SDFF NEWS BITS: ALUMNI UPDATES, FESTS, HONORS, NEW DOCS, INDUSTRY HAPPENINGS
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28 JUNE 2022
AWARDS. HONORS. FESTIVALS. SPECIAL SCREENINGS.
For Love and Legacy (AK Sandhu, 2021) was part of Tribeca 2022’s Juneteenth Shorts, Portraits and Performance: Celebrating Black Art and Artists. Director AK Sandhu and collaborator/subject Fredrika Newton attended festival screenings of the film. In the SDFF 2022 documentary, sculptor Dana King’s hands and activist Fredrika Newton’s memories come together to build a new monument that honors the Black Panther Party’s vital place in American history.
Swiss Film has organized a career retrospective for documentarian Jacqueline Zünd titled Distance and Intimacy, which will run at the Hong Kong Arts Center this Fall. The retrospective will include screenings of Zünd’s docs Almost There (2016) about three older men who break from the norm and go on searches, Good Night Nobody (2010) about four insomniacs from across the globe, and Where We Belong (2019) about a child of divorce’s experience of a newly bifurcated world, which showed at SDFF 2020. It will also include filmmaker Q&As at the screenings. a master class, and a Chat with Jacqueline: Reflecting The Inner State, presented by the Goethe Institute. Originally slated for early summer, the retrospective has been pushed to November 11-17, due to pandemic conditions.
Leftover Feelings: A Studio B Revival (Lagan Sebert and Ted Roach, 2021), which showed as part of the RiverRun International Film Festival in April, is touring with RiverRun On The Road, showing alongside documentary short Sisters: The First Ladies of Bluegrass (Joseph T. Spence, 2022) in North Carolina last weekend. The film was also shown at the 27th New Jersey International Film Festival earlier this month. In the SDFF 2022 film, Nashville music legends, John Hiatt and Jerry Douglas, team up to record their Grammy-nominated album Leftover Feelings in Elvis’s favorite studio, RCA’s fabled Studio B, attempting to revive and capture the magical sounds of this historic room where so many early hit songs were made. The film features commentary from Lyle Lovett, Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris, and others.
Another RiverRun 2022 selection, Free Renty: Lanier v. Harvard (David Grubin, 2021) was also shown at the 25th Brooklyn Film Festival, where it’s score, crafted by Michael Bacon, won a Certificate of Outstanding Achievement. The doc will be screened as part of the upcoming Woods Hole Film Festival in Massachusetts, which runs through August 6. Free Renty tells the story of Tamara Lanier, an African American woman determined to force Harvard University to cede possession of daguerreotypes of her great-great-great grandfather, an enslaved man named Renty. The daguerreotypes were commissioned in 1850 by a Harvard professor to “prove” the superiority of the white race. The images remain emblematic of America’s failure to acknowledge the cruelty of slavery, the racist science that supported it and the white supremacy that continues to infect our society today. The film focuses on Lanier and tracks her lawsuit against Harvard, and features attorney Benjamin Crump, author Ta-Nehisi Coates and scholars Ariella Azoulay and Tina Campt. The film will show at the Woods Hole festival on July 31, and will also be available to stream through the festival’s virtual program July 30-Aug. 6.
The Art of Making It (Kelcey Edwards, 2021) co-editor Inés Vogelfang will be a fellow at the Sundance Institute’s 2022 Documentary Edit and Story Lab. This will be the first time the first time the lab, which focuses on boundary-pushing nonfiction film projects, will has convened in two years. The doc lab combines director and editor teams in the later stages of post-production with experienced filmmakers to reimagine dramatic structures, explore character and story development, and refocus around the director’s original animating vision for their work. The Art of Making It, which showed at this year’s SDFF and won the SXSW audience award, follows a diverse cast of young artists at defining moments in their careers to explore whether the art world ecosystem meant to nurture them is actually failing them. Embracing the conundrum of how artists must be in the market, but not of it, the film both a cautionary tale about what America stands to lose if we don’t rethink how we value artists, and a love letter to those who persevere in their artistic practice in spite of the odds against ever achieving a sustainable career.
Madame Mars: Women and the Quest for Worlds Beyond (Jan Millsapps, SDFF 2019) is one of seven documentaries selected for the U.S. Mission to Pakistan’s American Films Showcase (AFS), which is intended to help Pakistani filmmakers develop new production skills by connecting them with American filmmakers, to widen audiences, and to strengthen the voices of the next generation of filmmakers. This year’s equality-themed program will be held online and includes doc screenings and virtual documentary workshops with Emmy-nominated producer Elizabeth Polans and Lisa Srivsatava. In addition to Madame Mars, the film program includes CinemAbility: The Art of Inclusion (Jenni Gold, 2012) about the true incorporation of folks with disabilities into society, Hamtramck, USA (Justin Feltman and Razi Jafri, 2020) about how pubic art, and election and multiculturalism transform the people and community of Hamtramck. And The Dominican Dream (Jonathan Hock, 2019) about Felipe Lopez, a Dominican immigrant who was featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated at 17 years of age. All of the films have themes in common with Madame Mars, which reframes the story of space exploration as a feminist issue, connecting the original space age that denied opportunities to women to current Mars initiatives that still lack a full commitment to diversity. AFS is the U.S. government’s premiere film diplomacy program, and is being produced by USC’s School of Cinematic Arts.
Director Susan Sandler and Julia Scotti, star of Julia Scotti: Funny That Way (2020), were both on hand for a recent screening of the film at the Comedy Corner/Township Theatre in Washington, New Jersey. Scotti performed her standup act after the film was screened, and was joined by Sandler and newspaper columnist Ervolino for a Q&A. Julia Scotti: Funny That Way is a portrait of the transgender comedian, examining how her decision to transition at 47 years old impacted her career and family life, and also featuring. The film, which is also peppered with the comedienne’s wit and wisdom, showed as part of SDFF 2021. Scott recently released her second comedy album, Primal Cuts and is also featured on Showtime’s new special Even More Funny Women Of A Certain Age for which will be part of a related, national stand-up tour this summer.
NEW FILMS & PROJECTS FROM SDFF FILMMAKERS
A new doc co-directed by Niobe Thompson (Boy Nomad, 2018) and Daniella Ortega, Carbon—The Unauthorised Biography won the Grand Prize for Best Documentary at the 11th Deauville Green Awards, which features film about environmental sustainability. Giving insight into the complex links between carbon and climate change, Carbon—The Unauthorised Biography is a feature-length doc that tells the story of carbon, from its birth in the violent core of an exploding star to its place in the saga of planet earth, central to all life and to its possible ruin. The film is animated by artist Bruce Alcock (Global Mechanic), narrated by Sarah Snook (Succession), and includes interviews with Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Suzanne Simard and Katharine Hayhoe. Thompson’s Boy Nomad, an SDFF 2019 selection, follows a year in the life of 9 year-old, horse-loving Janibek and his family in the Mongolian Altai Mountains, culminating in winter migration.
Peabody Award winning director Leon Lee’s recently-released historical drama Unsilenced has been getting warm reviews. Set in 1999 and inspired by real events, the film focuses on the stories of a PhD student, an American reporter and a group of students as they react to the Chinese state’s nascent ban on the practice of Falun Gong. Lee’s 2018 doc Letter From Masanjia, an SDFF 2019 selection, touches on similar themes and topics as it tells the story of Sun Yi, a political prisoner at a Chinese labor camp, determined to change the system. Yi’s story became news when an American consumer found his plea for help in a box of Halloween party supplies she ordered online. The film gives a first-hand account of the camps and depicts the restrictions that shaped Yi’s life, and that of his family, even after his release. Unsilenced is available to stream VOD on Vimeo, Amazon, iTunes and GooglePlay .
Filmmaker Neasa Ní Chianáin and Declan McGrath’s new doc Young Plato showed at Ireland’s 10thannual Hinterland Festival of Literature and Arts and the 4th annual IceDocs—Iceland Documentary Film Festival last weekend. The film is about the headmaster of a Belfast school who uses philosophy to counter powerful mythologies of violence among students. Young Plato treads very similar territory to Ní Chianáin’s 2017 doc with David Rane, School Life (SDFF 2018), which focuses on teachers at Headfort, the only primary boarding school in Ireland. Young Plato is one of six docs in competition at IceDocs, and is the only film being screened at the Hinterland festival, which is dedicated to multi-disciplinary arts, which seeks to spur debate, discussion, reflection and imagination and is based in the spiritual home of the Book of Kells.
Award-winning filmmaker Ben Proudfoot (A Concerto Is A Conversation, The Queen Of Basketball) teamed up with tennis star Naomi Osaka (Hana Kuma production company) for MINK!, which tells the story of Patsy Takemoto Mink, a Hawaiian Democrat who became the first woman of color elected to the U.S. House of Representative. The film was released as a New York Times Op-Doc on June 23, the 50th anniversary of Title IX, which is the federal civil rights law that prohibits sex discrimination in any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance. Mink helped defend the federal statute from those in congress who sought to weaken it. The doc interweaves the origin stories of Title IX and Mink, tracking the congresswoman’s story through the words of her daughter Patsy, who recalls her mother’s path, from her girlhood on Maui, a third-generation descendant of Japanese immigrants, to her historic bid for congress. The film is streaming for free through the New York Times.
IN THE NEWS
Another of Proudfoot’s films, The Queen of Basketball (w/ Kris Bowers, 2021) and its star Luisa Harris, were used to commemorate the anniversary of Title IX with an appearance in Sports Illustrated last week. The article christened Harris a Pioneer of anti-discrimination statute and draws attention to the work the doc has done, calling attention to Harris and her accomplishments, which had been otherwise overlooked. The Oscar®-winning documentary short is Harris’s historic accomplishment as the first woman ever drafted by an NBA team when she was drafted by the New Orleans Jazz (now Utah Jazz) in the late 70s. Though she didn’t ultimately make the team, she left the sport with having won three national championships and an Olympic silver medal. The short was an SDFF 2022 official selection.
On The Divide (2021) filmmakers Maya Cueva and Leah Galant were featured on the June 21 episode of radio show/podcast Latino USA (Futuro Media, PRX), “On the Divide: Fighting for Choice in the Rio Grande Valley.” The film 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. In the Latino USA episode, Cueva and Galant talk about the long journey of capturing the story of this community, and why the film has only become more relevant since its release. The audio interview is available on the show’s website. On the Divide is available to stream on PBS’s POV series website.
The audio version of the recently-released book Kapaemahu made Paste Magazine’s list of LGBTQIA+ audiobooks to listen to during Pride Month. The audiobook is based on the illustrated book by authors/filmmakers Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu, Dean Hamer and Joe Wilson, and illustrator Daniel Sousa, all of whom also collaborated on the award-winning short film Kapaemahu (SDFF 2021 Best Short). The audiobook’s bilingual narration by Wong-Kalu is layered with traditional drumming, dramatized ritual changing and the sound of the ocean, creating an immersive sound-scape. The audio version of the book also includes endnotes about the writing process, the Olelo Niihau dialect used by Wong-Kalu, the history of the real healer stones and the multi-media project to which the audiobook belongs that now includes the original short documentary, a feature film, a related museum show and an illustrated book. The initial project, the animated documentary short Kapaemahu won the Jury Award for Best Documentary Short at SDFF 2021 and tells the Indigenous Hawaiian legend of four Tahitians, who are also mahu—a third gender that is neither male nor female but a mixture of both—traveling to Hawaii, each with a healing gift from the gods, which they transferred to stones before leaving the island. The stones, considered sacred before colonization, were built over and only recently uncovered and moved to Waikiki Beach. The audiobook is available via Audible, Libro.fm and Overdrive.
Community efforts are underway in Sacramento to reinstate Twin Rivers K-8 principal Dr. “Raja” Kadhir Rajagopal, 2011 California teacher of the year who founded the Handz On Mentors program and was featured in the 2018 doc The Pushouts (Katie Galloway and Dawn Valadez, SDFF 2019), which documents the school-to-prison pipeline. Community members are pressing to have Rajagopal reinstated, following his unexplained removal, which occurred despite a marked improvement in school morale, attendance, test results, safety and a new mentorship program led by the principal that changed a historically underperforming school for the better. Rajagopal’s tenure at Oakland’s Grant High School, in particular his work with former student/current teacher Victor Rios, is at the heart of The Pushouts, which showed at SDFF 2019.
LOCAL SCREENINGS + FILM EVENTS
Two special screenings of the doc Children of the Vine (Brian Lilla, 2022), with director in-toe, will be hosted by the Rialto Cinemas® on July 12 as a benefit for Preserve Rural Sonoma County. Children of the Vine examines the controversy around Glyphosate (Monsanto’s Roundup), which is both carcinogenic and the most widely used herbicide in the world, now found in over 80% of food grown in the U.S. At the same time, this solution-focused doc highlights more sustainable large-scale farming practices, which remain capable of feeding the world. The film will show at 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. with filmmaker Brian Lilla on-hand for post-screening discussions. Preserve Rural Sonoma County is a non-profit working to protect the character of Sonoma County from the urbanization and commercialization of rural lands.
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 re-envisions 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!
CATCH THEM WHILE YOU CAN: DOCS AIRING ON TV + STREAMING ONLINE
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, iTunesand Apple TV.
Barbara Lee: Speaking Truth To Power (Abby Ginzberg, 2021), is available to stream through Starz, and VOD on Amazon and iTunes. 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.
While Penny Lane’s most recent doc about taste Listening To Kenny G (2021) has been in the spotlight since its release last year, her Nuts! (Penny Lane, SDFF 2017), a mostly-animated case study of quack/talk radio pioneer John R. Brinkley, The last couple of years have been marked by a cultural fixation on scammers, and Nuts not only gives some historical precedent to the recent wave of media grifters, it resonates with the present moment as it tracks the impact of bogus medical ideas, the relationship between mass media and identity, and the incredible popularity of a narcissistic, charismatic huckster. Nuts! is available VOD on Vudu, YouTube, Google Play, Amazon, etc.
Another SDFF doc that preceded and perhaps helped precipitate the recent elevation of scammers, Sour Grapes (Reuben Atlas and Jerry Rothwell, 2017), is also well worth checking out. The film tells the story of Rudy Kurniawan, an unassuming young man who flooded the American wine market with fake vintages, valued in the millions. Like much of the new crop of scam media, Sour Grapes tells a story in which the swindler is a figure who threatens the wealthy while also appearing as a condensation of capitalist values. Sour Grapes is VOD on Vimeo and Vudu, and is also streaming on Amazon.
Since I Been Down (Gilda Shepperd, SDFF 2021) is another SDFF alumni film that has recently become 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 it embarks 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.
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.
The SDFF 2021 documentary feature The Passing On (Nathan Clarke, 2021) is now available to stream online for free via Tubi. The film 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.
Sharkwater Extinction (Rob Stewart, SDFF 2020) is available to stream on Amazon. 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.
Yung Chang’s doc about foreign correspondent and conflict journalist Robert Fisk, This Is Not A Movie(2019) is available for free on kanopy (w/ public library card) or tubi (w/ ads), and VOD on Vudu, Amazon, Youtube, GooglePlay and Apple TV. In the film, Chang captures Fisk, whose career has spanned 40 years, in relentless action—feet on the ground, notebook in hand, as he travels into landscapes devastated by war, ferreting out the facts and firing reports back home to reach an audience of millions. An SDFF exclusive Q+A between director Yung Chang and SDFF co-director and lead programmer Jean McGlothlin from SDFF 2021 is available here.
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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