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The precocious DoubleTake Documentary Film Festival comes of age

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The theme for the DoubleTake Documentary Film Festival this year is: "How much reality can you handle?" But the real question for the 14-member committee responsible for selecting the 57 films in competition was, "How many documentary films can you handle?" Filmmakers from around the world submitted 531 films this year, a substantial increase over last year's 425 entries and a four-fold increase over the festival's first year total of 107. Just four years old, DoubleTake is regularly compared to well-established and better-known festivals like Sundance, and rightly so. This year, DoubleTake's submissions surpassed documentary submissions to Sundance by more than 120 films.

The brainchild of Nancy Buirski, the Festival Director and a former editor at The New York Times, DoubleTake is the largest documentary film festival in the United States and promises to become the most important documentary festival in the world. Its sponsors include MTV and the Duke University Center for Documentary Studies. The four-day event offers emerging and established documentarians an opportunity to have their work shown in the company of films by luminaries like Barbara Kopple (this year's Career Award recipient), D.A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus, Alan Berliner and Ken Burns. According to Joe Gomez, Director of Film Studies at North Carolina State University and a member of the 2001 selection committee, "The festival is as wide open as you can get. There's no free cinema manifesto and absolutely no attempt to say 'we need a film because a certain filmmaker made it.' Newcomers can get their work shown." One such newcomer is Vivian Bowman Edwards, of Cary, who had no prior experience behind a camera before she made Searching, a film about a Vietnam veteran's quest for a missing friend. Says Gomez: "You'll find films like that along with two films by Chris Marker, a venerated experimental and documentary filmmaker best known for his stunning 1962 short film La Jetee."

Just what were the selection committee members looking for among the hundreds of films they watched? Primary considerations were original content and technical proficiency. Subject matter is the strength of most of the documentaries selected. The range of topics of the 57 films chosen is broad, from Bombay Eunuch, about a family of eunuchs in India; to The Good War and Those Who Refused to Fight It, which deals with conscientious objectors in World War I and their influence on social movements after the war; to Soldiers in the Army of God, which looks at violent anti-abortion activists. "This was not a group that wanted to steer away from controversy, on the left or the right," Gomez notes. The group's diversity meant that there were occasional disagreements, but, Gomez adds, "people did not impose their will." Since Thanksgiving, each member of the selection committee watched between 80 and 100 films, and then they met four times to make decisions. Each submission was screened by at least two members of the committee. Despite the grueling schedule--four meetings of six hours each during which the group considered over 100 films--the atmosphere was congenial. "I laughed more in one meeting than I have in faculty meetings all year," Gomez recalls.

In addition to the 57 films in competition, the festival will feature a retrospective of Barbara Kopple's work, a tribute to Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami, and "2001: Fast Forward," a program curated by Kent Jones of the Film Society of Lincoln Center. The festival runs May 3 through 6 at the Carolina Theatre in Durham and other venues. EndBlock

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