Triangle music geeks should rejoice at the diverse array of music documentaries that'll be unspooling at Full Frame this year.
Music docs at the festival are not a new thing. Some of the most acclaimed of the past several years (Metallica: Some Kind of Monster, Thunder Soul, Under African Skies) have screened at Full Frame.
Music docs do appear to be more popular than ever these days. The acclaimed music doc Searching for Sugar Man won the award for Best Documentary Feature at this year's Oscars. Still, Full Frame director of programming Sadie Tillery insists the festival isn't trying to capitalize on that film's success.
"I'm a fan of Searching for Sugar Man, but that's not necessarily connected to our lineup," says Tillery. "I can't say I've ever gone into the selection process thinking, 'I gotta show as many of this kind of film as possible.' It's much more organic than that. It's about what films our programmers really connect with. Some years there are trends within that, but it's never been about identifying the trend first. It always starts with each individual film."
Trend or not, this year the fest has gathered an eclectic roundup of films that will spotlight a number of musical genres. Many films in the new docs lineup will take audiences back to the early days of 20th-century pop music. Muscle Shoals focuses on the Alabama town where artists from Aretha Franklin to the Rolling Stones visited to make their funkiest pop hits. AKA Doc Pomus is a tribute to the late, versatile singer-songwriter who penned such classics as "This Magic Moment," "A Teenager in Love" and "Save the Last Dance for Me." Twenty Feet from Stardom focuses on the great backup singers who provided the soulful backbone for many a pop ditty. And Good Ol' Freda tells of a Liverpool teenager who later became a secretary for the Beatles.
It's not all about pop nostalgia at the festival this year. Alex Winter (aka Bill S. Preston, Esq. from Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure) documents the history of file-sharing giant Napster in Downloaded. The life and career of jazz critic and muckraking journalist Nat Hentoff is chronicled in The Pleasures of Being Out of Step. And Pussy Riot—A Punk Prayer deals with the infamous all-female Russian punk group that made worldwide headlines last year when several of them were arrested, charged with hooliganism and sentenced to prison.
There are also music docs in the invited-programming lineup. We Always Lie to Strangers centers around four families who entertain tourists in the live-music tourist town of Branson, Mo. And closing out the festival on Sunday evening is a free screening of Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me, which tells the stories, both true and exaggerated, associated with the revered power-pop band. Local collective the Fellow Travelers, led by Chris Stamey, performs a set of Big Star songs before the film at 7:30 p.m. in the plaza outside Carolina Theatre.
As Tillery sees it, documentaries about music are essential to a film festival like Full Frame. Just like music concerts, festival audiences crowd into auditoriums, ready to take part in a unique, communal, entertaining experience.
"One of the main purposes of having a film festival like this is to give documentaries a theatrical showcase," she says. "Listening to an album is different from going to a concert, like going to a documentary in a theater is different from watching it in your living room.
"Even though the focus of the weekend is a screen and a series of prerecorded images, what's special about a film festival is still that 'live' component—the laughing and clapping, even occasional tears, when people connect with content. Music films have a particular way of bringing that to life."
This article appeared in print with the headline "For those about to doc...."