What I Take from Full Frame

Over the course of the past four days, I have been immersed in the stories of extraordinary people, cultures, and events at the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival. Each of the films I saw, nine full-length films and four short films in total, showed situations and events that I have never been close to experiencing. Yet in each film I couldn’t help but notice moments that I could, on some level, relate to. I found a stark example of this type of familiar yet incomprehensible situation during At Home in the World. The film documents, among others, Magomed, a Chechen boy who became a student at a Red Cross school in Denmark after his family fled their homeland when members of the Russian military tortured his father. But despite dissimilar lived experiences to anyone I’ve met, I couldn’t help but see Magomed as being just like boys I know his age when he is shown watching highlights of Zlatan Ibrahimović during class. The film City of Trees shows the work done by a Washington, D.C nonprofit to improve the city’s parks while provided much-needed job training for their labors during a recession economy. During the film I drew parallels between Michael Samuels, a man struggling to re-enter society after spending eight years in prison, and many students I have classes with. While Michael and my classmates lead vastly different lives, they share an eagerness for learning that allows them to get the most out of their job training and succeed in school, respectively. These two examples show one of the main takeaways from the films I saw; no matter how different people appear to be, there are always some similarities between people.
The other main thing I take with me from Full Frame comes from Clinica de Migrantes, a film about the tribulations faced by a volunteer clinic in Philadelphia that serves the city’s undocumented immigrant population. Because they are not citizens, the patients at this clinic are unable to purchase private health insurance and most cannot afford the enormous costs of health care. This clinic receives a very large number of patients, and there are countless more they cannot receive who have nowhere else to go. Underscoring the events of the film is the debate as to whether this type of pro bono work should be provided for the undocumented immigrants. As the film clearly states, there are many who believe that resources should not be allocated to those who are not in the United States legally. And as an unbiased documentary, the film doesn’t necessarily make a claim as to how the government should proceed in immigration reform. Rather, the film recognizes that there is an issue that members of our communities need, and that there are no strides being made at the government level to solve it. Therefore, the founders of the clinic chose to take matters into their own hands and affect as much positive change as they could. This philosophy of doing what one can rather than waiting for the change they want to happen is one that I believe in, and I am glad to have had the opportunity to see a great example of people living that philosophy.

One thought on “What I Take from Full Frame

  1. Thanks for this reflection, Jack. I especially liked this line:

    “I saw, nine full-length films and four short films in total, showed situations and events that I have never been close to experiencing. Yet in each film I couldn’t help but notice moments that I could, on some level, relate to.”

    This rang true for me in many of the films I saw, including ‘Starless Dreams,’ which I wrote about on this blog. But, I neglected to touch on this notion in my review, so I’m glad you’re bringing it up here. It’s a bit of an old chestnut, but despite severe and often seemingly irreconcilable differences, we are all humans. Perhaps the goal of the documentarian could be summed up as the effort to illuminate points of contact and overlap between humans; between subjects in their films and between those subjects and the audience.

    The thing about all of this that frustrates me – and I am struck by this each year – is that here we are in this arena of incredibly positive efforts, efforts that serve a multitude of issues and a great diversity of people across the globe. But when I look around me, at the Full Frame audiences, I see such a narrow demographic. And while some of these films will transcend that audience through more mainstream means of distribution, for the most part these films feel like they are fighting an uphill battle.

    This touches on Elisabeth Haviland James and Revere La Noue’s fascinating question about how to get the documentary form into the mainstream media arena?

    Perhaps this is a good subject for a documentary…?

    Anyway, thanks, Jack. And thank you to all the students who participated in the seminar. Please take the stories you witnessed at Full Frame out into the world with you wherever you go. What Elisabeth & Revere said is true: you are more powerful than you might think.

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