SDFF NEWS BITS: ALUMNI UPDATES, FESTS, HONORS, NEW DOCS, INDUSTRY HAPPENINGS
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12 JULY 2022
AWARDS. HONORS. FESTIVALS. SPECIAL SCREENINGS.
Five SDFF alumni filmmakers are among the 2022 cohort recently invited to join the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the professional organization best known for its yearly awards ceremony, The Oscars®. The SDFF alumni inductees for 2022 include: Ellen Bruno, whose shorts Satya: A Prayer for the Enemy, Samsara: Death and Rebirth in Cambodia, Sacrifice and Leper screened at an SDFF 2007 Career Retrospective; Omar Mullick, whose film with Bassam Tariq about the struggles of Krachi street children, These Birds Walk showed at SDFF 2014; Ben Proudfoot, who began showing films at SDFF in 2017 with Montage: Great Film Composers and the Piano, and screened numerous shorts in 2022, including the Oscar® winning The Queen of Basketball, and his film with Kris Bowers, A Concerto Is A Conversation, which won the SDFF jury prize for best short; prolific, experimental documentarian Lynne Sachs, whose observational piece about New York laundromats with Lizzie Olesker, The Washing Society, showed at SDFF 2017, and editor Mary Manhardt, who edited Marshall Curry’s SDFF 2010 NASCAR coming-of-age doc Racing Dreams. The Academy invited a total of 397 new members this year, 38 of whom were selected in the documentary category, including all of SDFF alumni filmmakers. Overall, the Academy’s 2022 class includes 71 Oscar® nominees and is comprised of 44% women, 37% belong to underrepresented ethnic/racial communities, and 50% are from 53 countries and territories outside the United States. This year’s documentary inductees also include Iranian documentarian Firouzeh Khosravani (Radiograph of a Family, 2020), who was recently in the news as one of a 5 female journalists who were arrested by the Iranian government earlier this year in an attempt to tamp down on coverage of recent protests.
Much beloved biopic, Worlds of Ursula K. Le Guin (Arwen Curry, SDFF2019) was screened at Buenos Aires’ Festival Sin Fin last week. Organized by film and performing arts group Le Ponedora, the festival is a multi-disciplinary celebration of SciFi, fantastic science and speculative feminism, with a program that includes theater, performance, literature, music and audiovisual art. Worlds of Ursula K. Le Guin explores the life and legacy of LeGuin, a remarkable science fiction and fantasy author, whose work resonates intensely in the present day. Produced over the course of a decade, the doc journeys through the LeGuin’s life and career by exploring the literary worlds she creates in her work. Le Guin exploded onto the literary scene in the late 1960s, elevating science fiction with works such as The Left Hand Of Darkness (1969), which elaborated on themes of gender and sexuality, and The Dispossessed (1974), which explores anarchism, capitalism and utopia. Le Guin ultimately becomes a major feminist author, opening new doors for future writers. The Sin Fin screening was followed by a discussion of the film led by photographer Lucía Vázquez and SciFi author Claudia Aboaf.
NEW FILMS & PROJECTS FROM SDFF FILMMAKERS
Mark Cousins (The Story Of Looking, 2021) presented his upcoming project A Sudden Glimpse To Deeper Things at Sheffield DocFest’s MeetMarket pitching forum in late June. The project is about one of the UK’s great, underappreciated abstract artists, Wilhelmina Barns-Graham (1912-2004), a member of the famed St. Ives School. The title of the film, A Sudden Glimpse to Deeper Things, comes from a line in her diary describing her experience on the Grindelwald Glacier, which was immense when she climbed it in the 1940s and has all but disappeared in the present. Cousins sees the film as a complement to his 2017 doc The Eyes Of Orson Welles—where Welles mastered looking upward, he says, Barns-Graham’s views are always downward—her view from the glacier. For more on the film, which is being produced by Adam Dawtrey and Mary Bell, see Business Doc Europe’s coverage of the pitch.
A new doc from filmmaker Richard Kane (Truth Tellers, SDFF 2022), I Know a Man… Ashley Bryan, was screened following a fete in honor of the 92 year-old artist at Farnsworth Art Museum in Maine. Bryan is a prolific, award-winning author and illustrator known for bringing the oral tradition of African folk tales and African American spirituals to new audiences. The film catches up with him on the remote island where he has lived for over 50 years, and reflects on the diverse ways art functions—to celebrate joy, mediate on the darkness of war and racism and foster community. using dart to celebrate joy, to mediate the darkness of war and racism, and to create a loving community. Kane’s Truth Tellers, which showed at this year’s SDFF, is also film about an artist whose work deals with racism and its reverberations, political artist Robert Shetterly. The film examines Shetterly’s Americans Who Tell the Truth, a project that explores our country’s ongoing struggle to live up to our democratic ideals with those who are not afraid to speak the truth nor challenge the status quo.
Dear Mr. Brody, a new doc from Texas filmmaker Keith Maitland (Tower, SDFF 2017), still making its rounds on the festival circuit, was recently snapped up by Discovery+/Warner Bros. The film examines the events that unfolded around Oleomargarine heir Michael Brody Jr., a 21-year-old hippie millionaire after he promised to give away his $25 million inheritance to anyone who needed money, in an effort to usher in a new era of world peace in 1970. Brody received thousands of letters from people across the spectrum who needed money, which he never read. While Brody initially gave some of his fortune away, he died within 3 years of the offer after being hospitalized for drug and mental health issues. In Maitland’s interview with NPR, he discusses the recently opened letters featured in the film, Brody as a cultural phenomenon, and what the situation augured for the future. Dear Mr. Brody is already available to screen on Discovery+.
IN THE NEWS
Following its June 29 opening at the IFC Center in New York, art industry doc The Art Of Making It (Kelcey Edwards, 2022) has received a flurry of coverage from publications like The New York Times and Cultured, which have a hand in covering and reviewing the art word/market and contribute to the milieu critiqued by the film. Both publications see the film as a strong primer on the art world and its failure as a system that also depicts how this world is experienced by the vast majority of working artists who will never “succeed.”The doc, an SDFF 2022 selection, follows a diverse cast of young artists at defining moments in their careers, exploring 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 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.
TBA Studios recently picked up distribution rights to Fanny: The Right To Rock (Bobbi Jo Hart, 2021), which tells the history of a groundbreaking all-female band that was also majority Filipina-American. Guitarist June Millington and her sister Jean moved from the Philippines to California in the mid-1960s, but had been making music together long before their arrival on American shores. TBA is an acclaimed studio in its own right and picked up two other popular new indie films at the same time—Everything Everywhere All At Once(Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, 2022) and Cannes winner Triangle of Sadness (Ruben Östlund, 2022). An SDFF 2022 Audience Award winner, Fanny: The Right To Rock tells the story of the first all-female band to be signed to a major record label in the U.S. The Northern California band, founded by two Filipina-American sisters, included queer members, and were written out of music history until fairly recently. The film’s director Bobbi Jo Hart also directed the SDFF 2018 selection Rebels On Pointe, which celebrated Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo; the all-male, drag ballet company founded on the heels of New York’s Stonewall riots. In addition to its limited theatrical release, the film is also now streaming on Canada’s Crave.
Southwest of Salem: The Story of the San Antonio Four (Deborah S Esquezani, 2016) made a new POPSUGAR list of true-crime docs on Amazon Prime. This SDFF 2017 selection 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. In addition to Amazon, the film also recently became available for free through NBC’s streaming platform Peacock TV.
The recent U.S. Supreme Court decision, which overturned Roe v. Wade, suspending legal access to vital reproductive health care for woman across the United States and effectively curtailing women’s bodily autonomy, prompted us to look back at our recent selections for films that can give context and dimension to a life experience, which is frequently discussed in abstract terms. The films we selected for this list either showed at the festival or were the work of SDFF alumni and include: On The Divide (Maya Cueva and Leah Galant, 2021), Personhood: Policing Pregnant Women In America (Jo Ardinger, SDFF 2020), AKA Jane Roe (Nick Sweeney, ed. Mary Manhardt, 2020), Abortion Helpline, This is Lisa (Mike Attie, Barbara Attie and Janet Goldwater, 2020), and Vessel (Diana Whitten, SDFF 2014). The in-text links above will take you to a streaming version of each film. For a list with detailed film descriptions and more places to watch, click here.
DOCUMENTARY FUNDING OPPORTUNITY
The Documentary Development Initiative is taking applications for 2022 Fellowship Grants of $50,000 until July 26. The initiative is a partnership between The Gotham, HBO Documentary Films, created for non-fiction storytellers who identify as BIPOC, LGBTQ+ and/or storytellers with disabilities. The program is meant to provide resources and support to 10 thought-provoking, character-driven contemporary projects. Get more information about the initiative and how to apply here.
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® today, 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. See details and buy tickets here.
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!
The Faithful: The Pope, The Princess, and The King, Annie Berman’s fan-focused exploration of the deep veneration and legacies of Pope John Paul II, Princess Diana, and Elvis, an SDFF 2022 selection, is an official selection of the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, which begins July 21 and runs through August 7. The film is one of 35 docs programmed for the festival, which will include both in-person screenings at the Castro Theater and some streaming content as well. Other docs selected for the festival include Centerpiece Doc Bernstein’s Wall (Douglas Tirola, 2021) about American music icon Leonard Bernstein, Take Action Spotlight film To The End (Rachel Lears, 2022) about four visionary young activists and women of color on the front lines of the fight for a Green New Deal, Repairing the World: Stories from the Tree of Life (Patrice O’Neill, 2022) chronicling the three years that followed the hate-based mass shooting at Tree of Life synagogue shooting, and Shouting Down Midnight (Gretchen Stoeltje, 2022) about Texas State Senator Wendy Davis’s 13-hour filibuster against anti-abortion bill SB5 in 2013. Most of the screenings include post-film Q&As with the filmmakers. The Faithful will screen at 11:15 a.m. on Monday, July 25 at the Castro with Berman in attendance. Tickets are available here.
CATCH THEM WHILE YOU CAN: DOCS AIRING ON TV + STREAMING ONLINE
Wuhan Wuhan (Yung Chang, 2020) led the 35th season of PBS’s POV, the longest-running showcase for independent docs on TV, and is now available to stream on the series’ website. Wuhan Wuhan is an observational documentary filmed 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 film showed as part of SDFF 2021.
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 in late June as a New York Times Op Doc to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Title IX, 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. MINK! Remains available via the New York Times.
You can still catch Barbara Lee: Speaking Truth To Power (Abby Ginzberg, 2021) streaming on Starz , and VOD via 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.
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.).
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.
Breaking Trail (Jesse Roesler, 2021) about the first woman and person of color to thru-hike the 1,200-mile Ice Age Trail is now streaming through Outside+, the online content arm of Outside Magazine. The relatively new streaming service features non-fiction films and series about the outdoors, adventure sports, mountaineering and mountain dogs.
If you have news about an SDFF alumni, please contact us at [email protected] so we can broadcast it!