SDFF2020 Official Selection The Great Toilet Paper Scare
Makes It’s Mark In An Unexpected Way

Still from Brian Gersten’s 2019 short film The Great Toilet Paper Scare, streaming for a limited time only on SDFF’s homepage. (left)

Echo (above). Toilet paper lover, documentary film fanatic, and 2ssistant to SDFF steering member Olga Browning

SDFF 2020 programmers selected Brian Gersten’s The Great Toilet Paper Scare in the Fall, for its effective, humorous take on an early iteration of “fake news.” The film’s titular event, a toilet paper shortage, took shape following a Johnny Carson joke in 1973, and can be seen as prototypical of present day fake news that inundates social media. What neither SDFF nor filmmaker Gersten could ever have anticipated was that his story’s specific subject—a paucity of toilet paper—would be repeated in a more literal way, as consumers hoarded toilet paper and other essential items when COVID-19 made landfall in the U.S. earlier this year. Although the circumstances leading to these two shortages couldn’t be more different—a one-off Johnny Carson joke in one case, a global pandemic in the other—both arise and take shape in relationship to specific forms of media in contexts marked by distrust in institutions and reliance on word-of-mouth.

In Director Gersten’s words:

As I worked on the film over the past year I could have never imagined how bizarrely relevant this documentary would become. I have fairly mixed emotions about it all to be quite honest. While it’s nice to get your hard work out into the world, it’s also overwhelming to see what’s unfolding and to see history repeat itself in certain ways. The goal with this project from the very beginning was to simply make a film about a bizarre and forgotten piece of history that people would ideally find funny and entertaining. I think my goal now is for people to use the film as a mirror of sorts. A fun-house mirror perhaps. There are hopefully plenty of lessons to be learned, and chuckles to be had, from watching it and reflecting on it.

Despite the Coronavirus-based postponement and/or cancellation of most upcoming U.S. and International film festivals, where smaller independent films typically gain visibility and distribution, Gersten’s short has gained national notoriety. The short’s growing notoriety is due, at least in part, to its irreverent, humorous approach approach to a problem that has not only persisted, but has also morphed with the media through which it is spread. The Great Toilet Paper Scare is the subject of a March 19 column in The Atlantic, “What Misinformation Has to Do With Toilet Paper,”  is currently streaming on SDFF’s homepage and is also slated to screen as part of SDFF2020, the revised dates of which have yet to be announced.

SDFF 2020 Postponed

Sebastopol Documentary Film Festival 2020 scheduled for 26- 29 March is postponed. 

We are tremendously sad and disappointed to make this announcement.

We recognize that this is not the time to create and promote public gatherings. We are determined to do our part towards keeping a healthy and safe environment during this uncertain time.

For additional information, visit the Sonoma County Department of Health Services, WHO or Johns Hopkins COVID-19 websites. Keep up to date on SDFF 2020 through our website.

SDFF 2020 continues to stand with our community as we work together to navigate this challenge. We wish you well, friends, during this uncertain time.

We look forward to celebrating with you at a later date!

The SDFF 2020 Team
Sebastopol Center for the Arts

Gallyot interviews The Vow From Hiroshima Filmmaker

Check out the wonderful interview of  Raul Gallyot, on of KWMR-FM, with Mitchie Takeuchi, producer and director of The Vow of Hiroshima.  The interview aired this week and is now available streaming for free at KWMR and The Internet Archive.

The Vow From Hiroshima is a powerful portrait of Setsuko Thurlow, an 85-year-old survivor of the atomic bomb in Hiroshima, told through the lens of Mitchie Takeuchi, a second generation survivor. The film will screen as part of the 2020 Sebastopol Documentary Film Festival and screens on Sunday, March 29 from 1:45-3:05 p.m. at Rialto Cinemas®.
Gallyot has been a great fan of SDFF and done some fabulous interviews over the past couple of years with filmmakers who attend the festival.  During last year’s festival , he spent an hour with the founder of the rescue/school featured in The Rescue List, and another hour was with Skye Fitzgerald, Director, Lifeboat and 50 Feet from Syria.

Another Plea for Help from Chinese Factory Found in Christmas Card

A December 23 story in The Washington Post echoes details of SDFF 2019’s Letter from Masanjia. The Post’sA Girl Said She Found a Plea for Help in Her Christmas Card. The Seller is Investigating,” recounts a story that will be eerily familiar to anyone who saw last year’s entry, Letter from Masanjia. In this new story, a 6 year-old child opened a Christmas card and found a note from a worker claiming to be working under duress as forced labor and pleading for its reader to contact a human rights group. The find has led to an investigation and has halted sale of the card by British retail chain Tesco. This story bears a grim resemblance to the one recounted in Leon Lee’s Letter from Masanjiawhich began when a Portland woman found an S.O.S. note in a box of Halloween decorations. The film recounts her decision to act on the note, and follows up on the impacts of the note and the actions it set in motion, which exposed a labor camp system that persecutes political and religious dissidents. Letter from Masanjia played at SDFF 2019 and is currently available through a number of streaming platforms.

SDFF 2019 Alum Gets Emerging Storyteller Fund grant for The Sebastopol Siege

SDFF 2019 alum and Alpha Mare co-director Mimi Wilcox received Kartemquin’s Emerging Storyteller Fund grant for The Sebastopol Siege. Wilcox pitched the film at SDFF’s 2019 Peer Pitch. Kartemquin selects grantees that follow it’s mission of using documentary “to deepen our understanding of society through everyday human drama,” according to program director Jolene Pinder. Kartemquin is a collaborative community that empowers documentarians who create stories that foster a more engaged and just society.

The subject of the Wilcox’s short film is the “Sebastopol Seige,” a 1973 incident in which two men took Michaela Madden, a recently widowed mother of 5, hostage for 8 hours in her rural home­ along with a sheriff’s deputy and Press Democrat reporter. Wilcox’s film takes the incident as its starting point to explore how Madden was subsequently vilified by her community. When her family revisits the story 45 years later for the film, the powers of human compassion and police aggression come into conflict in a larger exploration of family mythology and trauma. The film, along with a slate of other Kartemquin award winners, will be previewed at a works-in-progress screening in Chicago on October 29.

Wilcox’s 2019 SDFF short, Alpha Mare, is being screened with the Worlds of Ursula K. Le Guin at this year’s last Best of the Fest screening on Nov. 7 at 7 p.m.

Pulitzer Prize Winning Journalist & SDFF 2019 Alum Lowell Bergman Gives Local Talk on State of Journalism

Pulitzer prize-winning journalist Lowell Bergman, who gave a talk on investigative journalism to accompany SDFF 2019’s screening of Factory of Lies (Jakob Gottschau, 2018), will give a talk and Q&A session this Weds., Sept. 18 at 8 p.m. at The Raven Performing Arts Theater in Healdsburg. His appearance is being sponsored by Sonoma West Publishers (SWP) and Northern California Public Media (KRCB.)

The public is invited to attend, and general admission is $10 at the door (doors open at 7:30 p.m.). All Sonoma West Times & News subscribers will be admitted free.

For more information, see this Sonoma West Times article, 0r download a PDF of the flyer.

A co-presentation of Rialto Cinemas & Sebastopol Documentary Film Festival

Festival Pass $65 – 10 admissions  
General Admission $10

Ay Mariposa
Fri, Sept. 13 at 5 p.m. • Sun, Sept. 15 at 12 p.m.
Mon, Sept. 16 at 3 p.m. • Wed, Sept. 18 at 1 p.m.

Backyard Wilderness 3D
Sat, Sept. 14 at 12 p.m. • Tues, Sept. 17 at noon
Thurs, Sept. 19 at noon

Into The Canyon
Fri, Sept. 13 at 1 p.m. • Sun, Sept. 15 at 5 p.m.
Mon, Sept. 16 at 5 p.m. • Weds, Sept. 18 at 7 p.m.

Sat, Sept. 14 at 5 p.m. • Sun, Sept. 15 at 1:20 p.m.

Point of No Return

Fri, Sept. 13 at 7 p.m. • Sun, Sept. 15 at 3 p.m. w/ filmmaker Q&A!
Tues, Sept. 17 at 1 p.m. • Thu, Sept. 19 at 3 p.m.

The River and the Wall 

Sat, Sept. 14 at 1:10 p.m. • Mon, Sept. 16 at 1 p.m.  
Weds, Sept. 18 at 5 p.m.

Rivers of a Lost Coast

Sun, Sept. 15 at 7 p.m. • Tues, Sept. 17 at 7 p.m.
Thurs, Sept. 19 at 1:15 p.m.
Co-sponsored by (50% ticket sales donated to co-sponsor CalTROUT)!

Sea of Shadows 

Sat, Sept. 14 at 7 p.m. • Tues, Sept. 17 at 3 p.m.
Thu, Sep 19 5 p.m.

The Weight of Water

Fri, Sept. 13 at 3 p.m. • Mon, Sept. 16 at 7 p.m.
Weds, Sept. 18 at 3 p.m.

Wonders of the Sea

Sat, Sept. 14 at 3:15 p.m. • Tue, Sept. 17 at 5 p.m.
Thu, Sept. 19 at 7 p.m. 3D Screening!

To Purchase Festival Passes, Please Visit the Rialto Box Office!

Purchase general admission tickets Here.

Visit the Rialto’s Air Land Sea page Here.

Get a PDF of Air Land Sea films, including full descriptions Here.

SDFF 2019 Alumni Collaborate on

New Project Crip Camp

Filmmaker Lauren Schwartzman, whose short Dust Rising was not only featured in SDFF 2018, but is also a Best of the Fest selection, is collaborating with long-time SDFF Alum Jim LeBrecht on the upcoming documentary Crip Camp.

A 35-year veteran of the film industry, who has made over 145 films, Le Brecht has honored SDFF with his presence several times in the festival’s history, most recently running a filmmaker discussion panel, “Composing for Docs,” with William Ryan Fritch at SDFF 2019. Emerging filmmaker Lauren Schartzman also attended SDFF 2019, accompanying her award winning, environmental short Dust Rising.

One of the first 7 projects selected by the Obamas for their Netflix-based production company, Higher Ground, Crip Camp documents LeBrecht’s memories of a ramshackle summer camp for disabled teens just down the road from Woodstock in the 1960s and 70s. The camp would not only transform lives, but also shaped the future of the disability rights movement.

LeBrecht has spent his career balancing his work as a sound designer, mixer and composer, with his work as an ardent disability rights activist. This film combines both passions, and will be his directorial debut. Emerging filmmaker Schwartzman joined the film as an associate producer and assistant editor.

“Elephant Path – Njaia Njoku,” Extended Streaming, Upcoming Broadcasts & Filmmaker Q&A

PBS Rebroadcast & Extended Streaming

For those of you that missed it at SDFF 2019, “Elephant Path” (Todd McGrain, 2017) has had its streaming run extended on PBS World Channel and will be available through the site until September 9. The documentary is part of PBS’s Doc World Series, and is also airing on August 11 at 3 p.m. on KQED.

To stream the film, you can either watch directly on the WORLD Channel film page, or you can watch via the PBS App on all your devices! Once you’re in the app, just search for “Elephant Path”.

World Elephant Day World Channel Facebook Broadcast & Filmmaker Q&A

Elephant Path – Njaia Mjoku will also be broadcast at noon on World Elephant Day (August 12)  on the WORLD Channel’s Facebook Page, followed by a live chat with filmmaker Todd McGrain and Elephant Listening Project’s current researcher Daniela Hedwig. Join the conversation with Todd and Daniela during and after the screening!

Follow @WORLDChannel to receive notifications for the event, and go to Elephant Path’s website for more info.

Worlds of Ursula K. Le Guin 

on PBS Masters

SDFF 2019 selection and fan favorite, Worlds of Ursula K. Le Guin (Arwen Curry, 2018) will air on PBS American Masters/KQED August 2, 2019 at 9 p.m.

In addition to SDFF, Worlds of Ursula K. Le Guinhas screened around the US and the world (from China to Lithuania), taking home awards for Best in Fest from DCIFF and Boston SciFi Film Festival. If you can’t catch it on PBS, it’s showing at the Sebastopol Center for the Arts, Thursday, Nov. 7 at SDFF 2019 Best of the Fest!

A Great Ride selected for Amazon Prime’s All Voices Festival

Stream At Home & Help Fund Filmmaker’s New Project!

SDFF 2019 Official Selection A Great Ride has been selected for Amazon Prime’s All Voices Festival. The more complete views the film gets, get the more likely filmmaker Deborah Craig and her crew are to be finalists and potentially win funding for her next project (already in progress) about Sally Gearhart. You can also catch A Great Ride on the big screen as part of SDFF 2019 Best of the Fest on September 12, where it will show with other audience faves, Lifeboat and I Have Something To Tell You.

See A Great Ride on Amazon Prime’s All Voices Festival here.

Get tickets to Best of the Fest’s Audience Favorites showing on September 12 here.

Madame Mars Goes To Cambridge,
 STEM Summit and SDFF Best of the Fest!

Festival Favorite Madame Mars and its fabulous filmmaker Jan Millsapps will be on their way to the UK in July after receiving an invite from the University of Cambridge. On their way back to California they’ll also be popping into NYC’s Academy of Sciences’ Global STEM Summit for an appearance. You can catch Madame Mars: Madame Mars: Women And The Quest For Worlds Beyond at SDFF’s Best of the Fest Shorts Program on June 6th at 7 p.m. along with other festival faves: Stretch, Spraying under the Stars and Waterfolks. Tickets are available here.