I recently returned from the 20th Annual Full Frame Documentary Film Festival in Durham NC where I saw around 18 films in four days and came away exhilarated and inspired. Here’s some information on just a few of the films that made lasting impressions on me.
Strong Island- Unflinchingly honest. Inventive. Hard. A soul bearing journey through grief as the filmmaker investigates his brother's murder, 25 years later. Combining the personal with the political, Strong Island looks at the corrosive effects of loss, racism, and institutional injustice. The film won the Charles E Guggenheim Emerging Artist Award and the Center for Documentary Studies Filmmaker Award. It also has a distribution deal with Netflix.
Quest - Intimate, courageous and affirming. We follow the life of the Rainey family in North Philadelphia as they navigate challenging circumstances, supported by their love for one another and the community they create. The film won the grand jury prize for best documentary and the Kathleen Bryan Edwards Award for Human Rights at Full Frame and is racking up awards and appearances at other festivals across the U.S.
Plastic China- One of the most painful films I saw. Two families living in a plastic waste recycling facility in China, where they sort through mountains of trash shipped over from Europe and the USA . Imagine your worst nightmare of a hazardous dump. This is far far worse, yet is punctuated by the laughter and fragile hope of the children who work and play there. Part of the film’s effectiveness is that although it is about our runaway consumer culture and its attendant waste, it never directly mentions these things, or overwhelms us with statistics. Instead we see how these families live and begin to understand our complicity in creating their circumstances. The film won Honorable Mention for the Full Frame Environmental Award.
Of course many, if not most documentarians, hope their films will motivate people to take action. The films I saw make me want to finally attend one of the Showing Up For Racial Justice meetings in Asheville, take steps beyond recycling to cut down on our household waste, and re-examine my commitment to building community. Perhaps they will inspire you as well.
Writing in the dark
I'm back in a darkened theater in the middle of a tech rehearsal with actors. Which means I've had nothing in my stomach all day but two and a half donuts and coffee. Ahh the perils of live theater. I’m creating the video design for Asheville Creative Arts production ofThe Red Riding Hood Show at the Magnetic Stage in Asheville, which runs April 5-9.
Earlier this spring I filmed four short scenes inspired by the silent comedic chases of the Keystone Cops and Roadrunner and Coyote. The actors were fun to work with, full of great ideas, and willing to look foolish. That part of my job was fairly straightforward.
The other part of the video design was to figure out a way to simulate the appearance of live video streaming onstage. That meant trying out various forms of technology to mirror the phone’s camera to the projector and troubleshooting moments to create the most effective visual images. We settled on a mirroring app, Reflector 2, that we've been exploring for the past week. It’s been an interesting marriage of my old and new professional selves.
In my old life I've logged a lot of time in dark theaters, rehearsing with actors, going through the dreaded load in and tech. There is comfort in re-engaging with these rituals. To be familiar with each stage of the process - the first read through, rehearsals, blocking. At the same time it’s a relief not to be in my old role of director. Instead I have one simple job. To supervise the video. So in between scenes I can sit in the dark, writing this blog. Waiting for my part.
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