I’m back from the first day of this year’s Full Frame Documentary Film Festival in Durham. A few changes to the ticketing system, plus the usual first-day glitches, made for a hectic morning. This year, pass holders can get tickets for all four days of films at once. That will ease the lines tomorrow, but today was very hectic. While in previous years the box office might be handing out 3 to 5 tickets to each person, this year people were picking up 16 or 20 at a time. Everyone should have received a “sushi menu” to order tickets from, an effort to speed up the process, but not everyone got a menu and some people just have a hard time deciding no matter what you do no matter what you do.
Thematic programming at this year’s festival focuses on work and labor. My instincts told me these would require an extra dose of Prozac, so for the first stay I steered clear. I saw three films that were top-notch, worth looking for in theaters or on Netflix soon.
or the past couple of festivals, I’ve been drawn to documentaries about architecture, a topic that works so well on film. Director Mark Richard Smith brought a wonderful architectural film to this year’s festival: Louis Sullivan: the Struggle for American Architecture, a biographical documentary about the father of the modern skyscraper, and mentor to Frank Lloyd Wright. I loved this film’s close-up examinations of the signature detailing in Sullivan’s work genuine works of artistry, comparable in many ways to the intricate stonework of Gothic cathedrals, but embodied with an American spirit. The cinematography and music were particular highlights.
Thunder Soul was another treat, the story of a reunion concert by Houston’s legendary Kashmere Stage Band. Thirty years after their high school glory days, this jazz-funk ensemble reunites for a performance for their former band director, Conrad “Prof” Johnson, aged ninety-two at the time of filming. Mark Landsman happened to be in the right place at the right time to capture an amazing story of the reunion concert, just days before Johnson’s death. Woven together with the story of the band’s award-winning performances under Johnson’s tutelage, and the personal stories of the profound effect Johnson had on the lives of his students, this film is everything a good documentary should be.
Finally, tonight’s Opening Night film was Kings of Pastry, a world premiere from veteran filmmakers D.A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus. The film follows Jacuy Pfeiffer and other chefs as they compete for the Meilleur Ovrier de France, one of the most prestigious culinary prizes. We’ve seen watered down and sensationalized versions of this story on the Food Network, of course, but Pennebaker and Hegedus elevated the subject matter to a new level, revealing the personal stories and obsessive, competitive nature of these top chefs. At the same time, this rather exclusive club of masters shares a camaraderie that trumps all their competitive instincts, with chefs breaking out in tears over the triumph and tragedy of the event.
That’s all for now. Three more days to go!