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Docu-tourism: See Films, Travel the World

By Pamela Yoder

One of the great things about watching documentaries is that that they can take you places that you've never been, and expose you to worlds that you've never experienced before. 

I'm not talking about making documentaries and traveling the world, but about the evolving area of docu-travel—the idea that we can take some time off and go to a really cool place and see amazing films. Just consider these vacation destinations: Durham, North Carolina; Toronto, Canada; Tribeca (lower Manhattan), New York City. 

While festivals are often the domain of filmmakers who screen their films and look for funding, as well as  buyers who search for acquisitions, you don't have to be either to have a wonderful film/tourism vacation at any of the three festivals cited below.

The Full Frame Documentary Film Festival in Durham, North Carolina (, will be held April 10-13. This festival was, for its first four years, called DoubleTake. Nancy Buirski, the festival's executive director, has worked hard to make the festival inviting, friendly, engaging and unpretentious. The result is four days of films, discussions and passion about a range of documentary films and the ideas that they explore. The influence of Durham-based Duke University creates a remarkable atmosphere of intellectual debate and discussion. All film screenings and panels take place in and around the Carolina Theatre in downtown Durham. From there you can walk to any of the six venues within two minutes. This year's festival includes the portrayal of women in film as a theme. "Leadership Through a Gender Lens," a program of films telling stories of important women leaders from all walks of life, will be co-curated by Marie Wilson of the Ms. Foundation for Women and filmmaker Chris Hegedus.

For travelers looking for an excuse to spend a week in Toronto, the 10th annual Hot Docs takes place from April 25 to May 4. Hot Docs is one of the longest running documentary festivals in North America, and includes all lengths, topics, and formats of the medium.  Subject areas include The Canadian Spectrum, The International Showcase, The National Spotlight (the United Kingdom is featured this year) and RealKids, RealTeens-a program of docs geared to children and youth. The final programming has not been announced, but check out for updates and details. One of Hot Docs' best features is that daytime screenings are free to students and seniors; tickets for single screenings for adults cost $7 ($10 for the opening-night film). The festival has expanded to several venues, with most screenings taking place at the Royal (608 College) and the Bloor (506 Bloor).

Finally, the second annual Tribeca Film Festival is slated for May 6 through 11 in lower Manhattan. Tribeca is the loft-saturated locale that followed in SoHo's footsteps years ago to become a magnet for galleries, big-name restaurants and movie-star residents. Robert De Niro and Jane Rosenthal's Tribeca Entertainment is based there, and is the force behind the festival. The 2002 festival, originally conceived as a way to draw people back to Tribeca after the horrific attacks on the World Trade Center, was by all accounts an unqualified success, so much so that it generated almost immediate momentum for this year. Premieres for both docs and features will likely draw big crowds and lots of famous faces. There are great places to stay, including the Embassy Suites Hotel, the Tribeca Grand Hotel, The Regent Wall Street and The Ritz-Carlton New York. Go to for updated information.

One of the great ironies of our craft is the number of people who proudly talk about their work in documentary but don't participate in the documentary world. By "participate," I don't mean making films; I mean actually reaching into one's pocket and buying a ticket or renting a DVD. But one of the surest ways we can raise documentary's economic environment for all of us is by finding ways to put our money where our craft is. It's not as hard as you may think. And docu-tourism is a great way to start. Have a great trip!


Steve Rosenbaum can be reached at