I went to Durham last weekend for a day and a half at the Full Frame Film Festival. As always it was a great chance to see some amazing new work, but also to see less commercial offerings from around the world.
Last year quite a few of the films I watched garnered a good bit of acclaim, but this year I concentrated on films that may not end up on the Netflix list. Here are a few that stand out.
Won’t You Be My Neighbor?- I missed the Mr. Rogers phenomena, learning more about him from Saturday Night Live parodies than through watching his show. I admit I thought Mr Rogers was a nerd in his cardigan sweater and soft soled shoes. This film, however helped me appreciate all the ways he shaped American educational television and the culture of programming for children. And a kindly soft-soled approach to the world is certainly a refreshing change of pace in this age of insults and tweets. There is nothing fancy or especially innovative about this intimate look at the man behind the land of make believe. The film combines historical footage of the show, with interviews of family, former cast members and cultural critics. And it throws in some animation for good measure. But Won’t You Be My Neighbor? doesn’t need to be technically innovative to serve its story. An honest and emotional examination of the man himself, the transformative nature of the film is in the person being depicted.
Maj Doris - A visually striking film that depicts the life of the Sami artist and activist Maj Doris Rimpi, who lives alone near the Arctic Circle, I loved how the film played with time. If you believe in the principles of slow food and slow conversation, then this is the film for you. We watch as Maj harvests lichens, feeds reindeer, makes tea, smokes cigarettes, make art, and dreams about escaping to a warmer climate. Walking out of the theater I overheard some audience members complain that the film wasn’t “about” anything. But I think that is precisely what I enjoyed - the chance to sink into the daily rhythms of a 74 year old woman living through a long winter in Sweden.
Bisbee ‘17- I had been looking forward to seeing this because it depicts a shameful incident from 100 years ago, when the town of Bisbee AZ, deputized local residents before rounding up and deporting its striking copper workers, most of them immigrants. Director Robert Green’s unconventional take on handling historical material and the lush cinematography make for a gripping journey. Working with the town’s centennial celebration committee, Green persuades the residents to re-enact the events of the past as a way to not only understand the forgotten history that helped shape the town into what it is today, but also connect how the past resonates with the present. Although I question some of the ethics around “re-enacting” acts of violent racism, it does make for compelling viewing. A must see for anyone interested in historical docs.