23rd Annual Full Frame Documentary Film Festival Official Selections
The Full Frame Documentary Film Festival announces the official feature and short film selections for the festival’s 23rd edition. The NEW DOCS program and Invited Program includes 44 features and 12 shorts from 26 countries, and include 4 world premieres, 6 North American premieres, and 2 U.S. premieres. The films were selected from nearly 2,000 submissions to the 2020 annual event.
Originally scheduled to take place April 2-5 in downtown Durham, the four-day event was cancelled amid COVID-19 public health and safety concerns.
“We are honored to present the 2020 official Full Frame selections. By turns exciting and bold, luminous and poignant, these carefully crafted titles display a staggering range of creativity and dedication in examining the world around us,” said artistic director Sadie Tillery. “While we are deeply disappointed that we will not have the opportunity to showcase this work in Durham and welcome these filmmakers for the four-day festival, in light of the circumstances, it felt especially vital to champion these films.”
Abortion Helpline, This Is Lisa / U.S. (Directors: Barbara Attie, Janet Goldwater, Mike Attie; Producers: Barbara Attie, Janet Goldwater, Mike Attie)
In Philadelphia, counselors at a women’s health fund field calls from women seeking to end their pregnancies but who cannot afford the procedure. This powerful short intercuts this work with archival footage of the passing of the Hyde Amendment, which successfully limited abortion access for the most financially vulnerable women.
All Cats Are Grey in the Dark / Switzerland (Director: Lasse Linder; Producer: Edith Flückiger)
Christian and his two cats, Katjuscha and Marmelade, are inseparable. In an attempt to ensure future companionship, Christian breeds Marmelade with a spry tomcat. Tender moments between owner and pet compose this short and lighthearted examination of aging and connection.
Apart / U.S. (Director: Jennifer Redfearn; Producers: Tim Metzger, Jennifer Redfearn)
In the Midwest, against the backdrop of the opioid epidemic and rising incarceration rates, three women navigate the challenges of mothering their children from prison. With poignant sensitivity, this film follows them as they prepare to reunite with their families and rebuild relationships after years of separation. World Premiere
As Long As You Still Have Arms / Germany (Director: Luisa Bäde; Producer: Luisa Bäde)
From a single stage and with a collection of intricately designed puppets, Frank Karbstein delivers his ultimate performance of the activist work that led him to be imprisoned in the German Democratic Republic during the 1980s. Using memory and theater to explore the lingering question of who among his pacifist group betrayed him, Frank searches for answers through art. North American Premiere
Betye Saar: Taking Care of Business / U.S. (Director: Christine Turner; Producer: Erin Wright)
The inimitable 93-year-old artist Betye Saar—known for such electrifying and boundary-pushing pieces as The Liberation of Aunt Jemima—assembles found objects into profound sculptural collages. This short but astute character film captures Saar’s influence in the art world and her passionate philosophy surrounding craft.
Coded Bias / U.S., U.K., China, South Africa (Director: Shalini Kantayya; Producer: Shalini Kantayya)
This in-depth examination into the profound social ramifications of artificial intelligence follows MIT researcher Joy Buolamwini and other computer scientists as they investigate widespread racial, gender, and other human biases in the algorithms that increasingly impact our lives.
Dani / U.S. (Director: Lizzy Hogenson; Producers: Jim Wolfe Jr., Kyle McClary)
In this short film, stop-motion animation illustrates a poignant phone call between a mother and her daughter. By turns tender and firm, their exchange portrays a deep connection despite physical distance.
Feels Good Man / U.S. (Director: Arthur Jones; Producers: Giorgio Angelini, Caryn Capotosto, Arthur Jones, Aaron Wickenden)
When indie comic artist Matt Furie’s creation Pepe the Frog is co-opted by the alt-right, the formerly carefree amphibian becomes an involuntary symbol of hate. Feels Good Man documents the trajectory of Pepe’s online renown to explore an illustrator’s quest to reclaim his character and the liabilities of our cyber culture.
Five Years North / U.S., Guatemala (Directors: Chris Temple, Zach Ingrasci; Producer: Jenna Kelly)
Luis, an undocumented Guatemalan teenager living in New York City, has prioritized work over school to help support his family back home. Judy, a Cuban-American ICE agent in the Bronx, is grateful for a stable job but struggles with changing priorities in her longtime line of work. With outstanding access and character development, their stories come together in this nuanced account of immigration in the United States today. World Premiere
Garage People / Germany (Director: Natalija Yefimkina; Producers: Andrea Schütte, Dirk Decker)
On the outskirts of a mining town in northern Russia, above the Arctic Circle, men create alternative living spaces—“garages”—that reflect their dreams and passions and offer a retreat from the struggles of everyday life. North American Premiere
The Giverny Document (Single Channel) / U.S., France (Director: Ja’Tovia Gary; Producers: Paige Wood, Artesia Balthrop, Ja’Tovia Gary)
A striking cinematic essay on the autonomy of the black female body that incorporates footage of the filmmaker in Monet’s garden, cell phone footage of Philando Castile’s murder, and careful sound design to reflect on self-identity and ideas of safety in a white, patriarchal world.
The Harvest / Georgia (Director: Misho Antadze; Producers: Natia Guliashvili, Melissa Demetras)
This vérité meditation on the non-virtual world of bustling cryptocurrency production in Tbilisi, Georgia, examines how machines and nature are intertwined, revealing a drastically changing human landscape. North American Premiere
How To Fix A Primary / U.S. (Director: Brittany Huckabee; Producers: Brittany Huckabee, Joshua Seftel)
This remarkable film follows the campaign of political newcomer Abdul El-Sayed, taking us behind the scenes of the Michigan Democratic primary election as the gubernatorial hopeful and his team of young visionaries maneuver around bureaucratic obstructions within their own party. World Premiere
The Infinite Race / U.S., Mexico (Director: Bernardo Ruiz; Producer: Bernardo Ruiz)
The annual Ultra Maratón Caballo Blanco, a spectacular fifty-mile race in Mexico’s Copper Canyon, was created as a way for indigenous Rarámuri endurance runners to preserve their culture. With stunning cinematography and access on all sides, The Infinite Race employs personal testimonies to examine the underbelly of an event marred by appropriation and exploitation. World Premiere
The Last Painting / Germany (Director: Tom Salt; Producer: Inka Achté)
In the English countryside, a painter meticulously replicates a photograph from his American past. Without dialogue, this luminous short film captures his process, juxtaposing his current landscape with the panorama on his canvas. North American Premiere
La Mami / Spain, Mexico (Director: Laura Herrero Garvin; Producers: Laura Imperiale, Patricia Franquesa, Laia Zanon, Laura Herrero Garvin)
In the Barba Azul Cabaret in Mexico City, “La Mami” reigns as the benevolent, calm center of the legendary nightclub. Night after night, she presides over the hard-working female dancers and hostesses in their communal haven—the bathroom—often silent but always watchful. Gradually, a beautiful friendship develops between La Mami and a new, hopeful hire.
Mayor / U.S., U.K. (Director: David Osit; Producer: David Osit)
This captivating portrait of life in Palestine under Israeli occupation follows Musa Hadid, the Christian mayor of Ramallah, over the course of his second term as he navigates civic responsibilities in a volatile political climate.
Mirador (Lookout) / Uruguay (Director: Antón Terni; Producer: Patricia Olveira)
In the lovely and magical world of Pablo, Valeria, and Oscar, time is spent camping, swimming, drinking and talking, and going to concerts along the Uruguayan coast. Their reverie, shared through poetic imagery and Pablo’s insightful musings, is a sensory experience in which the three friends navigate their blindness while foregrounding their connection with each other. U.S. Premiere
The Mole Agent / Chile (Director: Maite Alberdi; Producer: Marcela Santibañez)
In this astutely shot thriller, octogenarian Sergio is a newly minted spy planted between the walkers and lunchtime gossip of a Chilean nursing home to report on the well-being of a fellow resident. And the cameras? There to film an ordinary story about the organization, or so it seems. This tale navigates the charming rapport between characters while weaving together profound truths about aging, loneliness, and compassion.
Riafn / Germany (Director: Hannes Lang; Producers: Hannes Lang, Mareike Wegener)
Farmers and shepherds in the Alps rely on a distinct communication style, a steady stream of call and response that echoes off the mountainsides. A condensed pictorial symphony, this short offers a glimpse into a blissful form of connection far removed from the reaches of technology.
Saudade / Germany (Director: Denize Galiao; Producer: Michael Kalb)
In this short, sensitive personal essay, a Brazilian-born filmmaker grapples with the physical, and emotional, distance between her life in Germany and her family back at home. Saudade, a Portuguese word that cannot be translated into any other language, is the thread that ties familial generations together and explores what it means to long for home. North American Premiere
Softie / Kenya (Director: Sam Soko; Producers: Toni Kamau, Sam Soko)
Affable and spirited Boniface Mwangi (nicknamed “Softie”) is running for political office in Kenya. Through longitudinal access to the election’s lead-up and Softie’s life at home, this beautifully edited journey engages with what it means for a man of integrity to choose between fighting for country or for family. The film excels in illustrating the joys and pains of an activist’s push for real change.
Spit on the Broom / U.S. (Director: Madeleine Hunt-Ehrlich; Producer: Krystal Tingle)
Tracing its roots and operations to the Underground Railroad, the United Order of Tents remains a secret organization of African American women who offer support and aid to their communities and to one another. Featuring members of the Tents as well as actors, this short film creatively reflects on the group’s history of service, which has remained a powerful, clandestine force for nearly two centuries.
Then Comes the Evening / Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina (Director: Maja Novaković; Producers: Maja Novaković, Milan Milosavljević)
Two aging women on a farm in eastern Bosnia-Herzegovina live a simple but idyllic life of hard work and immense care for each other and for the land. With a combination of pristine landscape shots and sparse dialogue, this richly textured short preserves an irreplaceable heritage.
Time / U.S. (Director: Garrett Bradley; Producers: Lauren Domino, Kellen Quinn, Garrett Bradley)
Rendered in evocative black and white, this intimate and artfully shaped documentary follows Fox Rich, who, during desperate times, took part in the attempted robbery of a Shreveport, Louisiana, credit union with her husband, Rob. Released after three years, Fox returns home to raise their sons and take on the relentless fight for Rob’s release, shooting home videos for him while becoming a formidable advocate and entrepreneur.
Tutwiler / U.S. (Director: Elaine McMillion Sheldon; Producer: Alysia Santo)
This short film follows inmates at Alabama’s notorious Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women as they prepare to give birth. With the support of a group of doulas, and one another, they navigate pregnancy, labor, and the profound loss of being separated from their newborns.
Two Gods / U.S. (Director: Zeshawn Ali; Producer: Aman Ali)
In striking black and white, this exquisitely shot film tells the story of a Muslim casket maker and ritual body washer in Newark, NJ. As he mentors two young men in his community, seeking to set them on paths towards better lives, he works to come to terms with decisions he made in the past.
Up at Night / Belgium (Director: Nelson Makengo; Producer: Rosa Spaliviero)
Nighttime Kinshasa, capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, is often illuminated solely by thousands of portable LED lights. With the power often cut out, people have found a way to improvise. In this visually layered experimental short, three screens reflect a city filled with political strife and violence, and people who are primed to resist their circumstances.
Us Kids / U.S. (Director: Kim A. Snyder; Producers: Lori Cheatle, Maria Cuomo Cole, Kim Snyder)
In the wake of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL, in 2018, students come together to speak out against gun violence. Grieving but refusing to stay silent, they spark a national movement to hold public officials accountable for their inaction and demand legislative reform.
V.S. (Vreugdevuur Scheveningen) / The Netherlands (Director: Romke Hoogwaerts; Producer: Romke Hoogwaerts)
Two Dutch working-class communities take part in a peculiar competition: which group can build the biggest bonfire? This short film charts the preparations for the astonishing showdown, when monumental piles of wooden pallets are set ablaze. North American Premiere
Whirlybird / U.S. (Director: Matt Yoka; Producer: Diane Becker)
A young journalist couple changes the breaking-news landscape as they take to the Los Angeles skies in their helicopter, capturing some of the city’s most pivotal moments as they unfold on the streets below, including the 1992 riots and the O.J. Simpson pursuit. Featuring extensive footage from their archive, Whirlybird reflects on their extraordinary success and the personal consequences of living with the pressing impulse to get to the story first.
A Word for Human / Denmark (Director: Mauricio González-Aranda; Producers: Mauricio González-Aranda, Signe Byrge Sørensen)
Multiple worlds coexist in the Royal Danish Library in this observational film. Collections spring to life and crisp cinematography renders a lucid portrait of library staff and users, revealing how the library’s day-to-day work moves beyond the pages of a book or the walls of an exhibition to extend conversation and culture to Copenhagen, and beyond. U.S. Premiere
9to5: The Story of a Movement / U.S. (Directors: Julia Reichert, Steven Bognar; Producers: Julia Reichert, Steven Bognar)
This film tells the stories of the millions of low-wage, virtually invisible women who populated the clerical pool, served coffee, and suffered sexual harassment before it was recognized as such. In the 1970s, they gathered their courage and rose up against their bosses, large corporations, and institutions.
Assassins / U.S. (Director: Ryan White; Producers: Jessica Hargrave, Ryan White)
Assassins meticulously examines the 2017 assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s half-brother, Kim Jong-nam, who was killed by two women in the middle of a Malaysian airport. Were the young assailants ruthless killers or individuals duped into taking part in a conspiracy to commit murder?
Boys State / U.S. (Directors: Jesse Moss, Amanda McBaine; Producers: Amanda McBaine, Jesse Moss)
This film dramatically captures the political motivations and strategic calculations of a group of young men who, among a thousand other Texas high school students, take part in a weeklong exercise to build a representative democracy from the ground up.
Bully. Coward. Victim. The Story of Roy Cohn / U.S. (Director: Ivy Meeropol; Producers: Julie Goldman, Christopher Clements, Carolyn Hepburn, Ivy Meeropol)
Candid interviews with colleagues and acquaintances trace the infamous late lawyer’s life and career, from his early days as a prosecutor in the still-controversial espionage trial of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg—director Ivy Meeropol’s grandparents—to his work with Senator Joseph McCarthy to his role as Donald Trump’s personal lawyer and mentor.
City So Real / U.S. (Director: Steve James; Producers: Zak Piper, Steve James)
This four-hour series captures the city of Chicago at a pivotal moment, as residents grapple with a divisive mayoral election alongside the trial of the policeman who killed Laquan McDonald. Documenting the city from multiple vantages, City So Real highlights the experiences of candidates and citizens alike to consider how issues of race manifest across the political spectrum and in everyday lives.
Collective / Romania, Luxembourg (Director: Alexander Nanau; Producers: Alexander Nanau, Bianca Oana, Bernard Michaux, Hanka Kastelicová)
In Romania, an intrepid team of journalists uncover vast corruption across the medical industry—a conspiracy to traffic in diluted hospital disinfectant that results in the deaths of many innocent patients and involves product manufacturers and distributors, hospital managers, government officials, and business moguls. With remarkable access, Collective boldly traces the personal risks involved in bringing the truth to light.
Desert One / U.S. (Director: Barbara Kopple; Producers: Barbara Kopple, David Cassidy, Eric Forman)
In 1980, the United States attempted a daring, ultimately disastrous military operation to rescue American hostages in Tehran, Iran. Desert One revisits this crucial historical moment, examining the failed mission through the recollections of on the ground participants, political stakeholders, and those personally impacted by the outcome, including officers, soldiers, hostages, President Carter, and others.
Dick Johnson Is Dead / U.S. (Director: Kirsten Johnson; Producers: Katy Chevigny, Marilyn Ness)
As a way of preparing herself and her aging father for letting go, filmmaker Kirsten Johnson imagines various ways that he might die, staging and filming the scenarios in intricate, painstaking recreations. Intimate conversations between parent and child infuse their poignant, funny, and wildly imaginative journey.
The Fight / U.S. (Directors: Elyse Steinberg, Josh Kriegman, Eli Despres; Producers: Elyse Steinberg, Josh Kriegman, Eli Despres, Maya Seidler, Peggy Drexler, Kerry Washington)
In this on-the-ground film composed of four timely and wrenching narratives, five ACLU lawyers work tirelessly to defend civil liberties. Whether reuniting a parent and child separated at the border or fighting for reproductive rights, voting rights, or the right of a transgender soldier to keep his job, these underappreciated warriors of the courtroom battle on, often at personal cost.
Giving Voice / U.S. (Directors: James D. Stern, Fernando Villena; Producers: James D. Stern, Karen Bove, Fernando Villena, Schoen Smith, Craig Piligian)
Six passionate, ambitious high school students compete in an annual monologue competition on Broadway in honor of renowned playwright August Wilson. Intercutting the students’ meticulous preparation with interviews that explore Wilson’s chronicling of the African American experience, Giving Voice is a vibrant living history of theater’s past and present.
I Am Not Alone / Armenia, U.S. (Director: Garin Hovannisian; Producers: Garin Hovannisian, Alec Mouhibian, Eric Esrailian, Tatevik Manoukyan)
In this inspiring account of the 2018 Armenian Revolution, parliament member and activist Nikol Pashinyan embarks on a two-week cross-country walk to protest the possible election of president Serzh Sargsyan as prime minister—a move to avoid term limits and solidify power. Interviews with Pashinyan, other activists, even Sargsyan, revisit the events of this successful activist uprising (underreported in America).
LANCE / U.S. (Director: Marina Zenovich; Producers: Marina Zenovich, P.G. Morgan)
This absorbing film charts the meteoric rise and eventual downfall of cycling champion Lance Armstrong after doping charges stripped him of his numerous medals. Expertly weaving accounts from family, friends, and cycling professionals with Armstrong’s own forthright reflections, LANCE contemplates the harm caused by the drive to win at all costs.
Love Fraud / U.S. (Directors: Heidi Ewing, Rachel Grady; Producer: Alex Takats)
For two decades Richard Scott Smith seduced women by preying upon their profound desire for companionship in order to commit identity fraud and theft, leaving them emotionally and financially devastated. This four-part series shares the stories of Smith’s wives as they come together, with the help of a bounty hunter named Carla, to reclaim their savings and their dignity.
Mother, I Am Suffocating. This Is My Last Film About You. / Lesotho, Germany, Qatar (Director: Lemohang Jeremiah Mosese; Producer: Lemohang Jeremiah Mosese)
Anger and longing suffuse this searing, poetic, highly personal response to the legacies of colonialism. The filmmaker, currently exiled in Berlin, pairs experimental black-and-white footage from the streets of his native country, Lesotho, with lyrical, raw audio that speaks to the sorrow of separation.
Mucho Mucho Amor / U.S. (Directors: Cristina Costantini, Kareem Tabsch; Producers: Cristina Costantini, Alex Fumero, Kareem Tabsch)
Legendary Puerto Rican astrologer Walter Mercado graced the airwaves for decades, donning elegant robes and broadcasting his charming, comforting presence to millions of viewers. A foundational figure in Latin American television, his popular shows were a cultural mainstay until he mysteriously disappeared in 2007. Now, with this intimate invitation into Mercado’s world, the dynamic, gender-fluid icon returns to the screen in a humorous and touching examination of a life fully lived.
My English Cousin / Switzerland (Director: Karim Sayad; Producer: Joëlle Bertossa)
Since 2001 when he left Algeria, the filmmaker’s cousin Fahed has lived in Grimsby, England, and steadily worked two jobs, gotten married, and picked up the distinct accent of the region. In this quietly executed story of a man straddling two worlds—his place of birth and his adopted country—Fahed’s understanding of origin and identity are tested in this affectionate look at how one defines home.
Never Too Late: The Doc Severinsen Story / U.S. (Directors: Kevin S. Bright, Jeff Consiglio; Producers: Ariana Garfinkel, Jeff Consiglio)
For three decades, bandleader and master trumpeter Doc Severinsen was a mainstay of The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. Treasured for his exceptional talent, he is equally remembered for his eccentric outfits and charismatic banter with the show’s beloved host. Now in his nineties, and still performing and teaching, Severinsen lights up this radiant film about his life and career, which weaves together archival footage; recollections from friends, family, and fans; and intimate conversations with the man himself, whose passion for music remains evergreen. Opening Night Film
Oliver Sacks: His Own Life / U.S. (Director: Ric Burns; Producers: Leigh Howell, Bonnie Lafave, Kathryn Clinard)
Through interviews, immaculate archival materials, and direct access, a spirited tribute to esteemed neurologist and author Oliver Sacks emerges. The film spans the story of Sacks’s life from birth to his battle with terminal cancer, profoundly weaving personal and professional endeavors into a celebration of his numerous groundbreaking contributions to science and society.
The Painter and the Thief / Norway (Director: Benjamin Ree; Producer: Ingvil Giske)
After two works by Czech artist Barbora Kysilkova are stolen from her solo show in Norway, the police find the thieves, but not the paintings. At the trial, Kysilkova forges a connection with one of the defendants when she asks him to pose for a portrait. As the two confront the complications of their pasts and presents, their precarious friendship evolves in unexpected ways.
Queen of Hearts: Audrey Flack / U.S. (Director: Deborah Shaffer; Co-Director: Rachel Reichman; Producers: Davina Pardo, Deborah Shaffer, Amy Sultan)
This vibrant study of painter and sculptor Audrey Flack tracks a career that trailblazed through an artworld designed for men. The octogenarian artist reflects on her expansive body of work and the struggles she faced balancing her talent and ambition with her role as a wife and mother.
Saudi Runaway / Switzerland (Director: Susanne Regina Meures; Producer: Christian Frei)
Stifled by the life of a woman in an oppressive country, Muna decides that she must leave Saudi Arabia. Communicating remotely with director Susanne Regina Meures, whom she met in a chat room, Muna uses cell phones to document her escape plans as they unfold in this gripping film that presents a portrait of desperate circumstances and daring actions.
Sing Me a Song / France, Germany, Switzerland (Director: Thomas Balmès; Producer: Thomas Balmès)
A young monk in the remote mountain village of Laya, Bhutan, the last place in the country to receive access to the internet and television, finds himself addicted to his smartphone and in a virtual relationship with a singer in Thimphu, the capital city. In this moving and nuanced portrayal of technology infiltrating tradition, Sing Me a Song balances its message about the greater ramifications of these new influences with tender portraits of personal growth.
Spaceship Earth / U.S. (Director: Matt Wolf; Producers: Stacey Reiss, Matt Wolf)
Biosphere 2, conceived as a self-sustaining laboratory mimicking Earth’s ecology and resources, was a massive geodesic enclosure built in the Arizona desert. In 1991, an eight-person crew of “biospherians” undertook a two-year experiment to live inside the dome. Part science-fiction, part co-op—and inadvertent precursor to reality television—the experiment yielded unexpected results both inside and outside the bubble. Closing Night Film
A Thousand Cuts / U.S. (Director: Ramona S. Diaz; Producers: Ramona S. Diaz, Leah Marino, Julie Goldman, Chris Clements, Carolyn Hepburn)
A Thousand Cuts examines current events in the Philippines, where President Duterte’s war on drugs has resulted in the murders of thousands. With staggering access, the film juxtaposes the stories of two political candidates who support Duterte’s administration with the intrepid work of journalist Maria Ressa and her team at the online news site Rappler, who report the facts in a climate where the truth, and those who expose it, are both under fire.