SDFF NEWS BITS: ALUMNI UPDATES, FESTS, HONORS, NEW DOCS, INDUSTRY HAPPENINGS
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27 SEPTEMBER 2022
AWARDS. HONORS. FESTIVALS. SPECIAL SCREENINGS.
The Art Of Un-War (2021) will have its European Premiere at the historic Teartro di San Carlo in Naples on Oct. 13, as part of Artecinema, the international contemporary art festival, currently in its 27th year. Filmmaker Maria Niro in toe for the event. Artecinema celebrates films on contemporary art. The Art Of Un-war is also an official selection at a handful of Fall festivals. The doc was screened at the Global Peace Film Festival in Orlando on Sept. 25, and will be showing at the Newport Beach Film Festival on Oct. 10. The film, which received an SDFF 2022 Jury Award honorable mention, explores war, trauma, displacement and xenophobia through the work of internationally renowned artist Krysztof Wodiczko, who invites war veterans, refugees, and the homeless to co-create projects so they can speak about their plights in public spaces. The film is available for educational streaming through New Day Films, and is also available to stream through Kanopy
Prosopagnosia (Steven Fraser, 2021) won a Special Jury Award for Documentary at the Indie Street Film Festival in Red Bank, NJ earlier this month. The documentary short, which won the Best mini award at SDFF 2022 and is now a New York Times Op-Doc, is a story of identity drawn from Fraser’s own experience of face blindness. It uses expressive animation to investigate intimacy, communication and memory. In it, Fraser expressive animation to investigate intimacy, communication and memory, exploring the contents of a memory box he made for himself of self-portraits, sketches and other personal items.
NEW FILMS + PROJECTS FROM SDFF FILMMAKERS
Poem On My Eighty-Seventh Birthday–A Confession, a new documentary short from SDFF alumni filmmaker Dan Goldes won the Good Life Audience Award at the Bernal Heights Outdoor Cinema in San Francisco earlier this month. The film is about Oakland resident Paul Panish, who began writing poetry as a young man, gave it up for three decades while he got married and raised a family, then picked it back up again when he hit his mid-60s. Goldes’s short films Arrested (Again) about activist and Greenpeace chair Karen Topakian’s multiple arrests, and 5 Blocks about changes undergone by San Francisco hub, Market Street, over the past 50 years, appeared at SDFF 2018 and 2020, respectively. You can watch the full short film here, and take a gander at Panish’s poetry here.
The upcoming release of Rahul Jain’s participant doc on climate change, Invisible Demons (Tuhon merkit), on the streaming platform MUBI generated a flurry of advance coverage from web media sites Deadline, Collider and The Hollywood News this week. Among the more interesting discussions that appears across coverage is about the developing aesthetics of climate change. The film was nominated for the Golden Eye when it premiered at Cannes in 2021 and made the international festival circuit, before making its U.S. theatrical debut in in New York 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. Invisible Demons will begin streaming on MUBI on Oct. 4.
Oscar-winning director Ross Kauffman’s (Still Plays With Trains, SDFF 2020) new cancer doc Of Medicine and Miracles will make its California debut in October when it shows at the San Diego International Film Festival. The film chronicles the monumental task of curing cancer, as seen through the harrowing experiences of one young girl, her family, and a doctor on a mission. Kauffman tracks teams at Penn (Univ. of Pennsylvania) Medicine and the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia as they treat 6 year-old leukemia patient Emily Whitehead, culminating in the world’s first CAR T-cell therapy, which has left Whitehead cancer-free for a decade. Kauffman’s short Still Plays With Trains showed as part of SDFF 2020, and gives a glimpse of one man’s childhood in the 1950s vis-à-vis his ongoing love of toy trains.
Young Plato, the acclaimed doc from SDFF alumni Neasa Ní Chianáin (School Life, 2017) and Declan McGrath was released in the U.S. this week and will also be screened at Cinemagic, a film and television festival for young people held yearly in Belfast. The Cinemagic screening will be part of the festival’s education program, pitched specifically to post-primary and college kids, which feels particularly appropriate since the Young Plato was filmed in the Belfast neighborhood of Ardoyne at Holy Cross Catholic boy’s school. The doc is 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. Ní Chianáin will be on hand at Cinemagic for a post-screening Q&A. Young Plato is being shown at limited theaters on special dates throughout the U.S., see dates here.
IN THE NEWS
Artist, Gallery 16 director, and Tell Them We Were Here co-director Keelan Williams was among the SF artist and other art scene folk who appeared in a recent Hyperallergic article, responding to a New York Times piece that declared San Francisco’s art scene dead. The Time’s judgement is principally organized around the departure of two enormous galleries, Pace and Gagosian, from the Bay Area. While Williams is quoted in the Hyperallergic response, the market-focused perspective presented in the Times is actually countered by the community-based impression of the SF art scene highlighted in Tell Them We Were Here (co-dir. Griff Williams, 2022), which continues to thrive. In fact, many of the sentiments in the film are reiterated in the article, from a discussion of the Bay Area scene’s relationship to activism and organization, and the difficulties posed by an out of control housing market. The film examines Bay Area artists making politically motivated, socially conscious artwork, while also framing the artists and their work in context, showing how pivotal vital creative communities are to healthy societies and political change. Because although each of the artists is exemplary of perseverance and generosity, together they represent an empowering alternative worldview that emphasizes creativity and community over capitalism. Tell Them We Were Here was the opening film of SDFF 2022.
Earlier this month, the European Commission proposed a sweeping ban on the import and export of products made with forced labor, which, if passed, will add to existing U.S. prohibitions, in particular those aimed at China’s Xinjiang region. This issue was the subject of Leon Lee’s Peabody Award winning 2018 doc Letter From Masanjia, which tells the story of Sun Yi, a political prisoner at a Chinese labor camp. Yi’s story became news when an American consumer found his plea for help in a box of Halloween party supplies she ordered online. The film gives a first-hand account of a forced labor camp and the restrictions that shaped Yi’s life, and that of his family, even after his release. Lee’s newest film, Unsilenced is an historical drama set in 1999, which deals with very similar issues. It is available to stream VOD on Vimeo, Paramount+, Amazon, iTunes and GooglePlay.
Filmmaking duo Shirley Abraham and Amit Madheshiya were among the speakers at the first Ladakh Screenwriters Fair in India, where they gave a pitching workshop. At the five-day event, successful filmmakers and industry folk from Bollywood gave talks, workshops and trainings to 20 filmmakers from the Ladakh region. Abraham and Madheshiya’s documentary feature, The Cinema Travelers, which showed at SDFF 2018, tracks one of the traveling cinemas that have historically brought movies to remote villages and are increasingly threatened by easily accessible digital technology. The documentary partners recently released The Great Abandonment, a short about India’s largest COVID-19 lockdown, which forced millions of migrant workers to walk back to their home villages after they were left without their livelihoods in cities.
Belgian musician Dirk Verbeuren, drummer for the popular thrash metal band Megadeth, is now an ambassador for the Rob Stewart Sharkwater Foundation’s Shark Free campaign. The campaign’s goal is to help save sharks from extinction by keeping them out of food and other consumer goods, like cosmetics and personal care products (often as squalene), pet food, fertilizer, aquaculture feed, etc. These, often hidden, uses put enormous strain on shark populations, with more than 100 million sharks fished each year to meet human demand for shark products, according to the foundation. The musician became involved with the shark advocacy and awareness project after watching Stewart’s shark docs, Sharkwater Revolution and Sharkwater Extinction (SDFF 2020). Founded in the wake of Stewart’s tragic death while filming Sharkwater Extinction, the Rob Stewart Sharkwater Foundation is a non-profit committed to public advocacy and education to protect sharks and ocean health. You can checkoutVerbeuren’s advocacy online, here. Sharkwater Extinction is available to stream with subscription via Amazon Prime and Hoopla, and VOD on Amazon, Vudu, Microsoft, Apple, Google Play and Youtube.
Documentarian of the Southwest, Kristin Atwell recently appeared at the Sharlott Hall Museum in Arizona to present her doc Castle Hot Springs: Oasis Of Time, which relays the history of the state’s oldest resort and won a Rocky Mountain Emmy Award. One of the focal points of the talk was Atwell’s research, and the importance of libraries and archives for art, entertainment, history and academic work. Atwell directed the SDFF 2021 doc Riders of the Purple Sage: The Making of a Western Opera, which follows a classically-trained composer as he adapts a 1912 dime novel masterpiece into a grand opera, creating a convergence of American cowboy culture and the high-brow traditions of Opera.
LOCAL SCREENINGS + FILM EVENTS
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 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 an impressive array of local offerings, like a late night 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.
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 Silent Twins (Agnieszka Smoczynska, 2022), produced by SDFF alumni Anita Gou (The Last Animals) is showing at Rialto Cinemas® Sebastopol, through Sept. 29. 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 was 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.
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. 29. 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.
As much about the present as the past, Riotsville, U.S.A., a new doc from Sierra Pettengill examining law enforcement brutality during the Civil Rights movement, opens Rialto Cinemas® Sebastopol Oct. 8. Using training footage of Army-built model towns called “Riotsvilles” where military and police were trained to respond to civil disorder, in addition to nationally broadcast news media, Pettengill connects the stagecraft of “law and order” to the real violence of state practice. Recovering an obscured history whose effects have shaped the present in ways both insidious and explosive, Riotsville, U.S.A. is a poetic and furious reflection on the rebellions of the 1960s–and the machine that worked to destroy them.
Sebastopol’s Fall Doc Nite series will continue on October 10 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.
Slow Food Russian River will be hosting a screening of doc Children of the Vine (2022) on Oct. 11 at Rialto Cinemas® Sebastopol, with director Brian Lilla in-toe for a post-screening discussion. Children of the Vine examines the controversy around Glyphosate (Monsanto’s Roundup), which is both carcinogenic and the most widely used herbicide in the world, now found in over 80% of food grown in the U.S. At the same time, this solution-focused doc highlights more sustainable large-scale farming practices, which remain capable of feeding the world. The film will show at 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. with filmmaker Brian Lilla on-hand for post-screening discussions. Preserve Rural Sonoma County is a non-profit working to protect the character of Sonoma County from the urbanization and commercialization of rural lands. See screening details here. For an excellent interview with Lilla, a Sonoma County local, about the film and the dangers of Round-Up, see this piece in the Sonoma County Gazette.
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.
CATCH THEM WHILE YOU CAN: DOCS AIRING ON TV + STREAMING ONLINE
Polish filmmaker Rafal Malecki’s documentary short Rust (SDFF 2022) about renowned artist-welder Mariola Wawrzusiak-Borcz will stream as part of the “Enviro Arts” shorts block of the 2022 Green and Environmental Film Festival of San Francisco, Oct. 6-16. Rust explores Borcz’s work, which critiques modern civilization, her creative practice, and her obsessive work ethic, capturing the artist as she roams post-industrial areas in search of scrap metal that she will transform into figures of endangered animals and children affected by war. The Green and Environmental Film Festival is an SDFF partner and a presentation of SF IndieFest, which includes films from all genres (docs, narrative, animation, etc.) unified by environmental themes and sustainable solutions. The fest will run from Oct. 6-16 at the Roxie Theater in San Francisco and 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.
SDFF 2019 jury winner The Silence of Others (Almudena Carracedo and Robert Bahar, 2018) made a recent list of the 35 best Spanish films available to stream on Netflix. The documentary feature reveals the epic struggle of victims of Spain’s 40-year dictatorship under General Franco, who continue to seek justice to this day. Filmed over six years, the film follows victims and survivors as they organize the groundbreaking “Argentine Lawsuit” and fight a state-imposed amnesia of crimes against humanity, in a country still divided four decades into democracy.
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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