Just days before the prestigious Full Frame Documentary Film Festival is set to open in North Carolina, Chicago launched its own nonfiction showcase on Friday night. And judging from the lineup, the jury and the turnout (minus the technical glitches), the Chicago International Documentary Festival (CIDF) could steal some of Full Frame's thunder. Only in its third year, CIDF organizers have put together an impressive collection of films culled from Sundance, IDFA and beyond, including world premieres of Pamela Yates' "State of Fear," Oscar-nominee Tod Lending's latest "Omar and Pete" and Lauri Feldman's "The Innocent."
I, for one, was also surprised to find Paul Pavlikovsky (director of brilliant movies "Last Resort" and "My Summer of Love") hanging out at a pre-show reception with Canadian critic Mark Peranson. With his documentary background, Pavlikovsky is a natural to serve on the festival's jury, but with his newfound success as a fiction filmmaker, I didn't expect it. Turns out he goes way back with fest director Christopher Kamyszew, a fellow Pole and director of Chicago's Polish Film Festival, and remains deeply appreciative of Kamyszew's passion and good taste for film.
Because of the Polish ties, it should be noted that there's an Eastern European flavor to the doc fest proceedings. Oddly enough, aside from the actual opening night movie, "The Real Dirt on Farmer John" (more on that in a second), it sounded as if there were as many foreign accents at Chicago's festival than there are at IDFA.
Slamdance '05 selection "Farmer John" was a true crowdpleaser in the mold of "Go Further." A portrait of an eccentric Illinois farmer struggling to keep his farm alive, the movie is sweet, sad, funny, and well, inspiring, especially, if you're into the idealistic notion of communal, organic farming. It won over the audience, even after sound problems interrupted the show.
And will someone please give Albert Maysles the money to finish his movie about trains? The famous documentarian was on hand in Chicago, picking up a Lifetime Achievement Award on behalf of he and his brother's work. During the opening night session, he hawked his "In Transit" project and told his now familiar story about meeting a woman on her way to meet her mother for the first time. I think I heard this story at The Moth years ago, and then again, at the IFP Market last fall. Maybe he doesn't need money; he just needs time. But even at a still vigorous and impassioned 71-years-old -- he said on Friday night he was at a mid-career point -- the guy's only got so many working years left. Having seen some of the fantastic '70s-set footage, I hope he finishes it soon.