Reviews

Full Frame Documentary Shorts Vol. 3 (2004)

Michael Buening

For viewers, it's a chance to see works by emerging filmmakers in easily digestible, small chunks.


Full Frame Documentary Shorts Vol. 3

Director: Franko Galoso
Display Artist: Melba L. Williams, Scott Vosbury, Warwick Thornton, Michael Pfaendtner, Vinayan Kodoth, Franko Galoso
MPAA rating: Not rated
Studio: Docurama
First date: 2004
US DVD Release Date: 2005-04-26
Amazon affiliate

An annual event in Durham, North Carolina, the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival has become a prominent international showcase for nonfiction films. Docurama's third DVD of the Festival's shorts series highlights the winners and notable entries from the 2004 festival. It's a great opportunity for the filmmakers, since there is little or no chance for shorts to get exposure outside the festival circuit. For viewers, it's a chance to see works by emerging filmmakers in easily digestible, small chunks.

Half of the six shorts were made by film students, and overall Shorts Vol. 3 has the feel of a student film festival. Many have no distinct voice. The shorts tend to be needlessly long, and a hodgepodge of visual and conceptual techniques produce varying results. The subjects are refreshingly diverse and include current affairs (gay marriage, capital punishment), broad concerns (overpopulation), and personal interests (familial relations). Surprisingly none of the documentaries touch on the topics of Iraq, terrorism, scam corporations, and the Bush administration, which proved enormously popular in the previous year. These shorts mostly disappointed me but, like a good student festival, the DVD offers intermittent thrills from filmmakers approaching their craft with a fresh eye.

Shorts Vol. 3 starts off with what is easily the best film presented. With its intriguing blend of abstract and concrete imagery and focused intensity, I was not surprised to find out that A Thousand Words was the Festival winner. Director Melba L. Williams attempts to understand her aloof father and his Vietnam War experiences by creating a collage of the incredible photographs and 8mm-film footage he took while serving in the war. The images are aurally juxtaposed with Williams interviewing both her brother and father. The memories of the father meld with his children's observations, casting an ironic light on the title. The father's art is emotionally charged, but the pictures can't supply the words his children need to understand him.

The second short swings wildly around in a light-hearted direction. The Great Cheesesteak Debate starts off hackneyed, but also fun and brisk, a man-on-the-street chronicling Philadelphians' intense opinions on who makes the best cheesesteak. The short quickly becomes repetitive with endless shots of people saying either "Geno's" or "Pat's." My initial suspicions that this wasn't going to be much more than a Food Network segment proved prescient.

Full Frame primarily highlights American work, but the organizers pride themselves on putting together an international festival. Rosalie's Journey is the first of two global works presented. A well told, if inconsistent biography, it is the true story of an Aboriginal girl picked out from her school by a filmmaker and taken to Sydney to star in the big budget Australian epic, Jedda. Director Warwick Thornton uses the Aboriginal walkabout to channel Rosalie's story through her own culture and not as a cliché of Western corruption or matriculation. The film uses footage from Jedda, screen tests, and shots of Rosalie's school, along with her narration, to depict the beguiling transition she made from her girlhood home to the alien film industry. However, the music is horribly maudlin and the use of expensive-looking helicopter shots at the beginning and end are distracting attempts to impress with sleek professionalism.

Again, a comic documentary follows a serious one. Texas Hospitality is a mind-boggling selection. Its only conceit is to use a black screen where a picture of a death row inmate is placed in the upper left hand corner, below that the details of their crime, and then the inmate's last meal request appears in that same space. At the end, statistics on Texas' inmate executions appear. This last bit of information, along with the title, indicates that director Michael Pfaendtner is mocking the audacious last meal gesture. But the film, particularly with the overly satiric Western swing guitar, seems to make fun of the inmate's meal requests. Either way, it offers neither stimulating criticism nor imaginative visuals; this could have been done with a PowerPoint presentation.

By far the most experimental of the six shorts, Journeys, explores issues of overcrowding, workaday struggle, urban planning, and dignity in Bombay by using almost nothing but images of commuter trains. Except for a bit of poetic narration, sound is either nonexistent or from the camera. What starts off as a shocking expose on how people cram and cling to any available space on the trains, morphs into meditations on the perceived worth of the individual in an overpopulated community. The slow pace draws the viewer into its lyrical rhythms: shots of clustered hands and knees, bodies riding on rusting trains against the bustling backdrop of a 21st-century city let viewers reach their own conclusions about the state of Bombay's modernity. That said, the film is too long; it lulls you into its engrossing vision of a monotonous nightmare and then to sleep.

The Full Frame series closes with a sweetly and inventively told story of two army officers who found lifelong love in Vietnam. Foxhole challenges our expectations in simple but effective ways, touching on a range of topics. The turn towards support of gay marriage is not surprising, but the transition from romance to politics feels a little forced. Some additional technical details, like the interview's sound echoing through bad microphone placement at one point, mar what is otherwise a confident debut by director Franko Galoso.

Overall, the six shorts resist strict thematic similarities. They are all essentially journalistic in approach; they raise a philosophical or narrative question and then attempt to uncover the information that will answer it. The journey is the only constant -- for the makers of A Thousand Words and The Great Cheesesteak Debate, the individual life in Foxhole and Rosalie's Journey, and the existential life in Journeys. They don't feel rooted in 2004, particularly the politics, but rather a broader documentarian's urge to chronicle general concerns. I can't help but wonder if Full Frame was trying to make a point about exploiting current events in choosing these shorts. But I also can't help but wonder if they didn't sacrifice something in ignoring the sticky trap that is the highly opinionated now. Besides A Thousand Words, these shorts crucially disappoint in lacking passion, the individual constant that's not visible from afar.

Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less
9
TV

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less
9

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.


Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09
Amazon

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less
7

Gallagher's work often suffers unfairly beside famous husband's Raymond Carver. The Man from Kinvara should permanently remedy this.

Many years ago—it had to be 1989—my sister and I attended a poetry reading given by Tess Gallagher at California State University, Northridge's Little Playhouse. We were students, new to California and poetry. My sister had a paperback copy of Raymond Carver's Cathedral, which we'd both read with youthful admiration. We knew vaguely that he'd died, but didn't really understand the full force of his fame or talent until we unwittingly went to see his widow read.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image