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Full Frame cover

STUDIO: Newvideo
MSRP: $26.95
RUNNING TIME: 126 Minutes
• Filmmaker biographies

The Pitch

“Economic and educational! Learn something new in thirty minutes or less!”

The Humans

Many and various. The directors are: Erin Hudson, Astrid Bussink, Cindy Stillwell, Darren Hercher, Peter Jordan, Eva Weber.

The Nutshell

The annual Full Frame documentary festival has been called the “Cannes of documentary film festivals,” and attracts dozens of filmmakers young and old. This disc is a small selection of films that have played well to audiences in the festivals’ recent history.

The Lowdown

For the sake of avoiding my futile grasping at contextual connections between the six shorts, I’m going to consider each independently.

Afloat, by Erin Hudson: This is a simple five-minute piece centered on a water aerobics class being taught for senior citizens. In voice-over, interview subjects recount their memories of playing in the old swimming hole, and how strange it is for other to consider you practically dead just because of your age. The mood is meditative, and without self-pity. The thesis is pretty much the title, gently communicated; the film’s subjects remain Afloat.

The Angelmakers, by Astrid Bussink: On to something a bit more structured. Bussink’s half-hour folk history covers a small village in the Hungarian countryside where, in the early 20th century, over one-hundred-and-twenty murders were committed by some sixty women. Most of the victims were male; most of those were husbands to the murderers. Rather than being a purely informational documentary, with an admittedly fascinating topic, Bussink takes the time to develop a deeper set of social and sexual politics against the backdrop of a village which hasn’t changed much at all in eighty years. It’s a wonderfully human — and occasionally comic — look at the local myth, and how it reflects the larger stories of the world.

No fair, Chester. You got to be the guard last week.

High Plains Winter, by Cindy Stillwell: The village in The Angelmakers was coasting toward its end, but the Western town features in High Plains Winter ain’t going out with a whimper. This black-and-white, dialogue-free piece sets up to watch the denizens of a farming community engaging in an unusual sport to keep the cold and boredom at bay. Imagine something like Jackass meets Tombstone; a skier ties himself to the saddle of a horse, which is then driven into a gallop by its rider. The skier flies along behind like a water-skier behind an outboard, aiming himself toward jumps and slaloms. Stillwell takes careful steps to juxtapose this little jamboree with the desolation of the season, to an end that sets cognitive dissonance in the audience’s mind.

Send Me Somewhere Special, by Darren Hercher: A near-penniless young man decides to give meaning to his life by picking a stranger at random and asking that stranger to send him somewhere special. The fellow he picks sends him traipsing to a tiny village in Somerset, where he meets a colorful cast of individuals, who gradually open up to him and tell him their stories. Hercher occasionally plays up the profundity of his exercise, and stretches like a sophomore essayist for the epiphany, but there’s no denying his project bears an implicit interest. Hercher submerses himself in other people, and doing so reminds the audience that humanity is composed of humans, and it’s hard to find a human who holds no interest in his or her own life, or whose life can hold no interest for you.

Go on, guess what he's smiling about.

Stand Like Still Living, by Peter Jordan: The AIDS epidemic is beyond control in Botswana. Jordan found two people willing to let him follow them through their testing, as they wait for word on whether or not they’re HIV-positive, and what happens after. These are two people whose miseries have been compounded on miseries, and they’re plenty honest about it. By occasionally turning over the camera to one of the subjects, Jordan gets at something somewhat unique about this story. Not exactly the truth of the individual, but the truth of how he acts when he has an audience, which holds as much insight into character as does naked vulnerability. This is a touching piece on dignity, which is cast as much more a tangible quality than an ideal — a possession of all people independent of the context of environment.

The Intimacy of Strangers, by Eva Weber: The last piece on this disc is the most experimental. Weber’s film is composed of nothing more than the taped conversations of Londoners talking on their mobile phones. None of the conversationalists are aware that they’re being taped at the time, and so they hold no pretense over their words. The conversations are edited together, dealing primarily with relationships, not to the point of coherency but so that they all follow a similar dramatic rise and fall. It’s much more successful than I had anticipated, with an ending that couldn’t have been more perfect if it were scripted.

Crazy Frog, Crunchy Frog, what's the difference?

The Package

Check out filmmaker biographies. Check ‘em out for a long time, because that’s all you get. As with most discs that don’t have much in the way of bonuses (not that this release really begs for them,) “interactive menus” are listed as a feature. I’d like to see a DVD that has non-interactive menus. You just stare at it, and then it picks whatever it wants.

This fifth volume of Full Frame Documentary Shorts holds some fine examples of earnest and honest non-fiction filmmaking, and the lone strengths of Stand Like Still Living and The Angelmakers would make it a disc worth owning, even were the other films not engaging.

8 out of 10