Austin Film Festival 2015: ‘A Single Frame’ documents extraordinary quest

Jeff Bowden, left, seeks information about a photograph in "A Single Frame."
Jeff Bowden, left, seeks information about a photograph in “A Single Frame.”

Texas director Brandon Dickerson, best known to Austin audiences for his 2011 musical drama “Sironia,” takes a new direction with his documentary “A Single Frame,” which screened Saturday night at the Austin Film Festival.

The movie deals with a Texan, Jeff Bowden, who’s visiting a photography exhibit in Eastern Europe and sees a photo of a distressed boy coping with the 1998 conflict in the Balkans. There’s something striking about the kid’s face, as if he’s seen far too much far too early in his life.

The image was taken by French journalist Alexandra Boulat, and Bowden decides that he wants to find out the boy’s fate. But Boulat has died since taking the photo, and he has to do more than a little investigation to find out who the boy is.

He goes to the Balkans and tells various people about his quest: He wants to find the boy, figure out what happened to him, and meet him. By now, Bowden realizes, the boy will be a young man if he survived the conflict.

Various Eastern Europeans try to dissuade him, saying that only an American would be so bold – or brash – to engage in such a mission. They also warn him that the young man who was photographed might not want to be reminded of the horrible past. And anyway, they tell Bowden he’s unlikely to be successful.

But Bowden won’t be cowed.

The conclusion of his quest is quite surprising, but probably shouldn’t be revealed in a review. To Dickerson and Bowden’s credit, they don’t sugarcoat the notion that Bowden’s actions are coming from a privileged place. But Bowden is acting on his feelings and confirming the power of photographs and the pull of a mystery.

“A Single Frame” screens again at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Rollins Theatre at the Long Center

Author: Charles Ealy

Charles Ealy edits and writes about books and movies for the Ausstin American-Statesman.

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