Full Frame Experience

Documentaries are not movies that can be meticulously scripted. The characters can be strategically chosen by the filmmaker, but they cannot be created with lines. The situation is not a part of fiction, but it the exact opposite. The power of documentary is that it is not one out of many stories written by a screenwriter, but it is the story of the person being filmed. It is the art of bringing an ordinary story and applying it to the bigger picture. It can also bring an unusual or catastrophic event to light or in another light. The purpose of a documentary is to entertain but also enlighten. Since it is in the form of narrative entertainment, it can be easier grasp to the injustice and cruelty that people face. Documentaries are windows into other people’s lives and hardships; they are not just films to demonstrate these hardships.

During the Full Frame seminar, we had the chance to speak to Cynthia Hill, who is the a filmmaker of “Private Violence”, “A Chef’s Life”, and “Road to Race Day”. She talked about how she chooses the topic, finds the subjects, and also the loss of losing a story to document. Documentaries are about the subject, but her job is to make the subject a powerful story that will the leave the viewer with the unreleasable, lingering feeling of just watching an amazing film. The goal is to make the story stick with you. The goal is to make something in you change whether it be a perspective, a judgment, or the way you live to some extent. Cynthia Hill discussed how she uses techniques and rhetoric to make this happen. She castes the subjects and chooses the most natural ones, the most outgoing ones, the ones that stand out. She is a director with the eye for who would be the best cast to reach her motive of making the film. Another vital factor that she considers when she makes a documentary is where her narrative starts and what mood does she want the viewer to feel. In “Private Violence”, she opens with a woman at a domestic violence shelter, worried about her abusive boyfriend coming back and finding her. The opening scene is chaotic and frantic. You have already been exposed to the emotionally straining occurrences that a victim to domestic violence feels. Cynthia Hill says that this is intentionally done. She said that it sets the tone and emotions that should be felt. With the wired phone conversations that narrate the opening scene, you also get to know the characters. Who helps who, and you see how they all care.

Like “Private Violence”, the other documentaries that I watched at the Full Frame Festival seemed to have a common motive: to show humanity and community in struggles. “On Her Shoulders” was a project about Nadia Muard who is was a victim of sex slavery by ISIS. Her tragedy is obvious, but the way she goes about her life after and fulfills her unplanned purpose to advocate for others is what makes the story. She pushes through her own fears and trauma to help others and work with other people so that no one else has to go through what she went through.

Later that night, I watched “Solar Mama” which was a bout a group of women fighting for their education from their underdeveloped homes and bring back power and knowledge. The project focused mainly on this one woman living in Bedouin, married to a husband who does not believe in a woman’s success, and a mother of two children. She, like many others, travel to this organization in India that is intended to educate women form around the world and teach them how to circuit solar panels. In the end, you see the women bring back the solar panels to their homes proving their capabilities and encouraging future generations.

The next day I watched “América” which was about brothers taking care of their elderly grandmother until death after their father left. They struggle, and the film does not fail to show the crudity of taking care of another person. Throughout you understand why many people choose to put their loved ones in a home in the hands of a stranger, but it also shows that if you love someone you would only considering them being in the care of your own hands.

The films show a variation of versions of distress, but the goal of all of these seemed to be the opposite of just showing the cruelty of life but rather how it is allows possible to overcome it. As cheesy as that may sound, in the world we live in today these viewpoints are vital. It is so easy to look at a misfortune and pity or wallow in it, but these documentaries teach you to do something about it. And again I apologize for the cliche comment, but they inspire.

I have always watched documentaries. I have always admired the impact they have, but I never knew the strategic planning to make the impact. You can just just film a story. You need to mold the story to make it appealing to a large audience. Full Frame allowed me to admire documentaries, hear film makers discuss their work and teacher, and the experience also allowed me to watch thought provoking stories along side friends that you can discuss the film with afterwards. That is the best part. The best part of the experience was that you didn’t have to sit in the heart aching, questioning feeling in your stomach alone. You can talk out the feeling and share your first, unedited thoughts about the issue or story being presented. Full Frame is an a space full of people who want to learn more. It is a space where you are shoulder to shoulder with a strangers watching the same film either laughing or crying. Everyone in that moment is connected with one similar emotion evoked by one shot.

Film Fulfillment

Robert Shafran, David Kellman, and Eddy Galland: the subjects of the documentary ‘Three Identical Strangers’ seen at Full Frame 2018.

At 2018’s Full Frame, each documentary calls in a slightly different crowd, nuanced but certainly noticeable. Those attending the Yazidi justice-themed ‘On Her Shoulders’ seem younger on average than Mister Rogers’ fans seeing ‘Won’t You Be My Neighbor?’, who in turn seem less artsy than the ‘Rebuilding in Miniature’ and ‘306 Hollywood’ crew. There was a film for everyone; one of the best aspects in full frame is the combination of broadly-appealing movies like ‘Three Identical Strangers’ with more targeted films such as ‘On Her Shoulders’ and ‘Bending Lines’. That said, as a spectator of all these showings, I wanted to comment on the merit of each actual film — whether or not the movie’s expectation from the audience seems to coincide with the actual content and character. Continue reading

Minding the Gap

Last year at Full Frame, I saw a work-in-progress cut (something between a trailer and short) of Bing Liu’s film Minding the Gap. Liu had recently secured the Garret Scott grant and was about to jump into another year of production. I remember being surprised at how much the film moved me. I made a mental note to look out for it in the future.

When I saw that the final cut of Minding the Gap would debut at Full Frame this year, I jumped to grab a ticket. My memory of the film’s premise was a little sketchy, but it was easy to recall how deeply it had affected me. Waiting for the film to start in a jam-packed theater, I caught sight of the young director as he regarded the crowds of of people filing in. He looked nervous and happy. Bits of the film started coming back to me:  Liu documents his best friends as they skateboard through the empty streets of their hometown; Liu interviews each of them at regular intervals throughout their adolescence and young adulthood. All of those shots and events were still in the film, but it had become something much more fleshed-out.

Minding the Gap bowled me over. To a large degree, the film is about male friendships and the idiosyncrasies that beset them. To paraphrase Liu, the film is about masculinity and vulnerability. Continue reading

Crime + Punishment: Full Frame 2018

When I went to Full Frame, I didn’t really know what to expect. Sure, I had watched documentaries before, and I had enjoyed them. But that didn’t mean I was a connoisseur by any standard, and I had never felt they were any better than other movies. When Mr. Haynes told us on Friday that we would go into a movie skeptical of its value, and come out with our minds blown, I didn’t believe really believe him. But the documentary Crime + Punishment made me realize just how right he was.

The film follows a group of 12 NYPD officers in the process of filing a class action lawsuit against their employer, the New York Police Department, for the illegal use of racial quotas. With the usage of hidden cameras and microphones, Stephen Maing helped the subjects capture their supervisors Continue reading

No Place Like Home: A Reflection on Full Frame 2018

Home is a conflicting concept to me. As a first-generation immigrant, I feel like I’m expected to maintain this reverence for a place completely foreign to me or this kinship for people I barely know. It’s weird. It’s confusing. That’s why the prevailing theme of finding/retaining a homeland in multiple documentaries I saw at Full Frame really struck me. It’s awe-inspiring yet heartwrenching to see people so similar yet so different to me having to fight for their homelands while I continue to avoid searching for mine. It changed the way I see and define what it means to have a home.

For example, in On Her Shoulders, a story following Nadia Murad (an Iraqi Yazidi activist and refugee), Nadia must escape ISIS after they take over her village, murder her family, and enslave her. Continue reading

Full Frame 2018

I really enjoyed my time at Full Frame! I have only known about the Full Frame Film Festival for a couple years and I have always been interested, however I never made the time to go. I have always enjoyed documentary films; however, I usually just watched them when they were assigned in class, not because I found one that really intrigued me.

Of all of the films I watched, my absolute favorite was Owned: A Tale of Two Americas, a film about housing in the Unites States, and its relation to institutionalized racism. When I was choosing the films I wanted to see, I remember I chose this film because I had just read the article “The Case for Reparations” by Ta-Nehisi Coates for my English class, and I also have some knowledge on the topic of institutionalized racism in the justice system from the crimes and punishments class I took my sophomore year. Continue reading

‘On Her Shoulders’ And ‘América’: Full Frame 2018

When a person can feel connections to complete strangers around them, it is an indescribable experience. I felt this way at the Full Frame film festival as I sat in a theatre surrounded by a hundred other people who were there for the same reason as I: to appreciate films. People of all ages, races, and gender connected in the shared emotion instilled in us through the powerful films that shown. All of us left our day to day lives to recognize the hard work people dedicated to the creation of their documentary, and learn from their work, and we all left feeling inspired, no matter what films we had seen.

There were two films that left me feeling especially inspired and reflective: América by Erick Stoll and Chase Whiteside, and On Her Shoulders by Alexandria Bombach. Both of these films were displayed in a truly pensive and poignant, yet powerful stories. I also noticed a prominent connection between the two; Continue reading

Full Frame 2018

I had never gone to something like Full Frame before or frankly even know that Full Frame existed five blocks away from I lived. I signed up for this seminar because I felt it was an opportunity I couldn’t give up. On the first day as a collective group, we went to see On Her Shoulders, which was about a young girl named Nadia Murad who has become an activist for the injustice done to her people, the Yazidis. She reminded me of Malala and the MSD students who are all teenage activists. I loved how Alexandria Bombach, the director, really brought to life the struggle and pain she has endured as well as the hope and determination within her that lies behind the layer of torment. Continue reading

“Still Tomorrow” Movie Reflections by Chinese Class

This year, some students from Chinese class went to Full Frame and watched the 2016 documentary Still Tomorrow, which has not been shown in China yet. We were 5 minutes late because we went to American Tobacco campus initially. Below are the reflections written by some students who went to the movie screening with me:

Ryan Morgan (’20): This movie was very well put together, and I very much enjoyed the people that starred in it. The documentary style has always been an interesting one in my opinion, but I think that it worked out well for this one. I wasn’t sure what to expect when I was walking in (late) because I only saw a group of people eating. It ended up being a story of loneliness and depression, and I feel like it captured the essence of those things very well. In conclusion, this movie was pretty great, and it allowed me to learn about an extremely interesting person.

Andy Wang (’20): I think the portrayal of Yu Xiu Hua’s journey in this documentary was a wholly authentic message that reveals feelings that are a central part of the shared human journey. The memory that this film left with me is still felt, with memorable scenes returning and bringing the emotions with. Each obstacle and each triumph was truly shown by the intimate closeness the camera had, filming Yu Xiu Hua’s personal life at these times. The quality of the movie as a genuine film as opposed to an amateur documentary shocked me. Each piece of the film fit together, each choice was expertly crafted. One scene that exemplified the unity of the film was toward the end. Yu Xiu Hua sat in her chair, typing on a precariously tilting table. It was a perfect ending, calling back to a mirrored scene in the beginning of the film.

Batu Palanduz (’19): This movie was well made and i think that if we had seen the opening 5 minutes, then the documentary would have carried more importance. Either way, it was interesting seeing all the media asking questions about Yu Xiuhua’s opinions about herself. They all seemed to be asking her the same things; “Do you fear your poems are perceived as crude” and “have you accepted yourself”. Also, her husband’s interactions with her were shocking in my opinion. I was surprised that almost all her poems had to do with love and sex. The fact that she was able to get her book published was impressive to me because i know that some of the older nations have very strict cultures. I was surprised that no one called her works disgusting or revolting. This shows that the world is slowly moving in the right direction.

Davi Sapiro-Gheiler (’19): I think that the movie addressed many important points about physical disability and gender. It was interesting to see how physical disability is treated in China. If she wasn’t famous, would she be treated the same way or would she be looked down upon as an inferior citizen? Seeing her relationship with her husband play out and how she took control of the situation was truly inspiring. The fact that her mother was so appalled by the situation shed light on gender roles in Chinese society. I liked how the movie was very non-traditional. A lot of movies about China focus on things that the media and the general public would like, not on deeper issues (like this movie focused on). It was interesting to see a Chinese movie that was not about food, martial arts, or pollution.

Kaynaz Soheili (’19): I think it would have been better to see the first few minutes, but overall, I thought it was a good documentary. It was very interesting to see this woman poet, Yu Xiuhua, who had cerebral palsy, put her emotion into her work and write such good poetry. I loved the genuineness she put into her poems and the relationships she had with her family members before and after she got famous. Once she had achieved fame, when she would have interviews, she wasn’t at all self-conscious about her appearance and would freely talk about her condition’s effects. People just loved her, and she was made China’s Emily Dickinson.

It was very interesting to see how her life at home played out after she reached fame. Particularly, her determination in her divorce was very interesting to watch. She would not stop at anything until she was free of her husband and at first was reluctant to get divorced because the stories that might’ve been written about her, now that she was famous. At the same time, she had to carry along with her the tough issue of her mother having cancer. This was especially crucial during her divorce because her sick mother did not think it was the right decision to make. But, before the credits rolled, there was a picture of her mother at the end of the documentary and the text at the bottom dedicated it to her. I thought it was a nice ending.

 

Through the Windows of a Spaceship

The three days spent at Full Frame are magical. It is a time where I can take on a different kind of independence and any identity: anthropologist, film critic, foodie, downtown street walker, classy festival-goer, or simply a high school senior seeing movies with friends. It’s my favorite part of the year. I meet new people, I revisit old faces. And the vastly different films I watch make it a new experience every time. I consumed a total of nine films in the short 72 hours. Every single one told a story and opened my heart.
I knew that Dina was going to be my favorite movie before I saw it. The vague description communicated a vague log line– “old people on the autism spectrum fall in love and get married” – and was enough to make me excited. The lights came down and the screen came up, and suddenly we were transported to a hazy dreamscape of pastel colors. We met Dina, more of a caricature than a tangible person. We see her interact with the world, and almost want to laugh, because this isn’t a documentary. Surely it’s a narrative film. Yet as the storyline progresses, we grow closer to two very real people who suffered through very real circumstances, from taking the wrong city bus to the beach, to domestic abuse. And it was beautiful to watch. By the end of the film, I began to question the autism spectrum, and the subconscious divisions we place in society between “us” and “them”. Because I listened to myself speak, and I sounded like Dina. Dina wasn’t separate in her experiences from anyone else. Watching the movie was refreshing in many ways, because Dina didn’t hold back in her commentary, she said what she wanted, and her fiance was able to reciprocate. They glided easily through conflict resolution. This humorous portrait of a couple’s journey made my Friday evening.
In a speakeasy I sat in, a filmmaker captured the feeling: Full Frame is like a portal to another land. It’s a place where you can peer into other galaxies and worlds through the window of your spaceship, alongside a community of caring, invested people. I couldn’t agree more. Someway, somehow, I will find my way back to Full Frame next year.