We reviewed as many Full Frame films as we could see; you can find the full schedule online at www.fullframefest.org or in print in the April 1 INDY.

Contributing reviewers are Curt Fields (CF), Laura Jaramillo (LJ), Craig D. Lindsey (CDL), Emma Loewe (EL), Ashley Melzer (AM), Neil Morris (NM), Sylvia Pfeiffenberger (SP), Lisa Sorg (LS), Zack Smith (ZS), Lauren Vanderveen (LV), Chris Vitiello (CV) and Iza Wojciechowska (IW).Icon key:
* (highly recommended)
+ (local filmmakers or subjects)
# (national or world premieres)


BEST OF ENEMIES (U.S., 87 min.)The televised debates between conservative Republican icon William F. Buckley and liberal Democrat iconoclast Gore Vidal during the 1968 conventions are the fulcrum of this absorbing retrospective. Both disagree, and are disagreeable. While their verbal jousting recalls a bygone era of intelligent political discourse, their personal animus, which shatters the erudite veneer, predicts today’s clamorous punditry. NM

# THE CIRCUS DYNASTY (Denmark, 90 min.)Merrylu Casselly and Patrick Berdino are the talented heirs to two of Europe’s greatest circus families. They also happen to be 21-year-olds in love (for now). The pressures of a family legacy don’t mix well with young relationships, and fairytale dramatization is too tempting for the filmmakers in an otherwise intriguing look into everyday circus life. AM

* + # (DIS)HONESTY: THE TRUTH ABOUT LIES (U.S., 90 min.)Lab results meet real-life consequences in this exploration of lying, from plagiarism to financial fraud. Duke University Professor Dan Ariely shares his research about the motivations of (and stopgaps for) cheating. While at times almost a TED Talk, the film is elevated when newsworthy confessors open up about the outcomes of their muddy ethics. AM

IRIS (U.S., 78 min.)At 93, Iris Apfel’s got it all: racks of glamorous clothes, friends in high places and an icon status in the fashion industry. But it’s not the jeweled glitz that keeps Albert Maysles’ film engaging; it’s the subplots featuring Iris’ surprisingly down-to-earth attitudes and loving moments with her husband. See related story, page 17. AM

KINGS OF NOWHERE (Mexico, 83 min.)This visually austere, slow-paced film captures the ruins of San Marco, a Mexican city flooded after the construction of a dam. Interviews with its last inhabitants and observant photography of abandoned structures tucked away in deep forestsand an ever-rising rivertap into the beauty of the still and forsaken. LV

* MERU (U.S., 89 min.)Full Frame’s Opening Night feature follows three mountain climbers’ years-long efforts to scale Meru Peak in the Himalayas via the unconquered and treacherous “Shark’s fin” route. The film delves into the perils and psychology of climbing. Stunning cinematography of daredevils perched on the world’s edge will have you on the edge of your seat. NM

MONTE ADENTRO (Colombia/Argentina, 79 min.)This experimental film is about a mother and son separated by distance, but united by a shared stake in the simple life of mule-driving. Director Nicolás Macario Alonso employs long cuts and repetitive imagery to offer reverberating glimpses into the demanding process that has come to define this family’s identity. EL

TIGER TIGER (U.S., 89 min.)This eco-thriller follows conservationist Alan Rabinowitz as he navigates the Sundarban mangroves of Bengal in search of one of the last thriving tiger populations. In this fiercely dynamic ecosystem, tigers are admired as much as they are feared. Intimate footage finds the beauty in the beast. EL

* UYGHURS, PRISONERS OF THE ABSURD (Canada, 99 min.)This exposé shares the stunning, Kafkaesque plight of 22 Uyghurs, China’s Turkic ethnic minority, who were sold for ransom to the U.S. military as supposed Taliban terrorists and then held in Guantanamo Bay for years after being cleared of any wrongdoing and threat potential. The interview format doesn’t deaden the impact of a dramatic, tragic odyssey. NM


BARGE (U.S., 71 min.)Losers on land get a second chance on a Mississippi River towboat, moving barges up and down America’s great inland shipping lanes. But brains and brawn are required to make the grade on the M/V Mary Parker, and some chafe under the hierarchy of command. Those who stick with it find fulfillment and solace where nature, man and machine hum along in unison. SP

* + # CAIRO IN ONE BREATH (U.S., 80 min.)At each of Cairo’s 3,000 mosques, muezzin sing the daily call to prayer into microphones. The resulting cacophony sounds beautiful and sacred to some; noisy and intrusive to others. As Egypt’s 2011 revolution looms, a controversial plan threatens to replace the muezzin with an automated radio broadcast. The film puts the practice into cultural context while following the lives of individual muezzin. SP

# CHASING THE WIND (Italy, 57 min.)This poetic character-study examines the line between life and death, and one Italian woman’s job at the edges. Spending her days transforming the deceased and her nights in quiet repose, a mortician works and plays with steadfast confidence. Facing mortality is a gentle task, thanks to the film’s meditative pacing. AM

# CONTAINMENT (U.S., 81 min.)Is nuclear power safe enough? This question is addressed in a toxic weave of stories of the Fukushima disaster, the Savannah River Site cleanup in South Carolina and the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico, punctuated by futurist musings in animation sequences. Rather than preaching, the filmmakers use the notion of waste-site markers designed to last 10,000 years to show the absurdity of permanent waste containment. CV

+ CROOKED CANDY (U.S., 6 min.)Smuggling is a breeze when your plunder’s cloaked in chocolate, or so hopes one anonymous Kinder Egg fiend. Outlawed in the U.S. as a choking hazard, these chocolate eggs hold a sentimental spot in the heart of one Bulgarian who’s happy to risk his immigration status to keep collecting in this sweet short. AM

+ # CURIOUS WORLDS: THE ART & IMAGINATION OF DAVID BECK (U.S., 69 min.)With delightfully detailed whimsy, David Beck paints, sculpts, woodworks and welds tiny components into something between curiosity cabinets and music boxes. This peek into his process explores the link between his diligent work ethic and his wondrous imagination. AM

# DEVIL’S ROPE (Belgium/France, 88 min.)Depending on your viewpoint, fences can protectkeeping the cows off the road, for exampleor obstruct, creating barriers at the border for undocumented immigrants. This examination of the role of fences in our lives runs a bit long but raises interesting questions of whether they make good neighbors. LS

# THE FAREWELL (Cuba, 25 min.)This observational documentary details the daily life of a very elderly man living with his many grandsons in a shack. The cinematography brings every speck of dirt and dust, every wrinkle, to life. This is for slow-cinema fans, but might feel like a slog to others. LJ

* THE FISH TAMER (Spain, 23 min.)A gorgeous meditation on aging and death, The Fish Tamer tells the story of a dying man who makes two requests of his friend. What unfolds in the granting of these requests is the dedication of two old men to the sea. LJ

# FOR FLOPPY EARS ONLY (The Netherlands, 21 min.)This character study of a young girl, whose mother has passed away, finding comfort in her stuffed rabbit is an authentic, touching slice of life. ZS

* # FROM THIS DAY FORWARD (U.S., 74 min.)Director Sharon Shattuck directs a moving, intimate portrait of her family grappling with their father’s transition from male to female. While detailing the more obvious difficulties of being and having a transgender father, the film is ultimately an examination of partnerhood and love. LJ

GIOVANNI AND THE WATER BALLET (The Netherlands, 18 min.)With the support of his girlfriend, Kim, Giovanni trains to qualify as the first boy on a synchronized swimming team. A gentle portrait of the juvenile couple emerges at the heart of this bubbly short, which leaves the motivations of Giovanni and his teammates largely unexplored. SP

* GOOD THINGS AWAIT (Denmark, 93 min.)Traditional farming runs afoul of modern regulation on the biodynamic Danish farm Thorshøjgaard, which supplies rare beef and vegetables to fine restaurants. With gorgeous pastoral cinematography and a hypnotic choral score, the film shows an 80-year-old farmer’s nearly spiritual approach and conflict with agricultural inspectors. CV

GRAMINOIDS (U.K., 7 min.)This visual reverie of wind blowing through a field of grass is more interesting than it sounds. The documentary short combines mesmerizing long shots of the meadow’s undulations and tight shots of the individual strands of grass. A graceful respite, it needs no plot. LS

# HERE COME THE VIDEOFREEX (U.S., 78 min.)In the 1960s and ’70s, 10 amateur videographers, fed up with the three TV stations dominating the airwaves, started America’s first pirate channel. Combining present-day interviews with the group’s original footage, this quirky film chronicles their battle against the mainstream and hails the power of amateur video. IW

KINGDOM OF SHADOWS (U.S., 73 min.)An American farmer turned drug trafficker, a Chicano would-be gangbanger turned cop, and an activist nun are all fascinating subjects for a drug-trade documentary set at the U.S.-Mexico border. Unfortunately, these stories never coalesce into a coherent perspective on the drug war or its 23,000 victims. [Clarification: This figure refers to the number of people officially reported missing. Most estimates set the number of people killed in drug-linked violence since 2007 at more than 100,000.] LJ

# KINGS OF THE WIND & ELECTRIC QUEENS (France, 56 min.)Part circus, part flea market, part carnival, India’s Sonepur Fair is one of the largest and oldest live-animal markets in Asia. Motorbike daredevils and belly dancers add to sometimes-unsavory exhibitions of animal and human flesh. With little interpretation, the film offers unfiltered backstage access to vendors preparing for the sensational annual spectacle. SP

* # THE LAND (U.S., 22 min.)This is an eye-opening, sometimes hair-raising trip to an “adventure playground” in Wales, where supervision is hands-off and kids enjoy uncensored play with hazardous materials. The concept was born in the U.K. in the ’70s, but has spread throughout Europe and several American cities, where adventure playgrounds offer a radical alternative to the helicopter parenting of today’s risk-averse culture. SP

# THE LAST HOUR IN THE SUN (The Netherlands, 23 min.)Director Suzanne Jansen films what she knows: her brother Emile, now piloting a forklift instead of a plane because “there are more pilots than jobs.” Add the burdensome loan debt that his training placed on their parents and many will relate to Emile’s feeling that “everything has failed because my landing has failed.” CF

LOVE MARRIAGE IN KABUL (Australia, 84 min.)Mahboba Rawi is an Afghan-Australian woman who has founded orphanages and schools throughout Afghanistan for refugees from the Taliban. She wants to help Abdul, a young man she’s watched grow up, to marry Fatemeh, his love. Half field journalism and half reality show, the film captures the excruciating negotiations with Fatemeh’s father, who will send her into an arranged marriage without a dowry. CV

# NADESHDA (Germany, 48 min.)Two families in the Roma ghetto of Nadeshda keep their children in violin lessons at all costs, despite homelessness, unemployment and fears that girls as young as 11 may be raped and forced into marriage. While dreaming of sending their kids to better schools and playgrounds, the families face discrimination from Bulgarian neighbors and the loss of cultural identity. SP

* + # OVERBURDEN (U.S., 66 min.)A team of three local filmmakers examines the perils of mountaintop coal removal in West Virginia. But unlike other, similarly themed documentaries, this is not a ranting polemic. It makes its point about a complex issue through emotional intimacy, character and nuance. See related story, page 14. LS

* THE QUEEN (Argentina, 19 min.)This film begins with a simple premise: the coronation of a child beauty queen for an annual carnival. Yet the images of a childhood burdened with success are both beguiling and troubling. Beautifully shot and powerfully edited, The Queen shows you exactly how heavy is the head that wears the crown. LJ

* # R. ENSTONE (U.K., 15 min.)After filmmakers discover 89 reels of Super 8 footage shot by R. Enstone, now deceased, they track down his family to unravel the mystery of a man who clearly was burdened with psychological issues. However, the directors treat Enstone with empathy rather than as a circus sideshow. LS

* WHITE CHIMNEY (Finland, 25 min.)Finland’s Hotel Aulanko was once a vacation destination, and Sirkka Sari was its brightest staruntil her untimely death in 1939 made her its most haunting attraction. Juxtaposing present day gawkers with archival footage, filmmaker Jani Peltonen threads together past and present in this captivating, enigmatic short. AM

THE WOLFPACK (U.S., 84 min.)This so-insane-it-has-to-be-true doc deals with the male offspring of a heavily introverted New York family, a sextet of long-haired boys whose knowledge of the outside world comes mostly from movies. They struggle to escape from their dad’s mental stranglehold, to venture outside their door. CDL


* ABANDONED GOODS (U.K., 36 min.)A stunning and heartbreaking revelation, this film showcases painting and sculpture produced by patients at a now-shuttered Scottish mental institution. It’s clear from archival footage that many of these patients were hospitalized not because they were ill, but because of their eccentricities. Especially outrageous is how doctors misused the patients’ artan honest reflection of draconian conditionsto support their medical diagnoses. LS

# BADDDDD SONIA SANCHEZ (U.S., 90 min.)Sonia Sanchez, the seminal spoken-word poet, activist and Black Arts Movement leader, receives commentary and readings from literary giants. Amiri Baraka and Nikki Giovanni are here, as well as hip-hop luminaries Mos Def and Questlove. The film wanders a bitdo we need to see her grocery shopping?but is generous with performance footage of this literary powerhouse. CV

* THE BLACK PANTHERS: VANGUARD OF THE REVOLUTION (U.S., 116 min.)This comprehensive chronicle from veteran documentarian Stanley Nelson (The Murder of Emmett Till) traces the rise and fall of the iconic black militants as they sought to protect themselves and their people, only to become public enemies in the eyes of the police and the FBI, who went to extreme, insidious measures to dismantle and silence these inner-city revolutionaries. CDL

* CARTEL LAND (U.S./Mexico, 98 min.)Matthew Heineman’s harrowing film traverses grassroots efforts in the drug wars in the U.S. and Mexico, where Arizona paramilitary patrolmen are trying to stop the drugs trickling across the border. The primary focus is Dr. Jose Mireles and the (de)evolution of his insurgent Autodefensas movement, formed to rid Michoacán towns of cartel (and corrupt government) influences. Heineman’s awards at this year’s Sundance Film Festival are well-deserved. NM

DEEP WEB (U.S., 90 min.)As the official drug war raged, the online “Silk Road” drug marketplace developed and thrived. Narrated by Keanu Reeves and directed by Alex Winter, formerly known for their “excellent” adventures as Bill and Ted, this film peers into the seamy side of the Internet, but it feels more like adolescent curiosity than investigative journalism. LJ

* INCORRUPTIBLE (Senegal/U.S., 90 min.)As President Abdoulaye Wade’s contentious campaign for an illegal third term sends waves of violence and political unrest through Senegal, this film follows an artist-led youth movement in a passionate fight for democracy and pays tribute to a nation’s unwavering cultural pride. EL

# IN THE COUNTRY (Sweden, 58 min.)Married life is composed of millions of moments that swing between peaks of happiness, plateaus of monotony and valleys of tiffs. This black-and-white film chronicles the daily life of an older Swedish couple, and we feel the tension build even in their small decisions: Will they sleep in the same bedroom tonight? Did the wife really ruin the TV? Is it better to slice or crush garlic? LS

# KING GEORGES (U.S., 76 min.)Le Bec Fin, George Perrier’s classic French restaurant, was a Philadelphia institution since the 1970s, but it recently closed its doors for good. This film tracks the changing landscape of restaurant culture in the U.S. through the rise and decline of superstar chef Perrier. If you enjoy the insider baseball of haute cuisine, it’s a treat. LJ

* + # THE LANTHANIDE SERIES (U.S./France/U.K., 70 min.)Lanthanides, or rare earth elements, are present in almost every electronic device today. Both a visual poem and a science documentary, this film uses the lanthanides as a departure point into the history and mysteries of vision and human understanding. Filmmaker Erin Espelie teaches courses at Duke. See related story, page 19. CV

# LAST DAY OF FREEDOM (U.S., 32 min.)This animated short portrays a man recounting his Vietnam veteran brother’s struggle with PTSD and eventual execution for murder. Excellent for fans of true crime tales, it’s also a haunting take on the death penalty and the treatment of veterans. ZS

* PEACE OFFICER (U.S., 109 min.)A former Utah sheriff spends years investigating the death of his son-in-law at the hands of a SWAT teamone the sheriff founded in 1975. This SXSW Grand Jury Award winner is a timely tale of the militarization of American police departments, like a ripped-from-the-headlines Law and Order, but it also shows how real life can’t be solved in a tidy episode. CF

* # SAD SONGS OF HAPPINESS (Germany, 81 min.)This beaut of a doc focuses on three adorable Palestinian schoolgirls who have aspirations of becoming successful vocalists. With their dedicated Bavarian teacher guiding them, they seek to make their dreams a reality in a prestigious European music competition. CDL

SAVING MES AYNAK (U.S., 60 min.)This powerful story sheds light on the significance of cultural heritage. An Afghani archaeologist is on a quest to excavate a 5,000-year-old site the size of Pompeii near the Pakistani border. But a Chinese mining company threatens to destroy the site, which sits on $100 billion worth of copper. IW

THE SOLITUDE OF MEMORY (Mexico/U.S., 20 min.)Over and over, a father remembers the last time he saw his son, who took his own life five years ago. Beautifully captured, this brief film is a haunting rumination on memory and grief. IW

# THE STORM MAKERS (Cambodia/France, 66 min.)If you don’t mind documentaries depressing the hell out of you, here’s a bitter, revealing downer about Cambodia’s human-trafficking system. Among the key players, there is a mentally scarred girl who escaped but came back pregnant and a born-again Christian who guiltlessly continues to recruit young Cambodian women. CDL

# THE TERM (Russia, 83 min.)Familiar figures like Pussy Riot pop up in this latest doc about the dictatorial rule of Russian leader Vladimir Putin. But the focus is the fractious domestic protest movement. The film’s strength is its incredible access; it’s a vérité achievement. The activist fervor is alive, but also intriguing are the varying breaking points in the courage of these would-be Russian leaders of tomorrow. NM

* # TOCANDO LA LUZ (Cuba/U.S., 72 min.)Three blind women strive for independence in Havana, where everyone engages in the daily struggle for resources. Mili defies overprotective parents to find love. Revolutionary Margarita comes to terms with the death of her husband. Lis seeks the confidence to pursue a singing career. It’s an interesting look at Cuba’s services for the blind, with glimpses into Afro-Cuban religion, culture and everyday life. SP


* + ALTHEA (U.S., 77 min.)Pioneering African-American tennis player Althea Gibson is the subject of this moving, much-needed biopic. Gibson made her way from a South Carolina cotton farm to the streets of Harlem to the grass courts of Wimbledon. She later became a singer and broke the color barrier in the LPGA. Still, she reached a point where suicide seemed viable before the intervention of an old friend. Gibson shouldn’t be forgotten. The film has several Durham connections, including Shirlette Ammons on the excellent soundtrack. CF

* DRUNK STONED BRILLIANT DEAD: THE STORY OF NATIONAL LAMPOON (U.S., 94 min.)Get ready to be offended (but in a funny way) as this riotous doc takes you back to the glory days of the counterculture humor magazine where subversive smartasses such as Michael O’Donoghue, P.J. O’Rourke and John Hughes penned button-pushing pieces, while future comedy icons John Belushi, Bill Murray and Gilda Radner acted them out in radio shows, stage productions and, eventually, the movies. CDL

LISTEN TO ME MARLON (U.K., 97 min.)This moody and reflective doc features acting legend Marlon Brando speaking from beyond the grave, courtesy of hours of unearthed audio tape he recorded of himself. Through his candid words, the film traces humble beginnings (studying with Method master Stella Adler), groundbreaking highs (reinventing screen acting in On the Waterfront and A Streetcar Named Desire) and tragic lows (serving as a witness in his son’s murder trial). CDL

SUNSHINE SUPERMAN (U.S./U.K./Norway, 101 min.)Carl Boenish had one philosophy: Human laws are temporary and nature’s laws are fundamental. He lived and died by it while fathering the concept of BASE jumping in the 1970s and ’80s, jumping off of everything from skyscrapers to craggy mountains in Norway. Director Marah Strauch attempts to convey Boenish’s joie de vivre, similar to Man on Wire, but it lacks the same energy. LV

WESTERN (U.S., 93 min.)If there was a documentary version of No Country for Old Men, this would be it. Once a harmonious cattle crossing, the border between sister cities Eagle Pass, Texas and Piedra Negras, Mexico becomes ensnared in drug cartels and border security. Amid the engrossing vérité filmmaking is Chad Foster, the bilingual Eagle Pass mayor who artfully navigates two cultures but is powerless to stem the tragic tide of cartel violence and the reactions from Washington, D.C. NM