Although Pittsboro filmmaker Linda Booker wasn't actively hunting for an idea for her film, inspiration proved only a mouse click away.
In 2005, Booker stumbled across a story on the WRAL Web site about four siblings fighting for clemency on behalf of their father, who was sitting on death row in North Carolina for murdering the children's mother.
This story of tragedy, forgiveness and justice is the framework for Love Lived on Death Row, Booker's first feature film. After nearly a year on the national festival circuit, the movie's next screenings take place Tuesday, March 18, at the Hanes Art Center in Chapel Hill and March 19 at the UNC School of Law, both as part of the "Criminal Justice: The Death Penalty Examined" initiative.
Filmed over 10 months beginning in October 2005, Love Lived on Death Row features the reconciliation between the Syriani siblings and their father, Elias, along with the work of Meg Eggleston, their father's friend and spiritual advisor.
"After reading about them, I first met the Syriani siblings when I found out they were going to be at a Chapel Hill church back in 2005," recalls Booker. "Although at the time they were trying to garner support for their father's clemency request, one of the reasons they wanted to participate in my film was to inspire others going through similar problems [facing the victims of crime]."
Booker has been involved with several nonprofit groups, including working with domestic violence victims at Family Violence and Rape Crisis Services of Chatham County; her experience with the organization piqued her intrigue about the Syriani siblings. "But I didn't initially set out to make an issue film," she says. "Organizations have found something to help their causes in this story, but the heart of the film is still one of forgiveness and reconciliation.
"However, it is also my hope that viewing this film will start a dialogue on domestic violence, the death penalty and restoration justice, in which victims of crime learn to reconcile what has happened to them without carrying around the shame, guilt and burden of victimization. I'm not saying there should not be any punishment, but we need to do more to bring healing into the process."
Booker, who is from Florida, moved to North Carolina in 1989 with her husband, a Chapel Hill native. Her first film was Millworker, her graduate project for the Duke University Center for Documentary Studies' certificate program. Under the auspices of her film production company, By the Brook Films, she is also among the growing cadre of Pittsboro-based filmmakers steadily making their mark, including Mark Barroso and Mark O'Connell, whose documentary Mountain Top Removal has garnered national acclaim.
For more information on the film and upcoming screenings, go to www.lovelivedondeathrow.com.
The Full Frame Documentary Film Festival has announced its anticipated list of New Docs in Competition at this year's event, which runs April 3-6. The schedule includes the usual eclectic fare from familiar and budding filmmakers. The complete list is posted on Full Frame's Web site, www.fullframefest.org, but a cursory overview reveals several tantalizing inclusions.
Steve James and Peter Gilbert, the duo behind Hoop Dreams, will present their latest work, At the Death House Door, the story of a man who served as chaplain to the "Walls" prison unit in Huntsville, Texas, for 15 years. James Marsh's Man on Wire chronicles Frenchman Philippe Petit, who in 1974 spent an hour balancing on a high wire suspended between the recently erected Twin Towers of the World Trade Center. And local filmmaker Josh Gibson was selected to show the world premiere of The Siamese Connection, the story of 19th-century conjoined twins who lived in Mount Airy, N.C.
Jesse Moss, whose Speedo won the 2003 Full Frame Audience Award, returns with co-director Tony Gerber for Full Battle Rattle, which documents the U.S. Army's training camp for Iraqi soldiers in the Mojave Desert. Director Scott Hicks (Shine; Snow Falling on Cedars) presents a portrait of composer Philip Glass in, appropriately, Glass: A Portrait of Philip in Twelve Parts. Mary Harron (American Psycho; I Shot Andy Warhol) and her filmmaker husband, John T. Walsh, will screen the world premiere of Holding Fast, spotlighting a Tibetan refugee camp in Darjeeling, India.
Alex Gibney, fresh off his Academy Award win for Taxi to the Dark Side, will showcase the finished version of Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson; Gibney screened a brief, unfinished portion of the film as a part of the Work-in-Progress workshop during last year's festival. Venerable director Werner Herzog's Antarctic-set Encounters at the End of the World will play as part of special programming.
Although not yet officially announced, this year's Full Frame Career Achievement honoree will be William Greaves, considered by many to be the dean of African-American filmmakers.
Attendees at last year's Full Frame or Cucalorus film festivals had the opportunity to view the documentary Moving Midway. Indy critic Godfrey Cheshire's directorial debut, the film examines the Southern plantation's historical and cultural significance in America, set against the backdrop of the decision to relocate Cheshire's Wake County family plantation home.
Cheshire recently scored a prestigious honor when Moving Midway was chosen to screen at this year's New Directors/New Films series at New York's Museum of Modern Art. The annual series, co-presented by the museum and the Film Society of Lincoln Center, chose only 26 feature films out of thousands submitted. Moving Midway is one of only three documentaries selected. The film will screen twice March 29 and 30, each followed by a Q&A session with Cheshire.
Moving Midway will also be the opening night feature Thursday, April 3, at the Davis Film Festival in California; it has been invited to screen at Colorado's Vail Film Festival, April 4-6. Cheshire says he is aiming for a national theatrical release this September, pending finalization of the film's distributor.