DoubleTake Docs Strong in First Outing; "The Farm,"
"In Harm's Way" and "Travis" Take Top Awards
by Laura Phipps
The inaugural DoubleTake Documentary Film Festival closed Sunday after
four days of screenings and panels in Durham and Raleigh, North
Carolina. Festival awards were announced at a Southern-style barbecue on
Sunday night. The Audience Award, determined by filmgoer ballots, went to
Jonathan Stack's "The Farm," which profiles the lives of six inmates at
the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola. The Jury Award resulted in
a tie between two films: Jan Krawitz's "In Harm's Way," a poetic and
personal deliberation on safety, and the recently deceased Richard
Kotuk's "Travis," a portrait of a spunky little boy living with AIDS.
Each award was $2000 in film stock. Over 5,000 individual tickets were
sold and 2,000 people attended the festival.
Albert Maysles ("Salesman", "Gimme Shelter") was honored with a special
tribute and a showing of the seldom-screened director's cut version of
"What's Happening! The Beatles in the USA." Michael Apted ("Incident at
Oglala", the "7 Up" series, "Gorillas in the Mist") was presented with a
career award at a black- tie dinner at the North Carolina Museum of Art
in Raleigh on Saturday night.
Festival Founder and Director Nancy Buirski, a former photo editor for
the New York Times, assembled a high-profile board for the festival,
including Martin Scorsese, Ken Burns, Frank Capra, Jr., Barbara Kopple,
Ross McElwee, D.A. Pennebaker, and John Sayles. Buirski said the
festival went "better than we ever imagined." She was especially
impressed with the turnout and how engaged the audiences seemed with the
work. The response "proved that if you show films that awaken and
challenge and that also entertain, you will get an audience," she said.
Along with recent films in competition, the festival hosted a thematic
program of films curated by Lawrence Kardish on the subject of
"Tolerance." The program showcased documentaries as well as narratives,
including the earliest surviving feature by an African-American
director, Oscar Micheax's "Within Our Gates" (1920). Faye Dunaway, who
was in attendance at several films, introduced a screening of Arthur
Penn's "Little Big Man," also part of the series.
The festival's definition of documentary film was expansive, including
works ranging from Ken Burns' now classic talking-heads-and-images
approach in "Frank Lloyd Wright" to Jem Cohen's lyrical narrative, "Lost
Book Found." Many of the films were centered around political themes or
issues of social justice, including Tim Kirkman's "Dear Jesse," an
ironical ode to Senator Jesse Helms, "The Brandon Teena Story," directed
by Greta Olafsdottir and Susan Muska, an investigation into the mysterious
murder of a cross-gendered person, and Barbara Kopple's "Defending Our
Daughters," alook at violent abuses against woman around the world.
The festival included one student film, "Man and Dog," by Randolph
Benson, who is attending the Carolina School of the Arts. His 15-minute
film presents an unflinching look at the work of an animal control
officer. Benson found the festival to be "an amazing experience. Just
being around all these people, seeing my name and my little film in
competition with Ken Burns and Barbara Kopple, my idols and huge
inspirations to me," he said.
Representatives from public television and several cable stations
attended the festival, including HBO, USA Networks, Bravo, and Turner.
Also in attendance were representatives from the Film Society of Lincoln
Center, the Museum of Modern Art, and Fine Line Features. Festival
Coordinator Karen Cirillo said that although no major deals were signed
at the festival, she felt the festival was "eye opening for people who
do have money, to see this work and be excited by it."
For many attending filmmakers, however, the festival represented a
chance to connect with the audience and a community of documentarians
rather than a hotbed of industry attention or funding. Jonathan Stack
said the festival gave him "a chance to talk to people, to see some
work, and just to enter into the kind of dialogue that gives you new
ideas and inspires you to keep doing it." He found the festival-goers
to be a "particularly engaged" audience, so that "the Q & A afterwards
is at a level of discourse which is exactly what inspires making
documentaries in the first place." He is planning on using his film
stock award on a film-poem to New York, in which he'll film Manhattan
while encircling the island in a kayak.
Johnny Symons, who directed "Beauty Before Age," a 22-minute film on
ageism in the San Francisco gay community, said that "it was clear from
the questions people asked that people really got it and were interested
in it." He stressed the importance of making contact with his audience.
"You make a film in isolation in a cutting room, and you want to know
how people feel about it," he said.
Throughout the weekend, the screenings experienced a noticeable number
of technical glitches, including poor prints, bad sound, halted
screenings, and poor focus. The worst problem occurred during a
screening of Bill Morrison's "The Film of Her," a 12-minute short on
film restoration whose poetic, evocative visuals were completely out of
focus for several stop-and-go minutes of projection time. Filmmaker Jem
Cohen, who noticed the sound was distorted with an echo during the
screening of his "Lost Book Found," expressed frustration with the
festival's technical problems. "If they don't get the tech right, it's
really difficult for people to engage with the work," he said.
Buirski acknowledged that there were many technical problems,
attributing them to poor equipment and under-experienced staff getting
"flustered." She stressed that "all the problems are solvable." The
Carolina Theater, where most of the screenings were held, has promised
to upgrade equipment for next year and she plans to budget for
projectionists who are accustomed to the pressures of film festivals.
Plans for next year's festival are already under way, although Buirski
said she wants to leave time to "absorb" this year's festival before
[Laura Phipps is a freelance writer living in Brooklyn. (Imagine that.)]