FESTIVALS: Doubletake Boosts Attendance and Spirits
by Hugo Perez
(indieWIRE/ 05.09.01) -- "I think that putting Doubletake together is like being a non-fiction filmmaker, with probably everybody saying forget it, don't do it, nobody wants to see these kinds of films," said celebrated filmmaker Barbara Kopple who received the Doubletake Documentary Film Festival Career Award over the weekend in Durham, North Carolina.
The fourth edition of the DDFF unspooled over the
course of four days with screenings of 100
documentaries, including several world premieres and
dozens of both aspiring and legendary filmmakers on
hand to celebrate what has become the largest and most
important festival for documentaries and documentary
filmmakers in the United States.
Overall attendance at the festival almost doubled from
6,000 tickets sold last year to 10,000 tickets this
year. Festival director Nancy Buirski and assistant
director Karen Cirillo were perfect hosts, extending
southern hospitality to festival attendees, and
creating a relaxed gathering place for documentary
filmmakers and audiences alike.
Festival highlights included three world premiere
screenings of feature length documentaries. "The
Press Secretary," Ted Bogosian's revealing portrait of
White House press secretary Joe Lockhart is the first
film completed through the Roland House High
Definition Documentary Award, which provides the
winner with a full High Definition production and
post-production package. (Note: This year's deadline
for submission has been extended to June 15.) "The
Press Secretary" is most engaging in its verite
moments when it shows the mundane and often comic
slices of life in a White House apparently fueled by
massive quantities of Diet Coke.
Bogosian was very pleased with his Doubletake
experience You know why it's great' The feedback
that one gets here with so many filmmakers present is
really therapeutic. We do what we do as renegades most
of the time, and to have the opportunity to show
something to a group of independent filmmakers... it's
a family reunion. It's just fabulous to be in this
self-selected audience. It's a true privilege."
The most eagerly anticipated premiere of the festival
was "ABC Africa," screening this weekend at the Cannes
Film Festival, the first documentary in almost ten
years from master Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami.
Kiarostami's film is an intimate account of his travel
to Uganda with documentarian Seifollah Samadian to
make a film about children who had been orphaned by
the aids epidemic. There was no middle ground in the
audience for ABC Africa. Many spectators felt that the
style of the film, which Kiarostami referred to as
documentary 'notetaking' was slowpaced and lacked a
narrative. Most audience members, however, were deeply
moved including D.A. Pennebaker who extolled it's
virtues and felt it was a lyrical, visual, personal
essay that capitalized on the advantages of shooting
with small format DV. "I felt like I was really seeing
things the way that he saw them."
The third world premiere, Steve Earnhart's "Mule
Skinner Blues," focuses on Beanie Andrew, a recovering
alcoholic and showman who pursues his dream of making
an Ed Wood-ian horror film with an eclectic assortment
of his trailer park friends. "Mule Skinner Blues" is
sure to find a niche with the audiences that made "The
Cruise" and "American Movie" cult favorites. Subject
Beanie Andrew was on hand at the screening to advise
filmmakers in the audience; "Every one of you has
talent. Just go out and do it."
Pennebaker Hegedus Films was represented at Doubletake
this year by not one, but two new films.
"Startup.com," opening in theaters this Friday, by
Chris Hegedus and Jehane Noujaim sets out to capture
the essence of the Internet revolution through the
story of two college friends who launch startup
company govWorks.com. The film succeeds with a
narrative as dramatic and compelling as a Greek
tragedy. With a debut collaboration, filmmaker Jehane
Noujaim promises to be one of the leading verite
documentarians of the post-2000 generation. Also
screened was the much anticipated concert film, "Down
From the Mountain" by Nick Doob, Chris Hegedus, and
D.A. Pennebaker. The film was a crowd pleaser as
audiences occasionally sang along to the music of the
country and bluegrass stars featured on the "O
Brother, Where Art Thou'" soundtrack. Despite the fact
that the soundtrack has sold almost one million
copies, presently there are no plans for significant
distribution of the concert film. "These films are
like your children. You make them, and send them out,
and hope for the best," said Pennebaker after the
Documentary heavyweight Maysles Films was represented
at Doubletake by the luminous "Lalee's Kin: The Legacy
of Cotton," directed by Susan Froemke, Deborah
Dickson, and Albert Maysles, soon to air on HBO. It is
a powerful and compelling examination of the
institutional poverty faced by predominantly
African-American communities in the Mississippi Delta.
Other recent Sundance participants included Bestor
Cram and Mike Majoros, with "Unfinished Symphony,"
perhaps the most moving film screened at Doubletake
this year. About the activism of Vietnam Veterans
Against the War, the film follows their staged bivouac
at the Battle Green of Lexington Kentucky thirty years
ago which posits civil disobedience as one of the most
important tenets of a democratic society. The film
unfolds in three movements corresponding to Henryk
Gorecki's 3rd Symphony, and could not be more relevant
to today's audiences given the nature of Democracy in
America today. "Unfinished Symphony" is currently
"Gaea Girls" by Kim Longinotto and Jano Williams was
one of the most engaging docs at this year's festival,
focusing on life in the excruciating boot camps that
Japanese girl wrestler wannabes must go through to
achieve their dream of debuting on the Gaea Girl
circuit. Unrelenting at times in it's verite proximity
to the violent world of the Gaea Girls, this doc
shatters any pre-conceptions audiences might have
about the daintiness young Japanese women. indieWIRE
recently interviewed director Longinotto about the
film; you can read the interview at:
Also worth mentioning is the short documentary gem
"Robodog" by Tim Bieber, a hilarious portrait of one
man's attachment to his Sony robotic dog, which
manages to be a strangely touching rumination on the
nature of sentience.
Other notable films that screened at Doubletake
include: "The Sunshine" by Phil Bertenson, "Bombay
Eunuch" by Alexandra Shiva, Sean MacDonald, and
Michelle Gucovsky, "Gimme Some Truth: The Making of
John Lennon's Imagine Album" by Andrew Solt, "Gibtown"
by Melissa Shachat, "Fidel's Fight" by Laurence
Thrush, and "Soldiers in the Army of God" by Marc
Levin and Daphne Pinkerson.
In addition to the screenings, Doubletake offered a
slew of special programs including a Docuclub
sponsored works-in-progress forum for three
documentaries. "Sister Helen" by Rob Fructman and
Rebecca Cammisa elicited very positive responses from
the audience and promises to be one to watch in the
next festival season.
On Sunday afternoon, after a southern style barbecue
held outdoors, Doubletake Documentary Award Winners
were announced. Heddy Honigmann's "Crazy," a gripping
account of how music helped U.N soldiers cope with
difficult situations in trouble spots around the word,
received the Center for Documentary Studies Award.
Honorable Mention was given to "Losing It," Sharon
Greytak's rumination on whether other people with
disabilities struggled with her identity as she did.
The Jury Award was split between festival circuit
favorite "Benjamin Smoke" by Jem Cohen and Peter
Sillen and Marie Laubier's "Avant de Partir" ("Before
Leaving"), an unsentimental portrait of life in a
retirement home outside of Paris. The Audience Award
was given to Stephen Ive's "The Amato Opera," an
intimate account of a small family run opera house in
Manhattan which was screened as a Docuclub
work-in-progress at last year's Doubletake festival.
The first MTV News: Docs:Prize for the film that best
captures the essence of what it is to be a young adult
was awarded to "Startup.com."
After the Doubletake awards ceremony, Academy Award
winning, "Big Mama" director Tracy Seretean reflected
on what made her Doubletake experience special,
"People are just so accessible here. It's amazing to
have people like Pennebaker wandering around. It would
be like being able to walk up to Spielberg at an
outdoor barbecue and talking about camera placement."
A more direct assessment was expressed by Mule Skinner
Blues star Beanie, "I'm just glad to be somewhere
where people are really doing stuff. Actually, I just
feel happy to be alive."