SDFF NEWS BITS: ALUMNI UPDATES, FESTS, HONORS, NEW DOCS, INDUSTRY HAPPENINGS
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25 OCTOBER 2022
AWARDS. HONORS. FESTIVALS. SPECIAL SCREENINGS
Nuisance Bear (Jack Weisman and Gabriela Oslo Vanden, 2021) has been nominated for three Critic’s Choice Documentary Awards: Best Cinematography (Gabriela Oslo Vanden, Jack Weisman and Sam Holling), Best Short Documentary (The New Yorker) and Best Science/Nature Documentary (The New Yorker). Nuisance Bear is an 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 as it follows a polar bear on its chaotic migration, revealing an obstacle course of tourist paparazzi and wildlife officers the bears must navigate during their annual migration. The film is available to stream through The New Yorker website and on the publication’s youtube. SDFF alumni Ben Masters’s (The River and The Wall, SDFF 2020) new film Deep In The Heart: A Texas Wildlife Story was also nominated for a Critic’s Choice Award for Best Narration. Masters is nominated for writing the narration, while actor Matthew McConaughey was nominated for performing it. The film is a celebration of Texas’s diverse landscapes and wildlife, told through the eyes of wildlife species. Deep In The Heart is available to stream VOD on PrimeVideo, GooglePlay, AppleTV and Vudu. The seventh annual Critic’s Choice Documentary Awards will be held on Nov. 13 at 7 p.m. Eastern and live streamed through Facebook and Instagram. See CCDA’s 2022 nominee announcement for more on the nominations and events.
AK Sandhu’s For Love And Legacy (2021) is an official selection at this this year’s DOC NYC, where a number of other SDFF alumni filmmakers will also be screening their most recent work. For Love And Legacy, which showed as part of SDFF 2022, documents how sculptor Dana King’s hands and activist Fredrika Newton’s memories combine to build a new monument that honors the Black Panther Party’s vital place in American history. The short will be screened as part of DOC NYC’s Shorts: Transitions block, which will screen theatrically and stream online. The films of two SDFF alumni are scheduled together as part of DOC NYC’s inaugural collab with the Meet The Press Film Festival. A Concerto Is A Conversation director Ben Proudfoot’s The Best Chef In The World about The French Laundry founder Sally Schmitt, and The Booksellers producer Debra McClutchy’s The Martha Mitchell Effect (co-dir. Anne Alvergue) about the wife of Nixon’s campaign president/Attorney General who spoke out about Watergate at great personal cost, will show together as part of the DOC NYC x Meet The Press FF screening block, Pioneering Women. Other SDFF alumni with films at this year’s DOC NYC include: Ido Weisman (Uzzi, SDFF 2019), Derek Knowles (After The Fire, SDFF 2020), Jay Rosenblatt (When We Were Bullies, SDFF2021), and Libby Spears (Little Gandhis and Living Music, SDFF 2020). Weisman’s Requiem For A Whale about a dead whale washing ashore will screen as part of the Animal Farm block. Knowles’s Sentinels (co-dir. Lawrence Lerew), which takes an immersive, observational tack in its presentation of the Redwood Forest Defense tree-sit, will show as part of The People VS block. Rosenblatt’s How Do You Measure a Year?, which is comprised of footage the filmmaker asking his daughter the same set of questions on her birthday each year for 29 years, will show as part of the Shorts: Profiles block. And, last but certainly not least, Spears’s first feature The Art Of Rebellion, about L.A. political street artist Lydia Emily, whose struggle to finish her last mural in the face of an MS diagnosis, will show in the Artistic Expressions section. SDFF may remember Lydia Emily from the short Lydia Emily’s Last Mural (Christoph Johannes, 2021), which showed as part of our 2022 festival. Currently in its 13th year, DOC NYC is the largest documentary film festival in the U.S. and runs Nov. 9-27 this year, online and in-person.
In addition to her new doc The Art Of Rebellion’s inclusion at DOC NYC, filmmaker Libby Spears’s documentary short, Living Music (2018) won Best Documentary Short at the Prescott Film Festival earlier this month. The film, which showed as part of SDFF 2020, is about violin prodigy and country singer Tyler Carson’s artistic and personal journey after permanently losing his voice just as he as his career was building momentum. His attempt to rehabilitate his voice leads him on a journey to heal through meditation and music leads him to the practice of “Living Music.” The Prescott Film Festival his held at Yavapi College in Arizona, which is meant to bring independent film and filmmakers from around the world to the community and region.
AK Sandhu is another SDFF filmmaker doubling up on the festival front this week. On top of being announced for DOC NYC 2022, her film For Love And Legacy (2021) also showed as part of the New Haven Documentary Film Festival, as did fellow SDFF 2022 selection, Free Renty: Lanier v. Harvard (David Grubin, 2021). Both films are about how Black History is represented and remembered, what counts as history and truth. For Love And Legacy documents the commemoration of Huey Newton and the Black Panther Party, a man and movement that have been key to the struggle for civil rights and racial equality, and have been largely omitted from official history. Free Renty, on the other hand, documents Tamara Lanier’s struggle with Harvard, an institution associated with the production of official knowledge, over daguerreotype images of her great-great-great grandfather Renty, an enslaved man, which were used as “proof” of white superiority in racist “science” that undergirded slavery and white supremacy. Free Renty: Lanier v. Harvard is now available VOD via iTunes, Amazon, Vimeo, Google Play, Microsoft Xbox, and Vudu.
SDFF alumni filmmaker Jerry Rothwell’s (Sour Grapes, SDFF 2017) recent doc The Reason I Jump (2020), an immersive cinematic exploration of neurodiversity, has been nominated for five Big Screen Awards: Best British Film of the Year, the Diversity & Inclusion Initiative, Documentary Film Campaign of the Year, Poster Design of the Year, and Trailer of the Year. The SDFF alumni film The Story Of Looking (Mark Cousins, SDFF 2022), was also nominated for poster design. The Big Screen Awards, née The Screen Awards, are presented by the UK’s Screen International and aim to recognize the achievements of marketing, distribution, publicity and exhibition teams and companies for their work releasing films into UK cinemas and connecting them with audiences.
The Alexander Valley Film Society honored filmmaker Erica Milsom (Snow Day: Life, Death and Skiing, 2015) with its inaugural Impact Award, at an awards ceremony and fundraiser on Saturday. The Impact Award is meant to recognize grit and personal integrity in the media industry. Milsom directed the SDFF 2017 doc Snow Day: Life, Death and Skiing, which follows a group of senior skiers on their weekly trip up to the Colorado Rockies, where they share stories of love, loss and personal growth that play out in high contrast to the athleticism, freedom and joy they exhibit on the mountain. However, Milsom is best known for her docs about Pixar films, including Embracing the Panda: Making Turning Red, Inside Pixar (10 episodes), Finding Dory: Animation & Acting, etc.
NEW FILMS + PROJECTS FROM SDFF FILMMAKERS
The 2018 doc Bellingcat: Truth in a Post-Truth World (Hans Pool) about the founding of Bellingcat, an independent, international collective of open source researchers, investigators and citizen journalists, spawned the creation of a scripted television series, The Kollective, which will likely begin production in 2023. The Kollective was announced in 2019 and has so far been developed under the aegis of Submarine, which also produced Bellingcat, Truth in a Post-Truth World. The project was picked by The Alliance, a pan-European group of public media broadcasters, including France Télévisions, Italy’s Rai and Germany’s ZDF at the 2022 MIA Market in Rome earlier this month. Written by Gomorrah screenwriters Leonardo Fasoli and Maddalena Ravagli, the series is an English language political thriller about a group of passionate young citizen journalists who are sucked into a global web of lies and corruption while investigating the death of a colleague. The documentary Bellingcat: Truth in a Post-Truth World was an official SDFF 2020 selection that explores the promise of open source investigation and the fight for journalistic integrity in a growing media milieu dominated by fake news.
Sentinels, the recent documentary short co-directed by Derek Knowles (After The Fire, SDFF 2020) and Lawrence Lerew, which was mentioned above in relation to the upcoming DOC NYC, also showed as part of the Tacoma Film Festival last weekend. The documentary short takes an immersive, observational tack in depicting the Redwood Forest Defense tree-sit. The only active tree-sit at the time of filming, the action was the work of a small group of young activists, who sought to stop a large logging company. The filmmakers see the film as a form of bearing witness to a mode of radical activism that, unlike street protests, takes place largely outside of the public eye, and requires a great deal of both physical and mental strength. According to the filmmakers, there are now more than half a dozen such actions. The film is available for free through the Los Angeles Times, where it is accompanied by a short written piece by the filmmakers.
SDFF alumni filmmaker Mark Cousins’s doc March on Rome, which was recently added to the shortlist for the European Film Awards, was screened at the 58th Chicago International Film Festival, the longest-running film festival in North America, which wrapped over the weekend. The film explores historic, Italian fascist propaganda tied to the “March On Rome,” the insurrection that brought Mussolini to power in October 1922. Taking its cue from A Noi (1923), Umberto Paradisi’s official Fascist party documentary celebrating the March on Rome, the doc examines the roots of fascism by analyzing film, photographs and other material from the Italian archives.
For Sama co-director Edward Watts is an executive producer on the award-winning doc Lyra, about the life and death of internationally-renowned Northern Irish investigative journalist Lyra McKee, which is being released in Ireland and the UK on Nov. 4. Directed by McKee’s close friend Alison Millar, the doc is an emotive portrait of the murdered journalist’s life and her senseless death, told through her own work and words. SDFF audiences will be familiar with Watts from For Sama, the doc he co-directed with Waad al-Kateab that 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
For Sama (Edward Watts and Waad al-Kateab, 2019) also made The Grierson Trust’s “The Power of the Doc: Grierson at 50 – list of must-see documentaries from the last 50 years,” along with SDFF alumni James LeBrecht’s doc about the emergence of the disability rights movement, Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution (co-dir. Nicole Newnham, 2020). The list celebrates must-see documentaries released over the Trust’s 50 year history, and is organized by categories, including Bucket List Docs, Challenging the Status Quo, New Ways of Storytelling, Took Us Somewhere New, Personal Stories, and Do Look Back. The categories loosely align with vectors of change in the genre over the last half century. The Grierson Trust is a non-profit that commemorates pioneering Scottish documentarian John Grierson, widely regarded as one of the progenitors of documentary. The Trust holds the annual British Documentary Awards and puts on documentary labs and mentoring for filmmakers. Crip Camp is available to stream via Netflix.
Asian American, lesbian, modern artist, Bernice Bing, celebrated in the Madeleine Lim’s 2013 doc The Worlds Of Bernice Bing (SDFF 2020), finally seems to be in the spotlight, after years of exclusion from American and Asian Art History. The New York Times ran a recent piece on Bing and her erasure from Art History, following the opening of Into View: Bernice Bing, a retrospective exhibit of her work at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco. The problematically titled Times piece, “Ignored in Life, Bernice Bing Is Discovered as Museums Rewrite History,” which appears to address the exclusion of Bing and other Asian American artist from Art History, weirdly begins by focusing on the absence of Asian American artist from Asian Art museums rather than from the institutions that produce the American art world and its history, including The Times itself. The article goes on to addresses the exclusion of Asian American artists from American Art museums through insightful, but brief, comments from Stanford professor Gordon H. Chang (Asian American Art: A History, 1850-1970) and Smithsonian curator of 20th Century Art Melissa Ho. Chang sees the rejection of Asian American art from museums as an extension of racism that characterizes people of Asian descent as “perpetual outsiders.” Ho discusses the “invisibility” of Asian American art from museums as the result of a curatorial focus on work that was reproduced in magazines and sold in the art market, which is based in New York. The piece also gives a biography of Bing, which feels a bit weird since it directly follows a statement about how most accounts of Bing focus on her life rather than her work. Overall, the article evinces the same imperfect step forward it attempts to address, but at least it’s a step in the right direction. More importantly, Into View is one of three exhibits of work by Asian American artists at the Asian Art Museum in SF, which also rewrote its mission statement this year to include Asian American artists. 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.
Maya Cueva and Leah Galant’s abortion doc On The Divide (SDFF 2022) was screened earlier this month at Michigan’s Oakland University, ahead of an upcoming state vote on the Right to Reproductive Freedom Initiative, which would provide a constitutional right to reproductive freedom in the state. Released just months before the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision to overturn the national abortion protections afforded by Roe v. Wade, On The Divide tracks the intersection of three Latinx people living in McAllen, Texas who, despite their views, are connected by the most unexpected of places: the last abortion clinic on the U.S./Mexico border. As threats to the clinic and their personal safety mount, these three are forced to make decisions they never could have imagined. The screening was followed by a virtual conversation with co-directors Cueva and Galant. The event was co-presented by the university’s Women and Gender Studies program, and it’s Latinx Employee Resource Group, as well as The Klein Center, which focuses on globalization and culture.
Drew Leung, who directed animated documentary short The Chemical Factory (2021), and has worked as a concept artist on a number of high profile films (Black Panther, Mulan, Ghost in the Shell, The Lion King, La La Land) and in visual effects on a number of others (The Twilight Saga: New Moon, Tree Of Life, Avatar), was featured in a recent piece from AI developer NVIDIA about how artists are now, and may eventually, use AI tools in their work. The article discusses current debates about the use of AI as an artistic tool and gives a bit of historical background on the ways in which new technologies (the daguerreotype, photo, film, etc.) have been rejected by, then absorbed into art production. Leung’s The Chemical Factory, which showed at SDFF 2022,is an animated piece in which an immigrant mother retraces her early years during the Chinese Cultural Revolution to her son, the filmmaker. Earlier this summer, it became available to stream through 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.
Turkish filmmaker Ayce Kartal’s (I Gotta Look Good For The Apocalypse, 2021) 2018 film Wicked Girl, an experimental animated short about abuse will show as part of the Cyprus chapter of ASIFA’s (the International Animated Film Association) free International Animation Day celebration on Oct. 29, which will focus on selections from the Easter Mediterranean. Other ASIFA chapters will be holding similar events, worldwide. Kartal’s animated documentary short I Gotta Look Good For The Apocalypse, which examines the pandemic as an accelerated derealization of our lives through the proliferation of digital life, showed as part of SDFF 2022. Wicked Girl is available to stream for free on Vimeo.
LOCAL SCREENINGS + FILM EVENTS
The Petaluma Film Alliance Fall cinema series continues on Wednesday, Oct 26 at 7 p.m. with a film as deeply disturbing as it is visually stunning, LAMB (Vladimar Jóhannsson, 2021), which is part of A24’s remarkable elevated horror roster (Hereditary, Midsommar, Lighthouse, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, Under the Skin, The Witch, Green Room). Set in the gorgeous wilds of rural Iceland, this is a dark, modern folktale about a childless couple who face consequence for defying the will of nature after they make an alarming discovery in their sheep barn. 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.
On Nov. 1, AV Film and Healdsburg Climate Action will be presenting a selection of Bay Area Environmental Shorts, with filmmakers in toe for a post-screening Q&A session. The event is part of an effort to promote better stewardship of the Sonoma County environment and to acknowledge the impacts of climate change and urban growth. Curated by AV Film, the collection of shorts are the work of Bay Area documentarians, focused on keeping local plant, animal, insect, and sea life in balance. The film selections include SDFF alumni films, Dick Ogg: Fisherman (Cynthia Abbott, 2019), Don’t Feed The Coyotes (Nick Stone Schearer, 2021), and Plant Heist (Chelsi and Gabriel de Cuba, 2020). Filmmakers from all three shorts will be in attendance for a post-screening discussion. The 90-minute showcase will take place on Nov. 1 at 6 p.m. at Headsburg’s Barndiva. Wine and cocktails will be available for purchase. Tickets are $30 each, $5 for students, and can be purchased 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 begin showing at Rialto Cinemas® Sebastopol on Nov. 4.
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, 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.
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.
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, 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!