Documentaries chronicle important events, personalities, and institutions. They tell stories previously untold. They create a historical record. But the films themselves often suffer an uncertain fate.
Some make it into art theaters or onto DVDs, but others travel the festival circuit and then disappear. Independent films suffer a greater risk of disappearing than larger-budget, studio-backed films.
In April, on the occasion of its tenth anniversary and with noted director Ken Burns in attendance, the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival announced an initiative aimed at preserving important works.
Duke Libraries has agreed to create an archive for the festival's films. The 2007 edition of the festival screened more than 100 films. Of the eighty-two films entered in various competitions, fourteen were awarded prizes; these award-winning films—and all future award winners—will be slated for the new archive.
This year's crop includes Full Frame Grand Jury Award winner The Monastery, directed by Pernille Rose Grønkjær. The film, which also won the Charles E. Guggenheim Emerging Artist Award, is a meditation on the merging of life and faith, documenting a man's gift of his Danish castle to the Russian Orthodox Church.
The winner of the $5,000 Full Frame President's Award, sponsored by Duke and given to the best student film, was Lumo, directed by Bent-Jorgen Perlmutt and Nelson Walker III. The film tells the story of Lumo, a young woman in the Democratic Republic of the Congo who suffers from a fistula, a debilitating condition that arises from complications that develop during childbirth (teens are particularly at risk), from having sex at a young age, or from the trauma of rape.
Deborah Jakubs, the Rita DiGiallonardo Holloway University Librarian and vice provost for library affairs at Duke, says the launching of this archive is "the fruit of years of collaboration and planning."
Duke Libraries is one of the few university libraries to archive documentary film festival winners, says Karen Glynn, Duke's visual materials archivist. She says the films will support student and faculty research and provide a resource to the larger community. In turn, filmmakers benefit from having their work recognized, physically preserved, and made accessible at no cost to them.
"For the first time, these works of art, which chronicle the world in such unique ways, will be protected for generations to come," says Nancy Buirski, the festival's founder, CEO, and artistic director.
Documentaries for Posterity
June 1, 2007