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Full Frame documentary capsules 

Our writers review more than 40 of the 78 films in competition

The films are listed in the order they will be screened. Films not listed were not available for review.

Reviews by Godfrey Cheshire, D. Grayson Currin, David Fellerath, Bob Geary, Edward Holm, Fiona Morgan, Neil Morris and Byron Woods.

Thursday, April 7

The Guestworker (60 m.)
Durham filmmakers Cynthia Hill and Charles Thompson soberly examine the economic system that puts cheap produce on our tables. Hill and Thompson focus on the federal H-2A guestworker program and the complex relationship between farmer, laborers and land. The film takes a sly and unexpected turn when the filmmakers accompany one farmer back to his Durango home. DF

Bouncing Bulldogs (13 m.)
Coach Ray Frederick oversees a Carrboro-based jump roping team in an exciting short gleaned from a feature work-in-progress. NM

Carmen and Geoffrey (79 m.)
Modern dance fans will be blown away by rare footage of Carmen de Lavallade performing Porgy and Bess with Alvin Ailey, and dancing with husband Geoffrey Holder and Josephine Baker in a memorable Just My Bill. But this film keeps its subjects strangely separated. It stays too busy alternating between their distinguished public pasts to give us much sense of their private relationship off-stage. BW

In the Shadow of Eden (22 m.)
This poignant meditation on abuse revolves around Romero's childhood suffering at the hands of her father. The director's haunting monotone narration contributes to the film's plaintive air. A favorite among festival insiders. NM

Hardwood (30 m.)
Moving because it is so personal, Hardwood tells the story of former Harlem Globetrotter dribble-meister "Frail Mel" Davis through the lens of his biracial and long-forsaken son, Hubert. Davis opens the veil on the five-piece family, exposing every character onscreen in clothes stained by tears wrought from love, recollection and redemption. DGC

Our Brand is Crisis (85 m.)
If you think the Democratic political establishment is doing a lousy job at home, their impact on Bolivian politics will horrify you. After losing the presidency in the 1990s, Gonzalo "Goni" Sanchez de Lozada hires James Carville's consulting firm to run his 2002 campaign. Their polls, focus groups and negative ads get him in office, but the strategy fuels a violent uprising led by campesinos. The consultants' amazingly candid comments reveal the dark side of the War Room. FM

Be Here to Love Me (99 m.)
Margaret Brown's feature debut moves along in the same circuitous style as the work of its subject, the tragically underappreciated Townes Van Zandt, interweaving candid, hilarious and often revelatory interviews from Guy Clark, Willie Nelson, Van Zandt's three wives, his best friends and others. A gritty, honest paean that takes Van Zandt for the addicted, haunted and scarred genius he was. DGC

Friday, April 8

The Life and Times of Frida Kahlo (86 m.)
This is a beautiful and well-researched documentary about how Frida Kahlo's blazing soul rendered her world and the people she knew in luminescent, ecstatic profundity. It's almost too easy: You point a camera or microphone at Frida's life, and monkeys, parrots and the greatest thinkers of our time squawk, bellow and screech their cerebral and glandular adulation. "Viva la vida!" EH

Hoxie: The First Stand (56 m.)
After Brown v. Board in 1954, the all-white school board of little Hoxie, Ark., voted unanimously to integrate. Then the outside agitators showed up--pro-seg preachers and Citizens Council organizers--and enflamed the locals. Contains good history, archival images and interviews with the thoughtful black mom, the unrepentant white townsman, the liberal lawyer and--especially good--the big ol' white school superintendent who never backed down. BG

Bride Kidnapping in Kyrgyzstan (51 m.)
Several episodic accounts of the now-illegal, lightly regulated practice used to avoid high dowry payments in this former Soviet republic, Bride Kidnapping is a trans-boundary slap-in-the-face dispelling the myth that "custom" necessarily yields happiness. The film evocatively presents portraits of young girls searching for their own standard of love after being forcefully removed from their families for unknown husbands-to-be. DGC

Getting Through to the President (8 m.)
A whimsical if inert satire in which the filmmakers encourage New York City pedestrians to call the White House public comment line from Manhattan payphones. NM

Occupation: Dreamland (79 m.)
A verite
journey into base Camp Dreamland for the 82nd Airborne stationed in Fallujah in 2003. This sobering film evenhandedly tackles our nebulous role in Iraq, as well as the multifaceted courage of U.S. troops. NM

Backseat Bingo (6 m.)
Audio interviews with senior citizens discussing their views on romance, relationships and sex are brought to life via animation in this clever nugget. NM

Three of Hearts (95 m.)
Menage-a-trois literally means a household of three, and for Sam, Samantha and Steven, that's home sweet home. This beautifully made film follows eight years of their lives as they seek to build an unconventional family. It quickly moves beyond the initial strangeness, and shows their emotions and aspirations at a very human level. FM

The Ritchie Boys (93 m.)
An altogether pedestrian narrative about German-speaking American troops who interrogated German POWs after D-Day. A great subject for a 30 minute short, but not nearly broad enough for 90. NM

Ears, Open. Eyeballs, Click. (115 m.)
Canaan Brumley received extraordinary access to Marine training in Camp Pendleton, Calif. There's no interaction between camera and subject even as Brumley bores in on drill sergeants terrorizing teenagers. What's exemplary about this film is also a liability: Boot camp destroys individual egos, and it's subsequently difficult to discern more than two or three distinct personalities. The opening tableau of recruits arriving at camp could be the most brilliant single shot of the festival. DF

Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room (112 m.)
If you're not scared to death, you're not paying attention, and you need to see this film and realize that the same amorality and the same people that were behind the Enron scandal are also in charge of our country--and they're running it into the ground just as sure as they did Enron. The Enron scandal broke in August 2001; by December 2001, the seventh largest company in America was bankrupt. It should've brought George W. Bush down with it--he, Daddy Bush and Dick Cheney were "Kenny Boy" Lay's aces in the hole. But in between, 9/11 happened, and every screwball move since has been explained away as progress in the war on terror. BG

My Beloved Child (103 m.)
Set in Norway, this haunting drama recounts the sexual abuse suffered by a woman when she was a child at the hands of her father, whom she later murdered. At the time of filming, she was awaiting incarceration for her "crime." It is a gripping, poignant saga, although its presentation is ponderous and overly lengthy. NM

Pack Strap Swallow (80 m.)
A poignant, engaging look inside the lives of young American and European women convicted of drug smuggling and incarcerated in Ecuador. The world premiere promises to be a festival highlights. NM

Wetback--The Undocumented Documentary (93 m.)
This slow-burning film builds up a righteous head of steam as it follows impoverished Central Americans to the promised land. Catholic lefties explain the economic absurdity of .29/lb bananas and the migrants themselves reveal the nightmare of running the gauntlet of Mexico's gangs, corrupt cops and lethal trains. Waiting for them on the northern side of the Rio Grande are weary border cops and racist vigilantes. DF

Obstinato: Making Music for Two (39 m.)
"We're not going to talk about music for the next 20 minutes," banjo master Bela Fleck tells double bassist Edgar Meyer minutes after stepping onto their tour bus following a stop on their 2004 duo tour. During the set, they muffed the debut performance of a new Meyer piece, a confounding and complicated canon written in 15/8. Twenty minutes later, they're in a Holiday Inn, practicing. DGC

Press On(77 m.)
Although it's an incomplete and plain look at Robert Randolph's short but meteoric rise to fame as a pedal steel guitar saint, Press On is no less impassioned than it is entertaining. It's most remarkable for a brief history of the pedal steel in Randolph's New Jersey church, but Press On is otherwise for Randolph devotees only. DGC

Made in Italy (29 m.)
The filmmaker travels to his ancestral home of Carrara, Italy in search of his family's roots and a railway tunnel featured in an 1897 Lumiere Brothers film. An interesting but unaffecting short. NM

Saturday, April 9

After Innocence (95 m.)
It's been more than a decade since DNA evidence began to unravel criminal convictions. This heartbreaking film follows a handful of exonerees after they walked out of prison for rapes and murders they did not commit. Justice continues to elude them as they work to expunge their records, find work, build lives and push for reform of the legal system. Important and timely, their stories should be heard by North Carolina's lawmakers considering a death penalty moratorium. FM

Following Sean (87 m.)
New York film student Ralph Arlyck lands in the Haight Ashbury district of San Francisco in 1966, and is fascinated and repelled by its do-your-own-thing mentality. Of course, he does his own thing making films, all the time thinking he should really get a job. Ostensibly about the life of Sean, whose parents let him smoke dope at 4, the film's really about how various characters from the Haight--especially Arlyck himself--have lived out their beliefs. Thumbs up. BG

The Education of Shelby Knox (76 m.)
Nobody tells Shelby Knox what to do. This highly engaging chronicle of a teenage girl's political awakening in Lubbock, Texas, captures more than her struggle for comprehensive sex education. Passionate in her convictions, Shelby confronts an abstinence-evangelizing pastor, stands up to the family values crowd and befriends the gay-straight alliance, all while navigating the town's political terrain and enjoying the support of her Republican parents. By refusing to compromise, she maintains an innocence her detractors can hardly fathom. FM

And You Don't Stop: 30 Years of Hip Hop (44 m.)
The first part of this Russell Simmons and VH1-produced series covers the genre's infancy. This portion utilizes archival footage and contemporary interviews with virtually all the significant industry pioneers. NM

Left of the Dial
(108 m.) This doc follows Air America from its giddy beginning through a very public financial meltdown. Unflattering footage of celebrity hosts will make fans cringe, but the bulk of the film feels like a dotcom startup story: Ambitious young businessmen woo investors, then fail to make payroll as employees read the truth on Drudge. But after swindle and betrayal, a few folks clean up the mess and get things back on track. Turns out the high-maintenance talent holds it all together, especially underappreciated Randi Rhodes. Changing the American political landscape just might take longer than they thought. FM

Cheeks (20 m.)
Folkie Joe Cheek narrates this dedication to his strained relationship with his paranoid schizophrenic, fundamentalist parents. Cheek's love is laudable and his predicament palpable, but the film's emotional impact is never fully felt. NM

One Shot (60 m.)
This haunting portrait of Israeli snipers is provocative, informative and troubling. The director deserves kudos for procuring access to his subjects, including footage of their surveillance activities. However, it drags at times and doesn't fully realize its potential. NM

Sunday, April 10

Good Morning Yokohama (12 m.) The inclusion of this fairly humorous portrait of urban overpopulation is curious, since a similar short named Journeys, set in Bombay, India, screened during last year's festival. NM

Infidels (40 m.)
One of Iran's brightest young documentarians, Bahman Kiarostami, takes us into the world of the Godars, a people who immigrated to Iran from India and who make their living by hunting, acting, dancing and music. A fascinating view of a group that has its own relationship to God, and that uses art and ritual to maintain its distinct identity within the context of a Muslim society. GC

Miles Above (25 m.)
Conversations with people who captured the Columbia shuttle explosion on home video grow monotonous. Then the film lands an emotional gut punch with last images from the raw feed from aboard the shuttle just prior to reentry, at which point the footage shifts to a blasé mission control that comes to a resigned, tragic realization. NM

Protocols of Zion (90 m.)
Jolted by the resurgence of anti-Semitism and the century-old titular libel after 9/11, director Marc Levin wades bravely into the most noxious thickets of Jew-hatred. Unfortunately, much of the material is over-familiar, and the narrative teeters unsteadily between hard-nosed inquiry and self-pity. There are fruitless arguments with racist cretins; one colloquy, however, is an absurdity of otherwise antagonistic white and black prison inmates justifying their anti-Semitism to Levin. DF

Gray Matter (59 m.)
This quietly insistent film traces the fate of the remains of Jewish children who suffered at the hands of Third Reich psychiatrist Heinrich Gross. Director Joe Berlinger encounters a miasma of neglect, denial and deception over half a century as he, various activists and the survivors of Spiegelgrund Hospital's children's "euthanasia" ward demand recognition and retribution. To really understand this kind of darkness seems impossible, but in trying, Berlinger and company reaffirm the vital importance of our own humanity. EH

The Goody Goody (12 m.)
A sentimental morsel about a venerable omelet house in Wilmington, N.C., and the family that has operated it for decades. NM

The Self-Made Man (58 m.)
Nuanced and varied, Susan Stern's account of her 77-year-old father's decision to end his own life is even-handed yet highly emotional. Stern and her family offer us a loving account of a life fully lived, one that nevertheless leads to an accelerating moral free-fall. "To be or not to be" is definitely the question, and the answer gives little solace. EH


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