Full Frame Documentary Film Festival: From the Saturday and Sunday lineups

From staff reportsApril 3, 2014 

‘The Hip-Hop Fellow’

Patrick “9th Wonder” Douthit has had quite an evolution since his days as deejay for Little Brother, the hip-hop trio that formed at N.C. Central University in the early 2000s. Nowadays, when he’s not producing hits for the likes of Erykah Badu or Jay-Z, Douthit works the halls of academia at Central, Duke and even Harvard. Kenneth Price’s “The Hip-Hop Fellow” documents the year Douthit spent at Harvard’s DuBois Institute, where he taught a class called “These Are The Breaks” while starting a hip-hop archive. “The Hip-Hop Fellow” does come across as a touch too impressed with its hallowed-hall setting, and it leans too heavily on talking-head footage by a cast including Kendrick Lamar, DJ Premier, various academics and Douthit himself. But it’s an appealing look at an underground art form getting its due from the academy, with some priceless details – like the look on a student’s face when Douthit identifies the “Underdog” cartoon theme as the source for a Wu-Tang Clan sample. Best of all is when Douthit sits at his turntable, visibly feeling the music as he puts a beat together. No matter the subject, it’s always better to show than to tell.

David Menconi

Director: Kenneth Price

Running time: 1 hour, 19 minutes

Website: thehiphopfellow.com

Showtime: 10:40 a.m. Saturday


‘Swallow’

From the Scottish Documentary Institute, “Swallow” abstractly combines home videos and HD videos to explore food’s role in our lives – from loving family relationships, to eating and compulsive disorders, and even to grief. Andrea Weigl

Director: Genevieve Bicknell

Running time: 9 minutes

Website: genevievebicknell.com/films

Showtime: 1 p.m. Saturday


‘Ronald’

North Carolina native Joe Maggard is a former soldier, cop and actor – and one of only nine people to ever work as Ronald McDonald in TV commercials (1995-2007). Maggard, who gives off a little too much of a Gary Busey vibe here to ever be imaged as a convincing Ronald, is tiresome but weirdly fascinating in this short. If you don’t have a fear of clowns already, you may after seeing the cursing Maggard don the yellow suit, uneven makeup and red wig to troll for attention at a local carnival. And then there’s the cringe-worthy, unironic karaoke rendition of “Send in the Clowns.” As the film ends, one can’t help but wonder: Doesn’t McDonald’s have lawyers for this sort of thing? Brooke Cain

Director: John Dower

Running time: 8 minutes

Showtime: 4:20 p.m. Saturday


‘Rich Hill’

At one point in “Rich Hill,” teenage Andrew admits that he wishes his dad would keep a job in one town long enough for him to make friends. “But I have no say in what happens,” he laments. “They’re the parents. I’m just a kid.” The film follows three teenagers in rural Rich Hill, Mo., and provides a sobering glimpse into the root causes of cyclical poverty – it starts with apathetic or absent parents. Andrew says he is optimistic about life and God’s plans for him, but is at the mercy of a dad who doesn’t like the idea of working for someone else. Meanwhile, his mom is in the same line of work as another featured teenager’s mom: She doesn’t. The third teenager’s mom is in jail, and his dad sent him to live with his grandma. This 16-year-old struggles in school but takes pride in his street smarts. While trick-or-treating as a juggalo – a fan of the rap group Insane Clown Posse – Harley ponders the possibility of someone putting a razor blade in his candy. “If there’s that much stupid in them, what’s the point of having them alive?” he asks. Andy Specht

Directors: Tracy Droz Tragos, Andrew Droz Palermo

Running time: 1 hour, 32 minutes

Website: richhillfilm.com

Showtime: 7:20 p.m. Saturday


‘The Case of the Three Sided Dream’

“The Case of the Three Sided Dream” is a tribute to multi-instrumentalist Rahsaan Roland Kirk’s devotion to living in a world of sound. The film chronicles how Kirk lost his sight soon after birth (when a hospital nurse put too much silver nitrate in his eyes) through his evolution into a magnetic performer – the spiritual kin of Sun Ra, George Clinton and a host of blues shamans. It’s a beautifully rendered collage of sound, performances, family footage and insightful commentary. Kirk’s performance of the raucous “Haitian Fight Song” by Charles Mingus is alone worth the price of the Full Frame ticket. Thomasi McDonald

Director: Adam Kahan

Running time: 1 hour, 28 minutes

Website: rahsaanfilm.com

Showtime: 8 p.m. Saturday


‘Through a Lens Darkly: Black Photographers and the Emergence of a People’

“You have to be twice as good as them.” Black children, particularly those who come from a family of strivers – individuals who endured segregation, integration and worked their way into the “American dream” of economic stability – are sent into the world bound by this mantra. It is the invisible garment of those who endure. The words have dual implications for “Through A Lens Darkly: Black Photographers and the Emergence of a People,” the newest documentary by Thomas Allen Harris. Harris packs multiple layers – a deliberate soundtrack, a dizzying array of historical photos and illustrations – into the documentary’s 92 minutes to both tell his family’s narrative and provide an expose on the thorny issues of black representation. He does not relent for a moment in conveying just what it is like to carry the “twice as good” burden with each glimpse in the mirror, each Hollywood image, each family snapshot that reflects a black face. At times, the film is jagged and uneven-paced as it switches between providing analysis and venerating black photographers, including Roy Decarava, Carrie Mae Weems, Anthony Barboza, Gordon Parks, and his own mother, Deborah Willis. However, it is accurately imbued with the urgency of having only one shot to tell the story of a people. Harris’s delivery is often overwhelming as he attempts to encapsulate the history, address taboos – such as passing for white and homosexuality in the black community – and deliver on the narrative of black photographers. It’s not a bad thing – rather, it should compel audiences to take it in. “Through A Lens Darkly” joins documentaries such as “Eyes on The Prize” and “When the Levees Broke” in the slim canon of intimate, accurate narratives about the black experience in America. It is an informative, captivating portrayal, and should be on your can’t-miss list for this year’s festival. Meredith Clark

Director: Thomas Allen Harris

Running time: 1 hour, 32 minutes

Website: 1world1family.me

Showtime: 2 p.m. Sunday

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