Movie: Over the course of the last 4 decades or so, I've watched a lot of documentaries, some much better than others. Shows on the History Channel, Discovery Channel, Disney, and even an old favorite, Marlon Perkins Wild Kingdom have always interested me. What makes a good documentary? That's a question that critics have tried to answer for a long time and I'm not sure if I have a definitive answer for you. With this in mind, I took a look at Full Frame's Documentary Shorts dvd that had 7 short documentaries.
The Full Frame Documentary Festival was founded in 1998 and features works from all over the world. It typically gets several hundred documentaries sent in from all over the world and this is the first dvd release by the organization with the help of the folks at Docurama. I'll take a brief look at each of them.
Laughing Club Of India was directed by Mira Nair, the lady who brought us Salaam Bombay. The documentary takes a look at a growing group of people in India who participate in a social club that uses laughter as a means to feel better. The director shows a variety of people who find solace from their day to day troubles as they gather outside in heavily populated areas to simply laugh. What they laugh about is inconsequential to them. For me, I know firsthand how laughter and a positive outlook allow me to overcome my troubles. The troubles of these folks, some of whom had serious illnesses, lost loved ones to wars or tragedy, or were simply dirt poor, being much greater, I saw how they benefited from it. Further, Director Nair didn't just turn on the camera-there was a definite flow to her telling of the story of this group. Very interesting.
Why Can't We Be A Family Again? was directed by Roger Weisberg and Murray Nossel. It detailed how two young boys in an urban setting were abandoned by their mother who got into drugs after having them. The kids are raised by their grandmother who shows a lot of contempt for the woman as she tries to regain visitation rights to see them. There were no glossy endings here and the story is all too common in big cities all over the country. I almost wish the directors fleshed it out a bit and provided some sense of closure or answers to the growing problem presented here. I admit that I felt no sympathy for the mother myself, only the two boys and their grandmother, and hoped the courts took them away from her. Again, very interesting if bleak.
We Got Us was directed by Joan Brooker and detailed the lives of a small group of old women who played games together and reminisced about stuff. Most of what they talked about were the good old days but some of their comments were laugh out loud funny (ie: like the comment made concerning the movie Boogie Nights with Mark Wahlberg). As I get older, I start identifying with some of what they say, if not the specifics, the theme of loss and friendship.
Lucy Tsak Tsak was directed by newcomer Andrey Paounov and was an experimental film. It was supposed to be about a woman who worked in the Bulgarian film industry but, to be honest, was a bit obscure for me. At least it was short.
Family Values was directed by Eva Saks. It was about a lesbian couple who run a business where they clean up bloody messes left by criminals or suicides. Despite the subject matter, it was actually pretty lighthearted and funny. Apparently, no one likes cleaning up blood and dried up brain matter so they make a killing do it themselves. It was shot in black & white.
The Sunshine was directed by Phil Bertelsen. It was a look at the nasty lives led by a bunch of people in a really poor section of town (in a flop house called The Sunshine) who are being systematically pushed out of the area as developers buy up the land and tear down the haunts of the area. This is a big issue in Houston where mean old developers tear down crack houses and replace them with very expensive townhomes. The bigger issue of what becomes of those too poor to move (or stay) is an issue the director never really addresses which put me off a bit. The characters, including a guy dying of cancer, put human faces on those in this situation and while the production qualities stunk, it was also very interesting to watch.
Mojave Mirage was directed by Kaarina and Derek Roberto. It looked at a funny little phone booth in the middle of the desert. Apparently, the phone booth became a big deal (you can look it up online) and thousands of tourists would visit it, answering calls from all over the world. What the documentary says about modern life, and people in general, is open to interpretation but I couldn't look away as I watched the show. Interesting use of split screen techniques too.
Picture: The picture was presented in 1.33:1 ratio full frame (appropriately enough) with a wide variety of quality. Keeping in mind that most of these shorts were made as part of school projects or as side projects for indie directors, some, the Sunshine and the Lucy shorts, looked really weak. Those two had plenty of problems with the color, flesh tones, and a variety of other picture defects while most of the others looked very clear, if not exactly high end.
Sound: The sound was presented in 2.0 stereo for the most part but only in a couple of the shorts was there anything approaching separation of the channels (the Mojave and Laughing shorts). Generally very clear for low budget documentaries.
Extras: trailers, biographies of the directors, catalog of Docurama titles, credits
Final Thoughts: This was something completely different for me. While I respected the talent most of these had behind them, I wasn't exactly overwhelmed with all of them (Lucy being the worst). That said, there was nearly 3 hours of material and some of the shows really were interesting to watch. At least a few times, I wished the directors would have made a more detailed documentary about their subject-though they were a lot more than teasers, some of the subject matter really merited further discussion. I'm going to rate this one as Recommended for fans of documentaries and I really hope the Full Frame organization will release more titles in the future. I see lots of potential although I'm sure a lot of people aren't interested in such things.