I’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.
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 Dortmans‘ Divine 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.