SDFF NEWS: ALUMNI UPDATES, NEW FILMS, FESTIVALS – 26 JULY 2023
- 2 months ago
AWARDS. HONORS. FESTIVALS. SPECIAL SCREENINGS + EVENTS.
A trio of SDFF alumni—Ralph Arlyck’s I Like It Here, Magnus Gertten’s Nelly & Nadine, and Luke Lorentzen’s A Still Small Voice—are showing at the 43rd San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, which runs through Aug. 6 in the SF Bay Area, and was co-founded by one SDFF alumni filmmaker, Deborah Kaufman (Town Destroyer, 55 mins, SDFF 2023), and is programmed by another, Jay Rosenblatt (When We Were Bullies, 36 mins, SDFF 2021). A recipient of the 2022 JFI Completion Grant, I Like It Here (SDFF 2023, 87 mins), is an intimate, wistful film in which veteran indie documentarian Arlyck confronts the experience of aging and reflects on the joys of living. The film showed on July 23 at Castro Theater in San Francisco, and will show again on Aug. 4 at the Piedmont Theater in Oakland. Another SDFF 2023 doc, Nelly & Nadine (93 mins), which tells the story two women who met in the Ravensbrück concentration camp in Christmas of 1944, and ultimately spent the rest of their lives together, while also keeping their love secret, will show at San Francisco’s Vogue Theater on July 26. The festival will also screen SDFF 2020 Jury Award winner Luke Lorentzen’s second documentary feature, A Still Small Voice (93 mins). Shot at New York’s Mount Sinai Hospital at the height of the pandemic, the film follows aspiring chaplain Mati, as she completes her residency and attempts to find meaning and hope in what looks like an increasingly hopeless situation. Lorentzen’s Midnight Family (90 mins) also dealt with trauma and the emotional experience of modern medical systems, as it followed a family-run ambulance service in Mexico City. A Still Small Voice will show at San Francisco’s Vogue Theater on July 29 and at Piedmont Theater in Oakland on Aug. 4.
At Your Cervix (Renée Bergan and A’magine, 71 mins, SDFF 2023) will be screened on Aug. 4 as part of the 14th Women’s International Film Festival, a two-weekend event hosted by Women In Media – Newark. This year, the festival, which regularly seeks to celebrate the work of emerging, independent women filmmakers, programmed films that explore cause and effect in women’s issues, as well as work about motherhood and maternal mortality. At Your Cervix fits both criteria, as it explores the direct relationship between the racist, misogynist and violent history of gynecology, and the common, and institutionally sanctioned, practice of teaching medical students to perform pelvic exams by “practicing” on anesthetized patients before surgery, without their consent. At Your Cervix shines a light on this unspoken practice by following students as they try to reconcile their personal ethics with the abusive learning methods they encounter. The festival screening comes as a 2-week online “sneak peek” of the film closed. The streaming “preview’ ran as part of a “Be Your Own Advocate” workshop, which sought to empower women at the doctor’s office.
Sindha Agha’s short Everything Wrong And Nowhere To Go (Sindha Agha, 12 mins), is one of 25 shorts programmed as part of the 12th PBS Short Film Festival this month. The free, streaming festival always celebrates independent film and filmmaking, and this year is focused on narratives about growth and change, with the theme “Stories in Bloom.” The theme is descriptive of Agha’s film, which explores the emerging field of “climate psychology,” through a candid, intimate, but comedic, self-portrait in which the filmmaker films her search for a cure to her crippling climate anxiety. The festival shorts are still available right here, but Agha’s film is also available to stream for free and in its entirety on the Independent Lens series website.
SDFF 2023 Jury Winner El Equipo (The Team) (Bernardo Ruiz, 81 mins), was one of 114 extremely varied films screened mid-month at the 44th CineFestival San Antonio, the longest-running Latino film festival in the U.S. The work of accomplished documentarian Bernardo Ruiz, whose work focuses on Latin America, El Equipo is a trans-genre doc about human rights and history. It is also a deeply ethical and instructive variation on true crime documentary, envisaging the unlikely collaboration between an American forensic scientist and a group of Latin American students, which changed the course of forensic science and international human rights.
Sophie Harris’s short about a woman’s struggle to provide fresh food for her Navajo community, Big Water Summer: A Creation Story (Sophie Harris, 15 mins, SDFF 2023), is among the selection for this year’s HollyShorts Film Festival in Los Angeles. The festival also includes two other films from SDFF alumni directors, both issues in the prison system: Breaking Silence from Amy Bench (More Than I Want To Remember, 15 mins) and Annie Silverstein about the relationship between a deaf activist and his incarcerated daughter; and Forgiving Johnny from Ben Proudfoot about developmentally disabled prisoner’s fight for therapy over punishment (see details below).
NEW FILMS & PROJECTS FROM SEBDOCS FILMMAKERS
Oscar®-winning SDFF alumni director Ben Proudfoot premiered a new short Forgiving Johnny last week as part of a program highlighting work from his Breakwater Studios production company at HeartlandFilm’s Indy Shorts International Film Festival, where he was also honored with the Pioneering Spirit Award. The new film tells the story of Johnny, a developmentally disabled man who is appealing his sentence to prison time in California, asking instead for therapy using the path laid out in a 2021 state law. The program also includes two other shorts from the director, Mink! (20 mins) about Patsy Takemoto Mink, the first woman to be elected to U.S. Congress, and The Best Chef In The World (20 mins) about French Laundry founder Sally Schmitt, both of which were screened at SDFF 2023.
Documentary filmmaker Bill Wisneski’s new project Almost Home: Life After Incarceration (85 mins) premiered at Dances With Films earlier this summer. The new doc follows formerly incarcerated students enrolled in a new program at a community college, examining the challenges faced by people released from prison and the impact of programs aimed at helping them succeed. Like much of Wisneski’s other work, the new doc focuses on a marginalized, oft-neglected population, but the stories it captures are uplifting and illustrate the importance of education and support for formerly incarcerated folks, their families and communities. Wisneski directed and produced the SDFF 2022 short, The Roads Most Traveled: Photojournalist Don Bartletti (25 mins), in which the Pulitzer-winning photojournalist’s recollects wrenching stories from his 40-year career, particularly from the time he has spent capturing the never-ending saga of migration from Central America to the U.S.
Beyond Utopia, a new doc from City Of Joy (74 mins, SDFF 2018) filmmaker Madeleine Gavin, won its second Audience Award for Best International Documentary at the Sydney Film Festival earlier this summer. It won its first earlier this year when it premiered at Sundance. Beyond Utopia tells the story of a multi-generational family’s harrowing defection from North to South Korea with the help of Sengeun Kim, a pastor who has spent his life helping others escape the same repressive regime he once fled. The film shares themes with Gavin’s SDFF 2018 film City Of Joy, which is also about strength and hope in the face of extremely bleak circumstances, as it tells the story of the first class of girls to graduate from a school in the eastern Congo that teaches survivors of sexual assault to become leaders. City Of Joy is now available to stream through Netflix.
Concrete Land, the debut documentary feature from filmmaker Asmahan Bkerat, whose short Jordan Stories: Badyra (9 mins) won Best Mini-Doc at SDFF 2019, was selected for the Sundance Institute’s 2023 Documentary Edit and Story Lab Fellowship this summer. The lab is organized around projects in the later stages of post-production and is meant to create a space for experimentation, interrogation and collaboration for filmmakers, and both director/producer Bkerat and Editor Ban Maraqa, who also worked on the short, will be attending. Like Badyra, Concrete Jungle is an intimate look at a Bedouin family and their beloved pet sheep. However, while the short focused on the family matriarch’s close bond with the animal, the feature examines three generations of the family, as they face life under increased hostility from their non-nomadic neighbors and the constant threat of gentrification. Late last year, the feature project was one of six that appeared in the Red Sea Souk Work-In-Progress showcase, where it won grants to complete editing and promotion. The showcase was part of the Red Sea Film Festival designed to discover and connect Arab and African filmmakers to the international film community.
Anita Gou (The Last Animals) is executive producing Close To You, an upcoming feature from Oscar®-nominated actor Elliot Page (The Umbrella Academy, Juno) and BAFTA-winning director Dominic Savage (I Am Ruth, When I Was 12), who developed and wrote the story together. Gou’s Kindred Spirit production company, which focuses on purpose-driven, boundary-pushing, cross-cultural content, is also co-financing the feature, which will be premiering at TIFF later this year. The film focuses on Page’s character Sam, a trans man who is forced to confront long-buried memories after a chance encounter with an old friend (Hillary Baack, Sound of Metal), as he travels home for a dreaded family reunion. This will be Page’s first new role in a feature film since coming out as trans in 2020 and releasing his autobiography Pageboy: A Memoir. Gou is an SDFF alumni, producing The Last Animals (Kate Brooks, 92 mins), a doc about conservationists, scientists and activists working to save elephants and rhinos from extinction, which was screened at SDFF 2018.
IN THE NEWS
The Australian Broadcasting Commission (The ABC) recently released a 15-min audio interview with director Nina Nawalowalo about her documentary A Boy Called Piano: The Story of Fa’amoana John Luafutu (57 mins, SDFF 2023). Nawalowalo and John Luafutu’s descendent Matthais, who plays his own grandfather in the film, were also interviewed as part of The ABC show Nesia Daily, which covers news from around the Pacific. The doc chronicles Samoan playwright and musician Fa’amoana John Luafutu’s time as a state ward in Auckland in the 1960s, after being taken to family court at just 11 years old. The film blends dramatized sequences with interviews and stunning aerial and underwater photography to tell John’s story as part of an ongoing continuum of intergenerational trauma that continues to impact his family into the present day. The ABC contextualizes the film’s appeal in terms of the ubiquity of Luafutu’s story among First Nations in colonized lands across the world. Over the past few years, similar histories have begun to surface in public discourse in North America, with the recognition of violent histories in Canadian “residential schools” and “U.S. American Indian boarding schools.”
Documentary photographer, filmmaker, and photo journalist Marian Carrasquero’s (All That Remains, Irse: Leaving Venezuela), portraits of SuJin Kim, an icon of Korean pop culture in Latin America were featured in a recent piece in The New York Times. Carrasquero’s pictures evince both the global expansion of Korean pop culture and the developing new identities that have emerged from it. This isn’t Carrasquero’s first project with the Times, she’s done photojournalistic pieces fort the paper on a broad swath of topics, from undocumented people in Oaxaca in 2021, to indigenous softball, to Mexico City’s Jacarandas bloom. Carrasquero had two films at SDFF 2020. She was co-director, producer and cinematographer on Irse: Leaving Venezuela (co-dir. Jean-Philippe Dobrin, 27 mins), about two expecting mothers fleeing to Colombia,and cinematographer on All That Remains (Eva Rendle, 2019), about the impact Wine Country wildfires had on undocumented workers.
Prolific filmmaker, critic and cinephile Mark Cousins has two films on film making news this summer: My Name Is Alfred Hitchcock and The Storms of Jeremy Thomas. Cousins’s My Name Is Alfred Hitchcock was released on July 21 in the UK, which has resulted in a spate of positive reviews (The Guardian, BFI, The Hollywood Reporter, IFI) but also occasioned the documentarian to pen a piece for The Telegraph, “The secret behind Hitchcock’s cinema–and why his films will never get old.” The film falls squarely within the cinephilic vein of Cousins’s work, and its premiere at Milan’s Noir In Festival last year marked the 100th anniversary of Hitchcock’s first feature (Number 13). The doc uses the Hitchcock’s own words and perspective to examine his life and work, using renowned UK impressionist Alistair McGowan (The Big Impression and Spitting Image) to voice the influential director. Another of Cousins’s recent auteur-focused films, 2021’s The Storms Of Jeremy Thomas is being released U.S. theaters in September. The film documents a 5-day road trip the filmmaker took with the legendary producer Thomas (The Last Emperor, The Sheltering Sky, Rabbit Proof Fence, Naked Lunch) from England to Cannes. During their intimate sojourn across the French countryside, the two reflect on many of producer Thomas’s most famous films. The film premiered at Cannes in 2021, was released in France in May 2022, and was recently picked up by Cohen Media Group for a limited U.S. theater run. Cousins’ The Story Of Looking, an exploration of the role visual experience plays in our lives and culture, made when the filmmaker on the cusp of losing his sight, was an SDFF 2022 jury nominee.
LOCAL SCREENINGS + FILM EVENTS
OUTwatch will be presenting the narrative feature Blue Jean (Georgia Oakley, 97 mins) on July 27. Set in England in 1988, as Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government is on the cusp of passing laws stigmatizing queer folks, the film follows Jean (Rosy McEwan), a closeted gym teacher forced to lead a double life, who finds herself challenged to her core by a crisis precipitated by the arrival of a new student. The BAFTA nominated film won the People’s Choice Award at the Venice Film Festival and four British Independent Film Awards. This OUTwatch event is scheduled for 7 p.m., July 27 at Rialto Cinemas® Sebastopol, see details and buy tickets here.
The 3rd annual Sonoma County Library Teen Film Festival is accepting submissions from Sonoma County teens (12-19 years old) through July 31. The festival features shorts, from 30 seconds-6 minutes long, and welcomes submissions of any genre, experimental, narrative fiction, documentary, etc. While the festival will stream online, its in-person premiere will be held from 7-8 p.m. on Aug. 30 at the Rohnert Park-Cotati library branch. Checkout the festival’s full submission guidelines for more information.
The Art of Making An Impact, a free program of SDFF Summer Shorts, has been announced as part of the first annual SebArts Open House from 3-5 p.m. on Aug. 6. A rare selection of satisfying bits of brilliance, the program will include a dozen short films: surprising, touching and funny. The selections celebrate creative thought and share a focus on the artistry of human expression through the impact of exceptional filmmakers. The program is part of the Open House – a day of art, music and creativity, showcasing SebArts programs, while also honoring the volunteers and members that bring those programs to life. SDFF has yet to announce the full line-up for its curated shorts program, so stay tuned for more! You can also find details for the full SebArts Open House, right here!
CatVideoFest is coming to Rialto Cinemas® Sebastopol Aug. 12-13, with a portion of proceeds donated to Forgotten Felines of Sonoma County. The screening will feature a compilation reel of the latest and best cat videos culled from countless hours of submissions and sourced animation and music videos, as well as classic Internet powerhouse actualités. Though the sources of its videos vary, CatVideoFest is meant to be a communal experience, and is thus only available in theaters. The films two screenings, Aug. 12 and 13 at 1 p.m. will help raise money for Forgotten Felines of Sonoma County. You can find details and tickets here.
CATCH THEM WHILE YOU CAN: DOCS AIRING ON TV + STREAMING ONLINE
The Recall: Reframed (Rebecca Richman Cohen, 26 mins, SDFF 2023) continues to stream on YouTube as part of a cross-platform collaboration organized by the film’s impact campaign, between The Boston Globe’s racial inequity section, The Emancipator, and two other mission-based platforms: Inquest (decarceral) and Lux Magazine (feminist). As part of the collaboration, the full film will be available via Youtube through Summer 2023. See the full story!
Let Me Be Me (Dan Crane and Katie Taber, 75 mins, SDFF 2023) about the radical, compassionate treatment program the Westphal family undertook to connect to their autistic son Kyle 20 years ago, which helped him forge a path from social isolation to professional clothing designer, is now available VOD on most streaming platforms. You can find it on Apple TV, Amazon Prime, Google Play, Vudu, Redbox, and Youtube.
Matter Of Mind: My ALS (Anna Moot-Levin, Laura Green, 54 mins, SDFF 2023) is available to stream through PBS’s Independent Lens with a “passport,” following its national broadcast in May. The doc follows three people living with the neurodegenerative disease ALS and explores the complex choices each faces as they decide how to move forward with this illness. While viewing the full doc requires a PBS “passport,” the film’s Independent Lens page includes a number of resources, including a free Q&A with one of the people featured in the film, Michele Stellato, about living and coping with ALS.
Documentary short Healing In The Open (Dewi Marquis, 31 mins, SDFF 2023) is now available to stream in its entirety on Youtube. The short captures Gateway HorseWorks herd of horses and treatment team as they interact with clients recovering from addiction, incarceration and PTSD, and includes interviews and first-hand accounts from clients who have benefited from this unique form of therapy.
Director Deborah Esquenazi’s acclaimed true crime doc Southwest of Salem: The Story of the San Antonio Four (91 mins), which was screened as part of SDFF 2017, examines the criminal justice system through the arrest of four women in San Antonio at the tail end of the “Satanic ritual abuse panic” of the 1990s. The four women, all Latina, all lesbian, were wrongfully convicted of a heinous sexual assault. The film documents their treatment by the criminal justice system and their continued efforts to prove their innocence after serving several decades in prison. Southwest of Salem captures a cultural moment that echoes the present-day demonization and criminalization of another innocent, marginalized community—trans folk, and can be found on Amazon and Peacock TV.
Jay Rosenblatt’s most recent, Oscar® nominated short about his daughter, How Do You Measure A Year? (28 mins) has joined the indie auteur’s earlier autobiographical short and fellow Oscar® nominee When We Were Bullies (Jay Rosenblatt, 36 mins, SDFF 2021) on Max. got rave reviews and write-ups from across the spectrum (Decider, Variety, Cinemaholic, High On Films, The Jewish News Of Northern California as it began streaming on Max (née, HBO Max) last week. How Do You Measure A Year? is comprised of birthday interviews Rosenblatt did with his daughter Ella for 17 years of her young life. Over the course of the short, Ella rapidly grows from a toddler to a young woman with all the beautiful and awkward stages in between while the father/daughter relationship evolves in all its complexities. Rosenblatt’s earlier doc, When We Were Bullies, is also autobiographical, capturing the filmmaker’s investigation of a 50 year-old bullying event in which he was complicit.
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