For five years, the DoubleTake Documentary Film Festival had operated under the aegis of Durham's Center for Documentary Studies, but in April, on the first day of this year's festival, director Nancy Buirski announced that those ties had been severed and that it would be known as the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival, effective immediately.
The change was so sudden that some of the banners and other paraphernalia around the Carolina Theatre venue still read "DoubleTake" rather than "Full Frame." Buirski, along with Tom Rankin, executive director of the Center for Documentary Studies, maintained that the split was amicable and inevitable, given the festival's growth. But many attendees that weekend were unconvinced, and rumors began circulating that this would be the festival's last year in Durham. For local cinephiles and civic boosters, the loss of such a prominent film festival would have been disappointing and demoralizing.
The unease was justified. There was a real possibility that the festival could have left Durham, because the loss of support from the Center for Documentary Studies left a gaping hole in the festival's half-million dollar budget. The center had provided in-kind support in the form of office space and other assistance, which amounted to approximately $100,000. Without the backing of the center, Buirski needed to find office space and the funds to pay for it, to the tune of about $150,000.
After months of uncertainty, the city of Durham stepped into the breach. According to assistant city manager Sharon Laisure, Full Frame applied for support through the non-city agency grant program and received a $40,000 challenge grant. The festival has already matched that sum, Laisure says. However, the festival still hadn't secured office space, but late last month, the city came through once again. Buirski told The Independent last week that the festival had "accepted the city's very generous offer" of lease assistance with a space in downtown Durham, which will house the director and her full-time staff of three. The city of Durham has agreed to cover the balance of the existing lease at a vacant space in a building owned by Durham County, the TeerMark building on West Main Street. Laisure says this assistance amounts to approximately $17,000 in actual rent payments, and another $2,000 or so in common area maintenance costs.
Buirski acknowledges that other communities were courting the festival, including New York and Savannah, Ga. But the city of Durham "felt that we deserved their support," Buirski says.
Although next year's festival is eight months away, Buirski has made progress on its plans. The central mission of presenting provocative new documentaries from around the world isn't going to change, and Buirski is thinking about special programming. One planned sidebar is called "Leadership Through a Gender Lens," which will spotlight "leadership by women as portrayed by women," she says. This program is to be curated by Marie Wilson of the White House Project and the prominent documentarian Chris Hegedus (Startup.com, The War Room).
In a new entrepreneurial development, Full Frame is joining forces with Cary's Madstone Theaters to present a traveling exhibition of the greatest hits of festivals past. In a separate venture, Full Frame will be releasing documentary shorts on DVD, in conjunction with a New York distributor called Docurama.