Full Frame Documentary Film Fest 2009: The Fourth And Final Day

It was another nice Spring day outside in downtown Durham, but, as more than one person remarked, it was a much nicer day to be inside the Carolina Theater watching movies. I had had very sleep as I trekked back to enter yet another screening room so I was running on sheer momentum. Luckily I got my wind fully restored with this morning’s film:

WILLIAM KUNSTLER: DISTURBING THE UNIVERSE (Dirs. Emily & Sarah Kunstler, 2009)

“Where there’s controversy, there’s William Kunstler” went Phil Donahue’s introduction of the noted radical lawyer on one of his many appearances on Donahue’s old TV show. That was one of the biggest understatements made in this incredibly involving bio-doc made by Kunstler’s daughters Emily and Sarah who were thankfully here in town today to present their work. From Civil Rights sit-ins to the notorious Chicago 7 trial, then the Attica riots and the Wounded Knee uprising to the…well, you get the picture – Kunstler was a fighting figure of change who would not compromise. His story is empowering to the nth degree, made even more powerfully personal by the definition of labor of love that his daughters have brought. One of Kunstler’s former clients – Yusef Salaam, one of the Central Park Five, also appeared for the after film Q & A.

Then it was time for the Awards BBQ at the Durham Armory. The big winner was an entry from Denmark: BURMA VJ. It won the Anne Dellinger Grand Jury Award, the Center for Documentary Studies Filmmaker Award, and the Full Frame/Working Films Award. Since that was one I had missed I was elated that it was going to be re-screened that afternoon as were 5 other of the winners (click here for a complete list of what won). So this was my final film of the Festival:

BURMA VJ: REPORTING FROM A CLOSED COUNTRY (Dir. Andres Østergaard, 2008)

This harrowing work of video journalists capturing the 2007 protests in Burma by thousands of Buddhist monks definitely deserved all the acclaim that it got here. I mean it’s one thing to follow Wavy Gravy around with a camera but to risk one’s life to get footage of oppressive military action so that the whole world could be informed is a gigantic world of difference. A riveting and disturbing experience that will be hard to shake for a while I believe, BURMA VJ displays the recordings that were smuggled out of the country with the voice-over narration of a source only identified as “Joshua”. With its awards at Full Frame, Sundance, and the Amsterdam International Documentary Film Festival, it’s a shoe-in for a wide release so please keep on the lookout. As vivid and vital as a motion picture depicting real events can be, it is not to be missed.

The Festival is over and I’m already looking forward to next year. Stay tuned for more in depth reviews of some of the films covered here in months to come. A number of these documentaries haven’t been picked up for distribution yet so I’m hoping to get the word out on this round of really great (for the most part, that is) films.

More later…

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