SDFF NEWS BITS: ALUMNI UPDATES, FESTS, HONORS, NEW DOCS, INDUSTRY HAPPENINGS
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18 OCTOBER 2022
NEW FILMS + PROJECTS FROM SDFF FILMMAKERS
Filmmaker Jesse Roesler’s new short, A Voice For The Wild, a kind of sequel to the popular SDFF 2022 short, Breaking Trail (Jesse Roesler, 2021) is showing at the upcoming Banff Centre Mountain Film Festival, which will screen films on-site and online Oct. 29-Nov. 6. Like Breaking Trail, A Voice For The Wild follows outdoorswoman and activist Emily Ford and Diggins, her Alaskan Husky sled dog as they undertake an incredible feat in the middle of winter. While Breaking Trail tracked the duo as Emily became the first woman and person of color to complete the 1,200-mile Ice Age Trail, A Voice From The Wild is about their attempt to cross the secluded Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in winter during subzero temperatures to raise awareness about copper mining threats. Breaking 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.
Oscar® winner and multi-year SDFF alumni filmmaker Ben Proudfoot’s (The Queen Of Basketball, That’s My Jazz, A Concerto Is A Conversation, The Silent Pulse Of The Universe) new documentary short Never Done had its world premiere last week at The New Yorker Festival. The film is the first in the short series, Impact Films, a collaboration between Proudfoot’s Breakwater Studios and Publicis Sapient, a digital business transformation company. The series is designed to showcase technology “as a force for good.” Like his documentary shorts for The New York Times, Impact Films will focus on individual stories, focusing on people whose lives have been impacted by technological advances. For example, Never Done focuses on Kersten, a single mom from Charlotte, N.C. with lung disease, who found herself and her two young daughters just days away from eviction when she was forced to quit her job during the pandemic. Kersten ultimately accessed government-mandated financial assistance in the nick of time through a new digital platform from Publicis Sapient’s client DreamKey Partners. Publicis Sapient CMO Teresa Barreira explained in Variety that although the company was responsible for helping over 40,000 people, they wanted to show how their efforts had impacted individual people. Nevertheless, Proudfoot insists that the films are not traditional branded content, and explained that Publicis Sapient sold him on the partnership through its willingness to grant him editorial autonomy as he investigated the impact of various technologies and searched for the best way to share those impacts. For more details on the Impact Series, see coverage in Variety, Adweek, and Realscreen.
Marc Serpa Francoeur’s (The Head and The Hand, 2018) recent police brutality doc with Robinder Uppal, No Visible Trauma is being featured by TRT World (Turkish Radio and Television). Five years in the making, No Visible Trauma examines a deeply troubled police department and reveals the devastating consequences of unchecked police brutality. Filmed in the midst of a global uprising against police brutality and systemic racism, the film unravels the intertwined stories of three men in Calgary, whose lives are torn apart by the violent actions of police officers, and the criminal justice system that fails to hold them accountable. The film will be streaming for free on TRT World through Nov. 7, alongside a director’s statement and some contextual information about the film and its topic. and is available to stream there through Nov. 7. Serpa Francoeur’s documentary short The Head and The Hand showed as part of SDFF 2018, and examined the unique relationship between Orandina and Angelina, who grew up together in a home for orphaned and very poor girls on the remote Portuguese island of São Miguel. The women lived alone for decades as Orandina slowly lost the function of her limbs to a degenerative neurological condition, and Angelina, who is intellectually disabled, became her caregiver. The film is a meditative portrait of two women who confronted great adversity with a profound bond and remarkable positivity.
Young Plato, the acclaimed doc directed SDFF alumni Neasa Ní Chianáin (co-dir. School Life, 2017) and Declan McGrath, and produced by frequent Ní Chianáin collaborator David Rane (co-dir. School Life, 2017) is set to be adapted into a feature film by The Bureau Films, best known in the U.S. for its Colin Firth-Stanley Tucci vehicle Supernova (Harry McQueen, 2020). The adaptation deal comes on the heels of the film’s U.S. release in late September. Filmed in the Belfast neighborhood of Ardoyne at Holy Cross Catholic boy’s school, Young Plato is an uplifting film about the school’s headmaster, a quirky Elvis lover who uses philosophy to counter powerful mythologies of violence among students from rough circumstances. 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 being shown at limited theaters on special dates throughout the U.S., see dates here.
AWARDS. HONORS. FESTIVALS. SPECIAL SCREENINGS
In related news, Proudfoot’s film with composer and concert pianist Kris Bowers, A Concerto Is A Conversation (Ben Proudfoot and Kris Bowers) is one of eight films that showed as part of the 22nd annual International Documentary Film Festival held by the Monterey chapter of the United Nations last weekend.The film is a visually-stunning autobiographical short, in which concert pianist and composer Bowsers tracks his family’s lineage through his 91 year-old grandfather from Jim Crow Florida to the Walt Disney Concert Hall. The film, which was SDFF 2022’s Best Short Doc, is available to stream for free through New York Times Op-Docs.
Nuisance Bear (Jack Weisman and Gabriela Oslo Vanden, 2021), won the award for Best Canadian Short at the Durham Regional International Film Festival in Ontario late last month. Nuisance Bear isan unconventional and visually arresting study of polar bears who draw tourists to Churchill, Manitoba for the specific purpose of taking wildlife photos. The doc shifts perspective, revealing an obstacle course of tourist paparazzi and wildlife officers the bears must navigate during their annual migration. Nuisance Bear was an SDFF 2022 official selection that will also be showing at the . The film is also an official selection of the upcoming Banff Centre Mountain Film Festival, which will screen films on-site and stream them online, Oct. 29-Nov. 6.
For Sama co-director Waad al-Kateab is on the jury at the 9th annual Sharjah International Film Festival for Children and Youth in UAE, where she is also scheduled to speak. The Sharjah FF is the only festival in its region designed specifically for younger generations, and hosted 65 Middle East premieres this year, from Oct.10-15. SDFF audiences will be familiar with al-Kateab from the doc she co-directed with Edward Watts, For Sama, which showed at SDFF 2020. The doc traces five years of al-Kateab’s life during the Aleppo uprising, which began in 2011. Over the course of the film, al-Kateab falls in love, gets married and gives birth while apocalyptic conflict rises around her. For Sama is available to stream in the U.S. through Frontline.
IN THE NEWS
Elizabeth Unger’s Tigre Gente (2022) is one of 35 projects to receive grant money from the 2022 Sundance Documentary Fund. This year marks the 20th anniversary of the indie juggernaut’s Documentary Film Project, and the docs selected for support encapsulate its spirit, according to the project’s director Paola Mottura. The $1.39 million in funding was split among docs at all stages of development that tell “culturally significant stories that will help shift global narratives and effect real change.” Tigre Gente was one of five completed docs to receive a grant for audience engagement and social impact campaigns. 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.
The Chronicle of Philanthropy’s recent article, “The New Gun Control Movement,” discusses When Claude Got Shot (Brad Lichtenstein, 2022) as exemplary of growing efforts to change narratives and attitudes towards guns through media. Those efforts are among the changes the article identifies in the gun control movement since Sandy Hook, which also include drawing on philanthropic aid for the first time. These two changes are related, as When Claude Got Shot is one of a dozen films funded through the Kendeda Fund, Diana Blank’s Atlanta philanthropic effort, which supports journalism, movies and podcasts that explore America’s relationship with guns. When Claude Got Shot has been extremely successful in reaching a wide audience, airing nationally via PBS’s Independent Lens, and winning a 2022 Emmy Award for Exceptional Merit in Documentary Filmmaking. The film follows five years in Claude Motley’s life as he tries to recover mentally and physically from being shot in the face by 15 year-old Nathan King, who was attempting to steal his car. As he recovers, Claude grapples with, and reflects on, his ambivalence over King’s incarceration for the shooting him, given the deep racism that permeates the criminal justice system. When Claude Got Shot is available VOD on Apple TV and iTunes.
The Centre for the Study of International Slavery held a screening of Free Renty: Lanier v. Harvard (2021) followed by a Q&A with director David Grubin in honor of British Black History Month. The screening coincided with the film’s VOD release across major streaming platforms on Oct. 11. Free Renty tells the story of Lanier’s fight 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, which showed as part of SDFF 2022, tracks Lanier’s lawsuit against Harvard and features attorney Benjamin Crump, author Ta-Nehisi Coates and scholars Ariella Azoulay and Tina Campt. Free Renty: Lanier v. Harvard is now available VOD via iTunes, Amazon, Vimeo, Google Play, Microsoft Xbox, and Vudu.
Prolific documentarian and professional cinephile Mark Cousins penned a piece in The Guardian this week, mourning the recent and sudden closure of the Edinburgh International Film Festival, and the related independent Filmhouse cinemas in Edinburgh and Aberdeen. The Guardian also carried a thoughtful piece from Anna Bogutskaya, which attributes these closures to a failure to correctly identify cinemas as cultural spaces. Cousins was EIFF artistic director from 1996-97, and his piece explains the various ways in which the festival was important, to the city’s culture and to him, personally. Cousins was also interviewed across coverage of the closure, and, while crushed by the news, also expressed optimism that the festival will be resuscitated in Screen Daily. Cousins’s The Story Of Looking showed at SDFF 2022 and is a deeply personal meditation on the power of visuality and looking, made just before filmmaker went in for a surgery to restore his vision.
With Halloween on its way, The Passing On (Nathan Clarke, 2021) producer and Hayti Heritage Film Festival (HHFF) curator Lana Garland, was featured on the Oct. 6 of WUNC podcast, Horrified: Joy, Memory & The Body In Black Horror, where she talked about Black horror films that left their mark on her, and the genre’s recent, rapid evolution.Garland was joined on the podcast by Dr. Kinitra Brooks, PhD., an endowed literary studies chair at Michigan State, who discusses her own memories of Black horror and examines key aspects of the changing genre, and by Bree Newsome Bass, an artist, organizer and filmmaker, who discusses changes in the genre behind the camera, as well as in front of it. You can listen to the podcast here, or read the transcript here. Garland 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 film is now available to stream online for free via Tubi.
LOCAL SCREENINGS + FILM EVENTS
Released to coincide with the major Hopper exhibition (Edward Hopper’s New York) at the Whitney in New York, art doc, Hopper: An American Love Story (Phil Grabsky) will be screened twice at Rialto Cinemas® Sebastopol on Weds. Oct. 19, at 1 and 7 p.m. The film will be screened again on Nov. 10 at 1 p.m. Combining expert interviews, diaries, and a startling visual reflection of American life, the film takes a deep look into Hopper’s art, life and relationships. The film attempts to explore Hopper through various stages of his life and career, from his early work as an illustrator, to his wife’s giving up her own promising art career to be his manager, to his critical and commercial acclaim, to the influence he has had from artists as disparate as Banksy and Alfred Hitchcock.
The Petaluma Film Alliance Fall cinema series continues on Wednesday, Oct. 19 at 7 p.m. with I, Tonya (Craig Gillespie, 2017), a dark comedy about one of the most notorious and sensational scandals in sports history: the ill-conceived and poorly executed attack on Olympic ice skater Nancy Kerrigan. Told through multiple perspectives over a span of twenty years, I, Tonya offers humor, insight, and a great deal of empathy toward Tonya Harding, a working-class sports hero that everyone loves to hate. The film was nominated for three Oscars, including Best Actress for Margot Robbie as Tonya Harding, and Best Supporting Actress for Allison Janney (who won) as Harding’s mother. The 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 series is being co-presented by SRJC’s Chair of Communications Studies, Mike Traina, and film production teacher Brian Antonson, who collaborated with Sara Alexander on the SDFF 2020 film A Pilgrimage about artist Genevieve Barnhart. For more on the Film Alliance’s fall movie series, see the Argus Courier’s recent article.
Moonage Daydream, a new, genre defying immersion into the art and sounds of David Bowie from Brett Morgen (The Kid Stays in the Picture, Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck, Jane) will continue showing at the Rialto Cinemas® Sebastopol Thursday, Oct. 13. Told through sublime, kaleidoscopic imagery, personal archived footage, unseen performances, and anchored by David Bowie’s music and words, Moonage Daydream is the first film to be supported by the David Bowie Estate, which granted Morgen unprecedented access to their collection. See Rialto Cinemas® screening details and tickets.
Sebastopol’s Fall Doc Nite series will continue on November 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.
The Sonoma County Library Documentary Film Discussion Group will meet, Oct. 19 to discuss Robin’s Wish (Tylor Norwood, 2020), an intimate portrait of actor/comedian Robin Williams and his invulnerable spirit.Robin’s Wish is the story of what really happened to Williams, who suffered from biopolar disorder, and what his mind was fighting. The discussion group will be held on Zoom, Oct. 19 at 6 p.m., attendance requires registration, see details and availability on the Sonoma County Library Events Calendar. The film is available to screen on Kanopy with a library card, and all participants must view it on their own before the meeting.
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 begin showing at Rialto Cinemas® Sebastopol on Nov. 4.
CATCH THEM WHILE YOU CAN: DOCS AIRING ON TV + STREAMING ONLINE
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, The Best Chef In The World, about Sally Schmitt, the original founder of The French Laundry, is part of Proudfoot’s ongoing partnership withNew 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
SDFF 2021 Jury Award winning short Unforgivable (Marlén Viñayo, 2020) recently aired on VICE’s The Short List with Suroosh Alvi, along with a Alvi’s interview with filmmaker Viñayo. Unforgivable tells the story of a hitman for the 18th Street gang who deals with his sexuality inside an evangelical Salvadoran prison, where he is not just guilty of crimes, but of an “unforgivable sin” under God and gang: being gay. Both film and interview are now available to stream on the series website. Check out VICE’s full video catalog, where you can also find an episode of The Short List from last season about SDFF 2021 short Last Meal, including an interview with filmmakers Marcus McKenzie and Daniel Principe.
Yung Chang’s doc about foreign correspondent and conflict journalist Robert Fisk, This Is Not A Movie (2019) will be available on the Criterion Collection’s streaming platform starting in September. 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. The film is also available on kanopy (w/ public library card) or tubi (w/ ads), and VOD on Vudu, Amazon, Youtube, GooglePlay and Apple TV. An SDFF exclusive Q+A between director Yung Chang and SDFF co-director and lead programmer Jean McGlothlin from SDFF 2021 is available here.
Sydney Bowie Linden’s documentary short Black Gold (SDFF 2022), about a California oil town bracing for change, is now featured in The New Yorker. The vaunted publication is streaming the film, accompanied by a short, interview-based article in which Linden talks about her intentions and experiences making the film. Linden filmed in the small town of Taft, near Bakersville, over 6 months in 2020, during the presidential campaign and election. The doc is a compelling artifact of an historic moment and one that challenges national views of California as uniformly progressive.
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