SDFF NEWS BITS: ALUMNI UPDATES, FESTS, HONORS, NEW DOCS, INDUSTRY HAPPENINGS
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13 DECEMBER 2022
AWARDS. HONORS. FESTIVALS. SPECIAL SCREENINGS + EVENTS.
The Pratt In The Hat (Susan Hillary, SDFF2022) is one of 40 films that will make their New Jersey debuts at the 41st New Jersey Film Festival in Spring. The Pratt In The Hat is a documentary short a short about Frances Pratt who shares her wisdom, humor, and personal experiences of being black in America. Pratt’s hats make a bold statement, as do her southern charm and pithy expressions, garnered from a lifetime of service to her community, fighting for racial equality, voting rights and education. The New Jersey Film Festival is presented by the Rutgers Film Co-op/New Jersey Media Arts Center and the Rutgers University Program in Cinema Studies. The festival runs online and in theaters on select Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays between Jan. 27-Feb. 19, 2023.
When the winners of the Red Sea Souk Awards were announced last week, Concrete Land, an upcoming feature-length doc from Asmahan Bkerat (Jordan Stories: Badyra, 2017) was among the films honored. The project won a $50,000 award for editing from Leyth Productions and another for $12,000 for promotion from The Cell Co. The film was one of six projects that appeared in the Red Sea Souk Work-In-Progress showcase, an aspect of the Red Sea Film Festival designed to discover and connect Arab and African filmmakers to the international film community. Concrete Land will be Bkerat’s debut feature and is about a Bedouin family under constant pressure to relocate their tents after their neighbors label them unfit to live in the city. Bkerat’s SDFF 2019 short, Jordan Stories: Badyra, is also about a Bedouin family, but focuses on the unusual love that springs up between an old woman and her sheep, Badyra.
Anita Gou’s (The Last Animals) newest production The Silent Twins (Agnieszka Smoczynska, 2022) won a British Independent Film Award in the new category Best Joint Lead Performance for Tamara Lawrence and Letitia Wright’s renderings of twin sisters Jennifer and June Gibbons. The Silent Twins is an adaptation of Marjorie Wallace’s non-fiction bestseller. Set in 1970s Wales, it tells the story of the Gibbons sisters, who developed their own language, only communicated directly with eachother, created their own world, wrote fiction, and committed crimes in their teens. The duo was eventually confined to a mental health facility. The film’s debut at Cannes reportedly received a standing ovation that lasted 4 minutes. The BIFAs were otherwise dominated by Aftersun, a film by young, Scottish filmmaker Charlotte Wells, which came away with seven honors. BIFA’s award for Best Documentary Feature went to newcomer Kathryn Ferguson’s Sinéad O’Connor doc Nothing Compares, beating out SDFF alumni Neasa Ní Chianáin and David Rane’s Best Documentary Feature nominee Young Plato (co-dir. Declan McGrath). The Silent Twins producer Gou is also an SDFF alumni, producing SDFF 2018 selection The Last Animals (dir. Kate Brooks, 2017), a film about conservationists, scientists and activists working to save elephants and rhinos from extinction. The Silent Twins is available to stream via Peacock.
The Story Of Looking (SDFF 2022) director Mark Cousins’s recent documentary feature My Name Is Alfred Hitchcock was among the two dozen films selected for Milan’s 32nd Noir In Festival. The film falls squarely within the cinephilic vein of Cousin’s work, and its release this year marks the 100th anniversary of Hitchcock’s first feature (Number 13). The doc uses the legendary auteur’s own words and perspective to examine his life and work, which is among the most influential in film history. The infamous and frequently revered director is voiced by renowned UK impressionist Alistair McGowan (The Big Impression and Spitting Image). The Noir In Festival is a unique, genre-based event. While only eight films compete in the juried competition, the festival includes screenings from a broad swath of non-competitive films, including work from cutting edge filmmakers and tributes to the history of the genre. The festival also includes a wide range of international panels and workshops that examine problems facing contemporary society, since the representation of social ills is one of the hallmarks of noir as a genre.
NEW FILMS & PROJECTS FROM SDFF FILMMAKERS
Midnight Family director Luke Lorentzen will be premiering his new documentary feature A Still Small Voice as part of Sundance 2023’s U.S. Documentary Competition. The doc follows Mati, an aspiring hospital chaplain as she undertakes a yearlong residency in spiritual care at New York’s Mount Sinai Hospital in 2020-21, during the pandemic and the deadliest two years in U.S. history. The doc is an intimate and “thoughtfully inquisitive” look at Mati’s struggle to find balance on a daily basis, which also offers a glimpse at what hope and meaning look like in a seemingly hopeless situation. Lorentzen won the U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award for Cinematography at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival for Midnight Family, which was also SDFF 2019’s Jury Award for Best Documentary Feature. That documentary follows the Ochoa family, who run a private ambulance in one of Mexico City’s wealthiest neighborhoods, competing with other for-profit EMTs for patients in need of urgent help. The film is currently available to stream for free on Pluto, and VOD via Vudu, Amazon Prime, Youtube, and GooglePlay. It is also currently being adapted into a star-studded, Spanish language medical drama that will stream on Apple+.
Unrest (2017) filmmaker Jennifer Brea is co-directing the upcoming documentary Call Me Miss Cleo with Celia Aniskovich (Burn It Down!), which tells the story of Youree Dell Harris aka Miss Cleo, iconic late night TV psychic of the 1990s. A character used to advertise a psychic pay-per-call hotline, who went on to host the Psychic Readers Network TV show, Miss Cleo vanished from the air in 2002 after the FTC launched an investigation into the Psychic Readers Network. Early reporting on the project identified critically acclaimed filmmaker Senain Kheshgi (The Diplomat) as the film’s director who saw the project shedding light on the marginalization of brown and Black women in both “society and pop culture.” However, Brea and Aniskovich are listed as directors in HBO Max’s recently released trailer. According to promo material for the film, the Miss Cleo doc will delve into the now-deceased, native Angeleno’s life story, while also examining questions about her belief in her work as a psychic and her relative culpability for the fraud charges leveled at the Psychic Readers Network. SDFF will be familiar with Brea from her autobiographical doc Unrest, which showed at SDFF 2018. In the film, Brea, at the time a grad student, chronicles her experience of myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME aka Chronic Fatigue Syndrome), raising awareness of a disease that was unacknowledged at the time. Unrest is available to stream via Netflix.
The Lana Garland-produced doc The Holly (dir. Julian Rubinstein, 2022), which won an award for Best Documentary Feature and the Denver FF last month, drew crowds during a recent screening and discussion at Durham’s Hayti Heritage Center where Garland is also a co-director. The film is based on director Julian Rubinstein’s book, The Holly: Five Bullets, One Gun And The Struggle to Save An American Neighborhood, and focuses on an embattled Denver community where gentrification, a shooting case, activism and political machinations have given way to rising gang activity. Both book and doc go deep inside a gentrifying community in Denver, where a shooting case involving an activist becomes a window into the political machinations of urban development and the city’s gang activity.Garland is an EP on The Holly, and also 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 Passing On is now available to stream online for free via Tubi.
IN THE NEWS
Anita Gou, whose film The Silent Twins won at BIFA this week, was also in the news this when her production company Kindred Spirit, was included as part of a slate of content L.A./London indie studio The Ink Factory recently set up for major Asian markets. The film slate and associated finance facility are aimed at creating a global platform for talent and creators from the region. In addition to Kindred Spirit productions, the deal includes a number of individual projects in development, including a revival of 70s Asian Blaxploitation heroine Cleopatra Wong, adaptations of John le Carré’s work, and Her Name is Knight, a series based on the debut novel of Ghanian-American author Yasmin Angoe. Though it’s unclear whether existing content produced by Gou’s Kindred Spirit will be included, or if the production company will be producing new work for the platform. Kindred Spirit has been behind a number of breakout indie films, including The Silent Twins (see above for more), and The Farewell (Lulu Wang, 2019), an Aquafina vehicle about intergenerational relations within an Asian American family, as well as documentaries Terminal 3 (Asad J. Malik, 2018), an augmented reality piece which explores Muslim identity in the U.S. through the lens of an airport interrogation, Found (Amanda Lipitz, 2021), which follows the story of three American teenage girls—each adopted from China—who discover they are blood-related cousins on 23andMe. For more details on this story, see coverage in Variety.
Following the broadcast of American Ocelot, a November episode of PBS’s Nature (season 41, episode 4), writer/director Ben Masters (The River and The Wall, 2019) sat down for an interview with TreeHugger to discuss the unexpectedly personal and emotional experience of filming the species, including a litter of cubs, in its native territory, deep in South Texas. With only 120 known ocelots remaining, the American Ocelot is on the brink of extinction and its continued survival depends on the cooperative efforts of ranchers, scientists and government agencies. In the interview, Masters expresses his hope that the film will motivate people to work for the species’ continued existence by resonating on an emotional level. The American Ocelot episode of Nature is available to stream with a PBS passport, here. Masters’ The River And The Wall (2019), which was an official selection of SDFF 2020, is similarly focused on conservation and follows five friends who set out to document the borderlands and explore the potential impacts of a U.S.-Mexico border wall on the natural environment. The River And The Wall is available to stream VOD on Vimeo and iTunes.
The Adam Mazo-produced short ᎤᏕᏲᏅ (What They’ve Been Taught) (Brit Hensel, 2021) was one of four docs featured in an LA Times Docs FYC showcase at Lumiere Cinema last week. The doc, which explores expressions of reciprocity in the Cherokee world, is one of five films that launched LA Times Docs series in February, following its 2021 debut short The Beauty President (Whitney Skauge/Breakwater Studios), an SDFF 2022 alumni film. Filmed on the Qualla Boundary and Cherokee Nation, ᎤᏕᏲᏅ proceeds through a story told by an elder and first language speaker, which circles the intersection of tradition, language, land and a commitment to balance. The film is emblematic of two of the Times’ series goals: to showcase compelling films that amplify underrepresented voices and fostering diversity in the film community. The 15-film roster so far includes ᎤᏕᏲᏅ, The Beauty President, and two other shorts with SDFF connections: Andrew Leung’s The Chemical Factory, which showed at SDFF 2022 and Sentinels, which was co-directed by SDFF alumni filmmaker Derek Knowles (After The Fire, SDFF 2020). ᎤᏕᏲᏅ producer Adam Mazo directed the SDFF 2019 film Dawnland (SDFF 2019), which gives behind-the-scenes coverage of the U.S.’s first truth and reconciliation commission, with Ben Pender-Cudlip. ᎤᏕᏲᏅ and the other L.A. Times Docs are available to stream here. Dawnland is available to rent here.
Julia Bacha’s 2017 film Naila and the Uprising was screened at the Philadelphia celebration of the International Day of Solidarity with Palestine on Nov. 29, hosted by Black Alliance for Peace, Philly DSA, the Philadelphia Palestine Coalition and Workers World Party. The screening followed a gathering at which Philadelphia City officials, political leaders and community activists celebrated a city proclamation officially recognizing the day of solidarity. Naila and the Uprising is an SDFF 2019 selection, which follows the story of Naila Ayesh, a woman living in Gaza during the 1987 uprisings, whose story weaves through the First Intifada, which was instrumental in forcing the world to recognize the Palestinian right to self-determination for the first time.
Best of Luck with the Wall director Josh Begley has collaborated with multidisciplinary artist, composer, pianist, vocalist and filmmaker Samora Pinderhughes on a handful of films that will show as part of his first solo exhibit in New York, GRIEF. In GRIEF, Pinderhughes uses his acclaimed album of the same name as the point of departure for a sprawling multimedia presentation, which unfolds in three chapters, over three months and includes three distinct live performances and screenings of multiple films. A convergence of song, film, ritual and conversation, the project grapples with the intimate damages inflicted by mass incarceration and systemic racism, coalesces multiple languages of expression into abolitionist action, and considers the beauty, vulnerability, and complexity with which people heal themselves and each other. As a whole, the project is meant to be an exploration and redefinition of the possibilities of an expanded future for Black and Brown People, Begley’s collaborated on the second chapter, Abolition and Revolution, which includes the films Concussion Protocol and Officer Involved/For Those Lost, which was made by Begley and Pinderhughes, as well as Same Gang which is a collaboration between Begley, Pinderhughes and Saudade Toxosi. Begley’s Best Of Luck With The Wall showed at SDFF 2018. The film is a 7-minute voyage across the US-Mexico border, stitched together form 200,000+ satellite images. It was recently a part of No Access, a multi-artist video exhibition about migration currently installed in the subterranean passages of Cannerberg, a former secret NATO complex located beneath a Netherlands marl quarry. For more on that show, see the “In The News” section the Nov. 8 news update.
LOCAL SCREENINGS + FILM EVENT
The 27th Sonoma County Jewish Film Festival continues this week with two screenings of The Man In The Basement (Philippe Le Guay, 2021) at the Rialto Cinemas® on Dec. 13. The suspense film tells the story of a family that sells their basement to a man who is not what he seems. The festival also includes a slate of streaming films, including the documentary feature Reckonings (Roberta Grossman, 2022), which recounts tense negotiations between German and Jewish leaders in the direct aftermath of the Holocaust, as efforts were made to determine compensation and reparations for survivors who were badly in need of help. The festival’s other non-fiction selection, A Kaddish For Bernie Madoff (Alicia J. Rose, 2021) is a hybrid of memoir docudrama and narrative fantasy, which tells the story of Madoff and the system that allowed him to function for decades through the eyes of musician/poet Alicia Jo Rabins, who watches the financial crash from her 9th floor studio in an abandoned office building on Wall Street. A Kaddish For Bernie Madoff is the final film the 2022 festival will screen at Rialto Cinemas® on Dec. 20 and is also available to view via the online fest.
Rialto Cinemas® Sebastopol has two special screenings of film history doc Exposing Muybridge scheduled for Dec. 15 at 1 and 7 p.m. with director Mark Shaffer on hand for a Q&A. The film tells the story of Eadweard Muybridge, whose photographic motion studies and experiments in motion picture projection were pivotal to the development of film. Shaffner’s doc examines Muybridge’s adventurous life and his lesser known work. Before his motion photography breakthrough, Muybridge produced one of the most celebrated early landscape catalogues of the American West. He made the first photographs of winemaking in Northern California, produced the first photographs of native Tlingit people and of Southeast Alaska, was the fourth to photograph Yosemite, the first to be hired by the U.S. government to photograph an Indian War and his photographs of Central America are widely considered the most important early images of the region. Exposing Muybridge won the 2022 Writers Guild Award for Best Documentary Screenplay. Get more information on this screening here.
The Sonoma County Library Documentary Film Discussion Group will meet, Dec. 21 to discuss environmental doc The Story Of Plastic (Deia Schlosberg, 2019), with special guest Marie Kneemeyer, Education Manager from Recology, on-hand to discuss the local waste stream. The Story of Plastic is an exposé, uncovering the ugly truth behind plastic pollution and the false solution of plastic recycling. From the extraction of fossil fuels and plastic disposal to the global resistance fighting back, the film stands out for its cohesive timeline of the current global plastic pollution crisis, including the oil and gas industry’s successful circulation of an industry-friendly narrative around pollution and climate change. The Story Of Plastic is a life changing film depicting one of the world’s most pressing environmental issues. The discussion group will be held on Zoom, Dec. 21 at 6 p.m., attendance requires registration by 5 p.m., see details and availability on the Sonoma County Library Events Calendar. The film is available to screen through Kanopy with a library card. All participants must view the film on their own before the meeting.
CATCH THEM WHILE YOU CAN: DOCS AIRING ON TV + STREAMING ONLINE
Zach Carver’s 2021 doc The Race To Alaska, got a wide VOD release last week by Freestyle, the digital film distribution division of Byron Allen’s Allen Media Group. The Race to Alaska documents a 750-mile motorless boat race described as “the Iditarod on a boat with a chance of drowning or being eaten by a Grizzly bear.” As punishing as it is his epic, the film captures an endurance race that is both punishing and beautiful and attracts the intrepid and unhinged who find their edge along a coastline. The doc was an official selection of SDFF 2021. The Race To Alaska is now available via iTunes, AppleTV+, Amazon, GooglePlay, Youtube, Vimeo, xBox, Pojektor, and Adventure Sports TV.
The Silent Shore (Nathalie Giraud and Timothée Corteggiani, 36 mins) is now streaming on The New Yorker Documentary, accompanied by a short written piece about the film and its making, which includes some reflections by Giraud and Corteggiani. The short is a lush, moving documentary in which fantasy author Pierre Dubois and his wife, Aline, discuss the power of writing, imagination, and the deep connection with life that has brought them through the suicide of their teenaged daughter Melanie, who took her life following a heartbreak. The Silent Shore was an SDFF 2022 Jury Nominee.
Rahul Jain’s participant doc on climate change, Invisible Demons (Tuhon merkit), began streaming on MUBI this week, and has continued to draw new reviews from large market publications and smaller culture mags, including The Guardian, Paste, Scroll.in, and The Film Stage. The film, which was nominated for the Golden Eye when it premiered at Cannes in 2021, has also continued to make the rounds on the festival circuit, opening Spain’s Another Way Film Festival last week. The film captures the effects of climate change in Delhi and the environmental cost of India’s rapidly-growing economy, while meditating on the aesthetics of human disconnection with the natural world. This is Jain’s second doc. His first, Machines, a masterful meditation on work, was an SDFF 2018 selection.
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