Brief reviews of films from the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival

April 2, 2014 

“Can’t Stop the Water” is about a Louisiana community of Native American Cajuns whose way of life is threatened by coastal erosion and rising sea levels.


Staff recaps of some of the films screening Thursday and Friday at the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival in Durham.

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‘Last Days in Vietnam’

Rory Kennedy (“Ghosts of Abu Ghraib”) revisits the end of U.S. involvement in Vietnam with an absorbing story of events both humiliating and vindicating. As the North Vietnamese army closed in on Saigon in April 1975, American diplomats and military advisers defied orders and smuggled thousands of their South Vietnamese friends and refugees, who faced prison or death, out of the capital. The story is told, in large part, by the people involved, whose dilemmas often meant choosing humanity even if it might mean treason. Countless acts of heroism redeemed one of America’s darkest moments, and there’s a feat by a Vietnamese helicopter pilot that’s nearly unbelievable. Riveting, poignant and inspiring. Eric Frederick

Director: Rory Kennedy

Running time: 1 hour, 37 minutes


Showtime: 10:20 a.m. Thursday

‘Olga, To My Friends’

“Olga, To My Friends” tells the story of a young woman who grew up in an orphanage in Russia and works as a reindeer herder and outpost guard at a tundra reindeer collective in northwestern Russia. She works and lives alone for very long stretches, and even when herders arrive, her life is one of interminable isolation. As sad as that seems, Olga prefers it. For her, the solitude is better than the possible alternative – which she faces in the film – of being forced to move to the city to live in a crowded home, at the mercy of men who will take advantage of her. Brooke Cain

Director: Paul-Anders Simma

Running time: 58 minutes


Showtime: 1 p.m. Thursday

‘The Silly Bastard

Next to the Bed’

A mini scandal involving the sprucing up of a hospital suite at Otis Air Force Base near Cape Cod in summer 1963 is the basis of this amusing short doc by Scott Calonico. The suite – to be used in the event first lady Jacqueline Kennedy should go into labor while at Cape Cod – was really nothing fancy (furnished with castoff Air Force furniture scrounged from storage). But The Washington Post (ah, newspapers!) published a “wasteful spending” story – accompanied by a photo of USAF public information officer Ernest J. Carlton posing by a hospital bed – that absolutely infuriated the president. The filmmaker uses tapes of the president’s phone conversations to humorously demonstrate the depth of his anger and embarrassment. Calonico also finds Carlton to get his version of events and film his reaction upon seeing the photograph and hearing – for the first time – JFK refer to him as “that silly bastard with his picture next to the bed.” (Unfortunately for Carlton, the president didn’t stop there.) You can’t help but feel a little bad for the guy, but he handles it with grace. Brooke Cain

Director: Scott Calonico

Running time: 9 minutes


Showtime: 4 p.m. Thursday

‘Buffalo Dreams’

“Buffalo Dreams” is a short documentary about Scottish farmer Scott Shand’s dream of having a herd of bison. He succeeds at creating the country’s only commercial bison farm, but the herd’s future is uncertain. The juxtaposition of these regal North American animals with the green, craggy Scottish landscape is breathtaking. Andrea Weigl

Director: Maurice O’Brien

Running time: 16 minutes


Showtime: 4:10 p.m. Thursday

‘Can’t Stop the Water’

The Southern Documentary Fund-sponsored “Can’t Stop The Water” tells the story of Isle de Jean Charles, an island on the southern coast of Louisiana that is slowly disappearing. The island’s settlers, Native Americans who sought refuge in the bayou to avoid being shipped to Oklahoma by the government in the early 19th century, subsisted on fishing and farming on an island that was 5 miles wide. Now Isle de Jean Charles is barely a quarter-mile wide, and even a modest tropical storm floods the main road and sends water into some of the surviving houses. The remaining island residents, led by Chief Albert Naquin, are seeking federal recognition as Native Americans to get help relocating as a community to higher ground. “We’re just washing away one day at a time,” Naquin says. The film tells the story in the words of the residents, sometimes in a patois so thick that the filmmakers, Jason and Rebecca Ferris, use subtitles (some of the residents speak French to each other). The lack of a narrator or talking-head experts is both the film’s strength and its weakness. Because the residents blame the erosion of the island on the digging of canals by the oil industry starting 60 years ago, there’s no discussion of sea-level rise or climate change or any acknowledgment that other places in the world are now, or will soon be, facing a similar fate. Richard Stradling

Directors: Rebecca Ferris, Jason Ferris

Running time: 33 minutes


Showtime: 1:20 p.m. Friday

‘The Chaperone’

A mostly animated and wholly entertaining film (a “hand-drawn true story,” the opening credits boast) told from the perspective of two teachers who found themselves forced into a fight after a motorcycle gang crashed a middle school dance in Canada in the 1970s. There are many life lessons to be learned, and more than a few chuckles. It will be a most welcome bit of comedy after taking in some of the festival’s heavier films. Brooke Cain

Directors: Fraser Munden, Neil Rathbone

Running time: 14 minutes


Showtime: 10:30 p.m. Friday

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