SDFF NEWS BITS: ALUMNI UPDATES, FESTS, HONORS, NEW DOCS, INDUSTRY HAPPENINGS
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17 JANUARY 2023
NEW FILMS & PROJECTS FROM SDFF FILMMAKERS
Three SDFF alumni directors have new docs showing at Sundance Film Festival: Davina Pardo’s Judy Blume Forever, about trailblazing children’s author Judy Blume; Luke Lorentzen’s A Still Small Voice, about an aspiring hospital chaplain completing her residency in NYC at the height of the pandemic; and Madeleine Gavin’s Beyond Utopia, which offers an intimate portrait of families desperately trying to escape oppression from various oppressive states around the world. 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 feature 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. Lorentzen, who directed the stunning Midnight Family (SDFF 2019 Jury Award for Best Feature) about a family-run ambulance service in Mexico City, tackles another emotional, health care adjacent topic in A Still Small Voice. The new doc follows Mati, an aspiring hospital chaplain as she undertakes a yearlong residency in spiritual care at New York’s Mount Sinai Hospital in 2020-21, during the pandemic and the deadliest two years in U.S. history. The doc is an intimate look at Mati’s struggle to find balance on a daily basis, which also offers a glimpse at what hope and meaning look like in a seemingly hopeless situation. Gavin, who directed the SDFF 2018 film City Of Joy about the first class of girls to graduate from a school that teaches survivors of sexual assault to become leaders in the eastern Congo, tackles another story about strength and hope in the face of extremely bleak circumstances with Beyond Utopia. Embedded with various individuals in life-or-death circumstances, as they attempt to flee some of the most oppressive places on Earth, the new doc is a suspenseful look at the lengths people will go to gain freedom. All three films films have multiple screenings at the festival, which runs through Jan. 29. A Still Small Voice and Beyond Utopia are both part of Sundance’s U.S. Documentary Competition 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.
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. Both Serpa Francoeur’s documentary short The Head and The Hand (SDFF 2019) and Uppal’s The Royal Women Association (SDFF 2016) are similarly focused on people living at the margins of society who overcome isolation and risk through their relationships with others. The Head and The Hand is rich exploration of disability, independence, and sisterhood, the documentary short is a meditative portrait of the profound bond between two women who have confronted extreme adversity together, while The Royal Women Association examines a group of South Asian women in Calgary whose monthly meetings not only helps its members break out of their shells and find community, but also creates a means of raising awareness about domestic violence.
Another SDFF alumni filmmaker whose work will be screened at SF IndieFest is Dear Homeland (2019) director Claudia Escobar, who edited the documentary short Las Muralistas: Our Walls, Our Stories (Javier Briones, 2022). Made in partnership with the SF MOMA, the film features 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. Escobar directed the SDFF 2020 film Dear Homeland, which was also about a working female artist and activist, singer/songwriter Diana Gameros. Las Muralistas: Our Walls, Our Stories will be screened as part of the True Stories From Around The Bay shorts program on Sat., Feb. 4 at noon at the Roxie. It will also be available to stream online from Feb. 2-12. See the full IndieFest roster, here.
A new, very personal project from Nuts! filmmaker Penny Lane, Confessions Of A Good Samaritan, will be part of SXSW 2023’s Documentary Spotlight this Spring. The doc follows Lane’s decision to become a “good samaritan” by donating her kidney to a stranger, which turns into a funny and moving personal quest to understand the nature of altruism. Lane’s film is a provocative inquiry into the science, history, and ethics of organ transplantation, which asks a profound, age-old question about what we owe others in a completely new way. Lane’s film Nuts! about once-beloved and gallingly popular radio “doctor” John Brinkley, whose work constituted a major public health hazard, was an SDFF 2018 official selection. SXSW 2023 runs March 10-18, see the full lineup and schedule here.
The Fourth Kingdom, The Kingdom of Plastics (SDFF 2018) filmmaker Àlex Lora’s first dramatic feature, the feminist film Unicorns made IonCinema’s list of the most anticipated foreign films of 2023. While no premiere date has been set, the film has already been picked up by international distributor/producer Filmax. In contrast to his documentary work, which focused on outsiders and outcasts, like those at the Brooklyn recycling center whose conversations make up The Fourth Kingdom, Unicorns focuses on a young, female protagonist, Isa, with everything going for her, as she faces challenges in love, relationships and her career. Co-written by Lora, who was mentored by iconoclastic feminist director Chantal Aerman, and three female writers, Marta Vivet (The Hockey Girls), Pilar Palomero (Schoolgirls) and Greta Fernández (A Thief’s Daughter), Unicorns explores the ways in which millennial women are seeking increased individual agency and changing women’s roles in society.
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 Critic’s 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.
AWARDS. HONORS. FESTIVALS. SPECIAL SCREENINGS + EVENTS.
Vivian Kleinman’s examination of the rise of 5 queer comic book artists, No Straight Lines (2021) will be screened as part of the The Donald M. Ephraim Palm Beach Film Festival©, which will run 22 days from late January through early February. This is the inaugural year of the festival, which aims to bring highly anticipated, critically acclaimed and thought-provoking films to Palm Beach. The fest is presented by MorseLife Health System, and named after retired entertainment lawyer Donald M. Ephraim, the heart of the Palm Beach Jewish FF. No Straight Lines 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, delving into everything from the AIDS crisis to the search for love and a good haircut. The doc was an SDFF 2022 Jury Nominee and will be airing as part of PBS’s prestigious Independent Lens on Jane. 23, where it will also be available to stream after airing. It will be screened twice for the palm beach festival, on Jan. 28 and Feb. 12, see details here. No Straight Lines is also available through Docuseek and Good Docs.
Reflection: a walk with water (Emmet Brennan, 2021) will show as part of Appalachian State University’s Spring Sustainability Film Series on Feb. 28. The series is organized by the university’s sustainability program, which grew out of the hardships of Mountain life in the late 18th-early 19th centuries, becoming one of the first university programs of its kind in the nation. Part personal meditation on water, part road map for positive change, Reflection: a walk with water confronts current, systemic environmental issues by examining bellwethers for the future. The film follows Brennan as he sets out to walk 200 miles next to the iconic Los Angeles aqueduct, encountering cultural leaders, ecological iconoclasts, and indigenous wisdom keepers along the way, who are re-envisioning our relationship to water. The film was an SDFF 2022 selection, and its screening included an environmental stewardship panel, which you can watch right here! Reflection: a walk with water is available to rent or buy on Vimeo, and is also streaming on Gaia and Films for Action subscription services. See more info on the Spring Sustainability series screening of the film here.
Jane Castle and Pat Fiske’s When The Cameras Stopped Rolling (SDFF 2021) will be screened by Australia’s Illawarra Film Society as part of their 30-film roster of docs, art-house and classic films for 2023. This year saw a change in leadership for the film society, which is now helmed by film/television worker and academic Jeannine Baker, who has added shorts to some of the feature screenings and has also increased the number of offerings by female and first nations filmmakers. A doc by, and about, women in Australia’s film industry, When The Cameras Stopped Rolling uses archival footage to tell the story of director/cinematographer Castle’s filmmaker mother, her legacy, and their challenging relationship. See the Illwarra Film Society’s full roster for 2023 here.
IN THE NEWS
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.
Following its inclusion on the 2023 Oscar® shortlist for documentary shorts, Jack Weisman and Gabriela Oslo Vanden’s Nuisance Bear (2021) was profiled in Deadline. In the piece, the filmmakers discuss the stylistic choices they made in the film’s cinematography, composition and soundtrack. They also reflect on shooting in Churchill, Manitoba, a site where tourists already flock to gawk at wildlife. An unconventional and visually arresting study of the polar bears that draw these tourists, Nuisance Bear 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. The film 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.
For Love And Legacy (2021), AK Sandhu’s doc about the creation of a Black Panther memorial crafted by sculptor Dana King’s hands and activist Fredrika Newton’s memories, showed as part of a free Martin Luther King Day celebration mounted by San Francisco’s Museum of the African Diaspora (MoAD) on Monday. This year marked a return to in-person festivities that were meant to reflect the importance of protest, creativity and diverse communities through art, music, dance and conversations with special guests, including For Love And Legacy filmmaker Sandhu. The celebration also included museum admission, as well as a number os special events, including the For Love And Legacy screening and filmmaker discussion; a performance of “The History of Dance From Africa To America” from Dimensions Dance Company; and “Art As We See It – Civil Rights Through Art and Music,” a presentation of visual art and music of the American civil rights era with a special focus on the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. For Love And Legacy is an official selection of SDFF 2022.
Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise. (Bob Hercules and Rita Coburn Whack, SDFF 2017) was among the films shown at the Oakland Public Library’s Martin Luther King Film Festival on Monday, topping off a day of screenings that included In Remembrance of Martin (Kell Kearns, 1986), the children’s film Martin’s Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., The March: The Story of the Greatest March in America (John Akomfrah, 2013), and Driving While Black: Race, Space, and Mobility (Ric Burns, Gretchen Sullivan Sorin, 2020). The festival screenings were all held at the African American Museum and Library (AAMLO), however the event announcement includes links to Dr. King’s legacy in Oakland, a relatively short history with a number of compelling archival images. The history ends with links to a number of film recommendations from the AAMLO. Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise weaves together the story of the renowned author, poet, playwright and civil rights activist, using her own words, and archival photos and video. The film begins with Angelou’s childhood in the Depression-era South, and tracks her ascent from poverty, violence and racism to become one of the most renowned writers the U.S. has ever produced. The doc also covers her activism, her friendship with Dr. Martin Luther King, and her work with Malcolm X in Ghana. The film showed at SDFF 2017 and is available to rent through American Masters on YouTube.
Unrest, Jennifer Brea’s film about her experience of Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (aka Chronic Fatigue Syndrome) made a recent list of 7 inspirational health and wellness films. The piece notes that Brea’s doc remains one of just two representations of the condition in popular media, the other being on the Golden Girls’ “Sick & Tired” episodes, which aired in 1989. The dearth of representation belies a larger problem, which Brea tackles in the film as she fights first for recognition of her illness by doctors and second for more research into the condition, which completely derails the Harvard grad student’s life. Unrest showed at SDFF 2018, and is available to stream via Netflix. Brea also co-directed the new documentary feature Call Me Miss Cleo with Celia Aniskovich (Burn It Down!). The feature-length doc tells the story of ‘90s late night TV icon Miss Cleo, portrayed by L.A. actress Youree Dell Harris, the Psychic Readers Network, and the 1-900 number industry that has since profoundly diminished. Call Me Miss Cleo is available to stream on HBO Max.
A doc about a truly impressive wine con artist, Sour Grapes (Reuben Atlas and Jerry Rothwell, 2016), made a recent list of the 15 Best Films about Scams and Fraud. The film, an SDFF 2017 fave, tells the story of Rudy Kurniawan, an unassuming young man who flooded the American wine market with fake vintages, valued in the millions. In doing so, the film also gives shape to the world of high end wine auctions. Sour Grapes is available VOD on Vimeo and Vudu, and is also streaming on Amazon.
LOCAL SCREENINGS + FILM EVENT
The Sonoma County Library Documentary Film Discussion Group will meet, Jan. 18 via Zoom to discuss Do I Sound Gay? (David Thorpe, 2014), a doc about the stereotype of the gay voice. The film explores what it means to “sound gay,” the amalgamation of cultural anxieties expressed in the identification and ridicule of the “gay voice,” and the ways in which those anxieties continue to trigger bullying and violence against gay people. Do I Sound Gay? includes a number of interviews with famous gay folks, including Tim Gunn, Don Lemon, Dan Savage, David Sedaris, George Takei and Margaret Cho. The discussion group will be held on Zoom, Jan. 18 at 6 p.m., attendance requires registration by 5 p.m., see details and availability on the Sonoma County Library Events Calendar. The film is available to screen through Kanopy with a library card. All participants must view the film on their own before the meeting.
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.
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 January 31, and you can find it here.
CATCH THEM WHILE YOU CAN: DOCS AIRING ON TV + STREAMING ONLINE
The Woman Who Loves Giraffes (Alison Reid, 2018) is one of 80 films recently made available on Kino Lorber’s playlist of free docs on Youtube. The film is an SDFF 2019 selection, in which zoologist 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, Dagg reflects on the 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. The Woman Who Loves Giraffes is available to stream in the U.S. for free on the Kino Lorber Youtube channel, with a subscription through Kino Now, and VOD on iTunes, Google Play, and Vudu.
Kristin Atwell’s 2020 docRiders of the Purple Sage: The Making of a Western Opera is now available to stream on Amazon. The film follows classically-trained composer Craig Bohmler as he adapts Zane Grey’s 1912 enormously popular dime novel Riders of the Purple Sage into a grand opera, after spending a night at Gray’s paraphernalia-packed cabin. The result is convergence of American cowboy culture and the high-brow traditions of Opera. The film was an official selection at SDFF 2021.
Omar Mullick’s These Birds Walk (2013) will be available on Mubi, starting Jan. 24. Simultaneously heart-wrenching and life-affirming, These Birds Walk follows the story of a young runaway boy whose life hangs on one critical question: where is home? The streets, an orphanage, or the family he fled in the first place. The film, which showed at SDFF 2014, is an ethereal and inspirational story of resilience, which documents the struggles and resilience of Karachi street children and the Samaritans looking out for them.
The Silent Shore (Nathalie Giraud and Timothée Corteggiani, 36 mins) is now streaming on The New Yorker Documentary, accompanied by a short written piece about the film and its making, which includes some reflections by Giraud and Corteggiani. The short is a lush, moving documentary in which fantasy author Pierre Dubois and his wife, Aline, discuss 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. The Silent Shore was an SDFF 2022 Jury Nominee.
Rahul Jain’s participant doc on climate change, Invisible Demons (Tuhon merkit), recently began streaming on MUBI, and has continued to draw new reviews from large market publications and smaller culture mags, including The Guardian, Paste, Scroll.in, and The Film Stage. The film, which was nominated for the Golden Eye when it premiered at Cannes in 2021, has also continued to make the rounds on the festival circuit, opening Spain’s Another Way Film Festival 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.
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