The Full Frame Documentary Film Festival is one of the Triangle’s premiere cultural events, but it can seem intimidating for anyone who just wants to check it out and see what’s up. Not so! For an international film festival, Full Frame is a remarkably friendly event, thoughtfully organized and staffed by a small army of helpful volunteers.
To celebrate Full Frame’s 20th birthday, here are 20 things you should know going into this year’s film festival.
Nuts and bolts
The Full Frame Documentary Film Festival takes place Thursday through Sunday, April 6-9, in and around the Carolina Theatre and Durham Convention Center in downtown Durham.
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1 Compared to other film festivals, Full Frame is relatively easy to navigate. All screening venues are within walking distance of one another in downtown Durham. No need for cabs or Uber. Parking may be a problem this year, though, due to road work. While there are several public lots in the vicinity, Full Frame recommends planning extra time for parking.
2 Festival passes and multi-ticket packages are already sold out, but you can still try to get tickets to individual showings – up until 30 minutes before showtime – at the festival box office in the Durham Convention Center, accessed through the Marriott City Center lobby.
3 You can also purchase individual tickets online up until two hours before showtime, or by phone through the Duke University Box Office (919-684-4444). Will-Call tickets purchased this way can be picked up at the festival box office.
4 Tickets are $16 for each showing, with discounted educator, student, military and senior tickets at $14. Check the Full Frame schedule for details: fullframefest.org.
5 Even if you don’t have a ticket, you can take your chances in the the Last-Minute Line, which is set up on site before each showing. (Look for the color-coded signs.) Tickets are $15, cash only, and issued on a first-come-first-served basis. Bring a book – these lines tend to get long for popular films.
6 Tickets are a serious commodity at Full Frame, of course, but each year planners do a nice job of providing other special programs that are free and open to the public. Film nerds will want to check out the A&E IndieFilms Speakeasy panel discussions held throughout the weekend in the convention center.
7 Full Frame also will host two free outdoor screenings this year in Durham Central Park, weather permitting. Friday at 8:30 p.m.: “The Music of Strangers: Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble.” Saturday at 8:30 p.m.: “Presenting Princess Shaw.” Food truck roundups and music by local DJs will precede each of the outdoor screenings. You will need to pick up a free ticket for these screenings at the festival box office.
8 The Closing Night Party at 21c Museum Hotel is also free, starting at 6 p.m. Sunday.
In addition to the New Docs series of films in juried competition, Full Frame runs several additional film programs and special events each year.
9 This year’s New Docs program includes 48 films in all – 27 features and 21 short films – selected from more than 1,750 submissions.
10 The Invited Program adds 23 more films – 22 features and one short film – screening out of competition.
11 For this year’s 20th anniversary, Full Frame artistic director Sadie Tillery has curated a special retrospective series to celebrate the festival’s 20th anniversary. Called DoubleTake, the series features 19 films – one from each year in Full Frame’s history.
12 Among the films getting an encore showing with DoubleTake are “Helvetica,” the oddly compelling 2007 doc on the history of typefaces; and “The Waiting Room,” the 2012 film that profiles patients and staff at a busy California hospital.
13 This year’s Opening Night Film is “Abacus: Small Enough to Jail,” concerning the 2008 financial crisis. As the big banks went unpunished, the small family-owned Abacus, in New York’s Chinatown, ended up the only institution to face criminal charges. Director Steve James – he’s something of a rock star in the documentary world – will be on hand for a post-screening Q&A.
14 This year’s Closing Night Film is “STEP,” an uplifting doc on the step-dance team at the Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women. This screening is also free and open to the public, but you still need to get a ticket at the festival box office.
15 If you want to peek in on what’s happening with new filmmakers, a special works-in-progress program will be presented at 1 p.m. Saturday in Fletcher Hall. Recipients of the 2017 Garrett Scott Documentary Development Grant will present excerpts from two films in development, followed by a screening of “Quest” by director and 2016 grant recipient Jonathan Olshefski.
16 Among the weekend’s panel discussions, #DocsSoWhite 2.0 will examine the ethics of representation in documentary filmmaking. The event is slated for 12:15 p.m. Saturday in the Convention Center’s Speakeasy lounge, and is free and open to the public.
Full Frame has grown into a major Triangle event as well as an important stop on the festival circuit for filmmakers from around the world.
17 Full Frame was founded in 1998, by photographer and filmmaker Nancy Buirski, as the Double Take Documentary Film Festival. Over the years, attendance has grown from a few hundred people to tens of thousands.
18 Buirski has since moved to full-time filmmaking herself and has premiered several of her own projects at the festival, including the acclaimed 2011 film “The Loving Story.”
19 In 2013, Full Frame was chosen as a qualifying festival for the Documentary Short Subject category at the Academy Awards.
20 Over the years, special guests and presenters at Full Frame have included several marquee names from the movie-making business and the creative world at large, including Ken Burns, D.A. Pennebaker, Walter Mosley, Michael Moore, Laura Poitras and Martin Scorsese.