The Full Frame Documentary Film Festival in North Carolina kicks off this Thursday, and it looks to be overwhelming with thought-provoking goodness. You can feast your eyes on its schedule, or you can take it from me. I’m going to write here about some of the premieres and festival favorites that I am most interested in seeing or that I can already highly recommend.

First, special kudos to the festival for including cool categories like the timely thematic program, “Perfect and Otherwise: Documenting American Politics,” which will allow me to see Robert Drew’s seminal Primary on the big screen, and a special tribute to workhorse cinematographer Kirsten Johnson. They’ll be screening many of her films, including her fantastic solo directorial feature documentary debut, Cameraperson, which shows her life and work behind the camera.

Let’s start with the films I’ve already seen, all of which are good and/or great. To begin, I can’t get Audrie & Daisy out of my head. This powerful film, which premiered at Sundance, pairs two harrowing stories of sexual assault, one which led to a suicide and the other to a life not yet written. (In fact, the latter is Daisy, who likes to create tattoos of the semi-colon punctuation to indicate as much.) Often such pairings of disparate subject don’t work; this time, it does to brutal effect. Salero, which will be making its North American premiere, is about a family that works gathering salt on the world’s largest salt flat in Bolivia. It’s a beautiful and affecting film about a family caught up in the world’s never-ending push forward, for better or for worse.

Making its world premiere is Off the Rails, which brought things back home for me, here in NYC. It’s the story of Darius McCollum, the tabloid-fodder guy who has commandeered New York City transportation—busses, trains, etc.—putting him in jail 32 times. It’s the kind of film that brings you up close and personal with a subject you may have just noticed out of the corner of your eye or even giggled about. (I was once on a subway that a boy, not Darius, overtook and it was unnerving.) It makes you think. And maybe despair a little.

Not everything at Full Frame will challenge your will to live, however. There’s also In Pursuit of Silence, director Patrick Shen’s earnest and exquisitely shot journey into the meaning of silence, particularly in today’s amped-up world we live in. Shen really covers all the bases—from John Cage to Zen tea ceremonies to lots of long shots of plants blowing in the wind to some dude crossing the country for a year without talking—in what is ultimately a provocative, enriching experience.

Here’s what I want to see. There’s The Bad Kids, about a special Mojave Desert high school, which taps empathy and hard work to help at-risk students. And Raising Bertie, which also features our next generation on the precipice: three young men coming of age in rural North Carolina, hoping to overcome poverty and discrimination. Director Penny Lane has been on my mind lately, thanks to her taking the lead fighting the anti-vaccine documentary Vaxxed, from playing at the Tribeca Film Festival, so I’m curious to see her NUTS!, about a wacked-out doctor. They had me in the schedule description at “unreliable narrator.” Sounds interesting.

There’s also The Peacemaker, about Padraig O’Malley, who has dedicated his life to negotiating agreements between leaders of war-torn regions across the world. This world premiere follows O’Malley through five years and his work in a series of hot spots including Northern Ireland, South Africa and the Middle East. I want to know what makes this guy tick. And there’s Sherpa, about the conflict between the Sherpas and the wealthy clients who depend on them to climb Mt. Everest. I’m hoping for stunning visuals as well as an urgent story about a people looking for justice.

In addition to those films, there is a slate of heavy-hitters, including, Weiner, Gleason, Author: The JT LeRoy Story, Kate Plays Christine, and Tony Robbins: I Am Not Your Guru, all of which I’ve written about before or have had plenty of play in the media, but I’ve yet to see and am eager to catch.

I will be writing about the Full Frame films I see next week.

Oh, and here’s a shout out to two shorts. One a crowd-pleaser, Pickle, directed by Amy Nicholson, a sweet story of an animal lover and the animals she loves and Clínica de Migrantes, about a clinic in the South Philadelphia barrio, directed by Maxim Pozdorovkin (Pussy Riot), which I just bet will be in the short list of short docs running for Oscar next year. You can say you saw it first at Full Frame, which is very full this year indeed.

See the full lineup of documentaries at the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival here. The festival runs from April 7 to 10 in Durham, North Carolina.

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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