Digital and cutting edge

Full frame documentary film festival

By Julian Wise - April 12, 2007

Who says you can't get culture on Martha's Vineyard in the off-season? Those who bemoan the lack of cutting-edge cinema will savor the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival. This event proves you don't need to hop on the ferry to experience some the most acclaimed documentary films making the national circuit. In a bold assertion of 21st century technology, the venerable Capawock Theater is joining a handful of select theaters across the country offering digital broadcasts of the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival.

Capawock owner Buzz Hall says the festival offers Islanders the opportunity to see films that are rarely seen out of metropolitan centers. "These are the types of films we never really have the opportunity to see," he says. "They're in limited distribution. I wanted to give the community an advantage. We have the chance to see these films well in advance of the movie going public, even before they're being shown on PBS."

The Full Frame Documentary Film Festival is a collaboration between Full Frame and Emerging Pictures, a company on the frontier of digital film projection. Theaters around the country equipped with special equipment will broadcast the festival simultaneously on digital projectors, bypassing the traditional model of sending reels of film to the theaters. Instead, theaters like the Capawock receive a hard drive with the films recorded inside.

Uganda Rising

"It's absolutely amazing something the size of my fist has 20 hours of film on it," Mr. Hall says. "We get film quality images without the use of film."

The documentary films cover a wide range of social and historical topics. "Revolution '67" explores devastating race riots in Newark, New Jersey, during the supposed Summer of Love, while "Angels in the Dust" examines AIDS orphans in Africa. "Meeting Resistance" examines the Iraqi insurgency while "Uganda Rising" explores Uganda in the aftermath of Idi Amin's notorious rule. "Knee Deep" examines family dysfunction on a Maine farm while "Seeing Sally: A Psychic's Tale" documents a purported English psychic's visit to the USA. Other films examine the Cold War, the Nigerian film industry, and America's rivers.

For now the Capawock is joining theaters in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., Wilmington, Del., Washington, D.C., Memphis, Tenn., and other cities in digitally broadcasting the festival, but Mr. Hall believes this model of film distribution will soon become commonplace for all major releases. "Pretty soon all movie theaters will be converted and there will be no film," he predicts. "It's coming faster than we think."

Selected reviews

"Seeing Sally: A Psychic's Tale"

Is she for real? Sally Morgan is a middle-aged woman from a working class English background who comes to New York City to practice her occult art. Throughout the film she demonstrates a beguiling mix of accuracy and misfires in her predictions. When Dr. Gary Schwartz puts her talents to the test, her credibility is placed on the line. Writer Peter Goodman imbues the film with humor and warmth as he treats his subject with affection. This film makes us ponder why we invest hard-earned dollars in the questionable talents of psychics and what deeper need they satisfy.

"Revolution '67"

Think the 1960s were about peace, love, and Jerry Garcia guitar solos? This searing documentary will make you reexamine your preconception of this idealized decade. The race riots of Newark in 1967, in which 26 people died, serve as a lens through which we can examine the issues of race, power, and disenfranchisement. Activists Tom Hayden, Sharpe James, and Amiri Baraka are featured in interview clips alongside members of the police and National Guard. The rioting lasted six days, but this documentary shows that its impact is still being felt today.

Julian Wise is a frequent contributor to The Times, specializing in music, film, and the performing arts.

Documentary film festival, April 12-15, Capawock Theater, Main Street, Vineyard Haven. 11 films shown in 8 programs. Sponsored by the New York Times and Duke University. $6 per program; $30 for the series.