The 22nd Annual Austin Film Festival

Searching for Hope in A Single Frame

A photograph sparks a global odyssey

Seventeen years ago this month, French photojournalist Alexandra Boulat snapped a picture of a young boy, his countenance wearing the trauma of war, his war-torn native Kosovo deceptively green in the background. Years later, Austinite Jeff Bowden saw the photograph in a Croatian war-photography exhibit, and couldn't shake his heartfelt compulsion to find the boy. After two unsuccessful trips to the Balkan region, Bowden teamed up with filmmaker and fellow Austinite Brandon Dickerson, who brought a camcorder. The resulting film, A Single Frame, became much bigger than that striking image.

Multilayered, somewhere between a time-lapse video of an archaeological dig and a can't-look-away detective story, it's a homegrown Austin film (music by Graham Reynolds, sound and film editing also done locally), with a cross-Atlantic focus. Ginger Sledge, producer and fellow Austinite, explains that the film acts in part as a love letter to the late Boulat: "She didn't take pictures of the tanks and explosions. She photographed ordinary people in these extraordinary situations." That emotional connection became the catalyst for this film and serves as a testament to the importance of documenting human stories, especially during war. Similar to the emotional outcry of the recent photograph of the small Syrian boy on the beach, a single image can have a massive ripple effect. Sledge said, "You're obligated to get that story out into the world."

Still, it's tricky to find a good balance with this many layers. It's about compassion and curiosity, but it's also distinctively full of the hard-won resilience after recent real-life nightmares. Said Dickerson, "It's as entertaining as it is profound. We're mindful about being reverent to the subject and the suffering, but also mindful of the audience not having war fatigue and being able to enjoy the journey." Blending interviews with stunning cinematography and captured images of the people of the region, the film is even-handed and compelling. By the way, Kosovo adores Americans: "It was so nice to go somewhere in the world where America really got it right," said Bowden.

Despite an unwavering look at the hard truths, it's that refreshingly positive attitude that prevails. Never heavy-handed, never gratuitous, and certain to bring some smiles along with the redemptive relief we crave, this remarkable documentary is incredibly timely, too, with refugee crises across the world. Bowden referenced recent news coverage of the impending winter on those living in plastic tents: "I don't know what that means in a public policy way, but just on a human level, it means there is something you can do for somebody."

Sledge adds, "[This film] is a friendly reminder."

Saturday, Oct. 31, 6:30pm, Texas Spirit Theater; Wednesday, Nov. 4, 7:30pm, Rollins Studio Theatre

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A Single Frame, Austin Film Festival 2015, Jeff Bowden, Brandon Dickerson, Alexandra Boulat

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