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Full Frame Festival: Learning from Filmmakers and Making Connections

Full Frame Festival students

Several American University School of Communication (AU 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 dialogue between film makers, film lovers, and film students. Each student wrote a blog post and contributed individuals photos from their experience at the festival.

Full Frame Film Festival and Ryan White
By Quamé Hamlin

This year, I had the opportunity to attend the Full Frame Film Festival in Durham, North Carolina and it was a great experience for both networking and watching great films. Each day, there were unique sessions, screenings and masterclasses, but there’s one in particular that I want to highlight. That specific session was a town hall-style conversation with director Ryan White. White is known for “Pelada,” “Good Ol’ Freda,” “The Case Against 8,” “Serena,” “The Keepers,” and most recently, “Ask Dr. Ruth.”

During his talk, White took time to detail his journey from student to professional and shed light onto the films that he created along the way. He spoke about how he constantly bet on himself early in his career and how those investments are beginning to pay off. His session was inspiring, but also refreshing because he did not gloss over the small details or struggles. He included them and explained how he grew from his losses.

White also weighed in on the changing landscape for media and more specifically, film with special attention paid to documentaries. He mentioned trends that are driving the industry, including a push for streamable nonfiction content in the form of series. After White’s talk, he took time afterward to speak with audience members who waited for an opportunity to speak with him.

White’s latest film “Ask Dr. Ruth,” which was a multi-year journey chronicling the legendary sex therapist and Holocaust survivor leading up to her 90th birthday, also revisited her early life and rise to fame through the 1980s and 1990s. The film screening was followed up with a Q&A featuring Dr. Ruth.

Overall, Full Frame was a good experience with many great memories, but Ryan White’s contribution, with his conversation and his screening was memorable for me.

Full Frame Festival
By Eman Alghamdi

The Full Frame Festival experience was one that I will not soon forget. I was particularly fascinated with the attendance and how passionate both the filmmakers and audience were about the stories that were being told on screen.

For instance, I attended the premier of “Knock Down the House” by Rachel Lears. The film follows four women as they run for their state’s congressional seats, one of them is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. The narrative looks at the women’s struggles both in their personal life and their struggles against the people who are already in charge. The film will be put on Netflix after its premier at the festival. I think that a film that is as politically charged and full of power as this film should be watched with other people in a large theater. The audience laughed together, clapped at important points and felt connected as a community of spectators. Everyone came out of the theater discussing and dissecting the issues presented in the film which I believe could potentially lead to concrete impact. Therefore, its Netflix path might not be the most ideal for such a powerful film that can move communities and people to take charge and make change.

Other film I watched ranged from personal stories, great discoveries, and community connections. There were films told solely through animation, others focused on audible sensations, and others told through singular perspectives. Going to Full Frame before starting my own thesis film has helped me immensely by giving me not only inspiration but also different ways to tell my own narrative creatively and uniquely.

I also had the opportunity to network with fellow filmmakers. I made sure to ask about their process, funding opportunities and collaborations. One filmmaker helped my own film by pointing me to a very talented animator/illustrator that she worked with previously. Since I am looking to add animation/illustration to my own film, the films presented in the festival helped me gain more insight into how animation can be used uniquely.

Full Frame was a great adventure, between watching stories that matter, to how the visual language can be used creatively to tell simple stories. The festival was a well-rounded experience for an emerging filmmaker.

Caballerango and The Act of Patiently Looking
By Amelia Tyson

Returning to the Full Frame Film Festival as a budding documentarian is like coming home. The environment created is one of encouragement, inclusion, and fine film watching. The breadth of documentaries in the catalogue of screenings from year to year goes deep, and, as a filmmaker who is learning to develop her voice and style, I paid particular attention to films that made me think and feel - really feel. I wanted to learn about how the visuals and the cinematic aesthetic can cause the narrative to fully bloom so that the audience is moved to consider something new either about the story or themselves.

So, as I considered what to write about this year, and with the act of looking on my mind, I stumbled upon “Caballerango.” “Caballergano (Horse Wrangler),” from director Juan Pablo González, a film that sensitively plays with the act of looking. This gripping tale of the tragic loss goes beyond the story of the death of Nando, the son of the horse wrangler, to reveal the textured and sometimes painful life of a small community in Pacific Coastal state of Jalisco, affected by modernization. Every lingering of the camera is and feels germane and evocative. Through patient questions, González makes us be patient as he unfolds not only the reality of the death but something more - the inner feelings of those intimately affected by Nando’s death. In the opening sequence, González is riding in a truck with the horse wrangler, the father of Nando. Off camera, we hear González ask when the last time he spoke with his son was. The answer is short and with little detail. And then, the camera holds on him. We hear the noise from the truck, the dirt road, the wind, and you almost hear the horse wrangler’s heart beating as he mentally recalls those last conversations and moments with his son. We still don’t know what happened to Nando, but you know it was tragic and has left a deep wound. His face portrays a distance to what happened and simultaneously raw unresolved anguish.

While much of the film utilized these long establishing takes, there was a practicality to his camera choice. When asked in the Q&A after the film screened, director Juan Pablo stated that in a scene where he filmed a woman preparing a chicken, de-feathering it, in preparation to be sold, he saw a couch across from her that looked comfortable and sat there. The audience laughed, and González continued, “I didn’t care if you were able to see her face, or not, or how you were able to see her face. And in that frame, I wanted that frame to be a whole, an entire experience, not to be shooting things. So the way we framed that shot was just in the way that we thought that maybe, maybe, you could have an experience of the entire space, and sort of the context of her life, her labor, and her life in an intimate way with her customers.” Juan Pablo, as he develops more films, aims to learn how those practical decisions actually affect the experience of the film.