Full Frame Documentary Film Festival

Deirdre Haj of Full Frame Film Festival

by Jay on June 17, 2010

New Director Describes Durham’s Annual Hosting of the Premier Documentary Film Festival in the World

I’m privileged to be a member of Durham’s Downtown Rotary Club which attracts outstanding speakers for its weekly Monday lunch meetings at the Marriott . I frequently do the write-up of the program for the club bulletin and the club website. Below is the write up of a presentation by Deirdre Haj who has recently taken over the reins of the annual spring film festival which brings documentary film makers from all over the world to Durham.

Because my hearing is bad and I take lousy notes I often have to go to the World Wide Web to fill in the blanks and try to write a coherent report. This week was as bad as it gets. During Guy Solie’s rapid fire introduction of Deirdra Haj, the young woman who has taken over the leadership of the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival, I would have sworn that he said that she had a role in the TV shows Dallas and Star Trek. Since I was pretty sure Dallas ended a couple of decades ago I was puzzled. Then when Ms. Haj took the podium I had to concentrate so intently that half my notes were written on the tablecloth.

The good news is that the web came through.

A Google search for Ms. Haj runs very deep. She indeed had roles in the two shows and has a background as a documentary filmmaker and producer as well. Many of the search results were references to news stories about her accepting the leadership of the festival. The fact that this made news both locally and in the movie industry press verified one of the main themes of her presentation, which is that this festival is a big deal in the film world. As she pointed out, it is one of the top 50 film festivals in the world and the preeminent film festival for documentarians. She also emphasized that this is an artist based festival which I gathered means that the artists come themselves to participate, network and talk shop.

This video which Ms. Haj described as their “sizzle video” gives a feel for the energy that Full Frame brings to Downtown Durham.

Full Frame Documentary Film Festival Sizzle Reel from nic beery on Vimeo.

Full Frame is Durham’s Festival Now

Another interesting point that she promoted is that the festival is no longer characterized as “New York coming to Durham.”  The festival belongs to Durham. Ms. Haj’s plans for the festival include making it even more Durham centered by involving the festival in local education and a summer camp. She noted how making a film is so empowering for kids and a powerful tool for keeping them engaged and learning. This is increasingly possible because the costs of video have come so far down.

I can relate to that. My one gig as a “documentarian” was to help the Airport Authority produce a video about airport noise several years ago. This included a memorable morning (which was probably the beginning of the end of my hearing) standing with a crew at the end of runway A with a 40 lb video camera taping the jets as they screamed towards us and then lifted their noses and took off. That camera cost over $60,000 and the tape was edited in a chilly computer room with software only a few could master. This week Steve Jobs and Apple announced the latest iteration of the I-phone that is smaller than a deck of cards and among its many other new tricks, shoots video and has built in editing software…and costs less than $200. We can all be documentarians now.

Signs of Success.

One sign of the festival’s success is that it sold out 28 thousand tickets in four days. This announcement led to some discussion of the logistical challenges of scheduling 100 films over four days in five different venues. It also led to a discussion of sponsorships since ticket sales only represent about 15% of the revenues needed to stage the festival. Ms. Haj seemed a little dismayed that no bank, high tech company or video equipment manufacturer had yet jumped on the bandwagon, implying possibly that she has some targets in mind.

Besides bringing a little Hollywood glamor to Durham, Ms. Haj is obviously a passionate and talented artist and leader who will make a huge mark on our cultural scene. It is unfortunate that because of her husband Joseph’s association with the Playmakers Repertory Theater at UNC she is left to reside in that cultural backwater to our west which has no internationally renowned film festival to call its own.  Just kidding. I hope Durham never gets that snobby.

To learn more about Full Frame are some interesting links:

  1. Full Frame Documentary Film Festival at http://www.fullframefest.org/
  2. A WUNC interview by Frank Stasio with Deirdre Haj at http://budurl.com/WUNCHaj. This includes a pic of Ms. Haj as Lieutenant Watley in Star Trek – The Next Generation.

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