The 2016 Full Frame Documentary Film Festival opens on Thursday, April 7, with tickets on-sale now.
As with many festivals, success attracts more and better films. While this is a good problem for viewers to have, sorting through the dizzying array of titles to find the very best fare can be daunting.
Here are five titles not to miss.
Tony Robbins: I am Not Your Guru (Saturday, April 9; Cinema 3)
Joe Berlinger’s new profile about the self-help celebrity’s “Date With Destiny” seminar is coming to Netflix, so there may be a temptation to pass on it here and catch it via streaming. That would be a mistake. The film is carefully constructed and it invites–maybe demands–discussion. I’ve seen the film twice since it opened at SXSW, and the second time only enriched and deepened my appreciation…in part, no doubt, because I had someone to talk about it with.
In Pursuit of Silence (Friday, April 8; Cinema 1)
Half immersive experience, half expository explanation, Patrick Shen’s rumination on sound is both soothing and frightening. It warns us of the destructive effects of noise, particularly in an age of loud, constant sound. It also points to and meditates on the ways silence can be a discipline and a source of comfort. Film festivals are busy places, and Full Frame is no exception. Yet if any major festival has the potential to provide contemplative space within the bombardment of images and messages, the Durham docfest is the one. Do yourself two favors: schedule it, and schedule some down time on Friday to be still and let it sink in.
Audrie & Daisy (Saturday, April 9; Cinema 3)
Rape. Slut shaming. Suicide. Audrie & Daisy is filled with the pain of contemporary adolescence. As adults, we may think we understand what kids are facing because we faced and lived through our own awkward adolescences. The documentary, which profiles two underaged girls experiencing horrific and very public traumas, doesn’t allow us the comfort of insisting there is nothing new under the sun. The proliferation of cell phones, if nothing else, makes the ease with which momentary lapses can be documented, preserved, and constantly relived. For a generation that lives its life on social media–and for parents who don’t quite understand what that means–Audrie & Daisy is an angry, honest proverbial wake-up call that is all the scarier for making us wonder if it is already too late to help this generation of young girls grow unmolested into happy, healthy adults.
Kate Plays Christine (Sunday, April 10; Cinema 1)
Robert Greene’s Owning the Weather was one of the very first films I ever saw at Full Frame, and seven years later he is still wowing the festival circuit. Whether he is profiling an actress trying to get back into the business or the trying to make sense of pro-wrestling, Greene brings a patient directorial style that never overshadows his subjects while nevertheless nudging our attention in certain directions. His latest film follows actress Kate Lyn Sheil as she prepares to film the part of a suicidal television reporter. Kate Plays Christine is being scheduled opposite the more high-profile Werner Herzog documentary, so there may be a few people who get tickets as a consolation prize. They won’t be disappointed.
Newtown (Saturday, April 9; Cinema 3)
The best film I saw at this year’s SXSW Film Festival was not a headliner but a documentary. Kim Snyder’s almost-too-soon collection of profiles in grief is alternately shocking, numbing, and maybe even inspiring. Newtown may be one you are tempted to skip because a summary sounds depressing, and it is hard to argue that the film is not. But despite some brief footage of police searching the home of the shooter, the focus remains steadfastly on the victims and the survivors. As we see how they tend to one another’s wounds, our outrage is not assuaged, but it is alloyed with admiration.