The Chapel Hill woman who goes to Full Frame all year long

Mar. 22, 2014 @ 12:45 PM

In early spring every year, lots of Chapel Hill folks move over to Durham lock, stock and barrel for a few days to enjoy the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival.
One of them runs the show and spends most of the year commuting from her Southern Village home to work at the festival’s offices at the American Tobacco Campus.
More about that later.
But first why would anybody leave Chapel Hill to camp out in Durham for four days to watch documentary films?
The short answer is that for film fans this festival experience is what the ACC tournament is to basketball fans. Nationally, Full Frame has earned the same kind of reputation in the documentary film world as ACC basketball has in the sports world.
For instance, noted filmmaker Doug Block says, “Among filmmakers, Full Frame is the country's most revered documentary film festival.”
The World Premiere of Block’s new film “112 Weddings” will kick off this year’s festival’s opening night on April 3.
Years after filming couples’ weddings, Block visited them to see how their lives together have worked out, or not. He says the film is meant to be a “thought provoking film about love and marriage.”
“112 Weddings” is just one of more than 20 invited films, ones the festival recruited. For example:
“The Battered Bastards of Baseball” about a minor league baseball team struggling along without a major-league affiliation.
“Freedom Summer” using archival footage and eyewitness accounts to revisit the summer of 1964’s civil rights movement in Mississippi.
“Last Days in Vietnam” which looks at Saigon in April 1975 and thee moral quandaries facing Americans as they evacuated without taking Vietnamese allies with them.
“WHITEY: United States of America v. James J. Bulger” about the trial of the notorious South Boston gangster.
Just as compelling are the almost 50 films competing for the attention of festival attendees and judges over four days.
Back now to the Chapel Hill woman who spends her days in Durham throughout the year as leader of Full Frame.
Until four years ago Deirdre Haj was best known in Chapel Hill as the wife of Joe Haj, the popular leader of PlayMakers Repertory Company. A few years earlier, the couple traded their promising futures in Los Angles as film and stage actors and producers for Joe to come to Chapel Hill to take on a “dream job” with PlayMakers.
Tom Rankin, former director of Duke’s Center for Documentary Studies, remembers that when he was looking for a new leader for the film festival, Betty Kenan told him that Deirdre “would be worth making a special effort for.” Kenan had served on the search committee that brought Joe to PlayMakers and she knew about Deirdre’s experience in film production. Rankin agreed. In announcing Haj’s appointment as the festival’s executive director, he said, “Her rich and diverse background makes her the perfect choice to build on Full Frame’s success.”
Today he praises her success as director, citing especially her leadership in fundraising.
“We have more people involved in the festival meaningfully,” Deirdre Haj explains. “Our First Team members, who are donors above $1,200 a year, are now a group of 75 (mostly) couples with whom we have a year-round relationship. When I came here there were only 12 donors at this level. So, too, more businesses are involved with us on both a cash sponsorship and in-kind relationship.”
Kenan cites a long list of Haj’s achievements including reaching out to the Duke and Durham communities and enhancing the festival’s partnership with Jim and Michael Goodmon, who have provided a year-round venue for festival offices and film screening at the American Tobacco campus.
Kenan, a strong supporter of both PlayMakers and Full Frame, smiles as she says, “One of the best things about having Deirdre so happy and successful at Full Frame is that it has helped keep Joe at PlayMakers. Both of them have important and satisfying work that keeps them busy fulfilling their dreams — right here.”

D.G. Martin hosts “North Carolina Bookwatch,” which airs Sundays at noon and Thursdays at 5 p.m. on UNC-TV. For information or to view prior programs visit the webpage at