four films


Here are our five films we suggest to see during the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival at Duke University.


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In 3 1⁄2 Minutes, two lives intersected and were forever altered. On Black Friday in 2012, two cars parked next to each other at a Florida gas station. A white middle-aged male and a black teenager exchanged angry words over the volume of the music in the boy’s car. A gun entered the exchange, and one of them was left dead.

Michael Dunn fired 10 bullets at a car full of unarmed teenagers and then fled. Three of those bullets hit 17-year-old Jordan Davis, who died at the scene. Arrested the next day, Dunn claimed he shot in self-defense. Thus began the long journey of unraveling the truth. 3 1⁄2 Minutes follows that journey, reconstructing the night of the murder and revealing how hidden racial prejudice can result in tragedy.

Directed by Marc Silver (Who is Dayani Cristal?), the documentary intercuts powerful exclusive footage from a riveting trial with intimate, observational scenes of Jordan’s parents, Ron and Lucy. We see firsthand how difficult it is for them to grapple with unimaginable loss while fighting for justice for their son. The film integrates police interrogation footage, prison phone recordings and interviews with the others at the scene that night. The result is a powerful story about the devastating effects of racial bias, and the search for justice within the judicial system.

 Althea Gibson’s life and achievements transcend sports. A truant from the rough streets of Harlem, Althea emerged as a most unlikely queen of the highly segregated tennis world in the 1950s. Her roots as a sharecropper’s daughter, her family’s migration north to Harlem in the 1930s, mentoring from Sugar Ray Robinson, David Dinkins and others, and fame that thrust her unwillingly into the glare of the early Civil Rights movement, all bring her story into a much broader realm of the American story.

No player, not even the great Arthur Ashe (who came a decade after Althea), overcame more obstacles to become a champion than Althea Gibson; the first African-American to play at (and win) Wimbledon and the US Open was a woman. She was celebrated by ticker-tape parades in New York City, twice, to welcome her home after hard-fought victories. There was no professional tennis circuit for women in her era, so her options were limited. As Althea said, “You can’t eat a crown.” When she the #1 player in the world, she still could not afford her own apartment, and became constantly indebted to her benefactors.

Forced from the game to make a living, Althea later brought her talents to golf, breaking another color barrier: the LPGA, where she competed for over 10 years. She retired from competitive tennis and played exhibitions on tour with the Harlem Globetrotters, became a recorded Jazz singer, performing on the Ed Sullivan Show and “What’s My Line, ” and landed a role in a John Wayne/John Ford film.

Late in life, forgotten by the “Tennis Establishment” and barely able to make ends meet, she became reclusive, enveloped by bitterness and resentment towards those she saw reaping million-dollar paydays. On her last trip to the US Open, she went unrecognized. She was extremely proud, didn’t want to ask for help, and wound up isolated. Throughout her entire journey, Althea remained true to her convictions – an uncompromising individual and unique trailblazer.

Nina Simone was not your typical ‘60s diva. Although her music is often grouped with the greatest soul singers, in her early years, she really wanted nothing more than to be the first acknowledged female Black classical pianist. When popular music became a more plausible career path, she brought her unique skills to bear, including a richly textured voice and fierce piano playing. On stage, she held each song accountable as though it were a partner in her attempt to get to the bottom of things, often fiercely political. She was stunning and forceful and she paid the price in psychic damage and racial ire. Liz Garbus’s enthralling and deeply researched portrait, What Happened, Miss Simone?, tracks this tragic yet triumphant figure through many tumultuous decades, using a trove of recently unearthed documents—confessional tapes, dazzling performances, excerpts from her unvarnished diaries—and contemporary interviews with her daughter, friends, fellow musicians and cultural historians. From her emergence in the late 1950s as a nightclub singer, her meteoric ascension soon after, to her prominence within the Civil Rights Movement where she mingled with such figures as Betty Shabazz, Stokely Carmichael and Lorraine Hansberry, we sense the melancholic currents of an inspired artist who was once, in her own words, “Young, Gifted and Black.” —Steve Seid

In the 1960’s, ready or not, change was coming to America. A new revolutionary culture was emerging and those seeking to drastically transform the system believed radical change was not only feasible, but imminent. The Black Panther Party for Self-Defense would, for a short time, put itself at the vanguard of that change. Whether they were right or wrong, whether they were good or bad, fact is, more than 40 years after the Black Panther Party

was founded in Oakland, California, the group, and its leadership, remain powerful and enduring figures in our popular imagination. THE BLACK PANTHERS: VANGUARD OF THE REVOLUTION weaves the varied voices of those who lived this story — police, FBI informants, journalists, white supporters and detractors, those who remained loyal to the party and those who left it.


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