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"I didn't even know my dad was in Vietnam until I was a teenager."
DVD ReviewRecent years have seen a swell in the release of documentary films. In 1997, the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival was created by Nancy Buirski, an editor at The New York Times. Thanks to the increased popularity of these "real" films, the board behind this festival now includes the likes of Martin Scorcese, Jonathan Demme, Ken Burns, Martin Sheen, and John Sayles, who continue to choose the best documentary films each year, giving them a chance to be noticed at this wonderful event.
Full Frame Documentary Shorts Vol. 3 collects the best of the bunch from the most recent festival and puts them in one nice DVD package. The six projects here feature various running times and touch on a wide variety of subjects, all of them compelling in their own right.
The first film is A Thousand Words, a gripping look at a Vietnam War veteran (Rodney Williams) who has never been the same since he's come back from the war. Featuring interviews with the ex-soldier and his family (the film was directed by his daughter, Melba Williams), this is a heartbreaking tale of a man that has been destroyed by a war that destroyed the lives of so many. There's some truly amazing vintage footage that this man shot himself in Vietnam, and it soon becomes apparent that these images are the only way that he can communicate his feelings about the experiences and hardships he endured during his tour of duty. A Thousand Words won the Camera Planet/Full Frame Jury Award for Best Short Film.
The Great Cheesesteak Debate begins with the Rocky music that we know and love, and continues to charm with a tongue-in-cheek look at the raging competition between cheesesteak makers in Philadelphia: who makes the best cheesesteak sandwich? There's footage of the fans from the various establishments praising their favorite eats. The restaurants that are chronicled in the film are Pat's Steaks, Gino's Steaks, and Jim's Steaks, and I for one was craving a Philly Cheesesteak after watching this project.
Rosalie's Journey is a disturbing tale of an Aboriginal woman who is taken out of her difficult life and asked to star in fimmmaker Charles Chauvel's 1955 film, Jedda. Parts of Rosalie's Journey features graphic images of dead people, so filmmaker Warwick Thornton has included a warning at the beginning of his film that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers should be cautious of this footage.
Texas Hospitality is from Michael Pfaendtner, a documentarian who made this quirky, very short (just under four minutes) film that explores the final meal requests of men and women who were executed by the state of Texas throughout the years. The music playing as these meal statistics appear on the screen is very comical, yet obviously disturbing.
Journeys is from Indian filmmaker Vinayan Kodoth, and focuses on the over-population of Bombay. This is the longest of the films on this DVD, and some of the footage that was captured is remarkable.
Foxhole is from Franko Galoso, and is about two soldiers whose lives are completely turned around after they meet in Vietnam. Interviews and war footage are what the project is mostly comprised of, and hearing veterans talk about their war experiences is the epitome of real-life drama.
Out of the entire collection, Foxhole is the most impressive, with A Thousand Words being a close second place. It's no coincidence that both of these films deal with the personal struggles of Vietnam veterans, either. The Great Cheesesteak Debate really made me want to travel to Philadelphia immediately after watching it, but, sadly I'll have to settle, at least for the time being, with the psuedo-cheesesteaks that I can get in Ohio.
Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: A-
Image Transfer Review: It's no surprise that the video quality of each film varies greatly, given that different techniques were used on various budgetary levels. The quality of the video even varies within some of the films, with A Thousand Words containing both newly shot footage and stock footage filmed on location during the Vietnam War. Still, there aren't any instances where any poor video quality is a huge distraction, which is about all you can ask for from a DVD release like this.
Image Transfer Grade: C+
Audio Transfer Review: The quality of the Dolby Digital 2.0 audio also depends on what specific film we're talking about, but there are a few that come across better than others. Any recently shot interview footage features dialogue that is always crisp and clear, but speech that is heard during old stock film footage can be very hard to decipher at times. The music in The Great Cheesesteak Debate is also very nice, even though it, along with the rest of the sound, comes from the front speakers at all times.
Audio Transfer Grade: C
Disc ExtrasStatic menu
Scene Access with 6 cues and remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
9 Other Trailer(s) featuring Bob Dylan: Don't Look Back, Brother's Keeper, Go Tigers!, The Legend of Ron Jeremy, Lost in La Mancha, Nine Good Teeth, The Smashing Machine, Sound and Fury, The Weather Underground
Packaging: Keep Case
Extras Review: The only extras are a large collection of trailers for other Docurama DVDs and text-based production notes and notes About the Filmmaker behind each of the six short films.
Extras Grade: D+
Final CommentsIt's so great to be able to discover documentaries that, without this DVD, would be hard for the majority of film lovers to see otherwise. Docurama's Full Frame Documentary Shorts Vol. 3 puts these films in one nice package that is basically extras-free, but does feature solid audio and video quality.
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