SDFF NEWS BITS: ALUMNI UPDATES, FESTS, HONORS, NEW DOCS, INDUSTRY HAPPENINGS
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8 NOVEMBER 2022
AWARDS. HONORS. FESTIVALS. SPECIAL SCREENINGS
A retrospective of documentarian’s Jacqueline Zünd’s work, titled Distance and Intimacy, will be screened at the Hong Kong Arts Center’s Louis Koo Cinema, Nov. 17-20. The program’s title is meant to evoke Zünd’s focus on the intimate lives of people from around the world. The retrospective will include three docs directed by of Zünd: 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. In addition, two docs that influenced of Zünd’s work, Sworn Virgin (Laura Bispuri, 84 mins)and Megacities (Michael Glawogger, 90 mins), will be screened. The program will also include post-screening Q&As, and a master class on filmmaking with the director, Jacqueline Zünd: Reflecting The Inner State, presented by the Goethe Institute. The retrospective is a co-presentation of the Hong Kong Arts Centre, the Consulate General of Switzerland in Hong Kong and Swiss Film.
Kelcey Edward’s The Art Of Making It (2022) and Bobbi Jo Hart’s Fanny: The Right To Rock are among the 10 films showing as part of For the Love of Docs, a virtual event series from Deadline and IDA, presented by National Geographic. A new doc from the series will stream every Tuesday night, into December. The Art Of Making It is a cautionary tale about what America stands to lose if it doesn’t reconsider the value of its artists, who are already working to gain entry into a world on the verge of collapse. It is also a love letter to those who persevere in their artistic practice in spite of the extraordinary odds against ever achieving a sustainable career. Though the streaming date for The Art Of Making It has already passed, Matthew Carey’s short feature story in Deadline asses the value of art outlined in the film, its evaluation of the art world’s present precariousness, and its elaboration of the risks artists take in hopes of making it. The film is available to stream VOD on Amazon, GooglePlay and YouTube. Fanny: The Right To Rock will show as part of the series tonight, Nov. 8, followed by a virtual panel discussion. The doc tells the forgotten story of Fanny, the first all-female rock band to get a major record deal in the U.S. This groundbreaking all-female band was also queer and majority Filipina-American, becoming popular not only with fans, but with other, vaunted musicians as well. Both The Art Of Making It and Fanny; The Right To Rock were official selections of SDFF 2022.
Congrats to Neasa Ní Chianáin and David Rane on Young Plato’s nomination for a British Independent Film Award in the category of Best Feature Documentary. The nomination comes just a little over a week after the film’s inclusion on IDA’s shortlist. Filmed in the rough Belfast neighborhood of Ardoyne at Holy Cross Catholic boy’s school, Young Plato is an uplifting film about the school’s headmaster, Kevin McArevey, a quirky Elvis lover who uses applied philosophy as a mode of conflict resolution, countering the powerful mythologies of violence that prevail among his students. McArevey aims to empower and encourage kids to see beyond the limits posed by their circumstances through critical thinking. The film 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. The film was on the longlist for the documentary feature category with another SDFF alumni filmmaker Mark Cousins, whose film The Story Of Film: A New Generation didn’t end up advancing to nomination. See a full list of the 2022 BIFA noms here. The winners will be revealed at the 25th British Film Awards ceremony on Dec. 4.
Another SDFF alumni filmmaker, Jay Bedwani (Stretch, SDFF 2019), made the 2022 BIFA longlist in the new category of “Best Debut Director – Documentary Feature” for his new film Donna, a love letter to/about trans activist and artist Donna Personna. The film tells the story of a well-known SF transgender elder, who bears witness to the history of trans activism while nurturing the future of the movement, mentoring the next generation. While the film wasn’t ultimately nominated in the category, Bedwani was one of just 13 new filmmakers to make the Debut Director/Feature Doc list. Bedwani’s short Stretch was an SDFF 2019 selection about an aging acrobat deciding whether or not his final performances of the season will close out his career as a performer. Donna will has had limited theatrical release, but is available to stream on Bohemia Euphoria. See the complete BIFA New Talent longlists in Variety.
Paul Zinder’s short about an English village with a quirky annual contest, Some Stiff Competition (2021), showed at the 25th East Lansing Film Festival this weekend. The film focuses on two local families, led by a dad and a granddad (one a former champion), as they vie for the top prize in a unique village competition in which stuffed animals with homemade parachutes are hurled from the top of the church tower to see how far they will float. The competition is a lighthearted event with an exuberant audience, which some competitors may take a bit too seriously. The doc showed as part of SDFF 2022. The East Lansing Film Festival was created in 1997 to bring independent films to mid-Michigan and to foster filmmaking in the region, and now holds events year-round.
NEW FILMS + PROJECTS FROM SDFF FILMMAKERS
For Sama (Waad al-Kateab and Edward Watts, 2019) producer Siobhan Sinnerton worked as a co-EP, alongside Hillary and Chelsea Clinton, on the upcoming Netflix doc In Her Hands about Afghan politician Zarifa Ghafari from filmmakers Tamana Ayazi (National Geographic Grantee) and Marcel Mettelsiefen (Watani: My Homeland). The film is on a “robust slate” of Netflix docs hitting the fall festival circuit, according to a recent IndieWire piece, which discusses the relationship between the festival circuit and the Oscar® race for documentary features, beginning with Sundance in January. While In Her Hands may be on the festival circuit this fall, the docwill begin streaming on Netflix Nov. 16. The film focuses on Ghafari’s career and activism. Ghafari was the youngest mayor in Afghanistan when she was elected in 2019, and is one of only a handful of women to hold a major regional office in the country. She is also an outspoken advocate for women’s education, which has put her in grave danger and made her the target of three assassination attempts. The film shows this danger escalate as Western forces began withdrawing from their long-term occupation of Afghanistan in early 2020. In the time since her election, Ghafari has received an International Woman of Courage Award from the U.S. for her work to advance women’s rights. Sinnerton produced For Sama (Waad al-Kateab and Edward Watts, 2019), which showed at SDFF 2020, and traces five years of filmmaker al-Kateab’s life during the uprising, as she falls in love, gets married and gives birth while apocalyptic conflict rises around her.
The San Francisco Chronicle recently ran a front page feature, “Lesbian activist’s retreat to the woods,” about lesbian feminist activist, writer and professor Sally Gearhart, filmmaker Deborah Craig’s upcoming doc about her, Sally, and the relationship the two forged along the way. SDFF audiences may know Gearhart from her show-stopping appearance in Craig’s short, A Great Ride (Deborah Craig, 2018), which documented radical, queer women’s experiences of aging. The Chronicle feature explains how Craig met Gearhart while filming the short, and found the woman, and the footage of her, so fascinating that she decided to make a doc dedicated to her story, which is as compelling as it is complex. While Gearhart’s accomplishments continue to shape the present, ranging from penning the first speculative lesbian fiction to establishing one of the country’s first Women’s Studies programs at SFSU to long-term political activism, she has largely been written out of history. The article looks at the film’s project of capturing Gearhart’s work and the many lives she led over the course of her 90 years, in a form that captures her complexity and a meditation on the tensions inherent in revolutionary movements, which she in some sense embodied. While the film is in post-production, they are still in need of funding, and are accepting donations here.
Concrete Land, a new feature-length doc from Asmahan Bkerat (Jordan Stories: Badyra, 2017) is one of six projects selected for the Red Sea Souk Work-In-Progress showcase. Part of the Red Sea Film Festival, the Red Sea Souk is designed to discover and connect Arab and African filmmakers to the international film community, and includes both a project market and a work-in-progress showcase. All selected works-in-progress will compete for a $30,000 post-production award, and are also eligible for additional awards funded by Red Sea Souk sponsors and partners. The new film 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.
IN THE NEWS
Jo Ardinger’s abortion doc Personhood: Policing Pregnant Women In America was screened as part of Extremism: Confronting Hate Without Fear, a two-day conference on countering extremism through film at Long Island’s Huntington Cinema Arts Center this weekend. The conference brough together leading experts on extremism to examine the growing threat of radicalization in the U.S., and consisted of four programs, two of which included film screenings: Next Generation Now: Growing Influencers in the Alt Right and the Language They Use, which screened the doc White Noise (Daniel Lombroso, 2020) about four years the filmmaker spent reporting inside the alt-right; and Extremism and Bioethics: Exploring the Moral Dimensions of Abortion, Vaccination and Public Health, which included the Personhood screening and a post-screening Q&A with the filmmaker and experts in the field of bioethics. Ardinger’s doc, which was screened as part of SDFF 2020, is about the dangers posed by 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 VOD at Amazon Prime, iTunes and Apple TV.
Two of Josh Begley’s documentaries about the U.S.-Mexico border wall Fatal Migrations (co-dir. Daniel Alarcon) and Best of Luck with the Wall, are among the 21 shorts being shown as 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. The goal of the project is to give meaning and depth to the stark imagery that dominates the daily news, through the films and their interaction in the exhibition space, which evokes some of the sensory aspects of migration, with films situated behind closed doors, at the ends of dark corridors (some of which are dead ends), in a subterranean space, where the temperature never rises above 13 degrees. The films selected for the installation herald from across the world, and use three approaches to representing the sprawling, complex issue of migration: personal and autobiographical stories of refugees, sometimes vulnerable or resilient but also raw and confrontational; video works with a poetic, symbolic visual language, representing aspects of migration that exceed facts and words, and, lastly, data visualizations about border control and migration in which contemporary digital techniques determine the image. Both No Access and Best of Luck with the Wall, which showed as part of SDFF 2018,use this last set of representational tactics. Best of Luck with the Wall stitches together a video collage from 200,000 satellite images of the U.S.-Mexico border from Google maps, and No Access uses interactive visualization to mark and individuate the deaths of 2,600 people perished attempting to cross that same border. Other films addressed migration issues in Lebanon, Mexico, Afghanistan, Albania, Iran, France, the UK, Belgium, and the Netherlands. The installation was curated by Viewmaster Projects, a cross-disciplinary arts initiative that uses various public spaces as venues for large video exhibits with themes directly related to public space, current social issues and contemporary visual culture. If you’re curious about what this installation looks like, see a mini short on the exhibit here.
The Queen Of Basketball (Ben Proudfoot, 2021) was screened as part of Title IX At 50, a three-day conference hosted by Northwestern University, commemorating the 50th anniversary of Title IX’s passage into law, its origins and storied history; exploring its legacy and future; and calling attention to issues that continue to impact high school and college athletes and education. The Queen Of Basketball (SDFF 2022) documents the basketball career of Lucy Harris, the first woman drafted to an NBA team. The screening was followed by a discussion featuring Harris’s daughter Crystal Stewart Washington, and Andrew Maraniss, author of a book on the 1976 USA women’s Olympic basketball team, moderated by ex-tennis star and sports commentator Mary Carillo. The issue of the gender pay gap in women’s sports, raised by the film and the conference have been highlighted by the tragic situation of WNBA star Brittney Griner. Griner was in Russia playing an extra season of basketball for Russian team, UMMC Ekaterinburg, to supplement low WNBA wages, when she was picked up for a minor infraction and sentenced to a staggering 9 years in a penal colony. The situation has raised awareness around the pay gap even among elite athletes. In addition to covering gender equity in sports, the conference also included discussions about sexual assault on campus and the legacy of the federal civil rights law. For more information on the Brittney Griner case, see the WNBA petition for her swift and safe release at change.org.
Movie Web published a feature story last week considering the differences between Keith Maitland’s animated short Tower (SDFF 2017) and the preponderance of docs in the true crime subgenre, which have proliferated in recent years to meet growing demand from streaming platforms. Tower is an animated reenactment of the 1966 University of Texas Tower massacre, one of the first mass shootings in the U.S. According to the article, the film’s key difference from true crime docs is its focus on survival and survivors instead of the murder. The article also discusses the film’s use of rotoscope animation, which is both extremely realistic and dreamlike, as particularly appropriate to the film’s topic. Tower is also available VOD on Amazon, iTunes, Google Play and Vudu.
Director Jerry Rothwell’s 2015 doc Town Of Runners made a recent Study International list of 5 non-cliché movies about African history and culture. Citing the problematic tenancy to treat Africa as a monolith even though it’s one of the most culturally diverse continents in the world, the list highlights films that capture the specificity of the countries and communities in which they are set. Rothwell’s Town Of Runners is about the Ethiopian village of Bekoji, which has produced a disproportionately high number of Olympic athletes, including record-breakers Tirunesh Dibaba and Kenenisa Bekele. The doc focuses on the way athletics are positioned as a way out of this small village, and on the perseverance and hours of training required to make these athletes into record breakers. Rothwell’s collaboration with Reuben Atlas, Sour Grapes, was an official selection at SDFF 2017. The film tells the story of wine scammer Rudy Kurniawan, a figure who threatens the wealthy while also appearing as a condensation of capitalist values. Sour Grapes is available VOD on Vimeo and Vudu, and is also streaming on Amazon Prime.
Kristin Atwell’s 2020 doc Riders of the Purple Sage: The Making of a Western Opera was released on DVD today by Kino Lorber. The film follows classically-trained composer Craig Bohmler as he adapts Zane Grey’s 1912 enormously popular dime novel Riders of the Purple Sage into a grand opera, after spending a night at Gray’s paraphernalia-packed cabin. The result is convergence of American cowboy culture and the high-brow traditions of Opera. The film was an official selection at SDFF 2021.
Crystal Lee Kwok’s Blurring The Color Line made the SF Bay Area NBC News after the filmmaker held an event at Oakland’s alaMar Kitchen & Bar last week. The event included food, a screening the film, and a discussion of how the history the film uncovers informs relations between Black and Asian American communities in the present day Bay Areas. One of the film’s producers, comedian/journalist W. Kumau Bell joined Kwok for the post-screening discussion. Blurring The Color Line is filmmaker Kwok’s reflection on her Grandmother’s past, growing up Chinese in one of Augusta’s predominantly Black neighborhoods during Jim Crow. The film complicates a black and white historical narrative of America’s racial history while exposing uncomfortable truths behind today’s Afro-Asian tensions. The film will be available via the Hawai’ian International FF virtual platform through Nov. 25 in the U.S.
LOCAL SCREENINGS + FILM EVENT
The Petaluma Film Alliance Fall cinema series continues on Wednesday, Nov. 9 at 7 p.m. with Women Is Losers (2021), the film that established director Lissette Feliciano as one of the most unique voices in U.S. indie film. Set in 1960s San Francisco and inspired by real women (and the Janis Joplin song of the same title), Women Is Losers tells the story of Celina Guerrera (Lorenza Izzo), a once-promising Catholic school girl, who ends up setting a new, historic precedent in her determination to rise above the oppression of poverty by investing in a future for herself. Writer/director Feliciano will participate in an onstage interview at 6 p.m. and answer questions following the screening. The Petaluma Film Alliance Fall cinema Series will continue through Nov. 30, with the majority of screenings on Wednesdays in the Carole L. Ellis Auditorium at the SRJC Petaluma Campus. See details on parking, tickets and COVID protocols here.
The Return Of Tanya Tucker—Featuring Brandi Carlile (Kathlyn Horan, 2022), which documents the creative collaboration of two female country singers, trailblazer Tanya Tucker and contemporary star Brandi Carlile, and the friendship that develops between them. Tucker was an iconoclast, who defied standards for feminine behavior in Country Music in the 80s and 90s, who was lured back to the spotlight when superfan Carlile, now at the peak of her career, wrote an album for her. The film takes stock of the past while remaining vitally alive in the present, the film uses rare archival footage and photos to delve into Tucker’s history and to examine her bumpy ride back to the top with Carlile, experimenting with new sounds and reaching a new audience. The Return Of Tanya Tucker—Featuring Brandi Carlile will be showing at Rialto Cinemas® Sebastopol through Nov. 10.
Sebastopol’s Fall Doc Nite series will continue on Nov. 14 with a screening of Not Without Us (Mark Decena, 2016) at 7 p.m. at Rialto Cinemas® Sebastopol, followed by a discussion with director Mark Decena, and a casual gathering at Fern Bar. Filmed during the 2015 U.N. Climate talks in Paris, two weeks after terrorists attacks created a state of emergency that outlawed all “unofficial” political gatherings, Not Without Us follows seven global grassroots activists as they attempt to unleash the only force that they can to prevent catastrophic climate change: the will of the people. Not Without Us documents a crucial moment in history, framing the root causes of the global climate crisis and the greatest inequality in the history of mankind, as one and the same. Seen from the perspective of frontline communities, the film interweaves the personal stories and motivations of the activists portrayed, conveying to a broader audience why the call for deeper and far reaching change is not only necessary, but also humane. Doc Night is a collaboration between Trim Tab, SDFF and Rialto Cinemas®. See Not Without Us Doc Night details and buy tickets here.
Special screenings of award-winning, Russo-Ukrainian war doc The Earth Is Blue As An Orange (Iryna Tsilyk, 2020) at Rialto Cinemas® Sebastopol on Nov. 17 to benefit the non-profit Mira Action, which sources and delivers emergency response vehicles and medical supplies to Ukranian hospitals and ERs. The screening will be followed by a panel discussion with Mira Action’s Executive Director Sergei Ostapenko. Cinema Documentary at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival, The Earth Is Blue As An Orange is a remarkable document of the Russo-Ukrainian War through the literal lens a family’s creative process, and an optimistic testament to the power of art and beauty in the face of destruction. When poet/filmmaker Iryna Tsilyk first visits the Trofymchuk-Gladky family home in Krasnohoriva, a town on the front lines of war-torn Eastern Ukraine, she is surprised by what she finds. While the outside world is made up of bombings and chaos, single mother Anna and her four children are managing to keep their home as a safe haven, full of life and full of light. Every member of the family has a passion for cinema, so it feels natural for them to shoot a film inspired by their own life during a time of war. The creative process raises the question of what kind of impact cinema might have during times of disaster, and how to picture war through the camera’s lens. For Anna and the children, transforming trauma into a work of art is the ultimate way to stay human. The film is in Ukranian and Russian with English subtitles and will be screened at Rialto Cinemas® Sebastopol on Nov. 17 at 1 and 7 p.m. See screening/benefit details here.
The Sonoma County Library Documentary Film Discussion Group will meet, Nov. 16 to discuss Elizabeth Holmes/Theranos doc The Inventor: Out For Blood In Silicon Valley (Alex Gibney, 2019). Holmes has been in the news over the course of 2022, after her trial and conviction on four counts of felony fraud and conspiracy, for which she’s still awaiting sentencing. The film examines the now-defunct startup Theranos, and its enigmatic founder and CEO Elizabeth Holmes, whose purported ambition was to revolutionize blood testing through biotech, spawned one of the largest frauds in Silicon Valley. The case has also spawned an Edward R. Murrow award-winning podcast The Dropout, a scripted limited series of the same name, for which actress Amanda Seyfried won an Emmy. The discussion group will be held on Zoom, Nov. 16 at 6 p.m., attendance requires registration, see details and availability on the Sonoma County Library Events Calendar. The film is available to screen through Access Media On Demand with a library card, through HBO and Hulu with subscriptions, and through most other streaming services VOD. All participants must view the film on their own before the meeting.
CATCH THEM WHILE YOU CAN: DOCS AIRING ON TV + STREAMING ONLINE
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.
Anita Gou’s (prod. The Last Animals) newest film The Silent Twins (Agnieszka Smoczynska, 2022) began streaming on Peacock last week. The film isan adaptation of Marjorie Wallace’s non-fiction bestseller. Set in 1970s Wales, it tells the story of two Black women, June (Letitia Wright) and Jennifer Gibbons (Tamara Lawrence), who communicated only with eachother, created their own world, wrote fiction and committed crimes in their teens. The duo was eventually confined to a mental health facility. According to Variety, the film’s debut at Cannes received a standing ovation that lasted 4 minutes. Gou produced the SDFF 2018 selection The Last Animals (Kate Brooks, 2017), about conservationists, scientists and activists working to save elephants and rhinos from extinction.
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.
Wolf, the second narrative feature from SDFF alumni filmmaker Nathalie Biancheri (Xavier Corbero: Portrait of an Artist in Winter, 2017) is now streaming on HBO. Wolf is about a young man suffering from “species dysphoria” who believes himself to be a wolf, and stars noted method actor George MacKay. When the boundary-pushing, high-concept film was released in the U.S. late last year and polarized reviewers. Biancheri’s doc Xavier Corbero: Portrait of an Artist in Winter was an SDFF 2018 selection, which gave a charming and fascinating glimpse into the home and universe of iconic Spanish sculptor Xavier Corbero, whose career traversed a turbulent moment of Spanish history.
SDFF alumni filmmaker Ben Proudfoot’s new short, which was just announced as part of the DOC NYC 2022 line-up, The Best Chef In The World, about The French Laundry found Sally Schmitt, is part of Proudfoot’s ongoing partnership with New York Times Op Docs. The new film joins his recent project with tennis star Naomi Osaka, MINK! about Rep. Patsy Takemoto Mink, the first woman of color elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, and many of his other documentary shorts, including The Queen Of Basketball, A Concerto Is A Conversation, The Unchosen One, and The Lost Astronaut.
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.
If you have news about an SDFF alumni, please contact us at [email protected] so we can broadcast it!