SDFF NEWS BITS: ALUMNI UPDATES, FESTS, HONORS, NEW DOCS, INDUSTRY HAPPENINGS
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21 JUNE 2022
NEW FILMS & PROJECTS FROM SDFF FILMMAKERS
A new film by Madeleine Lim, Jewelle: A Just Vision, premiered at the 18th Annual Queer Women of Color Festival last week in San Francisco. The documentary profiles poet playwright, activist and GLAAD co-founder Jewelle Gomez, an Ioway, African American, Wampanoag and Cape Verdean lesbian elder. The doc not only documents Jewelle’s life and work, it also delves into the various histories of her ancestors that intersect and inform this iconic woman’s work. The film is a step towards elucidating and filling in an historic elision that has rendered queer women of color, their histories and contributions, largely invisible. This problem is reflected in the dearth of docs about queer women of color, which Lim addresses in a recent article in GLAAD about the film and the woman at its heart. Lim’s The Worlds Of Bernice Bing, which showed as part of SDFF 2020 is about another queer woman of color, who was both an artist and an activist, Bernice Bing. Bing was an Abstract Expressionist painter, beat-era existentialist, Buddhist, feminist, activist, and Chinese American lesbian.
The Healer Stones of Kapaemahu (Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu, Dean Hamer, Joe Wilson, 2021) made its live premiere at the Bishop Museum last week, at a screening presented by the Honolulu Rainbow Film Festival. The premiere marked the opening of an eponymous exhibit, which will run June 17-Oct. 15. The film is a feature-length documentary that expands on the directorial team’s animated documentary short Kapaemahu (SDFF 2021 Best Short). While the animated doc focuses on the myth of the Kapaemahu healing stones, the new film documents the trail of post-colonial suppression through the eyes of a Native Hawaiian director Wong-Kalu, herself mahu, and uses rare archival materials, new historical findings, and vivid animation to bring the unexpurgated story back to life. The film made its national premiere in May as part of the PBS World series Pacific Heartbeat. It is currently available to stream on the show’s website. The filmmaking team and illustrator Daniel Sousa have also recently ollaborated on the children’s book Kapaemahu, which was released earlier this month. It is the first picture book published in both English and Olelo Niihau, the only form of Hawaiian that has been continuously spoken since before Europeans arrived.
Oscar-winning director Ross Kauffman’s (Still Plays With Trains, SDFF 2020) new film Of Medicine and Miracles, which chronicles the monumental task of curing cancer, as seen through the harrowing experiences of one young girl, her family, and a doctor on a mission, premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival last week. An article in Penn Medicine News gives background on the film, which tracks teams at Penn (Univ. of Pennsylvania) Medicine and the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia as they treat 6 year-old leukemia patient Emily Whitehead, culminating in the world’s first CAR T-cell therapy, which has left Whitehead cancer-free for a decade. The film remains available to stream through Tribeca At Home through June 26. Kauffman’s short, a very different sort of doc, Still Plays With Trains showed as part of SDFF 2020, and gives a glimpse of one man’s childhood in the 1950s vis-à-vis his ongoing love of toy trains.
Documentarian Penny Lane (Nuts!, Listening To Kenny G) is an executive producer on an upcoming HBO doc about the Y2K scare, a technological doomsday that would supposedly be triggered by older computer calendars and coding incapable of processing the changing Millenia. According to The Wrap, first time feature filmmakers Brian Becker (MLK/FBI archival producer) and Marley McDonald, in partnership with the Center for Home Movies (non-profit), are in the midst of searching for American home videos and raw footage from Dec. 31, 1999. Lane directed the SDFF 2017 film Nuts! about “goat gland” Dr. John Brinkley, a quack physician and radio star at the turn of the century, which shares an interest in pop culture obsession and scientific speculation with the forthcoming Y2K. Nuts! is available VOD on Vudu, YouTube, Google Play, Amazon, etc.
AWARDS. HONORS. FESTIVALS. SPECIAL SCREENINGS.
3 Seconds in October: The Shooting of Andy Lopez (Ron Rogers, 2021) won a regional Emmy Award in the societal concerns category at a San Francisco awards ceremony last week. The region represented covers television markets in Northern California, Nevada and Hawaii, and included 23 television entries in 3 Seconds’ category. Based on interviews, previously confidential investigative files and litigation records, the documentary short details the fatal shooting of a 13 year-old child, Andy Lopez, by Sonoma County sheriff’s deputy Erick Gelhaus, and documents the social and political aftermath the incident sparked, which ultimately led to a county-wide initiative for significantly increased oversight of the sheriff’s office. The film production involved two SDFF alumni Actor Peter Coyote (SDFF Declare Your Independents host) narratees the doc, and 60 Minutes producer Lowell Bergman (SDFF 2019 Investigative Journalism Panel) was an investigative consultant on the project. The doc is available to stream as part of the PBS program ViewFinder. For more on the film and the Lopez shooting, see coverage in the Press Democrat.
Pelin Esmer’s Something Useful (2017) was one of the films featured at the recent Philosophical Film Festival, where it was screened following the awards ceremony. The film is a narrative feature about the intersecting lives of a woman deciding whether or not to attend her 25th high school reunion and a man who spends his days lying by a window all day watching and waiting to meet someone. Organized by the Macedonian Philosophical Society, the Philosophical Film Festival tries to promote the idea of film as a medium that can provoke philosophical thought and illustrate philosophical ideas. This year, the festival screened 40 films, held around 50 events, and had 20 domestic and international guests. Esmer, whose docQueen Lear about an all-female troupe of Turkish peasant actors who travel the countryside was Best Feature at SDFF 2021, was on-hand at the festival for a post-screening Q&A.
Karen Pearlman and Richard James Allen’s 2018 short doc Digital Afterlives is among the films selected for the Juried Stellar Awards at the Thomas Edison Film Festival’s 2022 Streaming and Touring Program. The 5-min experimental short features a dance performance by a man in white-winged angel shoes against a stark black screen to the strains of Liszt’s Dance of the Dead. Pearlman and Allen also teamed up for SDFF 2021 fave I Want To Make A Film About Women, a queer, speculative, documentary love letter to Russian constructivist women. The Thomas Edison Film Festival, née the Maria Film Festival, has been operating for over 40 years, and is involved in a number of different projects and programs including the streaming/touring program that features Digital Afterlives.
Vaunted composer and A Concerto Is A Conversation (SDFF2022) co-director Kris Bowers (Dear White People, Bridgerton, King Richard) was among the Creative Advisors selected for the Sundance Institute’s 2022 Music Intensive, which took place earlier this month. The Music Intensive continues the work of the Institute’s Composer’s Lab, working with half a dozen young/new composers not only to advance their craft and career but to experiment with sound and storytelling. In addition to an impressive career as a musician and composer, Bowers helped co-direct A Concerto Is A Conversation, a visually-stunning autobiographical short, in which the virtuoso jazz pianist and film composer tracks his family’s lineage through his 91 year-old grandfather from Jim Crow Florida to the Walt Disney Concert Hall. The film, which was SDFF 2022’s Best Short Doc, is available to stream for free through New York Times Op-Docs.
IN THE NEWS
Public art doc Alice Street (Spencer Wilkinson, 2020) is on a National Impact Tour, hosting screenings and discussions across the U.S. in collaboration with diverse, local organizations, including museums, public art groups, art houses and theaters, housing equity groups, etc. The tour is intended to help shift the national conversation towards a public-art approach to social justice, at a pivotal moment in our history. In addition to screening the film, which is a story of community empowerment and coalition-building through art, the tour includes post-screening discussions meant to help engender and/or assist in similar projects and coalitions. While Alice Street is about public art in an urban context, the film and the discussions it sparks are just as pertinent in rural town. The tour’s most recent stop was a June 18 free event to support public art in St. George, Utah hosted in collaboration with the St. George Arts Commission, the Film and Media Alliance of Southern Utah, and The Electric Theater. Alice Street is an SDFF 2021 selection. The doc is about the unlikely partnership between Peskador, a Chilean studio painter, and Mundo, a Chicago-born aerosol artist, who come together to tackle an ambitious project—a four-story mural in the heart of downtown Oakland situated at a unique intersection where Chinese and Afro-Diasporic communities face the imminent threat of displacement and gentrification.
The Hayti Heritage Film Festival (HHFF), helmed by Lana Garland (prod. The Passing On), is one of 17 organizations led by, and serving, people of color to receive a grant from the nascent Color Congress. Color Congress is a documentary intermediary organization tasked with building a strong and vibrant ecosystem of organizations led by POC committed to nonfiction storytelling by, for, and about people of color. The organization granted $1.35 million in two-year unrestricted grants to small-budget, majority POC-led organizations across the U.S., with a special emphasis on historically-neglected southern states and Puerto Rico. The HHFF is one of the oldest film festivals in the U.S. dedicated to Black film and filmmakers, and seeks to promote and elevate Black Southern Film. Festival director Lana Garland produced the SDFF 2021 documentary feature The Passing On (Nathan Clarke, 2021), which relays an economic and social history of black undertakers in the U.S., by telling the story of renowned embalmer James Bryant as he begins to put his faith in a new generation, including a young, gay intern who finds himself torn by his commitments. The film is now available to stream online for free via Tubi.
Sharkwater Extinction (Rob Stewart, SDFF 2020) has been in news across the spectrum and globe over the past few weeks. In early June, on World Oceans Day, Lana Brandt became the first executive director of the Rob Stewart Sharkwater Foundation, a non-profit committed to public advocacy and education to protect sharks and ocean health. The foundation was started in the wake of Stewart’s tragic death and the post-humous release of Sharkwater Extinction. In a completely different vein, the film was near the top of a recent Free Press Journal India list of media to catch. Sharkwater Extinction is a follow-up to Stewart’s first two award-winning films, Sharkwater and Revolution. Filmed in visually stunning, high definition video, Sharkwater Extinction delves into the most shark rich waters of the world, exposing the exploitation and corruption surrounding the world’s shark populations in the marine reserves of Cocos Island, Costa Rica and the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador. Sharkwater Extinction is available to stream on Amazon.
The Race To Alaska captured in Zach Carver’s 2021 eponymous doc The Race To Alaska became the subject of headlines last week when four racers had to be rescued dramatically by helicopter after their boat capsized, just after the race began. While all of the racers came through fine, the incident set off a volley of articles about the dangerous race, which has been described as “the Iditarod on a boat with a chance of drowning or being eaten by a Grizzly bear.” The film, which documents the 750-mile motorless boat race across hypothermia-inducing waters has been receiving a positive reviews since it opened in the U.S. and Canada late last month. The doc was an official selection of SDFF 2021.
Yung Chang’s doc about foreign correspondent and conflict journalist Robert Fisk, This Is Not A Movie (SDFF 2021), came in second on a recent tiered list of the top 12 movies about journalism from the UK’s Far Out magazine, just under American film classic All The President’s Men (Alan J. Pakula, 1976). The film is included not just for its coverage of Fisk’s life, frequently imperiled by his commitment to on-the-ground reporting, but for the critical messages it relays about the present state of journalism. The only other docs that made the list are Writing With Fire (Rintu Thomas, Sushmit Ghosh, 2021) about the reporters of Khabar Lahariya (Waves of News), India’s only all-female newspaper, staffed entirely by Dalit (“untouchable” caste) women; and A Thousand Cuts (Ramona Diaz, 2020) about the rise of fake news, the related election of Rodrigo Dueterte in the Philippines, and the work of Nobel Prize-winning journalist Maria Ressa. This Is Not A Movie is available for free on kanopy (w/ public library card) or tubi (w/ ads), and VOD on Vudu, Amazon,Youtube, GooglePlay and Apple TV. An SDFF exclusive Q+A between director Yung Chang and SDFF co-director and lead programmer Jean McGlothlin from SDFF 2021 is available here.
Two recent SDFF docs—For Sama (Waad al-Kateab and Edward Watts, SDFF 2020), and Rosemary’s Way (Ros Horin, SDFF 2021) are featured on the Refugee Council of Australia’s list of films to watch in recognition of Refugee Week, June 19-25. The Council suggests small, private screening sessions as one of the best ways to participate in Refugee Week, which can help raise consciousness and spark productive discussion. Of the two, For Sama is the more well-known, and is regularly featured on lists like this one. The film traces five years of filmmaker Waad al-Kateab’s life during the uprising, as she falls in love, gets married and gives birth while apocalyptic conflict rises around her. While not as widely known as For Sama,Rosemary’s Way is an uplifting doc about the refugee crisis in Australia. In it, charismatic changemaker Rosemary Kariuki helps transform the experiences of a group of vulnerable immigrant women in suburban Sydney from isolation to connection. The film follows these women over the course of a year and shows how they gradually transform as Rosemary introduces them to Australian culture, takes them on adventures, familiarizes them with the bush, and tries to give them confidence in their place in their new home country. The list of Refugee Week films includes a number of docs and feature films about a range of refugee experiences, all well worth checking out.
James Westby’s Film Geek (2005) made a Portland-area column suggesting films to revisit on streaming. Film Geek is a tongue-in-cheek film about a brand of cinephilia also captured in Westby’s 2019 quirky, heart-felt doc At The Video Store. While the fictional Film Geek follows an idiosyncratic video store clerk looking for love, At The Video Store documents an underground community of lovable weirdos who have preserved endangered species of mom n’ pop video rental stores across the United States. The doc was an official SDFF 2020 selection, and is available to stream VOD on Vimeo. Film Geek is available to stream via Roku’s subscription service Docurama.
LOCAL SCREENINGS + FILM EVENTS
OUTwatch continues its Spring/Summer film series on July 21 with a screening of experimental history Framing Agnes (Chase Joynt, 2022). The film tells the story of Agnes, the pioneering, pseudonymized, transgender woman who participated in Harold Garfinkel’s gender health research at UCLA in the 1960s, who has long stood as a figurehead of trans history. Using a blend of fiction and nonfiction, including meticulous vintage reenactments performed by a cast of trans actors, director Chase Joynt explores where and how Agnes’s platform has become a pigeonhole and attempts to widen the frame through which trans history is viewed—one that has remained too narrow to capture the multiplicity of experiences eclipsed by Agnes’s experience. Framing Agnes reenvisions the imposition of framing on the cultural memory of transness, and through its collaborative mode of production tears away the myth of isolation as a mode of existence for transgender history-makers. The films show at 7 p.m. at Rialto Cinemas® Sebastopol. Buy tickets here!
Rialto Cinemas® will holding a special screening of the music doc George Michael Freedom Uncut (Lisa Johnson and David Austin, 2022), which focuses on the formative period in the late singer’s life and career. The film documents the making of best-selling album Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1, his subsequent battle with his record label, which reached the High Court, and the death of his first love, Anselmo Feleppa. Filmed before the musician’s untimely passing, the documentary features unseen archival footage and is narrated by the singer, who was heavily involved in the making of the film that serves as his final work. The film will show at Rialto Cinemas® on June 22 at 7 p.m.
CATCH THEM WHILE YOU CAN: DOCS AIRING ON TV + STREAMING ONLINE
There’s just a little time left to catch Barbara Lee: Speaking Truth To Power (Abby Ginzberg, 2021), as part of the Starz film series “Juneteenth: Hope & Liberation” (June 14-20). The doc paints a vivid and timely portrait of Congresswoman Barbara Lee (California-D), a steadfast voice for human rights, racial and economic justice, peace and diplomacy in the U.S. government. Lee began her tenure as an activist with the Black Panther Party and raised two sons as a single mom before becoming the highest ranking black woman in the U.S. Congress. The film showed as part of SDFF 2022.
Since I Been Down (Gilda Shepperd, SDFF 2021) recently became available as a VOD streaming release. The feature-length doc, which showed at SDFF 2021, addresses racism in the criminal justice system. Since I Been Down examines a morass of intersecting criminal justice and carceral issues by focusing on victims of the 1980-90s drug war who continue to their lives behind bars, in many cases contributing to the limited community they can make in prison. Since its release, the film has been shown as in various campaigns seeking to transform how justice and criminal law are envisioned. It is now available on demand through most major streaming platforms (iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, YouTube, etc.).
A Sexplanation (Alexander Liu, 2020) was also recently released VOD and is available through iTunes, Amazon, Google and Vimeo (worldwide). The doc, which overtly addresses sex ed, was released on the heels of a new Florida law prohibiting the word “gay” from being uttered in classrooms and educational context. This political circumstance has only made Liu’s film more pertinent. In the doc, 36 year-old health reporter/filmmaker Liu investigates his own repression by looking for right the wrongs of his all-American sex education—going on a quest to uncover naked truths and hard facts. A Sexplanation features provocative conversations with psychologists, sex researchers, a Jesuit priest, and several generations of his family. The film was an SDFF 2021 official selection.
SDFF 2020 doc Gay Chorus, Deep South (David Charles Rodrigues, 2019) is now available to stream through Paramount+. The doc follows the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus as they embark on a tour of the American Deep South, following a wave of discriminatory anti-LGBTQ laws and the divisive 2016 election. The feature-length doc is available to stream through Paramount+.
The Booksellers (D.W. Young, 2019) producer Debra McClutchy is making her directorial debut with the 40-min doc The Martha Mitchell Effect (co-dir. Anne Alvergue, 2022), which will premiered at Sundance earlier this year and began streaming on Netflix June 17. The film is about Martha Mitchell, wife of a Nixon Attorney General and campaign president John N. Mitchell. Martha spoke out during Watergate, and the Nixon administration’s campaign to gaslit her into silence. McClutchy was a producer on The Booksellers, a behind-the-scenes look at the New York world of rare books, which was shown as part of SDFF 2020. It is now available through Amazon Prime.
Sentinels, a new documentary short co-directed by Derek Knowles (After The Fire, SDFF 2020) and Lawrence Lerew, which takes an immersive, observational tack in its presentation of the Redwood Forest Defense tree-sit, is streaming for free via the L.A. Times. The film is an immersive, observational document of the Redwood Forest Defense tree-sit, bearing witness to a “radical” form of protest that, unlike street protests, takes place largely outside of the public eye, and requires a great deal of both physical and mental strength.
On The Divide (Maya Cueva and Leah Galant, 2021) is available to stream on PBS’s POV series website. The film, an SDFF 2022 official selection, follows the story of three Latinx people living in McAllen, Texas who, despite their views, are connected by the most unexpected of places: the last abortion clinic on the U.S./Mexico border. As threats to the clinic and their personal safety mount, our three characters are forced to make decisions they never could have imagined.
Personhood: Policing Pregnant Women In America (Jo Ardinger, SDFF 2020), a doc about the dangers of fetal rights laws that encourage the surveillance and criminalization of pregnant women, is available to stream VOD. The film examines the impacts of these laws, which disproportionately target lower income women and women of color, by focusing on Tammy Loertscher. Loertscher challenged a Wisconsin fetal rights law that eroded her privacy, her right to due process, and her body sovereignty. Her story helps illustrate how these laws work at intersection of the erosion of women’s rights, the war on drugs, and the U.S.’s mass incarceration complex.Personhood is available at Amazon Prime, iTunes and Apple TV.
Skye Fitzgerald’s Hunger Ward (2021) recently premiered on the subscription service Paramount+ where it is now available. Filmed inside two of the most active therapeutic feeding centers in conflict-ridden Yemen, Hunger Warddocuments two women fighting to thwart the spread of starvation against the backdrop of a forgotten war. The film provides unflinching portraits of Dr. Aida Alsadeeq and Nurse Mekkia Mahdi as they work to save the lives of hunger-stricken children within a population on the brink of famine. With unprecedented access within a sensitive conflict-zone, Hunger Ward reveals the bravery of deeply committed doctors working in the middle of the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
Wuhan Wuhan (Yung Chang, 2020) will lead the 35th season of PBS’s POV, the longest-running series for independent docs on TV, which recently released most of its upcoming schedule. Wuhan Wuhan is an observational documentary unfolding during February and March of 2020, at the height of the pandemic in Wuhan city, where the coronavirus began. With unprecedented access at the peak of the pandemic lockdown, the film focuses on five stories that focus on the human experience of the earliest days of the pandemic, as a mysterious virus began to infect Chinese citizens, and frontline healthcare workers grappled with an invisible, deadly killer. The doc will air on July 11, when it will also become available to stream via the series’ website. The film showed as part of SDFF 2021.
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