Lucy Walker is already a veteran in the Full Frame game. The London-born, Los Angeles-based filmmaker has already screened three of her movies at the festival, making a fan of Full Frame Programming Director Sadie Tillery, who asked Walker to organize this year's thematic program.
"Sadie was kind enough to mention that she really enjoyed the people in my films. She thought they were very memorable," says Walker, whose 2002 breakthrough Devil's Playground gave us unforgettable portraits of Amish teens considering their futures after the rite of passage called Rumspringa."So we continued with this theme."
For "Approaches to Character," Walker assembled nine features and three shorts, which are scattered throughout the festival's schedule. Beginning with the premise of memorable characters, she soon found herself with a bevy of films to choose from and had to refine her focus. "I narrowed it down to films that had a quite innovative technique in their approach to character," she says.
A fine example of this is 2010 doc The Arbor, which tells the story of the late British playwright Andrea Dunbar. To re-create scenes from Dunbar's play of the same title, actors lip-synch audio interviews with her friends and family, and while it seems gimmicky at first, the film eventually reveals why it goes to such elaborate lengths to chronicle Dunbar's troubled life.
Walker's program also features some memorable hell-raisers on both sides of the camera. 2003's The Five Obstructions has Danish provocateur Lars von Trier (whose latest film, Nymphomaniac: Vol. 1, hits Triangle theaters this week) putting filmmaker friend Jørgen Leth through the paces, remaking one of his short films five times. And German madman Werner Herzog follows around a deaf and blind woman in his classic 1971 doc Land of Silence and Darkness.
As for on-camera hellions, there's The Kid Stays in the Picture, the consistently amusing 2002 adaptation of film producer Robert Evans' epic autobiography, and Metallica: Some Kind of Monster, the 2004 doc following the heavy metal gods as they struggle to work on an album as well as themselves.
There are also some fascinating character studies by American independent filmmakers. On the Bowery, Lionel Rogosin's Oscar-nominated 1956 film, is about a railroad worker spending three desperate days on Manhattan's Skid Row, and Portrait of Jason, Shirley Clarke's rare 1967 doc, probes the life of a gay African-American hustler and cabaret singer.
Naturally, Walker put a bit of herself into the program. She's screening Devil's Playground as well as two of her shorts, David Hockney IN THE NOW (in six minutes)—a tribute to the British painter and photographer—and The Lion's Mouth Opens, which documents a woman's ordeal as she determines whether or not she carries the genetic marker for Huntington's disease.
Walker chose these films to show how she's evolved as a filmmaker.
"[Devil's Playground] is going to be fun, because it's not usually seen on the big screen," she says. "And it's where I started off from, approaching character. Then you can see, in my two shorts, how I took very different approaches. So it's fun to put them side by side—my first and my latest work."
As much fun as she's had curating her program, Walker is most looking forward to hanging out with her fellow filmmakers—very memorable characters in their own right.
"One thing I love about Full Frame is that a lot of filmmakers attend the festival excited to exchange notes and learn from each other," she says. "It's exciting to meet all the other filmmakers there. It's a very good festival in terms of getting people to meet and really talk shop and exchange tips of films to see."
This article appeared in print with the headline "Character witness"