Documentary Traditions

During the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival Opening Night screening of Julie Moggan’s Guilty Pleasures (my review should be posted tomorrow), it occurred to me that I have been attending Full Frame for five years now. Ever since I began teaching at Fayetteville State, I have seen Full Frame as both an end of semester escape–a break from the rigors of teaching and grading–and an engaging way to catch some of the year’s best documentaries.

In some ways the event has become routine for me: I know the downtown Durham neighborhood and can navigate the Convention Center and all the screening locations quickly and easily. I even recognize many of the regulars, whether the guys who serve souvlaki or coffee, or even some of the regular attendees. And yet, at the same time, the festival is an escape from routine. Tonight, as I rushed from my afternoon class at Fayetteville State through rush hour traffic, I found myself nervously worrying that I would miss the opening night film and all of the rituals associated with the unofficial launch of this year’s festival. As it happened, I collected my press pass at 6:45 and managed to squeeze into the 7 PM screening just in time, thanks to some lucky parking, but in retrospect, it made me wonder about why I felt such an urgency to get to the festival when I did.

Part of the answer, at least for me, is that festivals seem to offer one of the more engaging sites of genuine collectivity and novelty associated with film culture. Festivals offer the pleasures of discovery, of finding out about that new filmmaker, of sharing in the collective pleasure of interacting with the filmmakers and subjects who make these films. They also offer the opportunity to be among the first people to encounter that film, the ability to be “in the know” (Charles Acland has made a similar argument about opening night screenings). I will add that the films that play at Full Frame never cease to engage me. Every once in a while I find myself weighing the possibility of cutting back on the number of movies I see, and yet, very year, I find myself spending hours standing in lines, walking into darkened theaters, before walking out blinking into the afternoon sun, jotting notes, and blogging about what I saw.

It’s almost impossible to believe that it has been five years since I first saw films like The Devil Came on Horseback, but Full Frame remains a vital and engaging part of my year, a spring ritual of anticipation, entertainment, and engagement.

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