The annual Full Frame Documentary Film Festival unspools this weekend in downtown Durham.
In recent years, Full Frame has grown to become of the leading documentary film festivals in North America, with a reputation for high-quality presentation and collegial Southern friendliness.
But Full Frame is just part of a larger local documentary filmmaking scene in Durham and the Triangle.
The festival itself is a program of Duke Universitys Center for Documentary Studies (CDS), which offers undergraduate classes, continuing education courses and an MFA program in documentary arts. Part of CDSs stated mission is to bridge university and off-campus filmmaking communities.
Then theres the Southern Documentary Fund (SDF), a Durham-based nonprofit and an increasingly key component of the local documentary scene. Founded in 2002 by a collective of North Carolina filmmakers, the SDF provides both financial and artistic support to filmmakers in the Triangle, the state and all over the South.
Rachel Raney is the executive director of the SDF and a longtime veteran of documentary production and public broadcasting. Before moving to North Carolina, she worked for years in California on independent films and the PBS series Frontline.
Raney says the SDF works in part as a fiscal sponsor for documentary filmmaking projects. The nonprofit does not itself award grants, but instead administers funds from other sources. In the documentary film world, if you want to raise money from foundations, wealthy individuals, government entities youre usually required to put the money through a nonprofit, Raney explained.
The Southern Documentary Fund currently has 48 sponsored projects on its roster. The projects come to us in different stages, Raney said. Sometimes people come to us for sponsorship before theyve even picked up a camera. Sometimes theyve shot a lot of footage and want to do some fund raising. They want to get their work out into the world.
The local loop
In the kind of closed system thats healthy for any artistic community, many films that get their start at Dukes Center for Documentary Studies later receive funding through SDF, then premiere at Full Frame. In fact, for several years now SDF has presented a special screening event at the festival, with excerpts of projects currently in development.
This year, the SDF screening will feature 35-minute clips from two local feature films in the works: Occupy the Imagination by director Rodrigo Dorfman, and So Help You God by director Ashley York. The screenings scheduled for 1:40 p.m. Sunday at the Durham Arts Council PSI Theater will be followed by an audience Q&A with the filmmakers, moderated by Frank Stasio of WUNCs The State of Things.
Two more recently completed feature films, sponsored by SDF, are also screening at this years festival. Good Ol Freda tells the story of Liverpudlian Freda Kelly, who worked as personal secretary for the Beatles throughout the bands career. Directed by Ryan White, a graduate of the Duke documentary program, the film is generating huge buzz after its official premiere at the South by Southwest festival in March. Good Ol Freda plays at 2 p.m. Friday in the Carolina Theaters Fletcher Hall.
Durham filmmaker Elisabeth Haviland James will premiere her new film, In So Many Words, at 5:10 p.m. Sunday in the Carolina Theatre. The film profiles Raleigh writer and clinical psychologist Lucy Daniels, born into the wealthy newspaper family that owned and operated The News & Observer for decades. Daniels became a bestselling author in the 1950s and 1960s after spending five years in psychiatric hospitals for treatment of severe anorexia. The film cuts between an extended interview with Daniels and impressionistic recreated scenes.
Speaking from her home in Durham, director James said that premiering In So Many Words at Full Frame is particularly rewarding because its a local story, using a largely local cast and crew, and debuting at a homegrown film festival. Jamess production company, Thornapple Films, is located on Main Street downtown, and James holds a seat on the board of directors of the SDF.
Its definitely a growing community, James said of the Triangle documentary scene. Youve got Full Frame, which is a world-class film festival. And you can go to the Center to learn how to make films.
The SDF is working really hard to be the nexus of the two, James says. Were the stuff in the middle that supports the filmmaker and gives them the opportunity to raise money, get feedback and have work-in-progress screenings. Its about building the community.
Executive director Raney agrees that SDFs role as a financial sponsor for films in only one aspect of the groups mission.
Thats obviously an important service, and its the way were kind of contractually bound to these projects, Raney said. But really what were doing is grabbing these artists by the hand and saying: Where are you at with your project? What are your needs? How can we help?