SDFF NEWS BITS: ALUMNI UPDATES, FESTS, HONORS, NEW DOCS, INDUSTRY HAPPENINGS
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20 SEPTEMBER 2022
AWARDS. HONORS. FESTIVALS. SPECIAL SCREENINGS.
Congrats to SDFF alumni filmmaker Julie Wyman (Strong!, Fat Mob), who was awarded a 2022 American Stories Documentary Fellowship for her upcoming Untitled Dwarfism Project Wyman is one of five filmmakers to receive the fellowship, which is sponsored by CNN and Points North Institute in order to support indie documentarians from diverse perspectives, exploring themes unique to the American experience. Wyman’s Untitled Dwarfism Project, which was awarded the SFFILM Rainin Filmmakers With Disabilities Grant last year, fits the bill. In the doc, Wyman confronts her own dwarfism diagnosis while examining the development of a new drug that promises to make little people taller, but in doing so, threatens the very community it claims to serve. The film also explores Little People’s legacy of hypervisibility and the representation of disabled lives, bodies and stories. Untitled Dwarfism Project already has two producers, Lindsey Dryden and Jonna McKone, on board. Wyman is a two-time SDFF alum, Strong! and Fat Mob showed as in 2013 and 2016, respectively.
Polish filmmaker Rafal Malecki’s documentary short Rust (2020) about the critical work of renowned artist-welder Mariola Wawrzusiak-Borcz, is among the 48 films selected for the 2022 Green and Environmental Film Festival of San Francisco. Rust, which showed as part of SDFF 2022, is about Borcz’s obsessive need to work and her creative practice, capturing her as she roams post-industrial areas in search of scrap metal that she will transform into endangered animals and children affected by war. Malecki’s work is meant to critique modern civilization. The Green and Environmental Film Festival is an SDFF partner and a presentation of SF IndieFest, and includes films from all genres (docs, narrative, animation, etc.) unified by environmental themes and sustainable solutions. The fest will screen 13 live programs from Oct. 6-13 at the Roxie Theater in San Francisco and a full complement of selections online from Oct. 6-16, including Rust. See details about the Green and Environmental Film Festival in the Local Screenings and Film Events section below.
Maya Cueva and Leah Galant’s abortion doc On The Divide (SDFF 2022) was screened as the Concha Community Matinee of Señorita Cinema, an all-Latina film festival in Houston, TX, which ran last weekend. Now in its third year, the festival also included numerous shorts program and pay-what-you-can workshops, such as “Utlra-Low-Budget filmmaking” with filmmaker and L.I.F.E. director Iris Almaraz. Released just months before the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, which effectively rendered abortion inaccessible and/or illegal for many Americans, 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.
Fresh off its Emmy win, When Claude Got Shot (Brad Lichtenstein, 2022) was screened as part of Milwaukee Film’s Cultures & Communities Festival last weekend. When Claude Got Shot 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. About events that unfolded in Milwaukee while Motley was visiting for a high school reunion, the film was screened for free during the festival, which was established in 2019 to amplify diverse cultural perspectives and lived experiences through film, supporting the efforts of anchor cultural programs such as Black Lens, the Latinx-focused Cine Sin Fronteras, and the LGBTQ-centric GenreQueer.
NEW FILMS + PROJECTS FROM SDFF FILMMAKERS
Syrian filmmaker Ziad Kalthoum (Taste of Cement, 2017) will present his new documentary project On The Edge Of My Shadow during this year’s DOK Leipzig Co-Pro Market. The new doc is one of 34 projects from 32 countries selected for the co-financing and networking event, which connects documentary producers with potential financiers and grants exclusive access to German and international non-fiction markets. An SDFF 2019 favorite, Kathoum’s Taste of Cement is a stunning visual essay about what it means to live in exile in a war-torn world with no possibility of returning home, which is available to stream VOD via Amazon.
Filmmaker Neasa Ní Chianáin and Declan McGrath’s Young Plato, about the headmaster of a Belfast school who uses philosophy to counter powerful mythologies of violence among students, is among the films selected for the 18th annual Sedam Veličanstvenih Documentary Film Festival (Magnificent 7 Film Festival) in Belgrade this week, and the Dinard Festival du Film Britannique, which runs Sept. 28-Oct. 2. Sedam Veličanstvenih is a Serbian festival that selects just 7 European documentaries each year. The Dinard festival is a French festival held in Brittany each year, where selections are comprised solely of British filmsYoung 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.
IN THE NEWS
Omar Mullick’s (These Birds Walk, 2014) new film with frequent collaborator Karim Amer (The Square), Flight/Risk got a strong review from The Seattle Times, which called the doc a “powerful work of advocacy.” The newspaper’s coverage of the tragic pair of Boeing 737 Max crashes at the heart of the doc and the jet’s troubled history, won the publication and its lead aerospace reporter Dominic Gates three Pulitzer Prizes in 2020. Gates also appears in the film, alongside the family members of crash victims, their legal teams and whistleblowers from the Boeing factory in the Seattle Suburb of Renton, which manufactured both aircrafts. Mullick’s doc These Birds Walk, which showed at SDFF 2014, examined the struggles and resilience of Karachi street children and the good samaritans looking out for them.
Emmy winner and SDFF alumni filmmaker Rachel Leah Jones (Advocate, 2019) is one of 250 high-profile Israeli filmmakers who have signed an open letter, saying they will not seek funding from, nor cooperate with the recently–established Shomron (Samaria/West Bank) Film Fund. The letter comes in the wake of the inaugural Shomron film festival, where calls went out to hold the prestigious Ophir Awards (aka the Israeli Academy Awards) in the occupied West Bank. The letter asks the Israeli Academy of Film and Television to ignore these calls, and not allow itself to be “instrumentalized to Whitewash the Occupation.” The letter also brings up issues with the pro-Israeli perspective of the films being funded, and the influence of Fund founder and right-wing former culture minister Miri Regev, who has been accused of putting pressure on the Fund to bar films critical of Israel from receiving funding. Both Deadline and Variety published the full text of the letter and its signees, as part of their coverage. Rachel Leah Jones co-directed the SDFF 2020 feature Advocate, a portrait of longtime Jewish-Israeli human rights lawyer Lea Tsemel, with Philippe Bellaiche
Pop! Inquirer, a platform and publication for/about popular culture in the Philippines ran a feature on the band Fanny, following the recent release of music doc Fanny: The Right To Rock (Bobbi Jo Hart, 2021) in the country. The doc tells a pop music history that is typically left off the record, that 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, with guitarist June Millington and her sister Jean making music together in the Philippines long before their arrival on California shores in the mid-1960s, where they became popular not only with fans but with other, vaunted musicians. 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, Fanny The Right To Rock is also now streaming VOD Vudu/Fandango.
The Story Of Film: A New Generation, 21st Century Cinema, one of several new films released in 2022 by perpetually working filmmaker and cinephile Mark Cousins (The Story Of Looking, 2021), got strong reviews from across the spectrum this week (The New York Times, Screen Anarchy, The Boston Globe, Slant Magazine, Third Coast Review, Yahoo! News) in advance of its streaming release today, Sept. 20 via Music Box Films. A sequel to Cousins’ The Story of Film: An Odyssey, the new Story Of Film examines the most impactful works of recent cinema, from 2010 to 2021, optimistically exploring how both technology and COVID have changed the course of film history in the 21stCentury. Both Story Of Film docs make strong companion pieces to Cousins’s 2021 doc, The Story Of Looking, a deeply personal meditation on the power of looing that preceded a surgery to restore his vision, showed at SDFF 2022. In still more Cousins’ news, fascist propaganda doc March On Rome continued to put the filmmaker in the spotlight this week, as a piece he wrote in 2019, “How The World Became Wellesian” was re-run in the most recent Talkhouse, alongside other pieces penned by contributors who had work at the recent Venice Biennale. Originally written in 2019 to coincide with the release of his film The Eyes Of Orson Welles, the piece resonates with both Cousin’s examination of historic, Italian fascist propaganda in March On Rome and with the present political moment.
A screening of public art doc Alice Street (Spencer Wilkinson, 2020) is being hosted by Texas Women’s University in Denton on Sept. 26, with a post-screening panel that includes community leaders and director Spencer Wilkinson. The screening is part of Alice Street’s innovative National Impact Tour, which will ultimately include more than 80 screenings and discussions across the U.S. in collaboration with diverse, local organizations, including museums, public art groups, art houses and theaters, housing equity groups, etc., in addition to festivals The tour is intended to help shift the national conversation towards a public-art approach to social justice, at a pivotal moment in our history. In addition to screening the film, which is a story of community empowerment and coalition-building through art, the tour includes post-screening discussions meant to help engender and/or assist in similar projects and coalitions. Alice Street is an SDFF 2021 selection about the unlikely partnership between Peskador, a Chilean studio painter, and Mundo, a Chicago-born aerosol artist, who come together to tackle an ambitious project—a four-story mural in the heart of downtown Oakland situated at a unique intersection where Chinese and Afro-Diasporic communities face the imminent threat of displacement and gentrification.
Reflection: a walk with water (Emmet Brennan, 2021) will be screened as part of the ongoing All of Belfast Climate Dialogues project on Sept. 27. The screening and climate dialogue project are the result of a collaboration between the Peace and Social Justice Forum/Waldo County and the Belfast Free Library, where the screening will be held. Part personal meditation on water, part road map for positive change, Reflection: a walk with waterconfronts current environmental and systematic troubles by examining bellwethers for the future, including Los Angeles and other parts of California. The film was an SDFF 2022 selection, and its screening included an environmental stewardship panel, which you can watch right here! Reflection: a walk with water is available to rent or buy on Vimeo, and is also streaming on Gaia and Films for Action subscription services.
LOCAL SCREENINGS + FILM EVENTS
The Sonoma County Library Documentary Film Discussion Group will meet tomorrow, Sept. 21 to discuss Vita Activa: The Spirit of Hannah Arendt – the Life and Work of a Moral Philosopher (Ada Ushpiz, 2015), a doc about the life and work of political theorist and moral philosopher Hannah Arendt, who is best known for her book, Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil. The book considers the testimony and trial of Adolf Eichmann, one of the architects of the Holocaust, who displayed neither hatred nor remorse and claimed he was just “doing his job.” The film examines Arendt’s life, from her time as a student scholar during the Weimar Republic, to her experience of the Holocaust and her eventual life in the U.S. and coverage of the Eichmann trial. The discussion group will be held on Zoom, Sept. 21 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 Petaluma Film Alliance Fall cinema series continues on September 21 with a screening of fantasy-drama Petit Maman (2021), from director Céline Sciamma (Portrait of a Lady on Fire). A thoughtful and beautifully visual reflection on grief, the film follows a young girl as she copes with the death of her maternal grandmother by bonding with a child version her mother. The screening begins at 7 p.m., but admission includes a pre-show program that begins at 6 p.m. 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.
The Silent Twins (Agnieszka Smoczynska, 2022), produced by SDFF alumni Anita Gou (The Last Animals) is showing at Rialto Cinemas® Sebastopol, through Sept. 22. An adaptation of Marjorie Wallace’s bestseller, set in 1970s Wales, The Silent Twins tells the story of two Black women, June and Jennifer Gibbons, who communicated only with eachother, created their own world, wrote fiction and committed crimes in their teens. The duo were eventually confined to a mental health facility. According to Variety, the film’s debut 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.
The highly anticipated biographical doc about celebrated American author Patricia Highsmith (Strangers On A Train, The Talented Mr. Ripley, The Price Of Salt), Loving Highsmith (Eva Vitija, 2022) is showing at Rialto Cinemas® Sebastopol through September 22, co-presented by SDFF and OUTwatch’s 2022 film series. Based on Highsmith’s diaries, notebooks, and other personal writings, which reflect on her lovers, friends and family, the film casts new light on the famous thriller writer’s life and work, permeated by themes of love and its defining influence on identity. Tickets are available through the Rialto®, here.
Hallelujah: Leonard Cohen, A Journey, A Song (Dan Geller and Dayna Goldfine, 2022), a unique music doc about the beloved singer-songwriter, will continue to run at Rialto Cinemas® Sebastopol, through Sept. 22. The doc explores Cohen’s work and life through the prism of his hymn Hallelujah, a touchstone for many other recording artists, and most of the rest of the population who has heard it played. The doc was approved by Cohen a couple of years before he passed away, and as a result includes never-before-seen materials from the Cohen Trust including Cohen’s personal notebooks, journals and photographs, performance footage and extremely rare audio recordings and interviews. Tickets are available here. You can also catch interviews with filmmakers Dayna Goldfine and Dan Geller at NorCal Public Media and KSRO.
South: Ernst Shackleton And The Endurance Expedition (Frank Hurley, 1919), shot during Sir Ernst Henry Shakleton’s harrowing 1914 Antarctic expedition, and released before the term “documentary” was coined, will be screened twice (1:15 p.m., 5 p.m.) at Rialto Cinemas® Sebastopol on Sept. 29 to celebrate National Silent Movie Day. The film captures the Shakleton party’s infamous and epic exploration, which began with the ship, The Endurance, getting trapped and then crushed in pack ice just miles from shore, leaving the crew to drift on ice floes for months before landing on a deserted island. With no hope of rescue, Shackleton and five men left the island and set out on an 850-mile journey in the roughest seas in the world, in an open boat with only a sextant to guide them. Miraculously they reached South Georgia Island where they crossed mountainous terrain to reach the island’s whaling station. See Rialto Cinemas® screening details and tickets.
The 2022 Green and Environmental Film Festival of San Francisco will be screening a selection of 48 films, most will stream on demand October 6-16 with select films showing in-person at the Roxie Theater October 6–13. The Green Film Festival is interested in exploring all aspects of “environmental film” from compelling documentaries and adventure films to narrative fiction films and midnight movies with environmental themes. The festival includes special screenings and and impressive array of local offerings, like a late nite showing of French eco sci-fi Vesper (Kristina Buozyte & Bruno Samper, 2020), Opening Night film Passing: In The Shadows of Everest from local filmmaker Nancy Svendsen, Centerpiece film Pleistocene Park from local filmmaker Luke Griswold-Tergis, Closing Night Film Into The Weeds: Dwayne “Lee” Johnson vs. Monsanto Company about a local, Vallejo man’s battle with the agribusiness giant, and a smattering of local shorts. See the festival’s official announcement for more details on special screenings. The Green and Environmental Film Festival is an SDFF partner and a presentation of SF IndieFest, and runs concurrently with the related IndieFest SF Indie Short Film Festival.
Sebastopol’s Fall Doc Nite series will continue on October 11 with a screening of #Kids On Tech at 7 p.m. at Rialto Cinemas® Sebastopol, followed by a discussion with director with director Paul Zehr and editor Eric Ivey, and a casual gathering at Fern Bar. #Kids On Tech (2022) looks at the relationship between children and technology in the wake of the pandemic, examining the impact technology has had on children’s developing minds and bodies, and asking how best to move forward and prepare children for life in a digital world. The film includes intimate conversations with parents, teachers, neuroscientists, tech executives, child psychologists, and kids of every age from around the world. Doc Night is a collaboration between Trim Tab, SDFF and Rialto Cinemas®. See #Kids On Film Doc Night details and buy tickets here.
CATCH THEM WHILE YOU CAN: DOCS AIRING ON TV + STREAMING ONLINE
Director Mark Titus is streaming his two Bristol Bay/sockeye salmon docs, The Wild and The Breach, for free on youtube through the month of September as part of an effort to educate and bolster support for EPA to pass protections for Bristol Bay that would stop the destructive Pebble Mine copper extraction project. Aside from being a stunningly beautiful place, the bay is also the last fully-intact wild salmon system in the world, supports a $2.2 billion fishing industry, and is home to Native Alaskan communities. So far, the outreach effort has been successful with more than half a million people, including a record number of Alaskans (according to the NRDC), giving public comment in favor of a revised Clean Water Act proposal that would safeguard the bay. This is the latest in an ongoing fight to protect Bristol Bay, which is what motivated both The Breach, and its follow-up, The Wild, which showed at SDFF 2020, along with this exclusive interview with filmmaker Mark Titus. See more on the film here, and more about the EPA measure here.
Free Renty: Lanier v. Harvard (David Grubin, 2021) is a jury nominee at the 4th Annual Morehouse College Human Rights Film Festival’s, which will be available to stream Sept. 20-30. Free Renty tells the story of Tamara Lanier, an African American woman determined 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 focuses on Lanier and tracks her lawsuit against Harvard, and features attorney Benjamin Crump, author Ta-Nehisi Coates and scholars Ariella Azoulay and Tina Campt. The film showed as part of SDFF 2022. Right now, passes for the Human Rights Festival’s digital program half off. The festival’s program is comprised of films meant to provoke discussions about immigration, race, gender identity, politics, health care, and law enforcement, along with many other human rights and social justice topics.
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.
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 more detailed film descriptions and more places to watch, click here.
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