April 23, 2014

Full Frame ‘10: Annual film fest a welcome dose of reality


BY SEAN O’CONNELL

Durham, N.C., is enjoying an unusually busy week. On Monday night, Duke University’s men’s basketball team, the Blue Devils, will compete for an NCAA National Championship against the Butler Bulldogs. Should Duke win, the Southern city likely will celebrate right up until Thursday, when the annual Full Frame Documentary Film Festival picks up the torch and carries a wave of enthusiasm through the weekend.

Full Frame has become an essential springtime stop for documentary film lovers and celebrants of all things cinema. The four-day gathering has become a springboard for recent Oscar winners such as James Marsh’s “Man On Wire” (2008) or Alex Gibney’s “Taxi to the Dark Side” (2007). It’s also earning a reputation for luring documentary heavyweights to the intimate Southern setting, meaning you have a very good chance of bumping into Gibney, Morgan Spurlock, Charles Ferguson, Godfrey Cheshire, D.A. Pennebaker, Mira Nair, Steve James, Michael Moore or Martin Scorsese — all of whom have attended the film festival in the past — as you stroll from one intimate screening to the next.

This year’s fest runs Thursday to Sunday, April 8-11, and will showcase the last films by a number of the aforementioned talents (as well as some unexpected geniuses like Steven Soderbergh and Michel Gondry). And the schedule, as expected, overflows with highlights.

Pennebaker will open the festival Thursday night with “Kings of Pastry,” about the chefs who compete in the Meilleur Ouvrier de France for the chance to be recognized as the world’s top French pastry chef. Immediately after, Full Frame screens Gondry’s acclaimed “The Thorn in the Heart,” a personal reflection on family that has played a few festivals earlier this year.

On Friday, Gibney, who took the Enron crooks to task in “The Smartest Guys in the Room,” returns to Full Frame with his new film “Casino Jack and the United States of Money,” a searing portrayal of corrupt Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff. The rest of the day fills out with potential gems like “No Crossover,” a look at Allen Iverson’s impact on his hometown doen by “Hoop Dreams” director Steve James; “The Oath,” which chronicles the bond between brothers-in-law who served as Osama Bin Laden’s bodyguard and personal driver; and the titillating “Live Nude Girl UNITE,” about strip club workers forming a union. Later that evening, Robert Patton-Spruill’s Do It Again” documents journalist Geoff Edgers’ attempt to reunite the British rock band The Kinks. (The Friday night screening will be followed by a musical performance by The Kinksmen with guest artists Mitch Easter, Peter Holsapple and Chris Stamey.)

Events continue through the weekend, leading to a Sunday morning screening of Don Hahn’s “Waking Sleeping Beauty” and the festival’s celebrated awards banquet, best known for its delicious barbecue and outstanding Southern sides. I already can taste the macaroni and cheese.

Check out the full schedule on Full Frame’s official site.

HollywoodNews.com will be in Durham covering the ins and outs of Full Frame. We also have a number of good features on tap for this week as we lead up to the festival, including a Q-and-A with Sadie Tillery, the festival’s Director of Programming, and reviews of such films as “Pastry” and “Sleeping Beauty.” So bookmark the site for all things Full Frame as the week progresses.

About Sean O'Connell

Sean O'Connell is a nationally recognized film critic. His reviews have been published in print ('The Washington Post,' 'USA Today') and online (AMC FilmCritic.com, MSN's Citysearch) since 1996. He's a weekly contributor to several national radio programs. He is a longstanding member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association (BFCA), the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS), and the Southeastern Film Critics View all articles by Sean O'Connell Association (SEFCA).

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