The Triangle's premier film festival is headed back to Durham this April 4-7, and whether you're a total film buff or just like to get nerdy and watch a doc on Netflix every once in a while, it's an event not to miss.
The Full Frame Documentary Festival has been taking over downtown Durham for over 20 years, bringing non-fiction films from all over the world right to our doorstep. If you're not familiar with the festival experience, it's nothing like going to the multiplex to see a movie (or watching it in the comfort of your own home).
First of all, many of these films haven't been released in theaters or on streaming services yet (if they will be at all), so you're getting an exclusive chance to see them before many others. Plus you'll get the unique opportunity to dig into these films a little deeper—many of the screenings are followed by talks with the director or other folks involved in the doc, giving you a deeper understanding and appreciation of this art form (or at least a very thought-provoking conversation).
But unlike other film festivals, Full Frame has no trace of Hollywood exclusivity. In fact, it's got a totally Durham vibe. Besides taking place in many of our favorite spots around town—The Carolina Theater, American Tobacco Campus, Durham Central Park, and Motorco, among others—it's just as low-key as you would expect in the Bull City. Everyone's welcoming, whether you know a lick about filmmaking or not, and there are no industry-specific events that might leave some people out.
Plus, there are so many ways to experience the festival, whether you've got extra cash or not—making accessible to so many. Read on for all the different ways to experience Full Frame, no matter your budget.
Full Frame has a wealth of free events that are open to the public, whether you have a pass to the festival or not. These range from screenings of some of the most noteworthy films to thought-provoking panels to fun parties around town. Peruse the options below for some free film fun!
[NOTE: While all of these events are free, the closing night screening requires a ticket that you can reserve starting on March 28 at 11a.]
A week before the festival starts you can join Ponysaurus for an epic Full Frame Documentary Film Festival Pregame Party. The first 50 people to check in with Full Frame staff will receive a free beer! This event is free and open to the public without a ticket.
Of course, there's so much to do outside of these free events. Full Frame screens nearly 100 films over the course of the weekend, and the absolute best way to see a bunch of them on a budget is to purchase a Full Frame rush pass. For only $30 you can get in the last-minute line for as many films as you want throughout the weekend, gaining entry if there are extra seats to fill at showtime.
Sure, it's a gamble, but they almost always let in at least some folks from the line. If you want to up your chances of getting in, get there at least 30 minutes early, and choose less popular showtimes. (Opening night, for example, will be especially packed, whereas you may have a better chance of getting into a daytime show.)
If you want a little more of a guarantee without spending a ton, opt for a Sunday 4-pack. This allows you to pre-reserve a ticket at four of the films showing on Sunday for only $25—including the encore screenings of the winning films. You'll be able to book your seats at these starting March 28 at 11a.
If you want your full pick of the film litter (and don't mind paying for it), you can buy individual reserved tickets to the films that interest you the most. These cost $16 each or $14 if you're a student or teacher, military, fire, or police personnel, over 65, or have a Duke ID, and will go on sale starting March 28 at 11a.
If you're having trouble choosing from the incredible lineup of films, you can narrow it down based on when you're free since each film only screens once (except the winning films, which will screen again on Sunday).
If you're flexible and still overwhelmed, here are a few stand-out film recs to get you started:
— Harvest Season - Who doesn’t love learning about everybody’s favorite drink? Amid great shifts in climate, technology, and immigration policy, three people navigate the changing tides of the winemaking business in California’s Sonoma and Napa Valleys.
— Hail Satan? - Okay, so it may not sound like a cheery topic, but this late-night show should actually be a blast. With humor and searing insight, Penny Lane’s examination of The Satanic Temple reveals the controversial religious movement’s aim to shine a light on the hypocrisy around America’s separation of church and state.
— Kifaru - This inspiring animal documentary comes to us from some local filmmakers! In Kenya, a dedicated team of rangers watches over Sudan, the world’s last male northern white rhino. Rampant poaching has decimated his subspecies, yet hope remains thanks to his incredible caregivers who are set on both preventing and recovering loss.
— Running with Beto - This film recently took the audience choice award at SXSW, and is a great opportunity to learn more about one of this year’s Democratic presidential candidates while basically watching a movie. In 2018, Democrat Beto O’Rourke ran a remarkable grassroots campaign, traversing red-state Texas in a quest to unseat Republican Senator Ted Cruz. This intimate document details the candidate’s innovative approach as it reveals the toll his run for office takes on his family.
— The Raft - If you just want to hear a wild story told first-hand by the survivors, look no further. An infamous 1973 social experiment exploring violence and sex put 11 volunteers to sea on a small boat—for three months. The Raft incorporates pristine archival footage and new footage of the surviving participants, who reunite to analyze how the voyage changed their lives.
Come celebrate the life of the "Notorious RBG," including her career, her relationships, and—yes—her workout routine. This event is free and open to the public without a ticket.
Party down with all the film fanatics! After all the screenings are done, you can head to Unscripted Durham for drinks (free for the first 150 folks!) and more. This event is free and open to the public without a ticket.
Head outdoors with all your Durham neighbors to enjoy this free outdoor screening of the highly-acclaimed documentary about the life and work for Mr. Rogers. Food trucks, pre-show music, and more! This event is free and open to the public without a ticket.
Want to learn more about films rather than just watching them? These unique free panels add a new layer to Full Frame, allowing you to hear insightful conversations throughout the weekend. These events happen Friday and Saturday at 9:15a, 12:15p, and 3:15p are free and open to the public without a ticket.
Celebrate the end of the festival with a soulful viewing of this doc about Aretha Franklin, which includes resurrected footage of an incredible live performance. While this event is free, you WILL need a ticket to attend (and we bet it'll sell out fast). Tickets will be available here on March 28 at 11a.