Full Frame Documentary Film Festival

Thursday, Apr. 4-Sunday, Apr. 7

The Carolina Theatre, Durham

Let’s be clear: Full Frame, as locals know well after all these decades, is not devoted to American films. To the contrary, it’s about bringing docs to Durham from around the world. This is important because, as Hale County This Morning, This Evening director RaMell Ross points out in our interview, American filmmakers have a certain way of looking at things, thanks to the shape of the culture and industry they inhabit. And documentaries are about nothing if not different ways of looking. 

Still, among the major films at Full Frame this year, there are many American docs in prominent slots, and the special programming has a distinct emphasis on films whose subjects and perspectives are, in one way or another, distinctly American. This is to say they’re about borders and boundaries—the ones within  ourselves, which seem so hard to pin down, and the ones in the world, which seem so hard to break through. 

To start, we had a great conversation with Ross, whose Oscar-nominated Hale County looks at life, dreams, opportunity, and the lack thereof in rural Alabama through a lens more tuned to poetry than polemic, and whose selections as curator of this year’s thematic program follow suit. 

Then we spoke with Julia Reichert and Steven Bognar, many of whose films, which form a hymn to American-heartland industry and workers, screen in the festival’s tribute program. We watched a number of docs whose subjects fall within North Carolina’s own restive borders, from a folk-music legend to low-income residents of Edgecombe County, and found a broad-ranging study of oppression and resilience in our state. 

We also review two films that deal explicitly with borders: the local one that once segregated Ferguson, Missouri, from its sister city, and the national one that is keeping a grandmother stranded in a Greensboro church. These American visions are not always easy to look at, but they will challenge you with vital perspectives, console you with empathy, and maybe even change you. And besides ways of looking, documentaries are about nothing if not the possibility of change. 

RaMell Ross Trusts Reality to Captivate Without Plot Contrivances

Julia Reichert and Steven Bognar Film Poignant Hymns to American Labor

Everything Old Is New Again with Folk-Revival Player and Chronicler Alice Gerrard

Class and Privilege Fault Lines Laid Bare in Full Frame’s North Carolina-Based Fare

For an Undocumented Immigrant Grandmother, a Greensboro Sanctuary Does the Word Justice in Santuario

The Physical Barrier Between Ferguson, Missouri, and Kinloch Is Gone, but the Mental One Remains

Caterer Giorgios Bakatsias’s Canvas Pavilion Might Be the Heart of Full Frame. It’s Definitely the Stomach.