SDFF NEWS BITS: ALUMNI UPDATES, FESTS, HONORS, NEW DOCS, INDUSTRY HAPPENINGS
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24 JANUARY 2023
AWARDS. HONORS. FESTIVALS. SPECIAL SCREENINGS + EVENTS.
Jack Weisman and Gabriela Oslo Vanden’s Nuisance Bear (2021) won the award for Outstanding Achievement in Nonfiction Short Filmmaking at the 16th Cinema Eye last week. The awards, given out at an in-person ceremony at the Museum of the Moving Image in New York, recognize excellence in nonfiction filmmaking. Nuisance Bear has been celebrated since it appeared at SDFF 2022, most recently receiving an honorable mention for IDA’s Pare Lorentz Award, and shortlisted for the 2023 Oscar® for Best Documentary Short. The doc is an unconventional and beautifully cinematic study of polar bears who draw tourists to Churchill, Manitoba for the specific purpose of taking wildlife photos. The film shifts perspective as it follows a polar bear on its chaotic migration, revealing an obstacle course of tourist paparazzi and wildlife officers the bears must navigate during their annual migration. Nuisance Bear is available to stream through The New Yorker website and on the publication’s youtube, it is also a part of the Banff Mountain Film Festival’s world tour, with dates throughout the U.S. and Canada, and in various countries internationally.
Bertrand Loyer’s The Sand Eating Shark will be screened as part of the inaugural Big Blue Film Fest, which runs Jan. 27-28 at Oregon State University’s Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport. The new film festival will showcase ocean-themed films at the confluence of marine sciences, humanities and the arts, with the aims of engaging audiences with research-based entertainment, and raising awareness about marine issues and how to solve them. The Sand Eating Shark, which showed as part of SDFF 2022, follows Manoela, a lemon shark who lives and hunts sardines in the waves of Brazil’s Fernando do Noro, using a unique hunting technique, unsuspected alliances, unusual behaviors, and extraordinary senses to detects scents, sounds, and tiny electric fields. See the Big Blue FF’s full schedule, here.
Two films with SDFF ties, David Grubin’s Free Renty: Lanier v. Harvard (SDFF 2022) and Reparations (2022) by Jon Osaki, director of Alternative Facts: The Lies Of Executive Order 9066 (SDFF 2020) will be screened as part of The Montclair History Center’s 8th Price Of Liberty film and discussion series, which this year explores reparations and social justice sought for African American and Asian communities. The screenings will be followed by discussions led by Prof. Leslie Wilson, Montclair State’s Dean of Humanities and NYU scholar and community organizer Khemani Gibson, whose area of expertise is the African Diaspora. Free Renty, which will show on Feb. 22, tells the story of Tamara Lanier’s struggle to force Harvard University, an institution associated with the production of official knowledge, to cede possession of daguerreotypes of her great-great-great grandfather Renty, an enslaved man, whose image was used as “proof” of white superiority in racist “science” that undergirded slavery and white supremacy. 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. Reparations, which will be screened on March 29, is a documentary short, which reflects on the critical role of solidarity between Black and Asian Americans in addressing systemic racism. The Price Of Liberty screenings and discussions of Free Renty: Lanier v. Harvard and Reparations will be available via zoom, see the Montclair History Center’s website for details.
NEW FILMS & PROJECTS FROM SDFF FILMMAKERS
A trio of SDFF alumni and longtime collaborators, Barbara and Mike Attie and Janet Goldwater are reuniting to direct and produce an upcoming film with the working title Hollywood Does Abortion, which received a Critical Issues Fund grant from Chicken & Egg. This is the second time the filmmaking trio has collaborated on a film about abortion, and follows the AFI award-winning short Abortion Helpline, This Is Lisa (2019), one of several docs about abortion by Goldwater and Barbara Attie. The Critical Issues Fund supports filmmakers whose work focuses on important and topical issues materially impact communities in the U.S. and worldwide. The 2022 grant awardees include projects exploring some of the most pressing issues of the present moment: the war in Ukraine, gun violence, reproductive justice and climate emergencies. In addition to Hollywood Does Abortion, this year’s grantees include three other films about reproduction and reproductive justice, After Roe (Amber Fares and Geta Gandbhir, Plan C (Tracy Droz Tragos), and Untitled Baby Doe Film (Jessica Earnshaw) about two women give life sentences for the deaths of their newborns. Hollywood Does Abortion is Barbara (Mr. Goundo’s Daughter, 2010) and Mike Attie (Bob’s Knee, 2008, Mr. Mack’s Kitchen, 2010, Moment to Moment, 2020) are both SDFF alumni filmmakers. Barbara Attie and Goldwater’s collaboration includes Abortion Helpline, This Is Lisa (2019) with Mike Attie, Motherless: A Legacy Of Loss From Illegal Abortion (1992) with Diane Pontius; Maggie Growls (2002) feat. animation by Paul and Sandra Fierlinger; and BaddDDD Sonia Sanchez (2017) with Sabrina Schmidt Gordon.
The Team (el equipo), a new film from Harvest Season director Bernardo Ruiz (SDFF 2019) will have its world premiere on Feb. 10 at the upcoming Santa Barbara International Film Festival. The new film chronicles the unlikely collaboration between a legendary American forensic scientist and a group of Latin American university students who have put their lives on the line to do groundbreaking work that has helped families identify their loved ones, challenging official cover-ups staged by violent and repressive regimes. The team’s work, which stretches back to the 1980s, has earned them a nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize, and includes investigations of the El Mozote massacre in Argentina, the murder of Che Guevara, the disappearances of 43 students from the town of Ayotinapam, Mexico in 2014, and the deaths of migrants along the U.S.-Mexico border. SDFF audiences will be familiar with Ruiz from his doc Harvest Season, which tells the stories of Mexican-American winemakers, capturing the time just after a catastrophic wildfire. Harvest Season shares some themes in common with the new film, as does some of his more explicitly political and social justice-oriented work, including Latino Vote: Dispatches From The Battleground (2020); Kingdom of Shadows (2015) about the toll exacted by the U.S.-Mexico drug wars; and The Graduates – The Boys (2013) about educational issues; and Reportero (2012) about an intrepid reporter covering the cartels and corrupt local officials at a time of unprecedented violence against journalists in Mexico. You can find the schedule for the Santa Barbara FF through their app, or you can check out a full list of the films that will screen as part of the 2023 festival, which runs Feb. 8-18, here.
IN THE NEWS
The Queen Of Basketball director Ben Proudfoot recently penned an exceptional Op-Ed for The New York Times about Delta State University’s refusal to rename its basketball coliseum after alumni Lucy Harris, the first and only woman to be drafted by the NBA, and, notably, the person who put the college on the map as a basketball haven. Harris not only led the school’s Lady Statesmen to three consecutive national championships, she also returned to the school after becoming the first woman to score a basket at the Olympics, and became an assistant coach there after turning down her offer in the NBA draft. Rather than renaming the arena after Harris, the university has opted to keep the facility’s current name, which honors Walter Sillers, a high-ranking Mississippi politician who fought to bar Black students from the school. Proudfoot has joined Harris’s family in lobbying the university to rename the arena in Harris’s honor, even offering to loan the institution The Queen Of Basketball Oscar® that helped draw national attention to Harris’s erasure from basketball history. Though the situation Proudfoot’s piece describes is infuriating, the piece itself is a worthwhile read, and a reminder of Harris’s unbelievable talent and accomplishments, as well as the ongoing resistance to integration and inclusion. You can find the Op-Ed here, and watch The Queen Of Basketball, one of many Proudfoot films to show at SDFF, here.
Members of the Black Prisoners’ Caucus (BPC), which is heavily featured in Gilda Sheppard’s Since I Been Down (SDFF 2021), who have returned to their communities in Seattle after incarceration, spoke at “From Mass Incarceration to Mass Liberation,” part of the city’s MLK celebration. The event included a community dialogue on mass incarceration, including a discussion of the excessive use of Auto-Decline, which allows children to be tried as adults for certain crimes, and is mostly used for Black children. The event drew renewed attention from the Seattle Times, which mentions Shepperd’s doc, and follows up on an editorial it ran in mid-2022 about the growing work the BPC is doing outside of prisons, 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 education to prisoners’ home communities. However, this work has expanded and transformed to include educational and community building work, such as the recent MLK Day event. 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. The doc is now available on demand through most major streaming platforms (iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, YouTube).
Mark Cousins did a long-form interview about The Story Of Film: A New Generation with podcaster Jesse Thorne for his comedic Arts and Culture show Bullseye (NPR/Maximum Fun). The doc is a follow-up to Cousins’s 15-part series, The Story of Film: An Odyssey, which gave an overview of world cinema from the advent of the artform through 2009. The doc is a feature-length exploration of how technology is changing the course of cinema in the 21st Century, done by an examination of films Cousins believes are the most impactful works of recent cinema, from 2010 to 2021. Cousins personal doc The Story Of Looking showed as part of SDFF 2021. The film is an exploration of the role visual experience plays in our lives and culture made by a filmmaker on the cusp of losing his sight. You can find the Mark Cousins episode of Bullseye here. The new Story Of Film was recently released on DVD through Music Box Films, and is also available VOD on Amazon, AppleTV, GooglePlay, Vudu and Youtube.
These Birds Walk (2014) director Omar Mullick discusses the pros and cons of documentary storytelling compared to print journalism, and also reflects on how documentary films capture lived experience in a new interview with Nieman Storyboard. The interview touches on his recent film Flight/Risk (2022) about a tragic pair of Boeing 737 Max crashes in Indonesia in 2018 and Ethiopia in 2019 that killed 346 people. The film includes interviews with The Seattle Times, was interviewed (These Birds Walk, 2014) new film with frequent collaborator Karim Amer (The Square), Flight/Risk got a strong review from The Seattle Times aerospace reporter Dominic Gates, who won three Pulitzers for his coverage, 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. These Birds Walk is available on Mubi, starting today, Jan. 24.
Davina Pardo and Leah Wolchok’s film about beloved, trailblazing children’s author Judy Blume, Judy Blume Forever, which premiered at Sundance over the weekend, is receiving a good amount of attention in the trades (Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, Filmmaker, IndieWire, Deadline, ) including a new interview with the filmmakers about the project from The Wrap. Pardo, who directed the documentary short Minka (SDFF 2010 and 2017) about American journalist John Roderick and Japanese architect Yoshihiro Takishita’s rescue and renovation of an ancient Japanese farmhouse, directed and produced Judy Blume Forever with Emmy-winning director Leah Wolchok (Very Semi-Serious). The new documentary traces Blume’s journey from fearful, imaginative child to storytelling pioneer who elevated the physical and emotional lives of kids and teens, to banned writer who continues to fight back against censorship in the present day. Sundance is screening the doc several times before it wraps on Jan. 29, but will not be showing it as part of their online festival.
Two other docs from SDFF alumni directors that open at Sundance this year, Luke Lorentzen’s A Still Small Voice, and Madeleine Gavin’s Beyond Utopia, were included in a Variety list of “13 Films That Could Spark Bidding Wars,” as well as Movieweb’s coverage of films in the U.S. doc competition. Though their subject matter is worlds apart, both films document the appearance of hope in extremely bleak circumstances. A Still Small Voice follows Mati, an aspiring hospital chaplain completing her residency at NYC’s Mount Sinai Hospital in 2020-21, the height of the pandemic and the deadliest two years in U.S. history. The doc offers an intimate portrait of Mati’s struggle to find balance on a daily basis, and a glimpse at what hope and meaning look like in a seemingly hopeless situation. The film is Lorentzen’s second feature-length doc, which shares a focus on an emotional, healthcare related issue, with his first film, Midnight Family (SDFF 2019 Jury Award for Best Feature) a visually stunning look at a harrowing family-run ambulance service in Mexico City. Beyond Utopia is a suspenseful look at the lengths people will go to gain freedom, and an intimate portrait of families who face life-or-death circumstances, as they desperately try to escape oppressive regimes around the world. Gavin’s SDFF 2018 film City Of Joy is also about strength and hope in the face of extremely bleak circumstances, and tells the story of the first class of girls to graduate from a school in the eastern Congo, which teaches survivors of sexual assault to become leaders. A Still Small Voice and Beyond Utopia have multiple Sundance screenings and will also be available as part of the festival’s streaming roster from Jan. 24-27. Tickets to the festival and individual screenings, online and in-person, are available here.
Marshall Curry’s Oscar®-winning short The Neighbors Window nabbed the #2 spot on a recent ranked list from Movieweb of 10 shorts to watch if you don’t have time for a full-length feature. Visually reminiscent of Rear Window, the short is less of a thriller and more of a character study, telling the intimate story of a middle-aged mother with young children whose perspective is shifted after a young couple moves in across the street. Curry’s documentary short Racing Dreams was an SDFF 2010 Official Selection, who is perhaps best known for his chilling 2018 documentary short A Night At The Garden, composed entirely of footage from a 1939 American Nazi Party rally at Madison Square Garden in New York. You can watch The Neighbors Window for free, right here.
The national television debut of No Straight Lines: The Rise Of Queer Comics (Vivian Kleinman, 2021) last night as part of PBS’s prestigious Independent Lens has spurred new media coverage, including a piece in Animation Magazine. Independent Lens is a long-running PBS series dedicated to independent docs that are intensely personal, yet speak to universal challenges. The piece gives some historical background and describes the doc, which chronicles the journeys of five LGBTQ artists—Alison Bechdel, Howard Cruse, Mary Wings, Rupert Kinnard, and Jennifer Camper—from their early DIY work in the 1980s and 90s to the international stage. The film also delves into the milieu in which the comics were created, from the AIDS crisis to the search for love and a good haircut. No Straight Lines was an SDFF 2022 Jury Nominee and is now available through Independent Lens, and via Docuseek and Good Docs.
FUNDING OPPORTUNITIES FOR FILMMAKERS
Applications are being accepted for The Whickers Film & TV Funding Award, a £100,000 prize issued annually to an emerging filmmaker with the most promising pitch for a director-led documentary. Inspired by British journalist and broadcaster Alan Whicker, the awards were established in 2015 to fund and recognize originality and innovation in documentary. The awards are international in scope, and have most recently been given to documentarians from Northeast India, Central Afghanistan, South Sudan, Thailand, and Scotland. Applicants must be working on their first 50+ minute doc as a director or co-director, and projects need to be in late development or early production stages. The application deadline is Jan. 31, and you can find it here.
LOCAL SCREENINGS + FILM EVENT
A special screening of the doc Precious Guru: Journey Into the Heart of the Second Buddha (2020), followed by a Q&A with director Marc Wennberg and musician Peter Rowan, will take place at the Rialto® Cinemas Sebastopol on Jan. 31at 7 p.m. The feature length doc examines the life, times and legacy of Padmasambhava–the 8th Century Indian yogi who carried Buddhism over the Himalayas into Tibet. Revered for centuries in the Himalayan regions as the second Buddha, Padmasambhava’s influence has become a global phenomenon, carried across the world by refugee lamas, following the Chinese takeover of Tibet in 1959. He is also known as Guru Rinpoche, which translates as Precious Guru. Precious Guru is told by people from three continents, including Tibetan monastics and lay people encountered by the production team on their Himalayan travels, as well as accomplished lamas like Mingyur Rinpoche, western Buddhist teachers like Lama Tsultrim Allione, Lama Glenn Mullin and Professor Robert Thurman. Get tickets here.
The 25th SF IndieFest is on the horizon! Theatrical screenings for the will be presented at the Roxie Theater in San Francisco from Feb. 2-9, and films will be available to stream online from Feb. 2-12. According to festival director Jeff Ross, the festival remains focused on presenting new and unusual films to Bay Area audiences, providing a carefully curated selection of films that provide an alternative to mainstream Hollywood fodder and content for popular streaming services. The festival opens on Feb. 2 with the doc Circus of the Scars—The Insider Odyssey Of The Jim Rose Sideshow (Chicory Wees, 2022), followed by an opening night party at 518 Valencia Gallery, featuring an art show by this year’s poster artist, Alberto Ybarra, as well as guest appearances from Jim Rose Circus Sideshow acts featured in Circus of the Scars, including Marvels Zamora the Torture King, The Enigma and Matt the Tube Crowley. This year’s fest is comprised of over 100 films, including 34 from Bay Area filmmakers, 21 documentary shorts, including Las Muralistas: Our Walls, Our Stories (Javier Briones, 2022), which is edited by SDFF alumni filmmaker Claudia Escobar, and 8 documentary features, including Love In The Time Of Fentanyl (Colin Askey, 2022), which is produced by SDFF alumni filmmaker Marc Serpa Francoeur. The festival will also hold a Screenwriting Reception and Panel with SF IndieFest Screenwriting Competition director Jessica Waters, and 2023 screenwriting award winners Roberto Fatal (Electric Homies) and Kyle Casey Chu and Roisin Isner (After What Happened in the Library) on Sunday, Feb. 5 at 1 p.m. The opening night party and the screenwriting panel are free and open to the public, but require tickets. Peruse the full schedule and film guide, and buy tickets here.
CATCH THEM WHILE YOU CAN: DOCS AIRING ON TV + STREAMING ONLINE
Love In The Time Of Fentanyl (Colin Askey, 2022), a new film produced by The Head and The Hand (2018) director Marc Serpa Francoeur and The Royal Women Association (2015) director Robinder Uppal will premiere on PBS’s Independent Lens on Feb. 13. The film will also be available to stream in Canada via the Milton FF (Jan. 27-29) and the ReFrame FF (Jan. 26-Feb. 3), and in the U.S. via SF IndieFest Feb. 2-12. Filmed at the Overdose Prevention Society, a renegade Vancouver supervised drug consumption site operated by a volunteer group of current and former drug users, the new film feels particularly relevant in the SF Bay Area, where an ongoing battle over whether or not to allow lifesaving safe injections sites for drug users continues to rage, despite opposition at the state level. An intimate observational doc, Love In The Time Of Fentanyl looks beyond the stigmatization of injection drug users to render an empathetic portrait of a marginalized community fighting to save lives and restore hope in a neighborhood ravaged by the overdose crisis.
The documentary short Las Muralistas: Our Walls, Our Stories (Javier Briones, 2022) will be available to stream through SF IndieFest online Feb. 2-12. The film, edited by SDFF alumni filmmaker Claudia Escobar (Dear Homeland, 2019) focuses on women muralists whose works cover the walls of San Francisco’s Mission District. The women and their work helped comprise the muralism movement that emerged in the 1970s in the Mission District, which marked the beginning of a tradition of activism, expression, and community building through public art. The film includes interviews and appearances from artists Juana Alicia, Smokie Arce, Susan Cervantes, Elaine Chu, Priya Handa, Yolanda López, Consuelo Méndez, Irene Pérez, Patricia Rodriguez, who speak about their experiences, the impact of femmes in the movement and the effort to make space for future muralistas.
Crystal Kwok’s Blurring The Color Lines (SDFF 2022) and Christina Antonakos-Wallace’s From Here (SDFF 2021), two SDFF films that tackle the closely related issues of racism and immigration, will have their national broadcast premiere as part of the 11th season of America ReFramed this Spring. America ReFramed is a weekly documentary series broadcast on World Channel and PBS, which has been on the air since 2012, and recently took home a 2022 IDA award for airing the feature documentary Fannie Lou Hamer’s America. The documentaries selected for 2023 focus on a generation of filmmakers and artists who use self-expression to challenge the definition of culture in an ever-evolving America. Blurring The Color Line is filmmaker Kwok’s reflection on her Grandmother’s past, growing up Chinese in one of Augusta’s predominantly Black neighborhoods during Jim Crow. The film complicates a black and white historical narrative of America’s racial history while exposing uncomfortable truths behind today’s Afro-Asian tensions. Set in Berlin and New York, From Here tells the story of four artists and activists in their 20s and 30s, all the children of immigrants, as they face major turning points in their lives, which hang in the balance due to ongoing immigration debates. When air dates become available, you can find them on the series website.
SDFF alumni Ben Masters’s (The River and The Wall, 2019) recent film Deep In The Heart: A Texas Wildlife Story is showing as part of Banff On Demand, which includes features, and past Banff World Tour programs. The doc was also nominated for Best Austin Film of 2022 by the Austin Film Critics Association. Like much of Masters’s work, including his other 2022 film American Ocelot, Deep In The Heart is a celebration of Texas’s diverse landscapes and wildlife, made in hopes of generating an emotional connection to the environment in its audiences. Narrated by actor Matthew McConaughey, Deep In The Heart also shifts perspective away from the human population, and is told through the eyes of wildlife species. Deep In The Heart is also available to stream VOD on PrimeVideo, GooglePlay, AppleTV and Vudu.
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