How to attend the free events at Full Frame film festival in downtown Durham

For the first time in five years, the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival is back in person this week, infusing downtown Durham with a whirlwind of activity as 50 films are screened over the next four days.

The festival kicks off Thursday morning and runs through Sunday. Tickets can be purchased for $15 per film.

Free screenings will be held outdoors in Durham Central Park each weekend night:

  • 8:30 p.m. Friday: “Good Night Oppy” tells the remarkable, true story of Opportunity, a rover sent to Mars for a 90-day mission that wound up surviving for 15 years. Directed by Ryan White, a Duke graduate.

  • 8:30 p.m. Saturday: “Apollo 11” takes us inside NASA’s mission to put the first man on the moon. Directed by Todd Douglas Miller.

The festival closes with a free screening and filmmaker panel in the Carolina Theatre’s Fletcher Hall:

  • 5:30 p.m. Sunday: “Luther: Never Too Much” delves into the life story of R&B sensation Luther Vandross. Directed by Dawn Porter.

Find the full schedule at

Bouncing back from COVID

Full Frame is in its 26th year, but it has faced uncertainty in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We were one day away from announcing our lineup,” festival co-director Emily Foster recalled of the day Duke canceled its spring events to help stop the spread of the coronavirus.

The festival went virtual for three years and skipped 2023 entirely amid turnover at the Duke University Center for Documentary Studies.

Back in 2019, 10,000 people attended, producing an estimated $3.8 million economic impact, according to Discover Durham.

The Full Frame Documentary Film Festival in Durham, NC, pictured in 2014, features film screenings and panel discussions with filmmakers.
The Full Frame Documentary Film Festival in Durham, NC, pictured in 2014, features film screenings and panel discussions with filmmakers.

Foster, who directs Full Frame with Sadie Tillery, said they’re thrilled to be reintroducing the festival to the city.

Screenings, panels and parties will be held at the Carolina Theatre, Durham Convention Center, American Tobacco Campus and Durham Armory.

“It all takes place within walking distance,” Foster said.

Some highlights from this year’s schedule, with Full Frame’s descriptions:

  • ”Family Tree”: Explores sustainable forestry in North Carolina through the stories of two Black families fighting to preserve their land and legacy. A world premiere. Directed by Jennifer MacArthur.

  • “Girls State”: What would American democracy look like in the hands of teenage girls? A political coming-of-age story and a stirring reimagination of what it means to govern. Directed by Amanda McBaine and Jesse Moss.

  • “Eno”: Visionary musician and artist Brian Eno reveals his creative processes in this groundbreaking generative documentary: a film that’s different every time it’s shown. Directed by Gary Hustwit.

Oscar nomination possible

An awards ceremony will be held Sunday, and the jury’s top pick is eligible to be nominated for the Academy Awards documentary short category.

That’s happened before.

Most recently, in 2022, the Afghan film “Three Songs for Benazir” was nominated for an Oscar after premiering at Full Frame. (It’s streaming on Netflix now.)

In 2018, “Heaven Is a Traffic Jam on the 405” won the Oscar after its Durham premiere.