SDFF NEWS BITS: ALUMNI UPDATES, FESTS, HONORS, NEW DOCS, INDUSTRY HAPPENINGS
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12 APRIL 2022
AWARDS. HONORS. FESTIVALS. SPECIAL SCREENINGS.
The Silent Shore (Nathalie Giraud and Timothée Corteggiani, 2021) won the Jury Award for Best Short at Full Frame 2022. In the short, also an SDFF 2022 Jury Nominee, fantasy author Pierre Dubois and his wife, Aline, talk about the power of writing, imagination and the deep connection with life that has brought them through the suicide of their teenaged daughter Melanie, who took her life following a heartbreak. While the festival is over, Full Frame’s full 2022 line-up is still available.
SDFF 2022 selection Look Away, Look Away (Patrick O’Connor, 2021) has received the 2022 Erik Barnouw Award from the Organization of American Historians. The annual award honors excellence in documentary and television programs concerned with American History and its study. Look Away, Look Away tracks the five-year battle over the Mississippi state flag, which contains a Confederate rebel design. In doing so, the film examines issues of race, memory and history. The full list of OAH 2022 awards is available here.
Isla Badenoch (H Is For Harry, 2018) is one of 18 first-time filmmakers selected for female-focused film organization, Birds’ Eye View’s Filmonomics business training program. She is part of the sixth iteration of the BFI/ScreenSkills-funded program, which is aimed at feature writers, directors and producers of marginalized genders who are either on the verge of making their first feature, or have just made or released their debut. Badenoch was a producer on H Is for Harry (Ed Owles and Jamie Taylor, 2018), a coming-of-age story that captured two years in the life of a preteen boy struggling with illiteracy, which showed at SDFF 2019.
“Fanny” June Millington, music pioneer and co-founder of the groundbreaking all-female band Fanny, subject of Fanny: The Right To Rock (Bobbi Jo Hart, 2021), was inducted into the New England Music Hall of Fame last week. The first all-female band to be signed to a major record label, Fanny was formed in Sacramento in 1960 by two Filipina-American sisters and their friends, released five critically-acclaimed records in as many years, toured with bands like Chicago, and were written out of history until the reformed 50 years later. Fanny: The Right To Rock recently showed at SDFF 2022. 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.
Ferne Pearlstein’s The Last Laugh (Ferne Pearlstein, 2016) will be among the films honored at the Gold Standard Arts Festival on the Upper West Side in New York, April 24-May 1. The festival celebrates the work of artists over 50. The documentary, which showed at SDFF 2017, considers Holocaust comedy and satire, examining the history of the practice as well as the ethical issues it raises. The Last Laugh is currently available to stream on Kanopy.
The Booksellers (D.W. Young, 2019) was screened as part of the New York State Writers Institute’s Albany Film Festival in earlier this month. Now in its second year, the film festival’s aim is explore the craft of diverse storytelling in cinema, foster a deeper understanding of social justice and celebrate the human experience in all its dimensions. The Booksellers is a behind-the-scenes look at the New York world of rare books, which was shown as part of SDFF 2020. It is now available through Amazon Prime.
Penny Lane’s Listening To Kenny G (Penny Lane, 2021) was an official selection at the Sarasota Film Festival in New York. The doc, which interrogates the concept of taste by examining the public sentiment around much-maligned sax player Kenny G, has been making waves since it showed at DOC NYC last fall and is showing on HBO as part of that network’s Music Box series that includes Alison Kayman’s Alanis Morisette doc Jagged and Christopher Frierson’s DMX: Don’t Try to Understand. Lane’s film Nuts! about radio “doctor” and public health hazard of days past, Dr. John Brinkley, was an SDFF 2018 official selection.
To raise awareness during World Autism Month, Golden Screen Cinemas will be screening two films examining neurodiversity: The Reason I Jump (Jerry Rothwell, 2021) and The Special/Hors Normes (Thomas Raguet, 2020). This will be the first Malaysian showing of The Reason I Jump, a doc based on Naoki Higashida’s memoir recounting the experiences and emotions of five young people with autism. Director Jerry Rothwell is an SDFF alumni filmmaker, whose film Sour Grapes (Rothwell and Reuben Atlas, 2016), which documented the rise and fall of wine charlatan Rudy Kuriawan, showed at SDFF 2017. The Reason I Jump is currently available in the U.S. via Netflix.
Voice Above Water (Dana Frankoff, 2020) won an award for best environmental film at the 17th Annual Paddling Film Festival, which tours the U.S. and Canada, and also has film programs available to stream online, many of which are currently discounted. The SDFF 2021 alumni film is about Wayan Nyo, a 90 year-old fisherman who has devoted his life to collecting a seemingly never-ending supply of garbage from the ocean. The story is a glimpse into how one human uses his resources to make a difference and a reminder that if we all play our part, we can accomplish something much greater than ourselves.
IN THE NEWS
Following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the International Coalition for Filmmakers at Risk started the Emergency Fund for Filmmakers that has helped support over 100 filmmakers in direct danger because of the war. The fund aims to help filmmakers with small grants in order to assist in covering temporary relocation expenses, legal and administrative fees, to cover initial minor but necessary expenses. Although it has helped a significant number of filmmakers, the fund is hoping to raise funds and make them quickly available to those who need them. ICFR’s mandate includes across the board support for filmmakers at risk, which applies to Ukranian filmmakers and to the many openly and vocal anti-war filmmakers of Russia and Belarus. Relatedly, film news source Cineuropa published an overview of reactions and commentary from European filmmakers to Russia’s military offensive against Ukraine this week. The piece includes a number of perspectives as well as links to further resources.
The work of SDFF alumni filmmaker Waad al-Kateab (For Sama) was featured in The Camera Is Ours: Britain’s Women Documentary Makers, part of a BFI project to raise the visibility of women documentarians. The program included films from the last 100 years, including the films of documentary pioneers like Ruby and Marion Grierson, and the contemporary work of filmmakers like al-Kateab and Penny Woolcock. The Camera Is Ours features a number of new digital restorations from the British National Archive, supported by the BFI. The program includes two weeks of screenings in advance of BFI Flare: London LGBTQIA+ Film Festival (March 16-27), a season at BFI Southbank, a DVD boxset, BFI Player collection and a free exhibition and BFI Mediatheque collection. Al-Kateab’s SDFF film For Sama (2019) traces five years of the filmmaker’s life during the uprising in Aleppo, as she falls in love, gets married and gives birth while apocalyptic conflict rises around her.
Julia Scotti, comedian and subject/collaborator of the doc Julia Scotti: Funny That Way (Susan Sandler, 2020) gave an interview for, and about, the International Transgender Day of Visibility, which is available here as both an audio and print piece. Julia Scotti: Funny That Way is a portrait of the transgender comedian, which explores the courage and humor it takes to be Julia. The film showed as part of SDFF 2021.
Rahul Jain’s new environmental doc, Invisible Demons, is an official selection of the upcoming Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles, which will be returning to in person screenings, April 28-May 1, with a focus on South Asian cinema. Invisible Demons 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.
NEW FILMS & PROJECTS FROM SDFF FILMMAKERS
Filmmakers Neasa Ní Chianáin and David Rane, who previously collaborated on the film School Life (2017), teamed up again to co-write/co-direct the new doc Young Plato, which tells a story about applied philosophy as a mode of conflict resolution by focusing on an all boys school in Belfast and the teaching practices of its headmaster. Set in a marginalized Belfast’s community, the film focalizes headmaster Kevin McArevey’s efforts to empower and encourage kids to see beyond the limits posed by their circumstances through critical thinking. Ní Chianáín and Rane’s SDFF 2018 film School Life (co-dir. David Rane) was thematically similar and focused on teachers at Headfort, the only primary boarding school in Ireland. Rane is also a producer for Soilsiú Films/Girl Taken, which is among a slate of British films recently acquired by Paramount+ as the streaming service prepares to enter the British market. Girl, Taken follows the story of Celeste and Morne Nurse, whose baby daughter Zephany was stolen from hospital two days after her birth in Cape Town in 1997.
Texas filmmaker Keith Maitland has released a new doc, Dear Mr. Brody, which was recently screened for the Austin Film Society reopening. The doc is about the events that accrued after Michael Brody Jr., a 21-year-old hippie millionaire promised to give away his $25 million inheritance in an effort to usher in a new era of world peace in 1970. Maitland is best-known for the animated doc Tower, a retelling of the 1966 University of Texas Tower shootings.Tower was an SDFF 2017 selection, as was Maitland’s A Song For You: The Austin City Limits Story.
LOCAL SCREENINGS + FILM EVENTS
Rialto Cinemas® Sebastopol will have a single-night screening of To Which We Belong (Lindsay Richardson and Pamela Tanner Boll, 2021) tonight (April 12) at 7 p.m. This environmental documentary highlights farmers and ranchers leaving behind conventional practices that are no longer profitable or sustainable. Rialto Cinemas® will also be hosting some free documentary screenings this month. On April 20 at 7 p.m., Try Harder! (Debbie Lum, 2021) will screen as an IndieLens Pop-Up. The doc examines the intersection of class, race and educational opportunity as experienced by Seniors at San Francisco’s top-ranked public high school, who are in the midst of applying to elite colleges. On April 28 at 6:30 p.m., Angst (Matt Skerritt, 2020), a doc designed to raise awareness around anxiety and mental health will be screened for free in collaboration with the Sonoma County Office of Education.
Doc Night will return on May 9 with a screening of Symphony of the Soil at 7 p.m., followed by a Q&A with producer Deborah Koons Garcia and editor Vivien Hillgrove, then a casual gathering at Fern Bar. Filmed on four continents, Symphony of the Soil is an intriguing presentation that highlights possibilities of healthy soil creating healthy plants creating healthy humans on a healthy planet. Doc Nights are a collaboration of Trim Tab, SDFF and Rialto Cinemas®. See Symphony of the Soil and Doc Night details here.
CATCH THEM WHILE YOU CAN: STREAMING DOCS
Since I Been Down (Gilda Shepperd, 2021) is now streaming on SundanceNow. The feature-length doc, which showed at SDFF 2021, addresses racism in the criminal justice system. Shepperd’s doc approaches intersecting criminal justice and carceral issues by focusing on victims of the 1980s drug war who continue to languish behind bars. Since its release, the film has been shown as in various campaigns seeking to transform how justice and criminal law are envisioned.
Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story (Alexandra Dean, 2017) will be shown on PBS’s American Masters on May 3 and May 6, and is also available for free through the American Masters website until May 18. The American Masters website for the film also includes a number of new interviews and archival information, including an interview with Mel Brooks and recently unearthed audio of interviews with the inventor/actor. Bombshell showed at SDFF 2018 and is about the famed actress’s inventions, which included a technology that would eventually become Bluetooth. Dean also directed the recent 10-hour docuseries Secrets of Playboy, which is available through A&E. The project explores the reality behind the Playboy empire through a modern lens, examining the reality behind the company’s copious myth-making, its role in the sexual revolution, and the realities of the women who have worked at the company.
Big Sonia (Leah Warshawski and Todd Soliday, 2016) is available to stream for free through KSMQ/PBS through April 30. The film focuses on 91 year-old Auschwitz survivor Sonia Warshawski, whose forced retirement occasions a resurgence of memories and fears that she’s long kept at bay by committing herself to work. An SDFF 2017 selection, Big Sonia is also available to rent or buy through Amazon streaming, and is also available through AMC+.
The SDFF 2021 film, When We Were Bullies (Jay Rosenblatt, 2021) is now streaming on HBO/HBO MAX. When We Were Bullies is an autobiographical doc about a filmmaker who is spurred to investigate a 50 year-old bullying event in which he was complicit after a chance encounter with an old classmate. The short was nominated for Best Short Documentary at the 2022 Academy Awards®, and has received a flurry of recent media attention (New York Times, SF Chronicle, Daily Beast, Deadline), most of which laud the film for expanding the public discussion on bullying.
Fine Lines (Dina Kheirno, 2018) is among Outside/Climbing’s top 10 best climbing films now available to stream. The film made the list for its focus on philosophies of climbing, and is up on Amazon for free (with commercials). The film showed at SDFF 2018 and features three years of interviews with climbers about what drives them to regularly leave behind their families and everyday comforts to risk their lives scaling mountains.
The Torture Letters (Laurence Ralph, 2020) was one of six films screened as part of Animating Realities: Documentary Social Impact Shorts at the new Academy Museum of Motion Pictures in late January. The winter screening and discussion event examined the enhanced emotional impact animation can have on real-life stories, transcending the literal and evoking emotional responses by communicating emotional experiences of events. The Torture Letters traces filmmaker Laurence Ralph’s early memory of police harassment and profiling to the horrific history of police torture in Chicago, working as a primer on the roots of police violence that is made tangible and emotionally resonant through illustrated renderings of Ralph’s personal experience. The film, which showed as part of SDFF 2021, is now available to stream in its entirely as part of the New York Times Op-Docs.
Neymar: The Perfect Chaos, a new, three-part docuseries by David Charles Rodrigues (Gay Chorus, Deep South, 2019) profiling soccer star Neymar da Silva Santos Júnior, one of the most famous and highest paid athletes in history, is now streaming on Netflix. The streaming giant partnered with LeBron James’s athlete empowerment brand Uninterrupted for the project, which tracks the soccer superstar’s rise, his career as a player, and the marketing machine that has helped create his persona, run by his father. Rodrigues’s Gay Chorus, Deep South, an SDFF 2020 selection, follows the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus as it embarks on a tour of the American Deep South, following a wave of discriminatory anti-LGBTQ laws and the divisive 2016 election. It is now streaming on Amazon Prime.
Another SDFF 2017 alumni filmmaker, Pedro Kos, also has an acclaimed new doc on Netflix, Lead Me Home, an immersive film about homelessness shot in San Francisco, Los Angeles and Seattle made in collaboration with Jon Shenk. The film was nominated for the 2022 Oscar for Documentary Short Subject. Kos’s 2017 film with Kief Davidson Bending The Arc is also available to stream through Netflix and documents the birth of Partners In Health, which began 30 years ago with the work of a group of extraordinary doctors and activists working to save lives in a Haitian village and became a battle in the halls of power for healthcare for all.
Bathtubs Over Broadway (Dava Whisenant, 2018) is available via Netflix. The doc was an official SDFF 2019 film that focused on the industrial musicals and the people who make them. The doc approaches these rare, historic oddities produced by the likes of McDonalds and GE, by following a late night comedy writer who stumbles into a hilarious, hidden world of entertainment where he finds unexpected human connections. This highly entertaining doc includes appearances by David Letterman, Martin Short, Chita Rivera and Jello Biafra.
Southwest of Salem: The Story of the San Antonio Four (Deborah S, Esquezani, 2016) recently became available through NBC’s streaming platform Peacock TV. This SDFF 2017 selection examines the criminal justice system through the arrest of four women in San Antonio at the tail end of the “Satanic ritual abuse panic” of the 1990s. The four women, all Latina, all lesbian, were wrongfully convicted of a heinous sexual assault. The film documents their treatment by the criminal justice system and their continued efforts to prove their innocence after serving several decades in prison.
Knife Skills (Thomas Lennon, 2017), an SDFF 2018 selection and Academy Award® nominee, is showing on The New Yorker’s youtube station. The doc follows the launch of an haute cuisine restaurant in Cleveland, staffed by men and women recently released from prison. The film documents the challenges of men and women finding their way after their release. They all have something to prove, and all struggle to launch new lives; an endeavor as pressured and perilous as the ambitious restaurant launch of which they are a part.
Holly Near: Singing for Our Lives (Jim Brown, 2018) is available on the subscription-based streaming platform Peacock. The film, an SDFF 2019 fave, documents the life and 50-year career of singer, songwriter, social activist and Sebastopol native Holly Near, who created what Gloria Steinem called, “the first soundtrack of the women’s movement.” It also serves as an important testament to a time—a time of protest and coalition building, and the weaving of a multicultural consciousness always rooted in contemporary activism.
The Woman Who Loves Giraffes (Alison Reid, 2018) is available through the Sundance Now! streaming service. In the SDFF 2019 selection, Dr. Anne Innis Dagg re-traces the steps of her ground-breaking 1956 journey to South Africa to study giraffes in the wild. Now, at 85 years old, Anne sees a startling contrast between the world of giraffes she once knew and the one it has become. Weaving through the past and present, her harrowing journey gives us an intimate look into the factors that destroyed her career and the forces that brought her back.
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