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With the best in documentary film screened practically right in Durham Academy's backyard at the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival each year, the downtown Durham festival has become a rite of spring for many DA students and faculty. Sixteen Upper School spring seminar participants attended the festival for two full days, and nine members of the Upper School Diversity Club took in the festival for a day.
Full Frame — which is run by DA parent Deirdre Haj and ran this year from April 9 to 12 — has been the focus of the spring seminar program for three years (read more in the Summer 2014 issue of the DA magazine). Participants kicked off this year's seminar with a discussion of documentary film mechanics with photojournalist and filmmaker Jeremy Lange, who spoke about his project Farmer Veteran.
After passes were distributed, the participants fanned out among Full Frame's myriad theaters downtown to view films of their choosing. Students chronicled their reflections via posts on the DA Seminar Program blog.
"I think the most valuable thing I will take away from this Seminar is my increased appreciation and understanding of the process of making a documentary," wrote senior Dana Rowe. "I feel that I have become a more active viewer and a more informed critic of films."
Upper School photography teacher Harrison Haynes makes a point to attend the festival each year — although this was his first year accompanying the seminar students and seminar coordinator/Upper School English teacher Tina Bessias.
"What was new for me here was the presence of the students," Haynes said. "I watched each of the seven films I attended not just through my own eyes, but through theirs as well. During one of the films, Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck, it fascinated me to imagine what Cobain's life and art might mean to someone half my age (more like 13/32 of my age, actually). And watching Althea, the story of the first African-American tennis champion, I was preoccupied by what the film might provoke in the mind of a young black athlete at DA."
Members of the Diversity Club focused on films touching on diversity-related issues, including 3 1/2 Minutes, Black Panthers and Althea.
Senior Brad Hodgin described the festival as a place to both appreciate works of art and learn about the world.
"When you go into a theater at Full Frame, what plays on the screen in front of you is a true story. The story can come from thousands of miles away or within the state of North Carolina," he said. "The stories that are told through these documentaries are extremely important because they take us to a much deeper understanding of things going on in the world than textbooks do.
"They do this by following real people such as Dr. Jose Mireles, who led the fight against the cartels that were destroying his town in the film Cartel Land. If I had read about his story in a textbook, it probably wouldn't have told me much more than that," Hodgin continued. "But Cartel Land by Matthew Heineman took me into his life, into his home. I met his family, his neighbors, and they all shared their stories about what the cartels did to them. This kind of intimacy allowed me to truly understand not only what is going on, but why it's going on. I think gaining that level of knowledge on a very specific issue is worth leaving school for a few days."