After skipping Full Frame last year, this week I’m thrilled to be attending the 15th annual documentary festival in Durham. This year, the ticketing procedure was a little bit different, allowing pass holders to select scheduled films prior to the festival. The lines at the armory were non-existent, quite a change from years past. Instead of waiting as clerks printed out tickets, or, worse, standing in line behind as someone dithers over which movies to see, I arrived at the armory, picked up my pass, and 15 chronologically ordered tickets ready to go. A win for web technology, I’d say.
Of the five films I saw yesterday, two involved the deft craftsmanship of Full Frame tribute honoree Stanley Nelson. The Black Press, an older film by Nelson, looked at the history of African-American journalism in the U.S., with an emphasis on story. Nelson also served as producer on the festival’s Opening Night world premiere , Jesse Owens, a film directed by Laurens Grant, a young filmmaker with much promise.
Both of these historical films tell a story that informs our world today. In The Black Press,Nelson chose not to over-emphasize the shining lights of black journalism, like Ida B. Wells or W.E.B. Dubois, instead focusing on the story of the worker-bees who made the black press work. The interviews featured in the film were of ordinary black men and women who worked in storied papers like the Pittsburgh Courier and the Chicago Defender, or historians that have studied the black press. I think this made the point that it is often the unsung ordinary folks who turn the wheels of history. Grant’s Jesse Owens in many ways tells a similar story. Jesse Owens was of course a gifted athlete who went on to Olympic glory, but Grant, and the interviewees in the film, brought attention to the coaches who recognized his talents and encouraged and pushed him on to greatness. While I knew, more or less, the story of Owen’s in-your-face triumph over Hitler’s propaganda machine at the Munich Olympics, the film told the story of the athlete’s years in obscurity after that triumph, where he could only find undignified work racing against horses.
As I have to rush off to Full Frame this morning, here is just a short list of the other films I saw, with links:
- The Black Press
- Time Exposure
- Family Portrait Sittings
- Kiss the Paper
- Eating Alabama
- Jesse Owens
Time permitting (which is unlikely) I’ll try to post more about these films in the coming days. Wish me luck