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A Feast of a Fest 

Durham hosts nation's premier documentary festival

Chaired by Martin Scorsese and prepared by artists such as playwright Ariel Dorfman and author Walter Mosley, Durham's annual Full Frame Film Festival reveals the more artistic side of filmmaking generally lost in special interest fests running in the South. Screening over 100 films in a four-day period beginning this Thursday, the festival is known to bring both eclectic and soon-to-be famous documentaries to the region. Drawing award-winning filmmakers such as Michael Moore and D.A. Pennebaker, the event offers insight into the world through the form documentarian David Van Taylor referred to as "the second draft of history."

This year, the focus of the festival is war, with a specially curated project by Cara Mertes, the Executive Director of P.O.V./American Documentary Inc. "Why War?" explores the motivations and justifications for war through eight programs. The featured film is Winter Soldier, a piece displaying testimonies of 200 ex-GIs at the 1971 Detroit Winter Soldier Investigation, which dealt with American atrocities in Vietnam. Exposing the pain and hypocrisy of an unwarranted war, it's a forgotten jewel of American documentary filmmaking.

Among the seven other pieces included in the "Why War?" series are The Brooklyn Connection, by Klaartje Quirijns, about a New York contractor/military supplier for the Kosovo Liberation Army, and War At a Distance, German experimentalist filmmaker Harun Farocki's cinematic essay on the relationship between wartime production and destruction. Accompanying the screenings will be discussions led by Mosley, Dorfmann and filmmakers Barbara Koppel, Eugene Jareki and Peter Raymont.

Piggybacking off the "Why War?" project are the Seeds of War Prize and Artists in a World at War discussion. Founded by Mosley, the Seeds of War Prize was created to honor the filmmakers each year who "lay bare the seeds and mechanisms that create war." Meanwhile, Artists in a World at War, moderated by Dorfman, will seek the documentary filmmaker's role as witness to global strife, conflict and warfare.

"Very often, people examine the impact of war but don't take time to think about why war happens," noted festival founder and executive director Nancy Buirski. "We wanted to look at why war happens in general, what the chronic causes are. There is no better time than the present for this, with America still in a war we thought would be finished by now."

The festival also includes the Southern Sidebar, a welcome extension examining Southern documentary films. "We take pride in the unique sensibility and storytelling Southern filmmaking has [to offer]," stated Buirski. "By including Southern focus in the festival, we honor our roots and display this style to viewers from around the world."

This year's focus, "Going Home: Southern Families and the Longing to Belong," showcases three films. Created by Durham native Macky Alston, 1997's Family Name is his personal journey to locate descendants of slaves and slave owners who once lived together on his family's plantation. The 2001 documentary Southern Comfort, by Kate Davis, is the story of a female-to-male transgendered person living in rural Georgia. And in 1994's Time Indefinite, Ross McElwee returns to the South to bury his father and accept the imminent birth of his child.

Also included among the numerous films being shown during the four-day event is Martin Scorsese's The Last Waltz, the acclaimed 1978 documentary about The Band's final concert after 16 years on the road. Scorsese, who has long served as the Chairperson of the Festival Board, will also be the center of attention at the event "An Evening With Martin Scorsese," where he will likely speak on his film and the documentary form.

Carolina Connections With the Full Frame Film Festival being held in Durham, it's only natural that North Carolina is present in several of the featured works. The Southern Sidebar alone contains two pictures with Southern filmmakers, Time Indefinite and Family Name. The tradition of jump-roping is brought alive in Bouncing Bulldogs, a documentary about Durham's precision jump-roping team and the challenges they face throughout a period of competition. Filmed by Carrboro native Stephanie Jones as she attended graduate film school at UNC-Chapel Hill, it promises to be one of the more uplifting documentaries in the program. Another lighthearted entry, The Goody Goody, is a short film about an omelet house in Wilmington, said to make the "world's greatest omelet." Following the eatery's owner and operator of 55 years, director Terry Lineham puts to film an important part of his town's history.

Cynthia Hill and Charles Thompson of Chapel Hill take on more serious fare with their entry The Guestworker, an advocacy film focusing on the plight of immigrant workers and the position of their employers, American farmers. Hill, whose documentary Tobacco Money Feeds My Family was screened as part of The Light Factory's film series last year, is known for her honest and empathetic treatment of the subjects within her movies.

The Staircase is one of 22 invited films in the festival. It contains two parts of an eight-part series in which filmmaker Jean-Xavier de Lestrade chronicles the trial of Michael Peterson, a Durham resident accused of murdering his wife. Lestrade was able to gain access to both the defense team and the prosecution, offering a well-rounded view of the trial. Lestrade reveals the inherent biases within the court system, dealing with homophobia in much the same way he dealt with racism in his Oscar-winning documentary Murder On a Sunday Morning.

Finally, North Carolinian and UNC-CH graduate Roger Manley teams up with Peter Friedman to produce and direct Mana — Beyond Belief. This film spans several continents in an exploration of how people from different areas and cultures invest "power objects" with special meaning — whether it's an eagle feather to Navajo people or a voodoo priest costume to select African tribes.

From the overarching thematic collections to the Southern explorations, the Full Frame Film Festival has been a boon to North Carolina. It puts Durham on the map for having an innovative and prestigious festival, and it offers North Carolina natives an opportunity to expand their horizons.

The Full Frame Film Festival will be held April 7-10 in downtown Durham. For details, call 919-687-4100, ext. 101; for a complete list of films or other general information, visit the website at www.fullframefest.org.

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