Thursday, April 10, 2008

ARTICLE: Full Frame 2008

As published in The Technician:

The 11th Full Frame documentary film festival -- which attracted filmgoers, press and filmmakers from all across the country for its screenings of more than 100 documentary films, 60 of which were eligible for various awards -- concluded last Sunday in Durham.

The opening-night film selected to kick off the festival was Trumbo, a documentary directed by Peter Askin about famous screenwriter Dalton Trumbo. Based on a play of the same name by Trumbo's son, Christopher, the film follows Dalton Trumbo's struggle to keep working after he was blacklisted in 1947 for being a member of the Communist Party. Christopher Trumbo was present at the festival and participated with Askin in a Q&A after the screening.

"My idea was simply to tell the story of a historical period … in terms of one person and the effect that it had," Trumbo said. "Peter and I wanted to make it into a play, but it was Peter's idea to continue ahead and make a documentary."

Askin said he felt the film's exploration of blacklist and censorship paralleled the current situation in the United States, citing the Patriot Act and the backlash against the Dixie Chicks as an example.

"I think the political relevance is pretty clear," Askin said. "But a lot of it is funny; it's not just a political treatise."

The big winner of the festival was Trouble the Water, which won three awards, including the Grand Jury prize. The film follows New Orleans resident Kimberly Roberts and her husband as they fight to endure Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath in 2005. A large segment of the film consists of home-video footage shot by Roberts during the storm.

Another festival favorite was Man on Wire, which focuses on the planning and commitment of what many have deemed "the artistic crime of the century": a high-wire routine performed between the Twin Towers by Philippe Petit in 1974. Containing archival footage of the event, as well as personal interviews with Petit and many of the other people involved in its execution, the film garnered glowing comments from audience members after the screening.

"After seeing this film, I feel like I'll be able to finally look at pictures of the World Trade Center and instead of immediately thinking of the terrorist attack, I'll think of this," one woman in the audience said.

Man on Wire went on to win the Audience Award as well as a special Grand Jury prize, which it shared with Trouble the Water.

Full Frame staff slightly changed the technical aspects of running a film festival. They used larger venues and set in place new ticketing and logistics systems, which made for an efficient festival-going experience. Early numbers project that more than 29,000 tickets were distributed, a 7 percent increase from last year.

"In 2008, Full Frame set a goal to allow more people access to the films," Israel Ehrisman, director of logistics for Full Frame, said. "The larger venues and improvements to the ticketing and logistics process really made that happen."

Peg Palmer, executive director of Full Frame, expressed her pride in the festival's staff and volunteers, without whom she said it would not have been possible.

"Full Frame 2008 was a huge success," said Palmer said. "The Festival hosted an eclectic audience of filmmakers and film lovers from all over the world who were completely engaged with our program."

Notable films

Up The Yangtze
: Directed by first-timer Yung Chang, this film chronicles the effect the construction of the Three Gorges Dam has on families along the Yangtze River in China. With gorgeous cinematography and emotional revelations, this is a film highly recommended for those interested in foreign countries or the cost of China's growing economy. Winner of two Honorable Mentions.

Man on Wire: This engaging and entertaining documentary chronicles the journey of Philippe Petit as he walks on a tightrope between the Twin Towers in the mid-1970s. Director James Marsh uses never-before-seen footage and photographs of the event from its early planning stages through the final performance. Winner of the Audience Award and Grand Jury Award.

At the Death House Door: Retired minister Carroll Pickett shares his experience as a death house chaplain at a prison in Huntsville, Texas, where he presided over more than 95 executions. This film is a sobering look at the death penalty and an engaging look at one man's transformation from apathy to activism. Winner of the Inspiration Award.

Please Vote For Me: In one of the funniest and most thought-provoking films of the festival, director Weijun Chen examines what happens when a third-grade class in Communist China holds a democratic election for Class Monitor. Bribery, lies and manipulation all come to pass in the lives of three 8-year-olds as they strategize their ways to victory. Is this a pessimistic look at the future leadership of China, or could it perhaps also be a critique of the way democracy works in the United States? Winner of the Working Films Award.

FEATURE: Daniel Karslake and For The Bible Tells Me So

As published in The Technician:

The Film Studies program sponsored a screening last Monday night of the award-winning documentary film For The Bible Tells Me So. The screening was held in cooperation with the Full Frame film festival, which concluded in Durham over the weekend.

The film follows five Christian families and how each responds to the realization that one of their children is gay. It also contains interviews with several prominent religious figures about different interpretations of biblical passages commonly used to condemn homosexuality. Director Daniel Karslake was present at the screening and described the film's examination of faith and sexuality as something he personally related to in his own spiritual life.

"It was actually my faith, ironically, that brought me out of the closet and made me really acknowledge who I was," Karslake said. "Most of the time it's the faith background of gay and lesbian kids that drives them toward suicide and suppressing it."

The audience at the screening consisted of about 70 people, some of whom were students. Afterward, the writer-director participated in a brief Q&A with the crowd.

"I think it was very well received," Karslake said. "Very few people left for the Q&A, and that's always a good sign. … Unless someone says, 'OK, last question,' people could stay forever and talk about this."

In the film, Karslake attempts to bridge the gap between conservative Christian doctrine about homosexuality with real-life stories of religious families that come to accept their gay children. It's a message he said he believes needs to be spread in order to heal the emotional wounds many homosexuals have retained due to negative encounters with religion.

"I get e-mails all the time from gay and lesbian people of all ages who really were in their last weeks before killing themselves and happened to see the film, and have come away actually liking Christians," Karslake said. "It's all about conversation. Silence on this topic is so damaging."

Overall, the audience responded favorably to the film. One of the students present at the screening was Cristina Wase, a senior in social work.

"There was obviously a lot of passion put into it," Wase said. "There was a lot of talk about reading Scripture in context, and I agree 100 percent with that."

Leah Horton, a senior in social work, said she found the film's message corresponded with that of her faith.

"The director stated the film was about transformation," Horton said. "From what I read in the Bible, the Bible is about transformation, too."

The event was supervised by Marsha Orgeron, an assistant professor and director of the film studies program.

"I think it is an incredible opportunity any time students get the opportunity to talk to a director, ask questions and be in the room with someone who's created this thing that we all consume," Orgeron said. "To have that one-on-one opportunity is very rare."