SDFF NEWS BITS: ALUMNI UPDATES, FESTS, HONORS, NEW DOCS, INDUSTRY HAPPENINGS
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6 SEPTEMBER 2022
AWARDS. HONORS. FESTIVALS. SPECIAL SCREENINGS.
SDFF alumni filmmaker Jerry Rothwell’s recent film The Reason I Jump (2020), an immersive cinematic exploration of neurodiversity, has been nominated for three News & Documentary Emmys®: Outstanding Cinematography, Music Composition and Sound. The film, which premiered at Sundance in 2020 and walked away with the World Cinema Documentary Award, is based on poet Naoki Higashida’s memoir that examines and attempts to represent the diverse experiences and emotions of five young people with autism. The film is nominated as a Netflix release, where it began streaming in December 2021. It has also been acquired by Disney+, but continues to stream on both platforms, and is also available VOD on most major platforms in the U.S. The winners in documentary categories will be presented at the of the 43rd Annual News & Documentary Emmy Awards® on September 29. Rothwell’s 2016 film Sour Grapes (co-dir. Reuben Atlas), which showed at SDFF, documented the rise and fall of wine charlatan Rudy Kuriawan, who pulled one over on connoisseurs, experts and industry folk before his downfall.
Daniela Alatorre, a producer on SDFF 2020 Jury Winner Familia de Medianoche (Midnight Family) (Luke Lorentzen, 2020), is on the jury for the short film category of the 23rd Fine Cut Festival. The festival, which honors the work of Southern California student filmmakers, concentrated in the area for both industry access and the number of respected film schools. Rather than showing films theatrically, the festival airs them as a series of six one-hour episodes on regional PBS. While SDFF audiences are likely to know Alatorre as the Midnight Family producer, she also directed her first documentary feature, Retiro, this year. Told from a deeply feminist perspective, Retiro follows Catholic Marina and her granddaughter Perla as they join more than 3,000 women on a spiritual retreat at the Sanctuary of Atotonilco de Léon. Midnight Family, which is currently being adapted into a fictionalized TV series on Apple+, follows the Ochoa family as they struggle to make a living running a private ambulance without compromising lifesaving care in the competitive and busy urban sprawl of Mexico City.
Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story (Alexandra Dean, 2017) will be screened as part of the Everett Film Festival this Saturday, Sept. 10, followed by a Q&A with the Lamarr’s daughter Denise Loder-DeLuca. The Everett Film Festival is in its 15th year, and is focused on highlighting the strength, humor and creativity of women through provocative and entertaining films. Bombshell was an SDFF 2018 selection about Austrian actress Hedy Lamarr, who fled an oppressive marriage and created a name for herself as one of Hollywood’s top leading ladies, but was also a talented and inquisitive inventor who created a system that is now considered the basis of Bluetooth. Based on a trove of previously unknown interviews, Hedy Lamarr, the screen siren who was called “the most beautiful woman in the world” is reborn as an inventor who helped the war effort.
NEW FILMS + PROJECTS FROM SDFF FILMMAKERS
The Territory (Alex Pritz), a new film executive produced by Jack Weisman (Nuisance Bear, 2021) was released in select theaters across the U.S. and Canada beginning in mid-August and will soon head to Discovery+ streaming. The film, which was acquired by National Geographic after its Sundance premiere, provides an immersive on-the-ground look at the tireless fight of indigenous Uru-eu-wau-wau people against the encroaching deforestation brought by farmers and illegal settlers in the Brazilian Amazon. Partially shot by the Uru-eu-wau-wau people, the film relies on verité footage captured over three years as the community risks their lives to set up their own news media team in the hopes of exposing the truth. Weisman’s SDFF 2022 short film with Gabriela Oslo Vanden, Nuisance Bear, is another visually arresting doc focused on one of the many impacts of ever-expanding industrialization, examining polar bears who draw tourists to Churchill, Manitoba.
Omar Mullick’s (These Birds Walk, 2014) new film with frequent collaborator Karim Amer (The Square), Flight/Risk will be released on Prime Video this Friday, Sept. 9. The film follows everyday people who find themselves in the midst of a tragedy when two Boeing 737 Max planes crashed only five months apart in 2018 and 2019. The documentary feature is told from the perspective of affected family members, their legal teams, whistleblowers, and Pulitzer-winning Seattle Times journalist Dominic Gates. 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.
Peabody and Emmy award-winning filmmaker Rita Coburn Whack (Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise, 2016) will be speaking after a screening her newest film Marian Anderson The Whole World In Her Hands at Jacksonville University next week. The doc explores the life, career, art and legacy of the opera singer and civil rights pioneer, drawing from key performances and 34 cassette tapes of interviews recorded in the 1950s, while Anderson was preparing to write her memoir, My Lord, What a Morning. The film premiered on the PBS series American Masters earlier this year, joining another of Coburn’s films about a groundbreaking black, female artists, Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise, which she made with Bob Hercules. Both films make extensive use of archival material in an attempt to let their subjects speak their own stories. The earlier film showed at SDFF 2017 and is available as an episode of American Masters via PBS on YouTube. Marian Anderson: The Whole World In Her Hands is available to stream on PBS. It will also be screened at The Linda Berry Stein College of Fine Arts & Humanities at Jacksonville University on Sept. 15, followed by a discussion with the filmmaker.
IN THE NEWS
A flash mob calling attention to arrested or imprisoned filmmakers, in particular detained Iranian director Jafar Panahi, has been organized for the red carpet that precedes the screening of his newest film No Bears (Kehrs nist) at The Venice Film Festival this Friday, Sept. 9. The flash mob is part of a collaboration between the festival and The International Coalition for Filmmakers at Risk, meant to support and raise awareness about directors, filmmakers, journalists and artists who have been arrested or imprisoned over the past year. The collaboration also included a panel discussion at this year’s festival, “Filmmakers Under Attack: Taking Stock, Taking Action,” which provided info on filmmakers currently being persecuted, arrested or incarcerated, expressed solidarity and concern for their future, signaled the need for film industry to mobilize, and discussed possible actions that could yield concrete changes. See related news from SDFF about the ICFR and its work in Ukraine, Panahi and the growing list of female journalists detained over the past 12 months.
The Black Prisoners’ Caucus, which is heavily featured in Gilda Sheppard’s Since I Been Down (SDFF 2021), is the subject of a recent editorial that examines the growing work the group is doing outside of prison, as its members are increasingly released. In prison, the BPC provides space for Black prisoners to strengthen their identity through programs such as Taking Education and Creating History (T.E.A.C.H.), which is also featured in the doc. The BPC has also always done some work outside prison, working to improve relationships with prisoners’ families, and providing educational to prisoners’ home communities. However, this work is expanding and transforming to include educational and community building work, at least in part through a variety of non-profits that have emerged from it, as well as partnerships with community groups and educational institutions, like the school district. Since I Been Down, which spends a significant amount of time examining the BPC and its evolution, is an SDFF 2021 doc that explores a morass of intersecting criminal justice and carceral issues by focusing on victims of the 1980-90s drug war who continue to their lives behind bars, in many cases contributing to the limited community they can make in prison. Since its release, the film has been shown as in various campaigns seeking to transform how justice and criminal law are envisioned. It is now available on demand through most major streaming platforms (iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, YouTube, etc.).
Filmmaker/musician/activist James LeBrecht, of Crip Camp fame, appears in a recent Variety report on a California diversity measure aimed at the film industry, which ignores people with disabilities. SB 485, an extension of the state’s film industry tax incentive has been put on hold while lawmakers work out a new mandate, requiring eligible films to submit diversity plans that are “broadly reflective of California’s population, in terms of race, ethnicity, and gender.” Unfortunately, the mandate does not include provisions for people with disabilities, and won’t until at least next year, according to state Sen. Anthony Portatino, who has been working on the bill. LeBrecht has called the exclusion of people with disabilities “maddening,” and told Variety that the erasure reinforces the idea that disabled folks don’t matter. Although the bill is on hold for now, it has the governor’s support and seems likely to pass without explicitly including disabled folks as a significant minority. LeBrecht has a long history of advocating for disabled rights, which is part of what is documented in his 2020 film with Nicole Newnham, Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution. The doc tells the story of the modern American Disability Rights Movement, beginning with the congregation of a generation of young soon-to-be-activists at Camp Jened in the late 1960s. The film’s co-writer/co-director, composer, filmmaker and activist James LeBrecht is a longtime SDFF collaborator.
For Sama (Waad al-Kateab and Edward Watts, SDFF 2020) composer Nainita Desai was interviewed by Temple Of The Geek about the multi-theme score she’s been working on for Immortality, a new live action video game that immerses players into three cult movies from the writers of The Queen’s Gambit, Lost Highway, Wild at Heart and Don’t Look Now. Desai, who has over 160 film and TV credits to her name, also discusses a number of other recent projects, including the extremely popular Netflix true crime doc American Murder The Family Next Door (Jenny Popplewell, 2020); stage play-turned-TV response to a spate of UK femicides, Maryland (Lucy Kirkwood, 2022); and pandemic doc 2020: The Story of Us (Kevin McDonald, 2021). Desai will be familiar to SDFF audiences for her work on For Sama, which traces five years of co-director Waad 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.
LOCAL SCREENINGS + FILM EVENTS
Doc Night will return on September 12 with a screening of Emmy®-winner Belly Of The Beast (2020) at 7 p.m., followed by a discussion with director Erika Cohn, and a casual gathering at Fern Bar. Filmed over seven years with extraordinary access and intimate accounts from currently and formerly incarcerated people, Belly of the Beast exposes modern day eugenics and reproductive injustice in California prisons. Doc Night is a collaboration between Trim Tab, SDFF and Rialto Cinemas®. See Belly Of The Beast and Doc Night details here. Buy Tickets here.
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), begins showing at Rialto Cinemas® Sebastopol on September 9, with some screenings shown as part of 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. 8. 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.
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 begin showing at the Rialto Cinemas® Sebastopol next Friday, Sept. 16. 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.
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 Sonoma County Library Documentary Film Discussion Group will meet on 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.
CATCH THEM WHILE YOU CAN: DOCS AIRING ON TV + STREAMING ONLINE
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.
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 2019 jury winner The Silence of Others (Almudena Carracedo and Robert Bahar, 2018) is now 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.
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.
Another of Yung Chang’s docs, Wuhan Wuhan is now available to stream on PBS’s POV website, having opened the show’s 35th season. The film, which showed at SDFF 2021, is an observational documentary filmed during February and March of 2020, at the height of the pandemic in Wuhan city, where the coronavirus began. With unprecedented access at the peak of the pandemic lockdown, the film focuses on five stories that focus on the human experience of the earliest days of the pandemic, as a mysterious virus began to infect Chinese citizens, and frontline healthcare workers grappled with an invisible, deadly killer.
Ben Masters’s new film Deep In The Heart is available to stream VOD on PrimeVideo, GooglePlay, AppleTV and Vudu. The film is a celebration of Texas’s diverse landscapes and wildlife, told through the eyes of wildlife species and narrated by actor Matthew McConaughey Masters’ film with Hillary Pierce, The River and The Wall (2019), which was an official selection of SDFF 2020, is similarly focused on conservation and follows five friends who set out to document the borderlands and explore the potential impacts of a U.S.-Mexico border wall on the natural environment.
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.
If you have news about an SDFF alumni, please contact us at [email protected] so we can broadcast it!