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Full Frame Documentary Film Festival (#110 of 30)

Full Frame Documentary Film Festival 2012: Diaries: 1971-1976, Samsara, Reportero, Detropia, & More

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Full Frame Documentary Film Festival 2012: <em>Diaries: 1971-1976</em>, <em>Samsara</em>, <em>Reportero</em>, <em>Detropia</em>, & More
Full Frame Documentary Film Festival 2012: <em>Diaries: 1971-1976</em>, <em>Samsara</em>, <em>Reportero</em>, <em>Detropia</em>, & More

Ed Pincus was one of the founders of the MIT Film Section, a training ground for future documentary filmmakers like Ross McElwee. Pincus produced a body of work that straddles the line between the purported objectivity of Direct Cinema, a movement he helped pioneer with early works like the Black Natchez, and the more self-reflecting style known as personal documentary. As its name suggests, Diaries: 1971-1976 belongs in the latter category, an intimate epic that examines the inextricable Gordian knot of personal and political commitment by turning the camera eye on friends and family. Bookended by intimations of mortality, the deaths of a relative and close friend, Diaries spends most of its three-hour-plus run time charting the shifting sexual climate of the 1970s, delving into experiments in lifestyle choices ranging from nudism to open marriage. Frequent exchanges between Pincus and wife Jane, a member of the feminist collective responsible for the manifesto Our Bodies, Ourselves, consider the consequences of their decisions not only on their own relationship, but also on their two young children. Diaries also records, albeit in a distanced, Brechtian fashion, the last gasps of anti-war protest and the disintegration of the counterculture, at least the Cambridge variety. For a stretch late in the film, Diaries achieves a gritty kind of New Hollywood vibe as Pincus and a fellow filmmaker range around the desert Southwest, the documentary equivalent of Easy Rider. As a time capsule, Diaries is invaluable, but Pincus’s decision to work against narrative cohesion by cutting away from conversations at key moments, and otherwise hashing up individual segments, renders the film chaotic and disjointed, sapping it of the cumulative impact found in documentaries like Allan King’s A Married Couple, let alone the massive slab of social experimentation then going on over at PBS called An American Family.

Full Frame Documentary Film Festival 2011: Gun Fight, Better This World, & If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front

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Full Frame Documentary Film Festival 2011: <em>Gun Fight</em>, <em>Better This World</em>, & <em>If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front</em>
Full Frame Documentary Film Festival 2011: <em>Gun Fight</em>, <em>Better This World</em>, & <em>If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front</em>

Barbara Kopple’s Gun Fight opens with tragically familiar footage of April 16, 2007, the day Seung-Hui Cho opened fire on his classmates at Virginia Tech. It was the deadliest school shooting in American history. Amid the roll of cellphone footage that captured the massacre in real time and subsequent news reports of the tragedy, we hear a voice being interviewed. What he’s saying doesn’t line up with the standard community-in-mourning soundbites we’re accustomed to hearing in the aftermath of tragedy. No, this person seems to be saying that if Virginia didn’t have such stringent gun laws that maybe someone could have done something to take down the shooter that day. While such a horrific event would seem to indicate the need for redoubled gun-control efforts, pro-gun groups like the Virginia Citizen Defense League, who sponsored a handgun giveaway less than a month after the shooting, saw it as an opportunity to further lobby their cause. Welcome to the world of Gun Fight.

Full Frame Documentary Film Festival 2011: An Encounter with Simone Weil and A Good Man

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Full Frame Documentary Film Festival 2011: <em>An Encounter with Simone Weil</em> and <em>A Good Man</em>
Full Frame Documentary Film Festival 2011: <em>An Encounter with Simone Weil</em> and <em>A Good Man</em>

At one point in her biographical documentary on French philosopher Simone Weil, An Encounter with Simone Weil, director Julia Haslett reveals that she’s intent on finding a way to “situate Simone” for a contemporary audience, a tricky task given the ways in which Weil’s life and philosophy were so tightly intertwined. Born into a middle-class Jewish family in Paris, Weil was an academic prodigy, but her acute sensitivity to the sufferings of others and her deeply held Marxist convictions led her at several points in her life to abandon her teaching job to join the class struggle.

It’s precisely this sense of compassion that leads Haslett to Weil in the first place. Still healing from her father’s suicide when she was in her teens, the adult Haslett is troubled by the suffering she sees in the world and, closer to home, in her brother’s bouts of depression. When she stumbles across a line by Weil (“Attention is the rarest form of generosity”), a palpable degree of wisdom in the words inspires her to seek out more of Weil’s thoughts. As she confesses in voiceover, her quest to read everything Weil ever wrote—most of which was published posthumously in massive, multi-volume tomes—leads her on a quest to locate Weil in the modern world somehow.

Full Frame Documentary Film Festival 2011: A Matter of Taste: Serving Up Paul Liebrandt

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Full Frame Documentary Film Festival 2011: <em>A Matter of Taste: Serving Up Paul Liebrandt</em>
Full Frame Documentary Film Festival 2011: <em>A Matter of Taste: Serving Up Paul Liebrandt</em>

“If you’re hungry,” said Alan Teasley, the Full Frame programmer introducing the festival’s primetime screening of Sally Rowe’s A Matter of Taste, “you’re just done for. You won’t survive the night.” He wasn’t far off. This hour-long expose on the life and aspirations of Paul Liebrandt—at the film’s outset just made the youngest chef ever to earn a perfect three-star rating from The New York Times—is an unrestrained delight in two parts. First, Rowe looks at how the boy-wonder-turned-snake-bitten-perfectionist struggles to keep a job, followed by spectacular footage of Liebrandt launching from the ground up, and for the first time, a restaurant truly from his heart: Corton. Dotted along the way are the difficult-to-gauge pleasantries from some of the culinary field’s leading lights (Thomas Keller, Eric Ripert, Daniel Boulod) along with a few of the more eye-catching meals ever allowed to steal a scene on film; at one point, Liebrandt champions, with very good reason, the visual impression his plates make.

Full Frame Documentary Film Festival 2011: Resurrect Dead: The Mystery of the Toynbee Tiles

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Full Frame Documentary Film Festival 2011: <em>Resurrect Dead: The Mystery of the Toynbee Tiles</em>
Full Frame Documentary Film Festival 2011: <em>Resurrect Dead: The Mystery of the Toynbee Tiles</em>

Full Frame this year offered a programmatic theme notable in the variety of its manifestations: obsession. Obsessive chess players went mad, obsessive collectors offered a giddy view of their life’s work, obsessive chefs and puppeteers achieved their respective dreams, to the world’s benefit. Nowhere was the issue more directly confronted than in Resurrect Dead: The Mystery of the Toynbee Tiles.

The riddle at the heart of director Jon Foy’s first foray into moviemaking has been written into tiles and embedded hundreds of times onto roadways in major cities from New York to St. Louis, with a few in South America for good measure. Proclaiming the message “Toynbee idea / In Kubrick’s 2001 / Resurrect Dead / On Planet Jupiter,” always in the same rounded block letters, the tiles so captivate Philadelphia resident Justin Duerr that he launches an all-out hunt to uncover the person behind the cryptic “art project”—as Duerr eventually, unconvincingly dubs the tiles—and, naturally, its meaning. He is soon joined by two like-minded amateur sleuths, with whom he first connected through the Internet. Big surprise, right?

Full Frame Documentary Film Festival 2011: Diary

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Full Frame Documentary Film Festival 2011: <em>Diary</em>
Full Frame Documentary Film Festival 2011: <em>Diary</em>

Last year’s Restrepo, a documentary following a platoon of American soldiers in the Korengal Valley of Afghanistan, was marked by a series of close-ups of young soldiers. Their expressions are resigned, saddened, and a little scared. These post-deployment interviews showed us men who had seen terrible things, but the film itself mostly kept the horror in the distance. We see very little actual violence, no Taliban, and only a brief glimpse of a dead American GI. This was largely intentional, as the horror was written on their faces. At the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival last week, I saw Restrepo co-director Tim Hetherington’s latest short, Diary, which gives us a glimpse of what they did see. It’s a document about the trauma glimpsed by a person in war, a brief but haunting view of tragedy, made up of footage Hetherington shot while traveling around the world as a war reporter and photojournalist. With the terrible news that Hetherington was killed in Libya this week, the film suddenly takes on an extra resonance. It’s the last report of a man who had seen so much tragedy and was still struggling to understand why.

Full Frame Documentary Film Festival 2011: Bobby Fischer Against the World

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Full Frame Documentary Film Festival 2011: Bobby Fischer Against the World
Full Frame Documentary Film Festival 2011: Bobby Fischer Against the World

Unfortunate for documentary veteran Liz Garbus and her newest entry, Bobby Fischer Against the World, the film When We Were Kings already exists. Otherwise, we might be better convinced by this particular vision of a vibrant and controversial talent, pitted against a commanding opponent on previously unconsidered soil, the weight of an entire socio-political movement heavily and uncomfortably on his shoulders, the words of notorious figures guiding the viewer through one of the monumental events of not only sport, but America’s role on the international stage.

Full Frame Documentary Film Festival 2011: Pandore, Tugs, & Caretaker for the Lord

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Full Frame Documentary Film Festival 2011: <em>Pandore</em>, <em>Tugs</em>, & <em>Caretaker for the Lord</em>
Full Frame Documentary Film Festival 2011: <em>Pandore</em>, <em>Tugs</em>, & <em>Caretaker for the Lord</em>

A strange and glaring omission from this year’s Full Frame Documentary Film Festival was a block or blocks of screening time only for its shorts. Two dozen shorts were included in this year’s slate, appended to longer films sometimes with only the loosest association between the two. This number represents an increase over a year ago, but without at least one offering of a shorts program as in past years, the festival’s mostly one-and-done system for packing 100 films into four days rendered several unseeable, including 2011 Oscar-nominee Killing in the Name and the appealingly titled Everybody’s Nuts, for instance, which screened in overlapping times first thing Thursday morning.

Full Frame Documentary Film Festival 2011: Tabloid

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Full Frame Documentary Film Festival 2011: <em>Tabloid</em>
Full Frame Documentary Film Festival 2011: <em>Tabloid</em>

Errol Morris’s latest film, Tabloid, doesn’t tackle the major themes of war and torture that his previous efforts, The Fog of War and Standard Operating Procedure, investigated. Instead, he turns his eye toward the cult of celebrity through the story of Joyce McKinney, a former beauty queen who in 1977 followed her Mormon boyfriend Kirk Anderson to England, where he was doing missionary work, in order to rescue him from what she believed to be his religious “cult.” Depending on who is telling the story (McKinney, her associates, tabloid reporters) what happened next is either a beautiful, tragic love story or a lurid tale of kidnapping and sex. Essentially, McKinney appears to have taken Kirk (perhaps forcibly) to the English countryside for a weekend and attempted to “save” him by tying him to a bed and having sex with him for several days. When they returned to London, McKinney was arrested and eventually fled back to America.