The Full Frame Documentary Film Festival is one of the best showcases
for documentaries in the US. Each year since 1998, they have been
holding their festival in Durham, North Carolina and showing over 100 documentaries
to enthusiastic audiences. This third collection of films submitted
to the festival contains six short works that are mostly entertaining.
The films in this collection are:
A Thousand Words (8:30): A woman
and her brother try to understand how their stoic father was shaped by
being in Viet Nam. Told almost exclusively through the photos and
home movies, many from Viet Nam itself, the offspring come to the realization
that this is just something that their father will not discuss.
A good film, simple in style and form and yet thought provoking.
An apolitical film, it really doesn't take a stand about the war, yet leaves
the viewer knowing that the scars left on the participants will never hear.
The Great Cheesesteak Debate (12:30):
Pat's, Geno's or Jim's: who has the best Cheesesteak in Philly? Each
restaurant has their staunch defenders, and they were all very vocal as
to why their favorite place was the best. An amusing film that'll
make you want to catch the next flight to Philly and check ot out for yourself.
(Don't watch this on an empty stomach!)
Rosalie's Journey (22:30): The story
of a young aboriginal girl, Rosalie, from the outback in Australia who
was taken by her father to a school, St. Mary's, to learn to speak and
read English. While she was there the director Charles Chauvel came
to look at the teenaged girls at the school. Though she had no acting
experience and didn't even totally understand English, Chauvel chose Rosalie
and cast her as lead in his film Jedda (1955.) Told through old home
movies, stills, screen tests, and clips from Jedda, Rosalie reminisces
(in her native language) about her time at St. Mary's and her brief life
as an actress.
This wasn't my favorite film in this group. Though I'm very interested
in film history, this didn't reveal anything that I couldn't have guessed.
Rosalie didn't really understand what acting was. She had only seen
one movie before being cast, and so all she talks about is how she would
wait on the side lines until they called her, film a scene, and then wait
some more. I also thought it would of been more dramatic if they
showed the, older adult Rosalie at the beginning of the film, instead of
waiting until the end, but that's a minor critique.
Texas Hospitality (4:00): A quick
piece, this show the mug shots of criminals who were put to death in Texas,
the crime they were convicted of, and then what they ate for their last
meal. I found it ironic that a couple of these murderers were vegetarian.
At the end, there are some facts about capital punishment, included how
many people Texas has executed and how many are still on death row.
If it was trying to be an anti-death penalty piece, it didn't succeed.
Journeys (37:00): Images of people
traveling in India. The main scenes are of trains. People getting
on and off and riding in India's very crowded rail system. They also
show the huge traffic jams that car riders experience, and poor neighborhoods
that they pass through. With only very sparse narration (that doesn't
start until about 15 minutes in) and no background music, the only sounds
are the dubbed in sound effects. I found the sound effects to be
rather poor, with the only sound on a fully packed train being tinkling
of the metal hand holds and the occasional clack-clack of the tracks.
While some of the images were striking, especially the people riding
on the top of the trains, I found this film excruciating. Over half
an hour of pictures of traffic jams and the interiors of trains is just
too much for me. If this was 10 minutes long, I probably would have
enjoyed it, but at this length it is extremely boring.
Foxhole (11:30): Two soldiers, both
of whom won prestigious medals and distinguished themselves, reminisce
about how they met in Viet Man and became lovers. 35 year later,
they are still together. This was a good film. It was constructed
very well with the revelation that the two rough and rugged men were homosexual
being both surprising and a bit comical. Short and to the point,
though they do talk about gays in today society at the end, the film isn't
preachy. A great film to close out the DVD.
The stereo soundtrack was about average for low budget documentaries.
There was the occasional hum or soft dialog, but this was rare. The
sound wasn't very dynamic, but that was to be expected.
As you might guess from the title, all of these films were presented
in full frame with the exception of Rosalie's Journey and Journeys.
(These two were not anamorphic.) The image quality varied, Journeys
being a little blurry and soft in places, but the others were generally
what you would expect from low budget and student films. The lighting
wasn't great in several of the scenes, either too bright or too dark, and
several of the shorts were obviously recorded on tape, but that didn't
hurt the disc.
The only extras on this disc are text pages about the film makers, the
Full Frame Documentary Film Festival, and the DVD publisher, Docudrama.
There are also a number of trailers for other Docudrama DVDs.
These are all solid documentaries. While, with the exception of
Journeys, they are all good, none of them are really great.
They don't stay with you after you've watched them the way the best documentaries
do. While I enjoyed watching these shorts, I can't see popping the
disc in again any time soon. This would be a very good rental.