Several SOC film students were awarded fellowships to attend the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival 2019, a four day event held in Durham, NC. Full Frame is an annual international event showcasing nonfiction cinema and providing a venue for dialog between film makers, film lovers, and film students. Each student wrote a blog post and contributed individuals photos from their experience at the festival after their trip.
Full Frame Journal
By Safiya Gallaghan
You see a lot of different kinds of films at Full Frame. There are crowd-pleasing docs, there are deeply reflective docs, there are experimental docs. There are docs grounded in history and talking heads, and there are docs that follow the moment in a vérité fashion. All of them tell stories, in one way or another. The crowd-pleasers stick out most, because those were the films everyone stood up for at the end, they were emotionally charged and made you want to make a difference. I always look out for the quieter films that linger a little longer with me. These films don’t necessarily call you to action, but they make you contemplate the existences of others, or even your own existence. This year, that film for me was When All is Ruin Once Again.
I will admit that I fell asleep a couple times towards the end. When All is Ruin is very slow, very meticulous and metaphoric. A shot of what appears to be a slow-motion explosion of the ground is juxtaposed with elderly women reflecting on the loss of traditional Irish words. The doc was filmed over eight years and takes place in a small Irish town called Gort that was hit with economic crisis. It comments on the inevitable return to ruin that all creations eventually meet. Various human manifestations in the process of either building or crumbling are portrayed in short vignettes. The film was beautiful. It made me contemplate the idea of structure in a film, and how a topic for a film may come together thematically. While rather disconnected in terms of subjects, I think the film managed to create profound meaning for viewers, whether that be despair or awe at the impermanence of life.
In some ways, the film feels much less like a documentary and more like a surreal observation of time-- yet, all of it is real and true. The black and white treatment contributed to this. Films like this one help to expand the definition of a documentary and open up a conversation around the potentials of the genre. I left the film contemplating my role as a visual storyteller in giving meaning to the world around me.
The Humor Within Documentaries
By Kirsten Holmes
This year, I had the amazing opportunity to attend Full Frame, a documentary film festival held in Durham, North Carolina. This year I felt incredibly lucky to be humored, and was given a new perspective towards documentaries. The three films that have inspired me to become a better storyteller are: American Factory, Knock Down the House, and Ask Dr. Ruth.
American Factory is a documentary that tells the story of what happened when General Motors shut down their plant leaving thousands of employees unemployed. Fortunately, a Chinese billionaire came to America and began the operation of his plant. The story is told from multiple lenses, from immigrant Chinese workers, to the Vice President, to the employees that were laid off from General Motors. Although the subject of culture clash came into play, the documentary had a fantastic viewpoint of playing with humor. The humor in the film allowed for the differences of the cultures to be compared and contrasted.
Knock Down the House is a film that showcases the private lives of various women who were political candidates in the 2018 US Congressional election. Although politics is usually a heavy subject, the film really examined the main participant, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and made her more relatable as a young, up-and-coming politician. The film goes behind the scenes and shows the newcomer preparing for congressional debates, AOC is talking to herself and stating to herself that she is important. She then begins to talk to herself calling herself an important person who deserves to take up space. As she is trying to calm her nerves, she begins flailing her arms, mimicking a bird in flight, and breaking the fourth-wall and telling the audience that she is taking up space. Although the film shows the devastating heartbreak and the aftermath of losing an election, AOC shows an exuberant, cheerful-like personality and narrows the audience in by having her seem down to earth. The film really goes deep into showing how draining the campaign trail is. However, having clips of the main participant, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, helps the audience with the digestion of how impactful the 2018 Congressional election was.
Ask Dr. Ruth is the last film that really helps break the stereotypical documentary mold. The film recounts the story of Dr. Ruth Westheimer, a ninety-year-old Holocaust survivor who just so happened to become America’s most famous sex therapist. Although Dr. Ruth tells her life story and the film displays topics such as the Holocaust and the devastating loss of family members, her spunky-youthful personality helps breakup scenes that could feel heart-rendering to the audience. Dr. Ruth’s personality feels more like a grandmother spreading wisdom and making sure that you are well fed. Her constant flirtation with ‘good looking’ younger men helps relieve the tension of topics such as the Holocaust, divorce and bad relationships.