For a certain cadre of Durhamites, the overlap of Full Frame with Final Four weekend has been a welcome diversion from the basketball—even if Duke is still playing, which, this year, they're not. Meanwhile, over the years, downtown Durham has evolved into a more obviously interesting destination that has only enriched the Full Frame weekend. A conversation I overheard a decade ago, of a couple of out-of-town filmmakers bemoaning the deadness of Durham's streets, is unimaginable today.
The festival will open Thursday morning with, among other films, a film that challenges environmentalists to see nuclear power as part of a sustainable energy future. It will close four nights later with a jubilant account of the power-pop band Big Star, who rank behind perhaps only Velvet Underground in their ratio of obscurity-to-subsequent legacy. This in-competition film will be shown free on closing night. Preceding it: A local supergroup headed by Chris Stamey will perform a 30-minute set of Big Star numbers.
This year, the festival's 16th, sees the reaching of an important landmark of credibility. Full Frame is now a qualifying festival for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which raises the stakes considerably for the jury award in the short film category (defined as no more than 40 minutes). The winning film will be automatically considered for an Oscar nomination. Also new this year: Full Frame has set up an additional screening room near their offices at American Tobacco Campus, called the Power Plant.
A few words about the special programming: Those who enjoy con artistry and meta-documentaries of a type popularized by Catfish will find much to enjoy in the themed section curated by Amir Bar-Lev, including his own My Kid Could Paint That, Orson Welles' F For Fake and more. Jessica Yu gets the Full Frame Tribute this year, which will include such films as In the Realms of the Unreal, a study of outsider artist Henry Darger, and others.
Sunday afternoon, visit the Southern Documentary Fund's In the Works session, which will see works in progress by two filmmakers working with the fund. The fund itself is punching in a different weight class this year—in addition to the traditional happy hour (this year, from 4 p.m.–6:30 p.m. Friday at Art/Revere La Noue, 308 W. Main St.), they're holding a Sunday brunch fundraiser at Mateo. If you can swing the $100 ticket, consider supporting this important local organization.
There's lots to see this year, and there's no excuse for missing it. After all, Duke's not playing.