A Full Frame Documentary Extravaganza

By Eric Martin, ITVS Senior Staff Writer
Posted on April 16, 2012

Eric Martin, filed this report from the 2012 Full Frame Film Festival, which ran April 12-April 15 in Durham, N.C.

The Full Frame Film Festival turned 15 years old this year in Durham, N.C., where I happen to live right now, and it’s no surprise that the well-attended, four-day, 100+ documentary extravaganza, which ended Sunday, included a meaty slate of ITVS and Independent Lens projects packed with something for everyone.

Eating Alabama, funded through ITVS’s station-focused LINCS program, delighted the farm-to-table crowd in this food-crazed city of 220,000 that’s home to a bevy The New York Times-featured restaurants and reportedly 80-some food trucks. The House I Live In, Putin’s Kiss, Detropia, The Invisible Warand Love Free Or Die all brought with them the buzz they’d started building at Sundance back in January.  Bernardo Ruiz zipped down from New York for the U.S. premiere of his film Reportero, which will air on P.O.V.’s upcoming season.  

Stanley Nelson was everywhere, discussing work at the many screenings of his career retrospective, which included A Place of Our Ownwhich first aired on Independent Lens in 2004. And then there was the world premiere of the Peter Nicks-directed The Waiting Room, which is slated to air on the 2012-2013 season of Independent Lens.  It started the weekend as one of the most talked about ITVS-funded films at the festival and left with the Charles E. Guggenheim Emerging Artist Award, a juried prize honoring a first-time documentary feature director.


Full Frame has a reputation as a venue where documentary filmmakers come to hang out, see each other’s work, and talk shop, somewhat free from the shadow of actors, celebrity media, and deal-making that some festivals are known for.  At Full Frame’s many, well-attended social events, producers shared tips on the cheapest place to rent Mark IV equipment in Nairobi and directors divulged how interviews snuck into their once purely-observational documentary.  The films and panels were well attended, and my sampling caught some of the following highlights: 

• A long sold-out screening of the Ai WeiWei: Never Sorry was interrupted for 20 minutes by paramedics attending to a viewer (successfully), and then ended with filmmaker Alison Klayman unable to speak because she’d lost her voice (the kind of strange things that almost seemed appropriate for the boundary-busting artist profiled on screen). 

• A standing room only distribution panel with Steve Nemeth (Rhino Films), James Ackerman (Documentary Channel), Andrew Catauro (POV), Jason Janego (Radius TWC of the The Weinstein Company) and Molly Thompson (A&E) riddled with interesting questions like “If there was a feature-length version of KONY 2012 for sale, would it have sold?” and “Are we all going to be watching movies on Facebook in five years?” 

• A window into the vibrant regional filmmaking scene at the Southern Documentary Fund screening of three “in-the-works” projects, including the intriguing Can’t Stop the Water with its collision of the Louisiana Bayou, global warming, and Cajun/Native American identity. Most of all, however, I walked away with the feeling of awe and respect for documentary filmmakers, ITVS-funded or not, whose passion for storytelling shone through everything I heard and saw.


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