Full Frame Documentary Filmfest 2019

Every job has it’s perks and lets just say that getting a Press Pass to the 22nd Full Frame Documentary Filmfest was probably one of the coolest things I have done in my writing career so far! Held in downtown Durham, the filmfest brings over 100 short and long-form documentaries from all around the world along with their makers! So not only do you get to see these amazing stories, but you also get to hear from, and ask questions to the people who created them!

In hindsight, I was completely unprepared for the awesomeness that awaited. I wish I had been more selfish with my schedule and stayed longer each day. I also wish I could have cloned myself so as not to miss the simultaneous screenings (down side of having press suite access is that one hears all about the other life-changing film that they missed). Oh, and there is a third wish too – I wish my film-loving friends Dottie, Sara, and Janet were with me. All this to say that for next year, I plan on making Durham my home for those 4-days (sorry kids but mama is hooked!).

Here are three of my favorite long-feature documentaries that I haven’t quite stopped thinking about:

Vincent Rimbaux & Patrizia Landi’s RESSACA

FullFrame says: This moving film tells the story of the financial crisis in Brazil by focusing on the famed Rio de Janeiro opera house, the Theatro Municipal. Elegant black-and-white cinematography universalizes the plight of dancers, musicians, and staff who attempt to maintain a beloved cultural institution. “With this crisis, we began to dance in exchange for rice and beans,” says one ballerina; performers and workers announce to the audience that they haven’t been paid for months and later rally in the street in front of the theater. Three main characters—João, a longtime usher at the theater, and two dancers, Marcia and Filipe—cope with the increasing political tension across the country. Can Brazil’s most noted artists continue to survive on odd jobs and charity? The drama intensifies when mass demonstrations and state violence unfold. As the situation deteriorates, musicians debate their options, dancers consider fleeing the country or driving for Uber, and workers try to protect their families.  NK

Iain Cunningham’s IRENE’S GHOST

FullFrame says: As a young boy, director Iain Cunningham often saw his mother’s face in the moon or imagined her to be the thistle seeds he would catch and release with a wish. With no real memories of her, growing up in a house where her name was never mentioned, Iain was left to wonder, How does someone just disappear? Decades later, watching his daughter begin forming her own memories, Iain decides to unravel the mystery of his mother, Irene. Iain asks his father for a box of photos stashed long ago in the attic. Aided by these and his incomplete baby book, Iain identifies a small group of people whose shared recollections have the power to reveal almost everything. Earnest interviews with Irene’s lifelong best friend, Lynn; Iain’s aunt and uncle; and an assortment of others propel this absorbing narrative toward unexpected discoveries. Simple, well-placed animation complements Iain’s thoughtful narration throughout, affording a quiet visual lyricism worthy of a mother’s memory.  WFM

Ragunath Vasudevan, Nathaniel Knop, Peter Rippl’s THE WATSON’S HOTEL

FullFrame says: A dawn-to-dusk symphony of Mumbai contained within a single building, The Watson’s Hotel tells the story of a once majestic relic of the British Empire, sagging and crumbling near the Bombay High Court. The oldest surviving cast-iron structure in India, completed in 1863, it’s a grand 19th-century colonial jewel, a former “Europeans Only” outpost of empire. A persistent legend about the structure is that when wealthy Indian industrialist Jamsetji Tata was turned away, he built the Taj, one of the world’s great luxury hotels, as revenge. In 1896 the Lumière brothers screened their motion pictures in the building, giving movie-mad India its first glimpse of the cinema. Today it is a warren of legal offices, convenient to the courts, even if a desk and its occupant occasionally plummet to the floor below. Many staff live in the building, sleeping on hard pallets in the lobby; the lift men and chaiwallahs are as much a part of the historic structure as the elegant balconies. Time will tell if UNESCO World Heritage Site protection will shield it from destruction.  LB The Watson’s Hotel – Official Trailer from Kinobrigada on Vimeo.

You can find the full lineup of the 2019 documentary films at fullframefest.org. The dates for next year are already announced so mark your calendars!

A big thanks to Full Frame for giving me the best seat to all this fun! Rookie no more, I can’t wait to see what next year brings!

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