Starting Thursday and through this weekend, downtown is packed with pedestrians, streets are crowded and jockeying for a parking space assumes truly urban proportions.
Not that big a deal, you may say. Downtown is often crowded these days, people will note, and parking’s always a headache. Any difference is in degree, not in kind, of urban congestion.
But the crowds this week are swollen by one of Durham’s signature events. The Full Frame Documentary Film Festival draws non-fiction film fans from across the globe, drawn to what the festival’s website describes as “a four-day, morning-to-midnight array of nearly 100 films, as well as discussions, panels, and Southern hospitality.”
What’s especially notable about Full Frame is that when it was first held in 1998 -- known then as DoubleTake -- the crowds it brought to downtown Durham were unusual. The Durham Bulls Athletic Park and the renovated historic Carolina Theatre were bringing people downtown, perhaps gingerly, but otherwise streets that had teemed with activity through the 20th century’s middle years were deserted. Downtown was moribund, depressing, mostly avoided by those who had fled to the city’s outer precincts or beyond, and had little to lure visitors.
As civic and business leaders, committed residents and preservationists pondered how to revive the center city’s sagging fortunes, the founders of DoubleTake/Full Frame, encouraged by Duke University and other institutions, anchored their festival at the Carolina Theatre.
Residents and visitors breathed life, at least for a few days, into our gasping downtown. As this century dawned and the pace of the city’s renaissance quickened, Full Frame was there, year after year, to let veteran attendees observe the transformation and to impress newcomers with the vibrance, diversity and grittiness of our downtown.
The city’s embrace of the festival over the years, and the fact, as the festival’s website puts it, “the intimate festival landscape fosters community and conversation among filmmakers, film professionals, and the public” has helped keep the event returning as it, too, grows and expands.
“I think the festival can allow artists to recharge and make connections in a way that is organic,” Sadie Tillery, Full Frame artistic director, told The Herald-Sun’s Cliff Bellamy this week. “It’s rewarding for me that we are able to establish that kind of atmosphere.”
And, over the past two decades, it has been rewarding to Durham to be the home of Full Frame, especially as its programming has expanded to include events throughout the year. We know nothing is forever, but we hope the rich partnership between city and festival can continue for many years, even decades, to come.