Full Frame Documentary Film Fest 2009: Day One

The 12th annual Full Frame Documentary Film Festival may be scaled down somewhat lacking the big name speakers such as Michael Moore, Ken Burns, or Martin Scorsese from previous years, but there is still a roster of riches on display in Durham over the next 4 days. The first day was drizzly and gray so it felt very comfortable to be inside the Carolina Theater and adjacent theaters in the Durham Convention Center to embrace this smorgasbord of infotainment. These are the films I attended:

MECHANICAL LOVE (Dir. Phie Ambo, 2007) I saw the first film of the morning in the same theater that last year I had seen the BLADE RUNNER: THE FINAL CUT in. This is extremely apt because many times throughout this Danish film about therapeutic robots I thought of the creations of the Tyrell Corporation. Not that the subjects here were “more human than human”, as Tyrell’s motto goes, mind you, but the questions asked about emotional attachments and human response are right on par with those of that inarguable cult classic. We meet Hiroshi Ishiguro, a Japanese scientist who is developing robot duplicates of himself and his family. His experiments are as creepy as they are uncanny (a word that comes up quite a bit). Meanwhile a mechanical baby seal called a Paro is introduced as a companion to a woman in an old folks home. This story is at first amusing but its airy pace and spare commentary drags the film down. Tinkling piano and poised presentation aside, MECHANICAL LOVE would have been better if edited down to a 20 minute segment of an anthology film or magazine style TV program.

A back to back bull session: MATETILLA (Dir. Victoria Clay-Mendoza, 2003) A film about professional bullfighters and RANK (Dir. John Hyams, 2006) a film about professional bull riders. This double feature, both shot in digital video and presented by a DVD projector, is part of the Festival’s theme this year: “The Sporting Life”. Not being a sports guy I wasn’t sure how many of the films associated with the theme I’d attend but I’m glad I chose these because the contrasts between the Mexican world of children dreaming of bullfighting with suits of lights and coordinated moves and the rawer (yet just as rough) American landscape of bull riding were quite absorbing. For such dangerous sporting events with the threat of severe injuries there is a serene grace and inspiring motivation involved which both these films capture succesfully.

ART & COPY (Dir. Doug Pray, 2009) This is an incredibly entertaining celebration of real life Mad Men with tons of footage from famous commercials, interviews with the giants of the business, and many many statistics. Funny and insightful stories abound from the likes of the Nike “Just Do It” ads, Wendys’ “Where’s The Beef” campaign, and the “Got Milk?” go arounds – which have all undoubtably reached icon status by this date. ART & COPY is as slick and polished as the ads themselves, but it is delightfully free of cynicism as it focuses on the creative end of the business and makes no condemning statements. Unfortunately director Pray was unable to attend so producers Michael Nadeau and Jimmy Greenway fielded questions after the screening. They followed up on one the film’s many amusing revelations – that the Nike “Just Do it” campaign was inspired by the last words of a convicted murderer before being executed (“Let’s do it!”) and revealed that the beloved image of Santa Claus was created by the Coca Cola company – a fact that was cut from the finished film. Fancy that.

SONS OF CUBA (Dir. Andrew Lang, 2009) In introducing the opening night film, director Lang told the sold out crowd at Flecther Hall he had just completed work on it 3 days ago. If he hadn’t said that I never would’ve been able to tell because his film is immaculately crafted and as fully formed as the best documentaries I’ve ever seen. We follow 3 Cuban children as they intensely train to box at the Havana Boxing Academy. They take the tasks very seriously as they jog through poverty stricken streets and form bonds with one another even when at obvious odds. I feel like I’ve spent a lot of time in Cuba this year with both CHE: PARTS ONE & TWO and now this film which takes place during Fidel Castro’s conceding power in 2008. It’s an entrancing experience that surprisingly has a lot of humor in between the kid’s tears. This, of course from Lang’s intro above, was SONS OF CUBA‘s world premiere so be on the lookout for it to come to your area.

Okay! Day One down. Tomorrow – Wavy Gravy gets his bio-doc due, the Yes Men try to right corporate wrongs, and whatever else I decide to see will get Film Babble Blog appraisal.
Hope you join me.

More later…

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