UnionDocs Collaborative Fellows at the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival 2013

On the first week of April the Collaborative Program fellows at Cheap UnionDocs went to the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival in Durham, North Carolina. Driving all together from New York in two vans made it especially fun.


We spent four days and, as with every festival, it was hard to choose from an extensive selection of films and panels. Here are just a few of my personal favorites:

“12 O’Clock Boys”, the first doc by Egyptian-born director Pills Lotfy Nathan, follows young Pug, a 9-year-old boy who dreams of being part of the subculture of dirt bike riders who illegally drive on the city streets of Baltimore, Maryland, performing unsafe tricks and compromising traffic. This unique and growing hobby presents a complex problem that speaks about issues such as lack of opportunities, class and race, as well as the necessity to succeed in something and leave your mark as you pass through this world, even if it’s for a short period of time before you crash your head. As Pug grows all the way to thirteen, so does his desire to belong. I was happily impressed by the craftsmanship of this emerging filmmaker, and the access he earned with his subject.

Breathing Lessons: The Life and Work of Mark O’Brien is a profoundly inspiring portrait of poet and journalist Mark O’Brien, who challenged the disability that confined  him to an artificial breathing capsule, graduating from Berkley and developing a career as a writer. This 1997 Academy Award-winning short doc was projected in its original 16mm, as part of this year’s Full Frame tribute to director Jessica Yu (Protagonist, I Cheap n the Realms of the Unreal).

Yu also participated in the panel titled Stories About Stories, alongside filmmaker John Walter (Theater of War) and panel organizer and thematic program curator Amir Bar-Lev (Fighter, My Kid Could Paint That). The panel took on Bar-Lev’s thematic program title. Speakers reflected upon the untold stories involved in the production of every documentary project, and the filmmaker’s choice to incorporate them, or not, into the film itself. One thing that resonated with my particular interests was discovering that all three filmmakers are fond of choosing a narrative structure beforehand—sometimes based on a geometrical shape—and trying to fit the story into it.

Stories We Tell was part of Bar-Lev’s thematic program and offers a perfect example of a film that looks at the concept of a meta-story, or how to illuminate a story within another. Actress and director http://magic-dreamfactory.de/?p=13324 Sarah Polley (Away from Her, Take This Waltz), digs into her own family history, and in the process realizes that finding the truth can be very tricky, and that for the purposes of storytelling, the truthfulness of facts or content can be irrelevant.

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One of the unexpected highlights of this weekend escape—unrelated to the festival itself—was a hanging swing from the big tree in the backyard of the house we rented in Durham. I think it took more than a few of us back to our childhood days. This, along with all having to cram into one vehicle after one of the two broke down, made the bonding experience much richer, hopefully strengthening the unique collaborative force of UnionDocs.