Posts Tagged ‘Durham’

I’ve added a new page to this site, a version of a Toastmaster’s speech I will be giving in a few weeks. I’ve added a few speeches as pages, just because they are longer pieces, not really appropriate as posts.

The speech, my ninth with Toastmasters, concerns nuclear power, and is based on a fascinating film screened at Durham’s Full Frame Documentary Film Festival this year.  The film, a documentary by noted director Robert Stone, makes a persuasive case that we need to embrace nuclear power.  When I saw this film at Full Frame, the audience reaction in the Q&A session afterwards was quite interesting, and I think the filmed changed some minds.  Maybe it will change your mind.

You can check out the trailer for this film, courtesy of YouTube.  Or check out my speech about it, which doesn’t include a video!

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I’m sitting at home, on the second day of recovery from a cold.  It is the first chance I’ve had to recap the best, worst, and everything in between of films I saw at Full Frame.  It is impossible to see everything, and naturally there are films that, after seeing the smiling crowds leaving the screenings, I wish I would have seen.  There just isn’t enough time, and I can’t be in two places at once.

Full Frame, and I’m sure other film festivals, have an audience rating system.  Some awards explicitly take the audience reaction into consideration.  But what can you really tell about a movie from an arbitrary and inherently inaccurate system?  Full Frame uses a five-point scale, with audiences tearing a ballot at one of five notches.   But what does that mean?  A movie that is incredibly important, a heavy-hitting work of journalistic documentary, is rated on the same five point scale as a light, short, funny film featuring a quirky story about a quirky artist.   Both films might be fives, as measured subjectively by me and my fellow movie-goers, for very different reasons.  It’s like comparing all your girlfriends or boyfriends; at the time, you loved them all, probably for different reasons.

With that in mind, I offer my completely subjective view of the best film I saw at Full Frame, one that I would strongly recommend that everyone see if they have the opportunity.   The envelope, please…and the winner is…Chasing Ice! 

This film follows the work of James Balog, a very driven nature photographer who created the Extreme Ice Survey (EIS) project, an effort to photographically document the retreat of major glaciers around the world.  Balog was once a climate-change skeptic.  He didn’t know if the the science was right or wrong, but he thought the science was just too complicated to attribute climactic changes to anthropogenic sources.  But, after witnessing the retreat of the glaciers, he realized that climate change was real, and there was undeniable visual proof of it taking place today. No one was recording it.  He felt that most people would only understand the nature of climate change if there was a potent, visual demonstration of the reality of climate change.  The EIS project is his attempt to deliver that visual document of climate change, specifically through time-lapse photography of the retreat of glaciers in Iceland, Greenland, and Alaska.

Read on…

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Carolina Theater

The Carolina Theater, site of the Full Frame Festival

After skipping Full Frame last year, this week I’m thrilled to be attending the 15th annual documentary festival in Durham.   This year, the ticketing procedure was a little bit different, allowing pass holders to select scheduled films prior to the festival.  The  lines at the armory were non-existent, quite a change from years past.  Instead of waiting as clerks printed out tickets, or, worse, standing in line behind as someone dithers over which movies to see, I arrived at the armory, picked up my pass, and 15 chronologically ordered tickets ready to go.  A win for web technology, I’d say.

Of the five films I saw yesterday, two involved the deft craftsmanship of Full Frame tribute honoree Stanley Nelson.  The Black Press, an older film by Nelson, looked at the history of African-American journalism in the U.S., with an emphasis on story.   Nelson also served as producer on the festival’s Opening Night world premiere , Jesse Owens, a film directed by Laurens Grant, a young filmmaker with much promise.

Read on…

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How Much Does a Bomb Scare Cost?

Today, a bomb scare shut down rush hour traffic on the West side of the Triangle.  After a 911 caller alerted the authorities to a suspicious object on the side of the road, police shut down the highway.  They also sent people away from nearby restaurants and stores.   News of the scare traveled fast, and byways filled with detour traffic going home.   The parking lot at my office emptied early as people rushed to get home anyway they could, as soon as possible.

As it turned out, the “bomb” was simply stray roadside junk that probably fell off a worker’s truck.  “The device turned out to not be an explosive device.  It appears to be some foam that was wrapped up together, possibly something that fell off of a vehicle or something,” D.C. Allen of the Durham Police Department said, according to a WRAL online article.

All this reminds me of my wife’s grandfather.  On a 4th of July weekend, as we exploded some fireworks, after each flying whistler or big boomer asked “How much did that one cost?”  I wonder how much a ridiculous bomb scare like this costs the police, fire department, and the public at large. Counting lost productivity, gas wasted in traffic, stores and restaurants, this bomb scare probably cost something  close to six figures.   I guess this is part of the price of the War on Terror, but it seems a little rational observation would have saved a lot of trouble for everyone.

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Full Frame Festival, 2010

Patrons entering Carolina Theater's Fletcher Hall, Full Frame 2010

The last day of the Full Frame Festival is always the hardest.  Getting up on a Sunday morning to drive to Durham to see the last few films, knowing that the morning lineup aren’t in competition and are probably the weakest films of the festival doesn’t help. I’m also not interested in hanging around for the winners, mainly because by that time I’m tired of staying inside, and the rush for last-minute tickets to the winners is usually more than I can handle.

This year, I stayed for two films, both of which were intriguing.  The first, Waking Sleeping Beauty from director Don Hahn was a fun insider’s look at tumultuous creative process inside Disney’s animation studio, during the pivotal years of rebirth from the mid eighties to the early nineties.  As one would expect from a creative, lively bunch of Disney animators, there was some laughter, and some tears, as these talented men and women tried to live a creative life within a corporate behemoth.  It was a fascinating and upbeat film.

As upbeat as Waking Sleeping Beauty was, the last film of the festival (for me, anyway) was a complete downer.  A Film Unfinished by Yael Hersonski dissected the making of an unfinished Nazi propaganda film of the Warsaw ghetto.  Perhaps needless to say, it was moving, tormenting, and depressing.  But it did for me what the best documentaries do: educate, and offer witness.

You can go to the Full Frame site to find out about the festival winners.  I usually manage to at least see one or two winners, but this year I missed them all.  But, they will soon be on my Netflix list.  One exciting development this year is that Full Frame will host an expanded set of films throughout the year; there is always more to see!

Until next year!

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Day three of Full Frame, a Saturday, and the crowds came out in full force.  It seemed like the crowd was bigger than last year, but I haven’t heard any official numbers yet.  It was a beautiful spring day in Durham, and I’m sure the Full Frame staff it pleased to see so many locals show up for documentaries on such a beautiful day.  What is wrong with us documentary fans, staying inside with such gorgeous weather?

The highlight of the day was Genius Within: the Inner Life of Glenn Gould. Combining archival footage and interviews with Gould’s contemporaries, Michele Holzer and Peter Raymont’s film examines the strange and powerful life-force that drove Gould.  The archival scenes of Gould’s trance-like, passionate and unrestrained performances were the film’s highlight.  Gould was a musician without limits, fully in touch with his muse.  Like many prodigies, he was something of an eccentric character.  The film delved into the relationship between artist and audience, looking at how the media, working supposedly on behalf of his audience, persisted in examining his idiosyncrasies as much as his artistry.  After all, it was difficult to relate to his artistry but you had to wonder about a guy who wore a winter coat and scarf in mid-summer.   But is the public really served by the prying nature of the media?  And what if the artist, as suggested in this film, let his idiosyncrasies proceed unbounded, recognizing that they were part of his fame?  In the end, a film can’t answer these questions, but the directors explored them with great care and nuance.

I was also captivated by The Fence, a film from Full Frame Career Award winner Rory Kennedy about the 700 mile fence constructed on the U.S.-Mexico border.  The film looked at the false premises behind the fence’s construction, and the exorbitant cost of building it.  The most interesting thing for me was that the Minutemen interviewed in the film, who I would have presumed favored the fence, brought up the strongest arguments against its construction.

Unfortunately, some dinner-time snafus prevented me from seeing Restropo, by all accounts a superb movie about the war in Afghanistan from the perspective of embedded reporters.  The film garnered an Honorable Mention award for the Anne Dellinger Grand Jury Award.  Hopefully, a theatrical release is around the corner.

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Friday is usually a big day at Full Frame, when the weekend arrives and area film-lovers show up in droves.  This year was no exception, with the halls of the Durham’s Marriott noticeably more crowded than yesterday.   As the Full Frame directors have noted, it is great to see so much support for this festival, even with the economy in the doldrums.

I started the morning with Casino Jack and the United States of Money, director Alex Gibney’s political action film (seriously!) about jailed lobbyist Jack Abramoff.  Political scandal movies can often be boring, but this was fast-paced and action packed, and, for once, clearly explained a very confusing scandal.  My verdict:  Abramoff got off lightly!

The other high point of the day was Robert Patton-Spruill’s doc Do It Again, a funny and engaging look at journalist Geoff Edgers quest to reunite legendary Brit band The Kinks.  Ultimately, his quest fails, but as with many good stories, the journey is more important than the destination.  Following the movie,  local Kinks cover-band The Kinksmen performed, assisted by Chris Stamey, Peter Holsapple, and Mitch Easter.  Nothing like a good dose of rock and roll to finish off the evening.

More to come!

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