July 1, 2000

Doubletake Turns On the Southern Charm

The Double Take Film Festival in Durham, North Carolina is bound to become a real filmmakers' favorite. One of the larger documentary fests in North America, Double Take has grown into an event marked by congeniality and passion. Most participants stayed for the entire event, largely because audiences and filmmakers enjoyed a long weekend of rich and intimate discussion.

Fueled by copious supplies of barbeque and sweet tea, attendees took in the program, which ran on three screens at The Carolina Theatre, a handsomely restored Beaux-Arts cinema in downtown Durham, home of Duke University. The festival, affiliated with Duke's Center for Documentary Studies, featured a diverse program of 52 new films, with another dozen titles screened around curated themes.

Double Take 2000 was most successful in compelling audiences to expand their conception and definition of "documentary." On first view, some selections didn't seem like documentaries at all. But in the end, the program as a whole succeeded in promoting energetic debate about the nature of documentary film.

Video artist Sharon Lockhart's Teatro Amazonas, a 40-minute, single, continuous shot of an audience in a Brazilian opera house, raised eyebrows as well as discussion. Some people walked out. Some began debating the film's purpose during the screening. And perhaps that was the conceptual joke: a challenge to the very essence of movie-making that forced an audience to wrestle with its own role.

Another edge-pushing entry was Tomorrow is Just Another Day directed by Merlin Koene and Christian Mehofer of Austria. A portrait of an institution for long term mental care, the film follows a day of encounters between patients and caregivers. The scenes were so well crafted and choreographed that at times the film felt like fiction. Crane shots and immaculate cinematography created dramatic emphasis but left one feeling detached from the patients' plights.

However, simplicity and story telling ruled the day at Double Take. Best Short went to but, the day came directed by Eugene Richards. A stirring and hauntingly-photographed film about the last days of Clarence, a Nebraska farmer and patriarch whose family must face putting him in a retirement home. Often still photos are merely a poor substitute for a lack of live footage, but Richards employed the technique masterfully, anchoring his work with stills that layered the rest of the film with meaning and depth.

Double Take 2000 may be the first film festival in which the jury and audience awards seemed dead-on. La Bonne Conduite: cinq histoires d'auto-école (The Way I look at You: five stories of driving school) took the Feature Jury Award. Director Jean Stéphane Bron installed cameras in cars to examine the relationships between five driving instructors and their students. Beyond its funny veneer, the film unfolded as a darker dialogue on national identity and racism in Switzerland today.

The Audience Award was split between two world premieres: The Gospel According to Mr. Allen by Edward Rosenstein, which followed three addicts through a self-help drug abuse center in Harlem, and Linda Duvoisin's more formally constructed you don't know what I got, which offered a close look at the lives of five American women.

Variations on the vérité style dominated the festival. Un Été au Grand Hotel (A Summer at the Grand Hotel) by J.C. Rose detailed the inner workings of a Luxury Hotel in Deauville, France. It's a remarkable look at some rich, famous and inexorably French aristocrats, and the filmmakers become so intimately involved in the story that they became part of the story. Yet this documentary "faux pas" of losing objectivrty is handled with exceptional humor and panache.

Liz Garbus returned to Double Take with the considered and smoothly paced Juvies, a harrowing look at the turbulent passages of three young men in and out of Baltimore's juvenile justice system. And Highway by Sergey Dvortsevoy, employed long, patient takes and a restrained editing style on his road journey with a Russian circus family.

Guest curator Alan Berliner assembled a series of 24 films entitled Outside Looking In: Coming of Age Stories, a series which included fictional, documentary and experimental works examining youth and violence. Other programs included Images of War, Visions of Peace, a series of films shown in association with the Hague for Peace in the Netherlands, and a smaller selection themed Southern Writers on Film.

D.A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus were honored with the Career Award. After some retrospective clips from "War Room" were screened, the audience was shown evidence that even the masters can embrace the DV format with a screening of a work in-progress, StartUp.com, a creative co-venture with first-time filmmaker Jahane Noujaim. Also honored was IDA Trustee Sheila Nevins who received the Industry Award for her prolific production work as Executive Vice President of Original Programming for HBO.

Almost 80 percent of the filmmakers in competition made the trip to the festival and audience attendance was up 20 per cent over the previous year. Not only was Double Take lively and relaxed, but the docu-knowledgeable festival staff was a positive, professional part of the whole show.

Double Take is definitely worth a second look.

 

Stephen Hutchinson is a filmmaker and ad agency creative director. His award-winning short documentary, Airtime Rights, played at the Double Take festival. He is currenty expanding this short into a feature which Looks at the eccentric lifestyles of obsessive talk-radio callers in NYC. Email: shutchinson@frankfurtbalkind.com.

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