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Full Frame Fellows: Why every film student should be there

The traditional film festival has morphed into a multitude of events beyond film screenings as programmers capitalize on the media expertise that gathers in unexpected places like Columbia, Missouri, Durham, North Carolina, Austin, Texas or Washington, D.C. Taking advantage of the wealth of talent, aspiring independent documentary filmmakers can (and should) jump on the opportunity to attend festivals and learn from industry leaders.

Full Frame Documentary Film Festival in Durham is no exception, offering an innovative Fellows Pass, specifically through university film programs. This year, 165 students and faculty from 16 different colleges participated.  For a discounted rate, universities can send the best of the best film students to Durham where they will be immersed in the Full Frame experience.  American University and the Center were well represented this year, and here’s a reflection on the experience.

Highlights from the 2013 Fellow Schedule

This year’s Fellow schedule included master classes with Julie Goldman and Alan Berliner as well as panel discussions with experts on topics such as editing, ethics in filmmaking, domestic festivals, and creating narrative films based on docs. Panel members included documentary greats such as: Marshall Curry, Stephen Nameth, Caroline Libresco, David Wilson, Matthew Hamachek, Sam Pollard, Toby Shimin, Amir Bar-Lev, and Jessica Wu, among others. In an industry where it pays to know people, Fellows who took advantage of these events left with key networking opportunities that could potentially pay off down the road.

Master Classes

In the first master class of the weekend, Julie Goldman shed light on her career and what is means to be a creative producer. (Read more in our previous post, Julie Goldman on Creative Producing.)  The following afternoon, acclaimed filmmaker, Alan Berliner (“First Cousin, Once Removed”) shared personal insights on creating multi-layered films with deeply personal narratives. Berliner suggested that there is no one formula to creating a film, but rather filmmakers need to find their own equations and therefore their own solutions. With behind-the-scenes access to these professionals for an afternoon each, the master classes were packed events with eager participants.

Speakeasy Sessions

Throughout the weekend, there were five speakeasy sessions, intimate panel discussions offering exceptional quality of speakers. These events, sponsored by A&E IndieFilms, are a place where the audience is often as qualified as the panelists and rousing conversation often ensues on some of the hottest, most current industry debates. (Read our review from a 2013 speakeasy on turning docs into narrative features.)

Film Screenings

The Fellow Pass comes with highly sought after tickets to the Opening Night Film (this year it was Dawn Porter’s “Gideon’s Army”) as well as the Festival Center Frame film screenings. (This year the films were “Fight Like Children, Die Like Soldiers,” “First Cousin, Once Removed,” “If You Build It,” and “Which Way is the Front Line From Here? The Life and Time of Tim Hetherington.”)  Beyond these screenings, Fellows are highly encouraged to join the “Last Minute Line” and, at no-cost, attend screenings of their choice when seats are available in the theater. Full Frame consistently programs the best new documentaries of the year, both from seasoned filmmakers as well as first timers.  The Festival also offers many films having their world or US premier. With such a high caliber of films selected every year, it is an honor to be screened at Full Frame and an exciting atmosphere to be part of. Q &A with the filmmakers and subjects in the film proceed the screenings. 


The Opening Night party as well as the Awards Barbecue on Sunday are ticketed events which Fellows have access to as part of the package. The events are fantastic bookends to the Festival that Fellows could mingle and network with friends, both old and new. Because of the small town vibe of Durham, faces are familiar by the end of the Festival and often new friendships and collaborations are started at Full Frame.

While many festivals now offer exclusive events, Full Frames Fellows program is an exciting addition to the festival landscape, hopefully paving the way for film student’s access and enthusiasm to be around the best in the biz in a festival setting. If you can't wait til next April to attend Full Frame, AFIDOCS is coming up in Washington, D.C., June 19-23, 2013!