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Docurama presents
Full Frame Documentary Shorts Volume 2 (2004)

"It's the power of art. It's the real thing."
- Barry Stevens, a collector, in Have You Seen This Man?

Review By: Jon Danziger   
Published: August 13, 2004

Director: Edward P. Davee, Anne Paas, Ted Gesing, Barbara Bird, Kate T. Williamson, Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, Beret E. Strong and John Tweedy

MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 02h:48m:59s
Release Date: May 25, 2004
UPC: 767685960936
Genre: documentary

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B B+B-B- D+

DVD Review

Every spring since 1998, Durham, North Carolina hosts the Full Frame Documentary Festival, an opportunity for burgeoning Michael Moores and Errol Morrises to find a wider audience for their films. We're living in a great time for documentary filmmaking, which no longer is relegated exclusively to the wee hours on PBS; DVD has played no small part in that, and this disc, as did its predecessor, brings together seven notable short films seen in recent years at the festival.

First up is Crowfilm (19m:39s), director Edward P. Davee's tone poem on crows and their worlds. To a soundtrack of industrial music and with a variety of film stocks and stop=motion techniques, we see crows eating, crows mating, crows flying; and crows in their habitats, both natural and man-made (over an amusement park, on a railroad track). Also cut in are a few self-referential shots of cameras and cameramen. It's more appealing as an exercise in editing than in ornithology, but even with a relatively short running time of under twenty minutes, it feels a bit overlong and wandering.

Imagine a geriatric JonBenet, and you'll have a sense of the intense competition on display for the coveted title of Ms. Alabama Nursing Home (39m:43s), directed by Anne Paas. Yes, it's a nursing home beauty pageant, to identify the next spokeswoman for the Alabama state facilities for the aged; the film follows Ms. Helen, reigning as Ms. Enterprise Nursing Home, as she goes for statewide glory. It's a moving portrait of this aging people and the people who look after them, and though the film wisely doesn't hit these points too hard, it's also sort of a meditation on our ideals of beauty. Wrinkled skin, support hose, swollen, elephantine feet, oxygen tanks—they're not the stuff of your traditional beauty pageant, but still, the contestants here preen like schoolgirls, giddy when they win, heartbroken when they don't.

Next, Ted Gesing takes a look at the Nutria (13m:37s), a swamp rat of sorts that's the plague of the lower Mississippi. They're pretty nasty little critters; bred in the U.S. for their pelts, the fur trade has dried up, they're not very good housepets, and despite the best efforts of some misguided culinary pioneers, nutria meat isn't catching on, unless you're an alligator. They give it the old try, though, making nutria gumbo and nutria cassoulet; one school kid describes the meat as tasting like "bad chicken." The film is a nice portrait of the effects on the community of this species running wild.

Barbara Bird assembles an Album (30m:54s) of old 8 mm movies from her family archives, and presents the archival footage in counterpoint to new interviews with her relatives, reflecting on what they're watching, how the family has grown and changed, what's been gained and lost. It is an interesting idea, but after a little while, you may come to the realization that basically you're watching somebody else's home movies, and those can be lethal. It may be unfair, but it's hard not to draw unfavorable comparisons between this and Capturing the Friedmans, in which the omnipresent camera has more to shoot than just kids bailing water out of a canoe.

Kate T. Williamson gives us an affectionate portrait of Wood Island (19m:35s), a Massachusetts community so close to Logan Airport that the Federal government has had to come in and give everyone new windows and doors, to keep the noise level bearable inside the homes. That bit of modern intrusion aside, this is a community that's probably been much the same for decades—we see the high school football players and cheerleaders, the locals at the barbershop and lining up for fresh crullers. It's an understated piece of filmmaking, and does well to let these good people speak for themselves.

"Cracker for Sale." And for only fifteen cents, too. Geoff Lupo is an artist making some sort of wry commentary on the commodification of everything, posting flyers all over New York City, selling pen caps and paper clips, only one to a customer; he's the subject of Have You Seen This Man? (17m:58s), a sprightly entry directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck. Lupo seems to take his customers in stride, participating with them in what he calls "this mutually agreed-upon absurdity"; he's contrasted with Barry, who collects Geoff's work, and academicizes it for us and himself. This one may be my favorite on the DVD.

Finally, and much more somberly, Beret E. Strong and John Tweedy direct Iwo Jima: Memories in Sand (27m:33s), a look back at one of the last and bloodiest battles of the Second World War with the men who fought it. The film intercuts combat footage with recollections from the veterans returning to the Japanese island on the fiftieth anniversary of its invasion; also included are reflections from their families and foes. It's very Stephen Ambrose in all the best ways, a respectful and touching portrait of these man who fought so valiantly for their country, and their memories of those who didn't return.

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: B+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyesyes

Image Transfer Review: You'd think that, given the disc's title, all of the films would be full frame; anyway, six out of seven are. (The exception is Ms. Alabama Nursing Home.) The transfer to DVD is reasonably clean, though the films vary in their visual quality; you'll see many scratches, largely the result of the tough financial straits of documentary filmmaking.

Image Transfer Grade: B-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishno

Audio Transfer Review: Audio quality varies as well—on documentary shoots, you take what you can get—but it's all audible.

Audio Transfer Grade: B-


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 7 cues and remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
7 Other Trailer(s) featuring Dont Look Back, Sound and Fury, Brother's Keeper, Go Tigers!, Keep the River on Your Right, Porn Star: The Legend of Ron Jeremy , Lost in La Mancha
Packaging: Amaray
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. information on the Full Frame festival
  2. information on Docurama
  3. Docurama catalog
  4. DVD credits
Extras Review: Each film comes with a panel or two of biographical information about the directors. And while it's nice that the festival got an enthusiastic pull quote for the front of the box from crime novelist Walter Mosley, it's unfortunate that his name is spelled wrong.

Extras Grade: D+


Final Comments

An uneven, representative overview of much of what's going on in the documentary world today. You're unlikely to love all seven of these, but everybody should find at least one that appeals to them.


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