en in suits flying wooden jalopies on the beach; pigeon flying championships; an all-female bomber squad aboard a plane prone to mechanical failures; a blind cinematographer. These are just a few of the subjects of documentaries to be featured in the 13th annual DocuTime festival that illustrate how truth can be stranger than fiction.
Each year since its inception, DocuTime founder and film industry veteran Paula Haller scours the globe to find compelling documentaries of varied subjects and lengths to introduce to a local audience.
DocuTime lasts just one day but that day is packed full of screenings for nearly nine hours. Haller said she likes keeping the festival manageable.
“I don’t always think big is better,” she said. “I don’t think it is wrong but I like the amount of films we get. We don’t solicit for films; I just go around the world.”
While documentaries receive ample attention now with popular documentarians like Ken Burns and Michael Moore breaking into the mainstream, Haller said it was not always that way. While working in Hollywood she and a group of like-minded documentary enthusiasts founded the International Documentary Association to address the issue.
“The 10 short and 10 long documentary filmmakers nominated for the Academy Awards would come to town and no one would meet them, talk to them or interview them and the two that would win would not get interviewed afterward,” she said. “We thought that was outrageous so we started this wonderful network that is now global.”
Part of establishing more awareness about documentarians and their work was creating a documentary film festival in California and Haller decided to start DocuTime when she moved to Wilmington. While the first few festivals were held in the screening room at EUE/Screen Gems Studios, the audience quickly outgrew the space. Since then the festival has been held at King Hall Auditorium on the University of North Carolina Wilmington campus with the help of the UNCW Department of Film Studies.
“The repeat fan base is incredible, that is the part that is so exciting,” Haller said. “Some of the people have been coming all 12 years and … you want them coming back for more so I don’t have any intent to expand the lineup.”
The lineup of this year’s films includes works from the United States, Scotland, Canada, India and Spain, and all include some form of the thematic message, “never give up,” Haller said.
The first of the feature-length documentaries is “Kitty Hawk: The Wright Brothers’ Journey of Invention” by David Garrigus, who will be in attendance to answer questions after the screening.
While she was not looking for a theme for this year’s festival, Haller said the story of the Wright brothers fit perfectly with the unifying idea that emerged.
“That is the kind of spunk; they just kept crashing and trying it over again,” she said. “One of the reasons why I wanted to show this documentary was sometimes we get complacent in our legends and heroes, and these guys are heroes for me now that I have seen this film.”
Other feature-length documentaries include the story of the creation of the world’s largest particle collider in “Particle Fever,” and “Gabor,” following the experiences of a blind cinematographer working on a project in Bolivia.
Haller said she always likes to have a large sampling of short films for DocuTime but they are the hardest to track down.
“The hardest ones are the shorts because they don’t receive the attention the larger projects do and I have always had a segment with shorts that are quirky, fun and wonderful,” Haller said.
The six shorts featured in this year’s festival cover everything from local pianist Domonique Launey’s quest to find her perfect piano to perform the entirety of Rachmaninoff’s “Piano Concerto No. 3,” to rivals Rab and Danny that have competed in pigeon-flying championships in Scotland for 25 years.
Looking at the variety of methods and angles used in the cinematography for each work, Haller said she is amazed at how far the equipment and techniques of cinematography have advanced since she began filming.
“When I started shooting we carried heavy 16 mm film cameras with cables, cases and sticks,” she said. “Handheld video shots right now are so good and we even have one video that was shot on an iPhone. I think the cameraman has been released from some of the imprisonment of the camera equipment that was required.”
The 13th annual DocuTime festival will take place from 10 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 7, at UNCW’s King Hall Auditorium. Tickets are available at www.etix.com and by phoning Sharky’s Box Office at 910-962-4045.