In its 16th year, the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival has become much more than just four days of documentaries. The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) recently recognized the 2013 festival, run by Duke’s Center for Documentary Studies, with a $20,000 grant. 832 non-profit organizations around the country received an NEA Art Works Grant from a pool of 1,509 applications; these grants total $22.3 million.

The Center for Documentary Studies (CDS) applies annually to a number of different grants, including the NEA’s. Though the grant is only part of the $900,000 Full Frame annual budget, CDS Director Tom Rankin credits the award as a “great stamp of approval on major national arts events.” The festival receives funding from a variety of sources, including individual donors, grants and ticket sales, which account for 25 percent of revenue, according to Full Frame Executive Director Deidre Haj.

Rankin thinks about the funding for Full Frame in the way a cook might think of making a meal: “If you take any one of the spices out it diminishes the others, and the grant from the NEA is a very key piece of the big pie,” Rankin said. In addition to the extra money, Full Frame executives applaud the added recognition that the grant will give the festival.

“Full Frame needs gifts like that from the NEA to recognize its high standard,” Haj said.

Full Frame, presented each April, is distinct in that it brings documentary film to an audience of students, Duke faculty and staff and the wider Durham community. These sorts of documentary films are not otherwise widely available. While the festival does feature local documentary artists, there is also a heavy international focus, which again allows festival-goers unique opportunities to watch rarely-screened films.

Rankin appreciates that NEA funding often goes to arts that are “grounded in community” and that cultural outreach—such as that between Duke and downtown Durham— is “very important to what gets support.” He added, “A festival must be presenting the very best, in this case documentary art or documentary film.”

Funding from the NEA goes to a variety of art forms, but Rankin said the most important factor in the recognition of an art project is whether or not it is “accessible to the American people.” The NEA, as a national foundation paid for with taxpayer money, thus has a vested interest in creating publicly available and understandable artwork.

The festival receives approximately 1200 to 1300 submissions for 60 slots in the competitive category, and both its large scale and selectivity allow the festival to be, as Rankin said, “a zeitgeist of documentary filmmaking of that moment.” While the grant goes toward general funding of the festival and its programs, Rankin said that the CDS is trying to deepen the impact of the festival both at Duke and in Durham.

Pursuing a larger and more lasting influence, Full Frame has expanded into a year-round experience. The festival provides free screenings throughout the year, especially during the winter months, with screenings that also accommodate younger audiences. Additionally, Full Frame runs the School of Doc, a five-week workshop designed to expose Durham students to documentary filmmaking. Another program separate from the main festival weekend is Teach the Teachers, which educates Durham Public School teachers on how to show and teach documentary films.

Many here in Durham feel the festival’s economic impact. Last year festival attendees spent $2.1 million in the Durham community.

“Festivals are economic engines,” said Haj, citing restaurants and small businesses as major beneficiaries of Full Frame’s visitors. She added that the festival is “a part of that gift back [from Duke] to the Durham community.”

The NEA grant, by supporting the festival, will continue to strengthen the bridge between the Duke and Durham.