Full Frame Documentary Film Festival | Thursday, Apr. 7–Sunday, Apr. 10, 2022
Due to the perpetual bummer that is COVID-19, the 25th annual Full Frame Documentary Film Festival is being held online again this year, April 7-10. But don’t fret: festival organizers have figured out the best possible techniques for watching the films at home on your TV (why not a viewing party?) or on your small-screen device, if you must.
The best way to proceed is via the Full Frame website, which has step-by-step instructions and a thorough FAQ on purchasing tickets and setting up your viewing experience. This year’s festival features 37 titles from 18 countries—22 feature films and 15 shorts. The festival is also hosting several online filmmaker Q&A sessions. Organizers have also announced a plan to present a handful of in-person documentary screenings at Durham Central Park at the end of August.
To watch now, though, browse the full listings at the Full Frame website, and read up on this sampling that suggests the typical breadth of awesomeness at Full Frame’s annual festival.
Among the buzziest of this year’s docs, Stay Prayed Up profiles legendary North Carolina gospel group The Branchettes and singer Lena Mae Perry, celebrating her 50th year as the bandleader. Early reactions suggest this is the film for those of us seeking dramatic renewal of hope. Watch for a special screening event at the Carolina Theatre in May.
Grand Jury prize winner at Sundance, The Exiles follows the 30-year journey of three exiled Chinese dissidents from the Tiananmen Square massacre. Also in frame: notoriously rowdy filmmaker Christine Choy, the documentarian who first profiled the escapees just after the tragic events in 1989. Debut directors Violet Columbus and Ben Klein unknot a very twisty story.
Another big winner at Sundance, this harrowing documentary chronicles the story of now-imprisoned Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, and his mission to find those who poisoned him in 2020. Navalny is square in the middle of the global conversation right now, and it’s one of several films in this year’s lineup to address issues around the war in Ukraine.
Director Jon-Sesrie Goff offers a sustained meditation on the American South through a collage of history, memory, and the tensions in between. Told in flittering scenes of personal narrative, the film observes the Gullah community in South Carolina, stewards of land originally deeded to freed slaves, and their experience with recent hate crimes and gradual gentrification.
First-time feature director Reid Davenport shot the entirety of this remarkable film from his particular physical vantage point as a wheelchair-using documentarian. Toggling between the experimental and the vérité, Davenport delivers a first-person perspective on “spectacle, (in)visibility, and the corrosive legacy of the Freak Show.”
In 1956, Gabor Szilasi arrived by boat from Hungary to his new adopted home in Canada. He’s been taking pictures of everyday life ever since. Filmmaker Joannie Lafrenière follows the 94-year-old photographer as he applies his fiercely humanist philosophy to everything he sees, from Montreal to Budapest and back again. This year’s fest is light on feel-good films, but this is one of them.
Another documentary with alarming relevance just now, Chernobyl: The Lost Tapes features never-before-seen footage filmed during and just after the infamous 1986 disaster. Director James Jones also rooted out additional material from archival news reports, defunct Russian studios, and Soviet propaganda films. Word is that Jones finished his film and got out of Ukraine just before war was declared.
Filmmaker Iliana Sosa’s film is a kind of DIY cinematic ode to her grandfather, Julián, who regularly visits his daughters and their children in El Paso from his home in rural Mexico. Julián has been making that bus trip for decades, nurturing family ties over the border. Sosa’s lyrical, artful film is a reminder that all a talented filmmaker really needs is a story and a camera.
This intriguing feature doc from director Tomasz Wolski depicts the back-room dealings behind a series of violent protests in communist Poland circa 1970, when authorities cracked down on starving workers. Wolski combines archival telephone recordings with stop-motion animation to imagine the conflict from behind the closed doors of the oppressors—angry little men in power, playing with life and death.
Fresh from its world premiere at SXSW, director Jessica Edwards’s new film is being billed as the first feature documentary about the rise of women’s skateboarding. Skate Dreams follows the stories of several women, from the sport’s 1980s pioneers to recent Olympic contenders around the world. There aren’t many rules in documentary filmmaking, but everyone knows this one: skateboarding movies always look cool as hell.
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