Full Frame 2010: The Once and Future Festival

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Yance FordI’m back from my jaunt down to Full Frame, and grateful to return to the carcinogenic particulate matter of NYC rather than suffering the yellow plague of pollen that’s all over everything in Durham. And this post may be a day late, dollar short, whatever — still, here’s my take on Full Frame 2010.

The last time I attended Full Frame was in 2008, and Phoebe Brush (whom I spotted at FF this year — Hi Phoebe!) was director of programming. In December ’07, Nancy Buirski, the festival’s chief executive officer and artistic director, had stepped down to pursue other ventures and the “industry” was curious about how/if her departure would impact the fest. The 2008 Full Frame program was packed with hits like The Betrayal, At the Death House Door, Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson, The Order of Myths, In a Dream and so many other fine films. Clearly, Buirski had left Full Frame in capable hands.

That year, St. Clair Bourne, who died suddenly in December 2007, was honored posthumously, and William Greaves was presented with the Career Award. The festival was packed with my colleagues (who from this point forward shall be referred to as “industry”), lines were long, and while serving on the Short Film jury, I discovered a film titled My Olympic Summer — it was the kind of film I love — ambitious, provocative and willing to define itself on its own terms. POV films did well that year and I had fun; or maybe I had fun because POV films did well, who knows.

Then in October 2008, Phoebe Brush announced that she was stepping down from her long held position as the director of programming. The industry — yours truly included — promptly freaked out. Folks were asking openly and in private: “What’s going to happen to Full Frame?” Well, what happened was this: At the 2009 Festival, The September Issue (and Andre Leon Talley resplendent in pink) was the opening night film; The Way We Get By won the Audience Award, and The Cove, Food, Inc. and Burma VJ (all three went on to Oscar nominations) were among what was generally written about as a stellar program.

Robin Hessman and Garrett Savage at Full Frame 2010

Filmmaker Robin Hessman and editor Garret Savage of My Perestroika at Full Frame 2010.

The 2010 program was sprinkled with films that had done well at Sundance, including Restrepo, 12th & Delaware, The Oath and My Perestroika, but it also had its share of premieres, including the U.S. premiere of Jean-François Caissy‘s La Belle Visite, and the world premieres of Hans DortmansDivine Pig — a hilarious and genuine discovery, Peter Sillen‘s I Am Secretly an Important Man, and Lynn True and Nelson Walker‘s Summer Pasture. The North American premieres of Promised Land by Yoruba Richen, Doug Block‘s The Kids Grow Up, and Kings of Pastry, the latest from the team of Chris Hegedus and D.A. Pennebaker, were highlights of what seemed to me to be a dynamic and well-programmed year. Liz Garbus and Rory Kennedy were honored with the 2010 Career Award, and a Work and Labor sidebar was brilliantly programmed by Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert.

So what was missing? How has Full Frame changed? Well, to be honest, there was less industry around. The industry was there, but the madness that comes when the balance of industry to audience tips towards industry was non-existent. I saw more filmmakers talking to festival-goers and to each other, and the festival felt more relaxed in general. By chance I sat next to the same Durham woman at two separate screenings, and had a great discussion with her each time. Filmmakers got to see each other’s films, some for the first time. In the midst of it all this, director of programming Sadie Tillery celebrated her birthday on April 9th (along with most of the festival staff). Tillery had every right to celebrate.

Full Frame 2010 was great. A streamlined ticket procedure and some of the most affordable ticket and pass prices around made the festival user-friendly. The festival’s robust Fellows program, which brings students from a wide variety of the surrounding colleges and universities to the festival, has made Full Frame perhaps the most racially diverse film festival on the circuit. Finally, Full Frame 2010 was solidly programmed. As with every festival, I thought there were hits and misses. The single screening format made it really tough to see everything I would have like, and I wish that Racing Dreams had been screened in one of the theaters as well as under the stars, but my opinions are just that, mine.

So what’s happened to Full Frame? It’s hit its stride. It seemed to me that this year’s festival focused on the audience, not on where the festival itself ranks in the minds of the industry (yours truly included), and bravo to Tillery and her team for finding that focus. The industry can get with their program or not, but I’m happy to report that Full Frame is doing just fine.

Yance Ford
Yance Ford
Yance works closely with POV's executive director and programming director to evaluate films submitted to POV She is instrumental in curating the series, a showcase of acclaimed documentary film on PBS. Yance frequently represents POV | American Documentary at conferences, festivals and markets, procuring work from filmmakers both nationally and internationally. Yance also oversees POV's annual call for entries, which yields upwards of one thousand entries, and coordinates POV's annual programming advisory board. Yance is a Programming Consultant and Pre- Screener for film festivals around the country, including the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival, the Black Maria Film Festival, the Newport International Film Festival, Latino Public Broadcasting, Creative Capital and the Sundance Film Festival. She has served on festival juries at Full Frame and Silverdocs, appeared on panels at Sunny Side of the Doc and DocuClub and served on the IFP Advisory Committee. A graduate of Hamilton College and the production workshop at Third World Newsreel, Yance is a former Production Stage Manager for the Girls Choir of Harlem and has worked as a Production Manager on numerous independent productions for the Discovery Health and History channels. Ford has also worked in various capacities on the documentaries The Favorite Poem Project, Juanita Anderson, Executive Producer, Brian Lanker's They Drew Fire (PBS), and Barry Levinson's Yesterday's Tomorrows (Showtime). Yance's favorite documentaries include: 1. Hands on a Hard Body 2. Tongues Untied 3. Harlan County, USA 4. Cul de Sac 5. When We Were Kings 6. The Thin Blue Line 7. Night and Fog
  • jenn

    FOREIGNID: 23494
    FOREIGNPARENTID:
    Great review. Racing Dreams did play in Fletcher Hall at 10:00 am on Thursday and then again on Saturday night outdoors. All of the film’s subjects as well as Marshall Curry gave a Q&A at both screenings.

  • doclover

    FOREIGNID: 23498
    FOREIGNPARENTID:
    Full Frame is absolutely the best festival for documentary in the U.S. I was just there and the amount of respect and admiration the filmmakers and audiences have for the programming is unmatched! To screen here means you are in the inner circle. Other festivals might have more industry, but they don’t have more credibility in the documentary community.

  • Yance

    FOREIGNID: 23503
    FOREIGNPARENTID:
    Jenn- You’re quite right, Racing Dreams did play Fletcher Thursday morning and the outdoor screening had an audience of 200 people or more. Josh was at the filmmaker party and chatted people up all night! He’s a sweet, very charming, kid.

  • http://www.leslykahn.com Allie M.

    It’s great to see Full Frame surviving and thriving in the wake of the change-ups. In the last ten years some great film festivals (like the Taos Talking Pictures Film Festival) have not managed to keep going. Food Inc. was great BTW – sort of a cinematic version of Michael Pollan’s “Omnivores Dilemma”. Looking forward to next year!