The Crossroads of Documentary Film

Full Frame Festival opens Thursday; Duke students to meet with filmmakers

"Chasing Ice" explores global warming through time-lapse photography.

To understand why Tom Rankin gets excited when the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival rolls into town every year, you need to go beyond the opportunities it provides for his documentary arts students to see great films and to meet and talk art with the filmmakers.

That direct connection to the festival is important, Rankin said, but there's something more: A vibe that, for four days, Durham is at the "crossroads of the film world."

"For this weekend, in documentary cinema, Full Frame is the place to be," said Rankin, director of Duke's Center for Documentary Studies.  "I've told the students for a number of years that they may not understand how rare it is to have this kind of access.  Within a mile of campus, we're going to have more than 100 film screenings and panel discussions.  It's the place to take the pulse of documentary film, and it happens to be in Durham, North Carolina."

Now in its 15th year, Full Frame opens tonight with a tribute to noted African-American documentary filmmaker Stanley Nelson.  The program will include a showing of a Nelson-produced film on the life of athlete Jesse Owens, which will be shown in Fletcher Hall in Durham's Carolina Theatre.

For a full schedule of films, click here.  Tickets can be purchased by phone at (919) 684-4444 or in person at the Duke University Box Office in the Bryan Center.

Duke is the presenting sponsor of the festival.  Two faculty members, Josh Gibson and Erin Espelie, will present films during the event, and dozens of students will participate in a variety of ways.

The 15 MFA in experimental and documentary arts students all have passes for the festival, as do the 25 students selected as Full Frame fellows.  Students in Stanley Abe's Contemporary Documentary Film class will attend at least three events and discuss the films in class next week.

In addition, Duke Library will archive masters of all films that win awards during this weekend's competition.

Ross McElwee
Ross McElwee will debut his new documentary "Photographic Memory."

"We expect 50-60 filmmakers to be here," Rankin said.  "There will be opportunities to talk with the filmmakers and to see the panel discussions, but that's just part of it.  There will be informal conversations all over the city.  That's the vibe that washes all over the community this weekend."

Rankin said he always gets excited about several of the films.  This year, he pointed to "Live Free or Die," a film exploring the controversy about Gene Robinson, who in 2003 made history as the first openly gay, non-celibate bishop in the Episcopal Church of America.  Directed by Durham native Macky Alston, the film will be shown at 4:40 p.m. Saturday, April 14, in Fletcher Hall.

Another highlight is the premiere of "Photographic Memory," a new documentary by acclaimed filmmaker Ross McElwee, director of "Sherman's March."  The film will be shown at 7:40 p.m. Friday, April 13, in Fletcher Hall. 

In conjunction with the acquisition by Duke's Rubenstein Library of the New Day Films Collection, Full Frame will screen New Day's founding films at 4:50 p.m. Friday.   There will be a panel conversation with all four founding members about New Day's pioneering film collective at 9:30 a.m. Saturday.