemaker and Carrie Lozano and Charlotte Lagarde’s The Ballad of Fred Hersch.

The festival does not have premiere requirements, so half the 93 films screening this year have played at other fests. Those titles include Weiner, Norman Lear: Just Another Version of You, Author: The JT LeRoy Story, Kate Plays Christine, Unlocking the Cage, Gleason and Sherpa.

There is also a thematic program of classic and contemporary political docs curated by The September Issue filmmaker R.J. Cutler, works-in-progress screenings of Jonathan Olshefski’s The Fury and the Sound and Matt Yoka’s Whirlybird ­– both recipients of the festivals’ Garrett Scott Grant – and a discussion with Cameraperson director/cinematographer Kirsten Johnson, who will receive a Tribute Award.

Festival passes normally sell out before the program is announced and films play only once, meaning screenings are generally well-attended. Without intense pressure to sell tickets, programmers are able to look at a broad array of themes and styles – thus specific thematic threads tend not to emerge in the programming.

“We don’t have to stop ourselves to ask ‘Will this draw an audience?’ We can make a decision based on our response to the film, without having to worry about who the market is or where else the film has been,” says Tillery. “That is liberating.”

Ahead of tomorrow’s kick-off, Tillery highlights eight films to look out for at Full Frame this year:

Sadie Tillery

Sadie Tillery

Off the Rails, directed by Adam Irving (world premiere)

“The premise of this film alone is a remarkable story, and it builds through style and personal interviews to become so much more than that. It follows Darius McCollum, a man with Asperger’s syndrome who has commandeered hundreds of trains and buses over the years. By introducing us to McCollum and hearing from him and from his legal team, the film allows us to consider the shortcomings of our criminal justice system.”

Out Run, directed by Leo Chiang and Johnny Symons (world premiere)

Out Run introduces us to the only LGBT political party in the world, following three candidates who are running for Filipino congress. The characters are unforgettable, and the film navigates the complicated relationship between this primarily Catholic country and its vibrant LGBT community. It’s especially interesting to view Out Run alongside any number of the campaign documentaries screening in this year’s thematic program.”

The Peacemaker, directed by James Demo (world premiere)

“I’m so proud to screen this film about Padraig O’Malley, who has dedicated his life to negotiations in war-torn regions around the world. It balances a character study with observations of powerful work. We come to understand how O’Malley’s personal experiences shape his work and how his work is deeply tied to his private life.” 

Following Seas, directed by Tyler J. Kelley and Araby Williams (world premiere)

“This is a remarkable story of a family that sailed around the world. They captured their travels on hand-cranked Bolex cameras and here their footage comes to life alongside their recollections. Interviews with the family, particularly matriarch Nancy Griffith, are woven through their own recordings. I can’t wait to see these images flicker on the big screen. It’s the type of film that brings the past to life.”

The Ballad of Fred Hersch

The Ballad of Fred Hersch, directed by Carrie Lozano and Charlotte Lagarde (world premiere)

“We were deeply moved by this portrait of jazz pianist Fred Hersch. The film looks back at his life and follows him as he composes a piece reflecting on the time he spent in an AIDS-related coma. We witness a renowned artist at work, and have the opportunity to take in his tremendous music.”

Two Trains Runnin’, directed by Sam Pollard (world premiere)

“Sam Pollard has been an incredible friend of the festival and we’re very proud to host the premiere of his latest feature. Two Trains Runnin’ tells the story of two groups of young men that went looking for blues musicians Son House and Skip James in 1964, travelling south in the middle of Mississippi Freedom Summer. The film weaves musical performances by Lucinda Williams and Gary Clark Jr. with animations, archival footage and interviews, and takes us to a particular moment in time.”

Raising Bertie, directed by Margaret Byrne (world premiere)

“It’s always special when we’re able to feature a film born in North Carolina. This longitudinal film follows three teenagers coming of age in Bertie County, just a couple hours east of Durham. In the tradition of Hoop Dreams, we follow their lives over years. The filmmakers and many of the individuals featured in the film will be here for the premiere.”

Salero, directed by Mike Plunkett (North American premiere)

“Screening work in a theater is very different from seeing it at home on a television, and Salero is proof that documentaries need to bee seen in this way. With incredible cinematography, the film introduces us to Moises who works in Bolivia on one of the largest salt flats on the planet. His way of life is documented during a time of transition and the vast landscapes featured in the film, along with the incredible texture of the sound design, allow Salero to be both a physical and a psychological portrait.”

About The Author
Daniele Alcinii is a news reporter at realscreen, the leading international publisher of non-fiction film and television industry news and content. He joins the rs team with journalism experience following a stint out west with Sun Media in Edmonton's Capital Region, and communications work in Melbourne, Australia and Toronto. You can follow him on Twitter at @danielealcinii.