In addition to its normal slate of invited and in-competition docs, as well as a tribute to the work of Steve James, this year the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival invited filmmaker Lucy Walker to curate a thematic program of her choosing. Walker built her sidebar around memorable characters, and how they both enrich and sometimes problematize documentary storytelling. It was a choice that resonated not only in the films she chose, such as the Robert Evans doc The Kid Stays in the Picture and Marcel Ophüls’s Hotel Terminus: The Life and Times of Klaus Barbie, and her own 2002 effort Devil’s Playground, but also in the new docs screening throughout the weekend.
Many of my favorites from the fest were those that fit well with Walker’s program, as you can see below. From topical and historical stories that are most effective when focused on individual subjects to strictly character-driven narratives, the following five titles represent the best of what the 2014 Full Frame had to offer as well as some of the best docs of the year so far.