‘American Promise’ tops Full Frame awards

CorrespondentApril 7, 2013 

— Capping a four-day run of film screenings in downtown Durham, the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival held its awards event Sunday afternoon at the Durham Armory building.

More than 100 documentary films screened at this year’s festival, including 37 feature films and 15 shorts in competition, were selected from more than 1,200 total submissions. Films from 16 different countries were exhibited, underlining the international profile of the Triangle’s signature film event.

The festival’s top prize – the Reva and David Logan Grand Jury Award for feature-length documentary – went to the film “American Promise,” which follows two African-American boys from kindergarten through high school at New York’s prestigious Dalton School.

Co-directors Michele Stephenson and Joe Brewster, parents of one of the two boys featured in the film, shot footage during the course of 13 years to complete the project. “The one thing we want to promote is family,” Brewster said. “And what we felt when we came here [to the festival] is that this is a family. In every restaurant or waiting in line for coffee, we felt that.”

‘Will’ gets audience honor

Perhaps the event’s biggest surprise came when the film “A Will for the Woods,” already honored with the Nicholas School Environmental Award, won its second prize of the afternoon – the Full Frame Audience Award for feature film, determined by audience ballot.

“Woods” explores the ecological issue of green burial through the story of Duke alumnus and Durham psychiatrist Clark Wang, who died in 2011 from lymphoma. New York-based co-directors Amy Browne, Jeremy Kaplan, Tony Hale and Brian Wilson spent several months in the Triangle area filming the movie.

“It’s just been insanely amazing,” Browne said accepting the audience award. “It was our world premiere yesterday, so it’s really special to be at Full Frame.”

The Full Frame Jury Award for Best Short went to “By Her Side,” from Holland filmmaker Niels van Koevorden. The film tells the story of three first-time fathers as their children are born.

The Audience Award for short film went to “The Record Breaker,” from director Brian McGinn. “I went to school at Duke, so this like a coming home party for me.”

The Charles E. Guggenheim Emerging Artist Award was presented to first-time director Zachary Heinzerling for his film “Cutie and the Boxer.”

“It’s been a very welcoming, fun, exciting experience,” Heinzerling said. “It’s my first film and hopefully not my last. I hope to come back and hang out with all of you again.”

‘Uganda’ gets inspiration award

The Full Frame Inspiration Award was awarded to “God Loves Uganda,” which examines the issue of American Christian evangelists and anti-gay proselytizing among African missionaries.

The Full Frame President’s Award, sponsored by Duke University and intended to honor the best student film, went to director Chico Pereira for his film “Pablo’s Winter.”

“I don’t know of any award that rewards student films without any concern about where the student films are from,” said presenter Tom Rankin, director of Duke’s Center for Documentary Studies, of the President’s Award. “In keeping with Duke’s mission of teaching on a global scale, we’ve awarded this to people very far and very wide.”

Sunday’s most compelling acceptance speech – it earned an extended ovation – came from director Kalyanee Mam, for her verité documentary film “A River Changes Course.”

The film concerns Cambodian sustenance farmers and their dilemma as corporations and government entities intrude on their traditional way of life. Mam’s film won the Center for Documentary Studies Filmmaker Award.

“I thank you all for honoring the film, because I think it’s the voice of the people who matter the most,” Mam said. “We need to listen to people’s stories, and we need to hear their stories from their perspective.

“In doing so, I think we learn so much more about the world we live in, and what we can do to make it better.”

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