SDFF NEWS BITS: ALUMNI UPDATES, FESTS, HONORS, NEW DOCS, INDUSTRY HAPPENINGS
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5 DECEMBER 2022
NEW FILMS + PROJECTS FROM SDFF FILMMAKERS
The filmmakers behind SDFF 2021 Best Short winner Kapaemāhū—Dean Hamer, Joe Wilson, Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu, and Daniel Sousa—are collaborating on a new animated short film, Falling, which follows the romantic adventures of a valiant island warrior, a handsome young man and an octopus brought together by a twist of fate. The film’s website describes it as “an epic romantic adventure that instills hope in a time of rising prejudice and hate.” The project was designed by Oscar nominated illustrator Sousa, who co-directed the film with Hamer and Wilson. Wong-Kalu in an executive producer on the film, alongside actress Judith Light, and Daniel Karslake, whose work “addresses the intersection of spirituality and social justice,” according to a Variety piece about the project. The film is being produced by Hamer and Wilson’s production company Qwaves Media in association with Kanaka Pakipika, a production company formed for the couple’s pan-Pacific collaborations with Wong-Kalu. Their last collaboration, the Oscar-nominated, animated doc Kapaemāhū tells the Hawaiian legend of four Tahitian māhū, two-spirit healers, who traveled to Hawaii, each with a healing gift from the gods, which they transferred to stones before leaving the island. Kapaemāhū proved extremely successful as both a film and a means of restoring a forgotten history, developing into a sprawling work of transmedial storytelling that so far includes the short, a feature film, an animated children’s book, an audiobook, and a museum show. The feature and a bank of other docs about the Healer Stones of Kapaemāhū and related topics is available here.
Filmmaker Alysa Nahmias’s (Unrest, 2017) most recent directing effort, Art & Krimes by Krimes (2021) garnered significant recent attention, as it began streaming on Paramount+, and Nahmias signed with WME. The feature-length doc follows Philadelphia artist Jesse Krimes, who managed to create spectacular works while incarcerated in federal prison, often using bedsheets as canvas. According to Deadline, the film is an awards contender for 2023, winning honors at many of the festivals that screened it and getting picked up by MTV fairly quickly after its premiere. Nahmias produced the SDFF 2018 feature Unrest (Jennifer Brea, 2017), in which grad student-turned-filmmaker Jennifer Brea 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.
IN THE NEWS
National Geographic Channel has acquired rights to Elizabeth Unger’s feature Tigre Gente (2022) for Latin America, where the doc was filmed. Billed as a genre-bending wildlife-crime doc, the film will premiere on Latin American TV on April 22, 2023 as part of the channel’s Earth Day lineup. Limonero Films, a boutique UK distro, has acquired the film for distribution outside Latin America. The sale occasioned a Variety piece about the film, including an illuminating interview with Unger about why she decided to make the doc, and the form it ultimately ended up taking. Tigre Gente (SDFF 2022) documents the illegal jaguar trade in South America, telling the story of a Bolivian park ranger and a young Hong Kongese journalist who risk their lives to go undercover and investigate a new, deadly jaguar trade that’s sweeping South America. The feature shuttles between the breathtaking biodiversity of Madidi National Park in Bolivia and the tense China-Myanmar border, juxtaposing the tranquility and splendor of the jungle against the men who are actively contributing to its destruction.
Documentarian Ferne Pearlstein (The Last Laugh, SDFF 2017) helped select the first batch of films to receive grants through Subject Matter, a recently-launched nonprofit organization that supports social issue documentary films and the nonprofits that work on the films’ featured topics. Pearlstein is also on the board of the nonprofit, along with actor Jeffrey Wright, entrepreneur Lily Band, Picture Motion and Kinema founder Christie Marchese, social justice and public health grant maker Julia Greenberg, filmmaker Shola Lynch and film programmer José Rodriguez. The four projects funded through this year’s inaugural grant focus on a number of urgent U.S. social issues, including the maternal mortality crisis impacting Black and Brown communities (Paula Eiselt and Tonya Lewis Lee’s Aftershock, saveArose Foundation), the betrayal, assimilation and extermination of the Lakota Nation (Jesse Short Bull and Laura Tomaselli’s Lakota Nation vs United States, Lakota People’s Law Project), the carceral system (Zara Katz, Lisa Riordan Seville and Kiara C. Jones’s A Woman on the Outside, Essie Justice Group) the growing epidemic of hate and extremism, and the harms of mass incarceration on women and communities (Din Blankenship and Erin Bernhardt’s Refuge, Parents for Peace). In addition to funding, the grantees will have the opportunity to engage audiences and potential supporters through sponsored screenings, and will also have access to resources, including access to networks, screening rooms, fundraising sport, etc. Pearlstein’s The Last Laugh showed at SDFF 2017. The doc reflects on Holocaust comedy and satire, examining the history of the practice as well as the ethical issues it raises. The film includes appearances by Mel Brooks, Sarah Silverman and Gilbert Gottfried. It is currently available to stream on Kanopy, which is available for free to anyone with a library card.
The SF Asian Art Museum exhibit Into View: Bernice Bing has continued to generate interest in the work of Asian American, lesbian, modern artist Bernice Bing, who was relatively obscure as recently as 2013, when her life and work were celebrated in the doc The Worlds Of Bernice Bing (Madeleine Lim, SDFF 2020). According to a recent piece in The Art Magazine, the doc is actually responsible for piquing exhibit curator Abby Chen’s curiosity about Bing, so she jumped at the chance when Bing’s estate came to the museum with a collection of the artist’s work, which would become the exhibit. The piece gives an overview of the exhibit, tidbits from Bing’s life, and an explanation of why her work had been excluded from mainstream art historical discourse on American Modernism. Into View: Bernice Bing, will be up at the Asian Art Museum from Oct. 7-May 1, 2023. The doc, The Worlds of Bernice Bing, a lush tribute to the little-known foremother of Asian American avant-garde art that does justice to her legacy as a San Francisco icon, showed as part of SDFF 2020.
The Last Harvest (Alexis Spradic, 2018) made a recent list of 17 Sundance festival films about farming to celebrate the end of harvest season. The feature-length doc, an SDFF 2019 selection, is about the growers responsible for America’s fresh fruit. The film looks at the experiences of three families to show the harsh realities faced by harvesters due to tightened immigration and inefficient guest worker programs that prevent farmers from accessing a much-needed workforce. Other docs on the list include Troublesome Creek: A Midwestern (Jeanne Jordan and Steven Ascher, 1996), which tells the story of a family farm; El Valley Centro (James Benning, 2000) an experimental meditation on central California, which (at the time) provided a quarter of the food consumed in the U.S., Dirt! The Movie (Bill Benenson and Gene Rosow, 2009), a mixed media exploration of dirt; Wonangsori/Old Partner (Chung-ryoul Lee, 2008) about an elderly farmer living out his final days with his wife and a loyal ox in the Korean countryside; The Moo Man (Stephen Hook, 2013) about a British dairy farmer; Look and See: A Portrait of Wendell Berry (Laura Dunn, 2017) in which writer and activist Wendell Berry expounds on the decline of agrarian culture, and several others.
Fine Lines (Dina Kheirno, 2018) got rave reviews in a recent issue of Gripped, A Climbing Magazine, which praised the diverse group of climbers who appear in the film, whose reasons for engaging in the demanding and dangerous sport come from across the spectrum. The film showed at SDFF 2019 and features three years of interviews with climbers about what drives them to regularly leave behind their families and everyday comforts to risk their lives scaling mountains. The film is available to view through Amazon Prime, Vudu, Apple TV, Pluto and Tubi.
AWARDS. HONORS. FESTIVALS. SPECIAL SCREENINGS + EVENTS.
Kelcey Edward’s The Art Of Making It (2022) was one of two documentaries about the art world to show at a film salon held by the Museum of Contemporary Art Westport. The salon will mark the museum’s first foray into film exhibition, and will also include a screening of Jay Myself an intimate behind-the-scenes documentary on the life of photographer and artist Jay Maisel, directed by Westport native Stephen Wilkes. The Art Of Making It is 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 extraordinary odds against ever achieving a sustainable career. The Art Of Making It is available to stream VOD on Amazon, GooglePlay and YouTube.
LOCAL SCREENINGS + FILM EVENT
Sebastopol’s Fall Doc Nite series will continue on Dec. 12 with a screening of Dear Santa (2020)at 7 p.m. at Rialto Cinemas® Sebastopol, followed by a discussion with director Dana Nachman and cinematographer Mike Abela, followed by a casual gathering at Fern Bar. Dear Santa shines a light on the 100 year-old program Operation Santa. Operation Santa is a program operated by the United States Postal Service each year, that collects hundreds of thousands of letters to Santa, which can then be selected and fulfilled safely by member of the public. The film tracks one cycle of this enormous undertaking. Mirroring Santa’s fabled Christmas Eve fight, the film travels across the country, focusing on select Operation Santa centers: some in metropolitan areas, like the massive operation in New York City, and others in small towns where the post office is the heart of the community. Doc Night is a collaboration between Trim Tab, SDFF and Rialto Cinemas®. See Dear Santa Doc Night details and buy tickets here. Submit or adopt Operation Santa letters here.
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.
Drew Leung’s animated film The Chemical Factory (2021) was recently added to the Los Angeles Times series of documentary shorts, which are meant to represent “a West Coast perspective and a global view” showcasing underrepresented voices and fostering diversity in the film community. The Chemical Factory is an animated piece in which an immigrant mother retraces her early years during the Chinese Cultural Revolution to her son, the filmmaker. The series also includes several other films that were either shown at SDFF, such as The Beauty President (Whitney Skauge, 2022) about queer, black presidential candidate Terence Alan Smith, who ran for office during the ravages of the AIDS crisis in 1992; or are the work of SDFF alumni filmmakers, such as 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, or the Adam Mazo-produced (Dawnland, SDFF 2019) short ᎤᏕᏲᏅ (What They’ve Been Taught) (Brit Hensel, 2022), which explores expressions of reciprocity in the Cherokee world through a story told by an elder and first language speaker.
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