Fans of the documentary film should gird their loins for the upcoming Full Frame Series at Madstone Theater. A three-day saga beginning Feb. 28, the series will showcase five critically acclaimed documentaries: “The Two Towns of Jasper,” “Return with Honor,” “The First Year,” “Startup.com” and “The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg.” These previously-released documentaries candidly explore a variety of issues, ranging from depression-era major league baseball to the plights of American POWs in Vietnam.
“The Two Towns of Jasper,” co-directed by Whitney Dow and Marco Williams, explores the 1998 James Byrd Jr. murder case as a means to highlight racial tensions in modern America. Dow, a white male, and Williams, an African American male, made “Towns” from a segregated perspective, as Dow and a white cameraman filmed and interviewed the town’s white residents, while Williams and an African American cameraman filmed and interviewed the town’s black residents. This emotionally- and racially-charged issue, viewed through segregated accounts, provides a frank story that brings many perspectives and issues to light.
“The First Year,” directed by Davis Guggenheim, also attempts to gain insight into complex, modern social realities; however, it focuses on public schools and the fate of young American teachers. It follows several of the profession’s brightest prospects, and chronicles their trials and tribulations in hopes of recruiting more to the field in hopes of improving this nation’s plagued education system. Like “Towns,” it is a plea for change and an arousing call to duty.
The promotional highlight of the series is Freida Lee Mock and Terry Sanders’s “Return with Honor,” presented by Tom Hanks. “Return” is a realist tribute to the many American POWs who were imprisoned and brutally tortured during the Vietnam War. The film provides a holistic account of pilots’ imprisonments via firsthand accounts, perspectives from wives and family members and previously unreleased 35mm footage from Vietnamese archives. The end product is patriotic and triumphant but also mournful, remembering all those prisoners who are still missing in action.
“Startup.com” affords viewers an insider’s look into the lucrative but tenuous dot-com industry. Directors Chris Hegedus and Jehane Noujaim follow one of Noujaim’s Harvard classmates as he and his partner attempt to establish themselves in the savage world of online entrepreneurship. “Startup” not only probes the realm of internet business, but it also explores the burden that business partnerships place on friendships.
Aviva Kempner’s “The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg” fills the last spot on the series’ docket. As the title suggests, this film chronicles the hall-of-fame career of baseball great Hank Greenberg. In doing so, Kempner emphasizes the anti-Semitic sociopolitical climate of the time. She elucidates the many barriers that Greenberg surmounted and relates his relatively unpublicized struggle to that of Jackie Robinson. This piece provides a fitting conclusion to a series that is characterized by poignant realism and social conscientiousness.