Full Frame Documentary Film Festival: Days 1-2

10 04 2015

Greetings from Durham, NC! I am here covering the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival, one of the premiere festivals for non-fiction film in the country. (Many thanks to Camel City Dispatch for syndicating my work so that I could score a press badge.) I have been to quite a few film festivals in my day, and almost all of them are devoted to programming films that meet some vague criterion of excellence. This one, however, keeps a narrower focus and thus plays some truly interesting titles.

Unfortunately, I was only able to spend a few hours at Full Frame in the first two days due to some issues and obligations back at school. But thanks to the availability of screeners, I have quite a few reviews to issue! I will be logging much more time at the festival in the back half of their program, after which I will have much more to say about the festival on the whole rather than just the films individually.

Nonetheless, here are some documentary films that you should definitely look out for if they play at a festival or theater near you!


(Dis)Honesty – The Truth About Lies

11136141_370225293178068_8538359763330573093_oLike reading a Malcolm Gladwell book, but don’t like all the time it takes to get through one? Then check out Yael Melamede’s “(Dis)Honesty – The Truth About Lies,” a documentary about social scientist and behavioral economist Dan Ariely’s work. At Duke University, he researches the way that humans make irrational and dishonest choices, even when it is ultimately to their own detriment.

In an hour and thirty minutes, Melamede provides a comprehensive overview of Ariely’s research. The film details when we tend to be dishonest, what factors influence our truthfulness, and how these experiments play out in the real world. Melamede takes us to the worlds of professional cycling, public relations, Wall Street, and cheating spouses. He also scores a high-profile interview with notorious NBA referee Tim Donaghy, whose knowledge of how officiating influences game outcomes wound up getting him involved with organized crime’s betting.

“(Dis)Honesty” flows remarkably well from topic to topic. The film is massively engaging, yet Melamede never sacrifices his aim of informing to make sure he is also entertaining. This is the documentary film at its most enlightening, showing immediate applicability to the dilemmas of daily life. Gladwell should just move away from the written word altogether if Melamede and Ariely continue collaborating in the cinema.

Curious Worlds: The Art & Imagination of David Beck

Never heard of artist David Beck? Don’t worry, I hadn’t either before sitting down for Olympia Stone’s documentary “Curious Worlds: The Art & Imagination of David Beck.” According to a curator at the Smithsonian, that’s because Beck spends so much time creating new work that he hardly has the time to promote himself.

So, in that sense, Stone takes care of that for Beck by the creation of her film. “Curious Worlds” at once feels like a gallery walk and a retrospective series, providing an intimate look at his very deliberate intent and meticulous process. The film does not work as well when delving into his biography, which does feel somewhat tacked on for time. Nonetheless, Beck’s singular, peculiar works fascinate, just as the film does on the whole.

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Beck serves as a problem-solver and a mechanic as much as a sculptor. Though his final products may seem kitschy, he constructs them with such precision and attention to detail and scale that they can hardly be dismissed. I would hardly call myself an art scholar, but David Beck seems like a hybrid of Alexander Calder’s interactive mobiles with Robert Rauschenberg’s mixed media sculptures. Now I just need to experience one of his works myself!

(The Full Frame programming staff picked an excellent short film, “Crooked Candy,” to precede “Curious Worlds.” The doc short directed by RiverRun head Andrew Rodgers follows one of the most unusual international smuggling stories: a Bulgarian man obsessed with bringing the toys from Kinder eggs back to America, where they are illegal. Without the proper context or visuals, a viewer could easily assume the subject was talking about drug trafficking … therein lies the subversive humor of the piece.)


BARGE

11050213_916090585102990_4081167160707705467_nBen Powell’s “Barge” details life on a shipping barge going down the Mississippi River. It eschews narrative principles, such as focusing on a single protagonist and following their development. Instead, it paints a vividly detailed portrait of what it takes to run such a massive vessel – the work it demands, the rivalries it instills, the animosity it inspires, and the loneliness it breeds.

Powell’s camera is well attuned to the many details of the boat, and he seemingly shows every inch of it in “Barge.” Half the film seems comprised of the B-roll footage that most filmmakers shoot to pad their main footage rather than seemingly constitute the backbone of the piece, as it does here.

This eye for the small stuff gives the film remarkable texture but leaves it somewhat lacking in substance and fulfillment. The brief 71 minutes fly by without leaving much of a mark, though time spent watching “Barge” is hardly time wasted. It’s just not necessarily time best spent.

From This Day Forward

From This Day ForwardSharon Shattuck’s intensely personal documentary “From This Day Forward” follows the unique ordeal that her family faced when her father decided to manifest her true identity as a woman. Sharon’s father, Trish, nonchalantly uttered, “When you get married, I hope you’ll let me wear a dress to walk you down the aisle,” thus beginning a long journey pondering the complexities of identity.

Each person in the family has their own set of issues coming to terms with the new reality. Sharon’s mother, Marcia, misses the man she married and adjusts to the different tenor of love she receives from Trish. Sharon and her sister have to come to terms with the fluidity of gender and sexuality at a time in their lives when the current rigid standards of society prove difficult enough. Trish herself has plenty of soul searching to do, not to mention the challenges dealing with a skeptical and unfriendly world. Yet in spite of everything, they find a way to make their unconventional family structure function.

In less than 75 minutes, Shattuck navigates these tough familial quandaries with thoroughness and ease. She never loses sight of the individual in “From This Day Forward,” focusing on the uniqueness of everyone’s path through life. And from that uniqueness comes beauty and understanding. If society wants to continue making forward progress socially, we could all take a few cues from Shattuck’s empathy and humanity.

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