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Full Frame Festival, Part 2: Daughters

Full Frame draws audiences from all over the country and the world. It was one of the first festivals to focus exclusively on documentaries and has acquired a following. At the Girls State screening, I sat next to a group of five women from New York. The one closest to me shared that they "always see the opening night film." They had attended for a decade before the in-person festival got canceled due to COVID. We traded stories about our favorite films of the past year.

Later that evening, I attended the Opening Night Party at the Durham Armory, catered by Café Parizade and Ponysaurus Brewing Company. During that party, I rubbed elbows with several filmmakers, including the directors of Girls State, Amanda McBaine and Jesse Moss, and Amir Bar-Lev. director of films like Long Strange Trip and Happy Valley. All three were scheduled to do a Speakeasy Conversation the next day at The Durham Hotel on Documentary Dealmaking. Amir Bar-Lev told me he believed we had met somewhere before. I truly don't think so, but it was nice to get to chat with him about movies. Point being, Full Frame is a noteworthy festival, yet small enough that you could be nibbling on the same appetizers as a filmmaker and not feel awkward about it. These interactions are always appreciated by someone like me who attends these events alone. Chatting with other film lovers is one of the greatest joys of life, and Full Frame is a great place for that.
Black men teach each other how to tie a tie
The fathers learn how to put on a tie. A still from DAUGHTERS.

Daughters, directed by Angela Patton and Natalie Rae

A young Black girl stands in front of a mirror putting the finishing touches on her hairstyle and outfit. Cut to: another Black girl hugging her father with a ferocity only caused by a long absence. Cut to: a third girl hugging her father and sobbing with heaving gasps. This preview of things to come prepares the audience for a heart wrenching story of incarcerated fathers and daughters who prepare to meet for a daddy-daughter dance.

In the twelve weeks leading up to the dance, the men are required to attend weekly sessions at a healing circle with a trained facilitator. They share their hopes, doubts, and fears about being reunited with their estranged daughters. Meanwhile, the girls sort through their messy emotions about seeing their fathers again. Aubrey, age 5, is all toothy smiles and enthusiasm. She brags about her dad's rap skills. Santana, age 10, puts on a surly, cynical face all leading up to the dance. She claims that after seeing the challenges her mother faces, she never wants to marry or have kids . . . at least not until age 35. Once she sees her father waiting in a folding chair, though, all signs of caution disappear. Her cry of "Daddy!" would make any father's heart leap.

A young girls hugs her father around the neck
A still from DAUGHTERS
Director Angela Patton eventually makes an appearance, both to the fathers on the inside and the mothers-daughters on the outside. She continually offers beacons of hope to the dads, "Your girls want to connect with you. They want to be with you," her words acting as a balm for fathers who are nervous at the prospect of being alone with their daughters for the first time in many years. This daddy-daughter dance may be the only time these dads get to be physically with their daughters, since many prisons have eliminated "touch visits" around 2014. Instead, most visits occur through a television monitor, broadcasting their loved one's face from a separate location in the prison.

Each moment is infused with empathy, holding space for a myriad of emotions. Spaces are filmed with natural light, finding a serenity of acceptance in each circumstance. There is a sadness that permeates the story, from the very idea that families live in separation, but Patton and Natalie Rae fill the story with plenty of Black joy. It's in the cell phone footage of a much younger Aubrey playing in the water with her father, in the camaraderie of the men as they don their fine attire and get fresh haircuts and shaves, and in the eye rolls that 11-year-old Ja'Ana gives her dad as she pretends to hate his corny dad joke. Once they reunite, they dance, eat, trace each other's hands, take pictures of each other, wishing it would never end (and us sharing that wish).

A girl dance on her father's feet
A still from DAUGHTERS

Prepare to shed tears and experience complicated feelings for this documentary that doesn't spend one second telling us how these men came to be in prison. DAUGHTERS is a warm invitation to see the humanity in these fathers and the importance of connection and touch to the father-daughter bond.

Insider info: DAUGHTERS was my favorite film of the festival and won the Sally Robinson Audience Award Feature for audience favorite. If you want to support Angela Patton and her work, please visit Girls for Change at

Release info: Will be coming to Netflix later this year

Final score: 5 out of 5