The Full Frame Documentary Film Festival in Durham, North Carolina, kicks off this Thursday, so I wanted to provide a preview and share some of the films that I am most excited about seeing. I’m not going include here the films that I already have watched and know are exceptional (Montage of Heck, The Wolfpack). And I write this well aware that going into a festival, there will always be surprises (maybe that horse jumping doc, Harry & Snow Man or Here Come the Videofreex about the 70s pirate television counter culture?), and new films that I’ll hear about, on the ground, that I must see.

But, first, let’s start with a some words from Full Frame director of programming, Sadie Tillery, who also weighed in on the films I’m most interested in.

Doc Soup Man: What’s most distinctive about this year’s list of films? 

Sadie Tillery, Director of Programming, Full Frame Documentary Film Festival: A few things stand out to me about this year’s lineup. I admire films that exhibit patience and restraint, a sort of “slow smolder” approach to developing a story. And there are several fine examples of that this year, In the Country, Kings of Nowhere, BARGE. These are films that steep the viewer in a particular place and aren’t afraid to take their time as qualities and events unfold. Our shorts films are particularly strong this year, with a few exceptional premieres, including The FarewellThe Land, and Last Day of Freedom. We looked at quite a few biographical films this year and are screening a number of them, including Being Evel, Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck, Mavis!, BaddDDD Sonia Sanchez, Listen to Me Marlon, Althea, What Happened, Miss Simone?, Sunshine Superman, Iris. It’s striking the different ways filmmakers approach revealing someone’s life story. All of these films look at a person’s work and private life in different ways and use archival footage, and sometimes, personal materials, to great effect.

Doc Soup Man: What sets Full Frame apart from other festivals?

Sadie Tillery: Full Frame is organized and intimate, which allows attendees to concentrate on the films instead of worrying about shuttles or other details that can complicate the film going experience. All of our venues are within a few city blocks, so guests have an easier time connecting with one another and packing in multiple screenings. Full Frame is not a marketplace, which relieves some of the pressure on filmmakers and allows them to focus on sharing their films and seeing other filmmakers’ work in theater. We’re committed to showing great work and creating a space for engagement and exchange that’s meaningful to filmmakers and audiences.

Doc Soup Man: It’s my first time at Full Frame, can you give me one pearl of wisdom that every first-timer should know going into the festival?

Sadie Tillery: Don’t underestimate the turnout. We have wonderful audiences that line up at 9 a.m. to see films and stay into the late hours. There’s robust conversation amongst filmgoers and filmmakers. Full Frame is one big party. It brings people together as a community. And Durham has great food — don’t miss finding a spot to grab a meal downtown — I see it as an essential part of our celebration!?

Doc Soup Man’s Picks

Now, here are the films that have caught my eye and I’m most hoping to see.

3 1/2 Minutes

I had followed this case of an African-American teenager who was shot and killed by a middle-aged white man while sitting in a car with friends at a gas station in Jacksonville, Florida. It seems like the perfect example of a story that needs illumination from a documentary deep dive.

Tillery’s Take: “We’re featuring 3 1/2 Minutes as a Center Frame, which means there will be an extended Q&A after the film. Executive producer Julie Goldman, producer Carolyn Hepburn and Ron Davis, who is the father of Jordan Davis and is featured prominently in the film, will be here for the discussion.”


Where veteran filmmaker Robb Moss goes, I will follow. Especially when it takes me to the flip side of the argument of Pandora’s Promise, the doc that got me considering the viability of nuclear power.

Tillery’s Take: “The latest from Robb Moss and Peter Galison will have its world premiere at Full Frame. As it looks at the disposition of nuclear waste, it’s both broad and specific — it addresses the issue in locations around the world and features each instance in nuanced detail.”

Peace Officer 

Topical, important and personal. For me, this is the most compelling documentary at the fest, because of its subject matter, a sheriff who took part in the militarization of police departments in the U.S. but who reconsiders what’s going on after his own son-in-law was killed by cops.

Tillery’s Take: “Just won the Grand Jury Prize at SXSW. Both directors and subject Dub Lawrence will be in attendance. It’s an important and timely film about the militarization of the law enforcement.”

The True Meaning of Pictures

If you’re interested in the ethics of documentary, you gotta wrestle with issues of representation, which is what this film does.

Tillery’s Take: “Jennifer Baichwal has curated our annual Thematic Program around the ethics of representation, which we are also calling The True Meaning of Pictures. This 2002 film looks at photographer Shelby Lee Adams, whose entire body of work focuses on a single community in Appalachia. The images are at once beautiful and challenging. Baichwal’s film reveals many different responses to the photographs, in addition to Adams’s own intentions, while showing the photographer at work.”

Abandoned Goods / Saving Mes Aynak

When I heard religious zealotry was motivating the Taliban to knock down ancient Buddhist statues, I was livid. And now the Chinese are doing the same for profit, as exposed by Saving Mes Aynak. And Abandoned Goods is a meditation on art by psychiatric patients, which sounds like it can go either way, but I can live life dangerously.

Tillery’s Take: I love programming longer shorts with 60-minute features. I think festivals are the perfect place for giving hour-long films theatrical life. While they are quite different, both films document articles that stand to be lost or forgotten, and offer a form of preservation by presenting the articles on film.


I knew director Jessica Edwards when she was a publicist and I’ve been excited to see her work her way to her directorial debut with Mavis, about singer Mavis Staples and her group, the Staple Singer. You go, girl!

Tillery’s Take: “Jessica Edwards has shown numerous shorts at the festival, and this is her first feature. This is a portrait of a performer that really gets the balance just right: Edwards is working with footage of past and current performances, documentation backstage and onstage, and she weaves Staples’s personal recollections along with those from other musicians who acknowledge her influence. It’s both personal and historical, and really makes space for the music to shine.”


This film about an FBI sting operation has the potential to be a thrilling adventure as well as an expose, a great trend in docs (CitizenFour, Virunga, The Green Prince, etc.)

Tillery’s Take: “Full Frame has hosted the Garrett Scott Documentary Development Grant for nine years now, bringing first time filmmakers with works in progress to Full Frame. Lyric R. Cabral received the Grant in 2013 for (T)ERROR and we’re proud to screen the finished film this year. The 2015 Grant recipients will show excerpts from their works-in-progress prior to the screening. This year the Grant was awarded to Ted Passon for The Trial of Mumia Abu-Jamal and Elisa Haradon and Gabriel Miller for Sweetheart Deal.

Deep Web

This investigation into online black markets and the Internet drug trade sounds good. And it’s always intriguing to see an actor break out of his box, as Alex Winter (Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure) has done, now proving it’s not just a lark with this second documentary feature.

Tillery’s Take: “Director Alex Winter will attend, along with Andy Greenberg, who is a senior writer at Wired and is featured prominently in the film. We screened Winter’s Downloaded a few years back. The new film is fantastic and I suspect it will be a lively Q&A.”

Mistaken for Strangers 

I’m a fan of the band The National, the subject of this film, but somehow missed seeing it. Carpe Diem.

Tillery’s Take: “We’re excited to present the Full Frame Tribute to Marshall Curry this year. He was the executive producer of Mistaken for Strangers.”

Full Frame Documentary Film Festival 2015 runs April 9-12, 2015 in Durham, NC. For more information, visit

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Tom Roston
Tom Roston is a guest columnist for POV's documentary blog. He is a former Premiere magazine senior editor, who graduated from Brown University and started his career in journalism at The Nation and then Vanity Fair. Tom's freelance work has appeared in The New York Times, The Guardian, The Los Angeles Times, The Hollywood Reporter and other publications. He has written several Kindle Singles, including the bestselling Kindle Singles Interview: Ken Burns. Tom's current list of favorite documentaries are: 1. Koyanisqaatsi by Godfrey Reggio; 2. Hoop Dreams by Steve James; 3.Stories We Tell by Sarah Polley; 4.Crumb by Terry Zwigoff; 5. Montage of Heck by Brett Morgen