SDFF NEWS: ALUMNI UPDATES, NEW FILMS, FESTS, INDUSTRY – 12 JULY 2023
- 3 months ago
AWARDS. HONORS. FESTIVALS. SPECIAL SCREENINGS + EVENTS.
Filmmaker Gilda Shepperd won the award for Best Documentary Director at the 15th New York Indie Film Festival for her doc about racism in the criminal justice system, Since I Been Down (105 mins, SDFF 2021). The film examines a morass of intersecting criminal justice and carceral issues by focusing on victims of the 1980-90s drug war in the Seattle area, principally young men who were sentenced under harsh three strikes laws and continue to their lives behind bars. Many of the folks featured in the film have grown into thoughtful men who have worked to create community among their fellow prisoners, as well as outside of prison through groups like the Black Prisoners Caucus. Since its release, the film has been shown as in various campaigns seeking to transform how justice and criminal law are envisioned and has sparked ongoing public discussion in the Washington community in which it is set. The film is now available on demand through most major streaming platforms (iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, YouTube, etc.).
Jaime Sunwoo’s animated short Handwritten (SDFF 2023), which won the Emerging Filmmaker Showcase at Cannes earlier this summer, was recently awarded the Grand Jury Prize at the Astoria Film Festival. In the film, Sunwoo uses striking animation and puppetry to examine how she feels about her handwriting, which is marked by inconsistency. The young artist and filmmaker contemplates what handwriting has meant throughout history and its relevance in an increasingly computerized world. Founded in 2018, the Astoria festival is a relative newcomer to the festival circuit, which focuses on programming films by and about underrepresented people, and on providing necessary skills and connections to its filmmakers to aid them in their future careers.
SebDocs 2023 jury award-winning short, More Than I Want To Remember (Amy Bench, 15 mins) was among the finalists selected for TheWrap’s ShortList film festival, which returned this month after a two-year hiatus. The free online event featured 12 award-winning shorts from around the world, with awards given out by viewers. More Than I Want To Remember tells the story of Mugeni Ornella, a 14 year-old Banyamulenge refugee, who undertakes a continent-crossing, solo journey to reunite with her family, after a bomb leaves them separated. Because of the film’s inclusion in the fest, TheWrap ran a lengthy interview with Bench about how the film came together, from meeting narrator Mugeni Ornella after searching for a protagonist, to style choices in recording Ornella’s story, to the lush, impressionistic animation that renders her experience visible. The winner of this year’s ShortList will be announced this week. More Than I Want To Remember is also traveling North America as part of this year’s Lunafest.
Cara Romero: Following The Light (Kaela Waldstein, 27 mins, SDFF 2023), Kaela Waldenstein’s portrait of fine art photographer and Chemehuevi citizen Cara Romero, was screened as part of the 23rd Nevada City Film Festival. The documentary short explores the artist’s development as a photographer, delving into the Chemehuevi and California Indigenous history that informs her work, a blend of fine art and editorial photography, shaped by years of study and a visceral approach to representing Indigenous and non-Indigenous cultural memory, collective history, and lived experiences from a Native American female perspective.
Dusty & Stones (Jesse Rudoy, 82 mins, SDFF 2023), which captures a Swazi country music duo’s trek to Texas to perform at a battle of the bands, will be screened at two late-summer festivals on the East Coast: the 9th Middlebury New Filmmakers Festival, and the 32nd Woods Hole Film Festival. The Middlebury fest will run Aug. 23-27, showcasing work from first- and second-time filmmakers from around the world. While the festival’s full roster for 2023 has yet to be announced, Dusty & Stones will be one of around 120 films selected for the festival. The Woods Hole fest, which features a variety of independent films and discussion panels, will hold live screenings July 29-Aug. 5, and will stream Aug. 6-13.
NEW FILMS & PROJECTS FROM SEBDOCS FILMMAKERS
Director Deborah Esquenazi (Southwest of Salem: The Story of the San Antonio Four, 91 mins, SDFF 2017) is partnering with the regional periodical Texas Monthly for a new, as yet untitled project about James Reyos, a gay Apache man who for 40 years has sought to clear his name of the brutal murder of a Catholic priest in oil-rich West Texas. Esquenazi embedded with the Innocence Project of Texas, which has taken up Reyos’s case, for the project. The documentary marks Texas Monthly’s first foray into film, but echoes themes from Esquenazi’s previous work. Her acclaimed true crime doc Southwest of Salem: The Story of the San Antonio Four, which was screened as part of SDFF 2017, 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. Southwest of Salem captures a cultural moment that echoes the present-day demonization and criminalization of another innocent, marginalized community—trans folk, and can be found on Amazon and Peacock TV.
SDFF alumni filmmaker Megan Shutzer’s upcoming project Mother is one of three films selected for an LGBTQIA short documentary lab run by Hulu and Field of Vision’s If/Then Shorts program. The lab focuses on production and career training for nonfiction filmmakers elevating LGBTQ stories. Filmmakers are also awarded $30,000 in production funding. A collaboration between Shutzer and director/cinematographer collaboration with director/cinematographer Brandon Yadegari Moreno, Mother focuses on Malia Spanyol, a self-identified dyke who no longer feels at home in San Francisco, and so, sets out to build a space for the next generation of women and femmes in present-day San Francisco. The film is scheduled for release in Fall 2023. SebDocs audiences may remember Shutzer, for her SDFF 2020 short Knocking Down The Fences about pro softball G.O.A.T. AJ Andrews, the first woman to win a Rawlings Gold Glove, which showed at SDFF 2020.
A new animated film from My Favorite War (71 mins, SDFF 2021) director Ilze Burkovska-Jakobsena has received a €60,000 grant from the National Film Center of Latvia for her new project, the animated children’s film Roach Coach. Like My Favorite War, Roach Coach focuses on the experiences of young women using animation. However, the new project departs significantly from My Favorite War’s depiction of the filmmaker’s childhood trauma during the Soviet occupation of Latvia during the 1970. Instead, Roach Coach is focused on the friendship between two girls and a personified roach, who save the world for each other.
Miguel López Beraza’s most recent project Ponto Final was one of 12 shorts selected for the annual Ibero-American Short Film Competition, held by the Sociedad General de Autores y Editores (SGAE) and Spain’s RTVE. In the documentary short, Beraza returns to his family home and asks his parents to play a game where they become movie stars. The acting game is a pretext that compels his parents to talk about the cancer they both overcame, and their ongoing fear of loss. López Beraza’s documentary short Walls, which showed at SDFF 2017 and won the 2015 GOYA, documents a day in the life of longtime neighbors living in an aging building, from the building’s point of view.
Dean Hamer and Joe Wilson’s Aikāne, a fictional short co-directed and animated by longtime collaborator Daniel Sousa, was honored with an award for Best Animated Short at the 25th Provincetown Film Festival. A generic departure from the filmmakers’ prior documentary work, the short is a romance about a valiant island warrior, wounded in battle against foreign invaders, who falls into a mysterious underwater world. Although this is their first foray into fiction, the film is thematically similar to Hamer and Wilson recent documentaries, which have increasingly focused on LGBTQIA stories and histories generating from Hawaii, à la Leitis In Waiting (SDFF 2019) and Kapaemahu(SDFF 2020). The filmmakers unique understanding of Hawaiian history and mythology informs Aikāne, itself a Hawaiian term of respect for intimate friends of the same sex.
For Sama filmmaker Waad al-Kateab’s new doc about the first Refugee Olympic team, We Dare To Dream (93 mins), has been getting a fair amount of coverage following its mid-June premiere at Tribeca. Noteworthy appearances include interview segments on Democracy Now! and PBS’s Thirteen, about the film’s subject and her personal approach to the material. Though it focuses on the struggles of young refugee athletes from Iran, Syria, South Sudan and Cameroon as they struggle to compete in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics as a team, al-Kateab narrates the film from her own perspective, reflecting on a variety of questions raised by their stories about the nature of freedom for those living in context antithetical to such a concept. The film feels particularly pertinent as the number of people forcibly displaced from their homelands worldwide reaches 100 million. Al-Kateab co-directed the auto-biographical SDFF 2020 doc For Sama (97 mins) with Edward Watts. That film traces five years of 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. For Sama is available to stream in the U.S. through Frontline.
IN THE NEWS
Legal scholar Aya Gurber’s recent piece, Reckoning with carceral Feminism in the Fight to End Mass Incarceration, is the final article in a 4-part series focusing on the issues of criminal justice and gender-based violence that animate The Recall: Reframed (Rebecca Richman Cohen, 26 mins, SDFF 2023). This final installment in the series argues that the impulse to respond to gendered violence by imposing harsher sentences distracts feminists from creating structures and support that prevent gendered crime in the first place. The series is a cross-platform collaboration organized by The Recall: Reframed’s impact campaign, which examines the ways in which justice for survivors of sexual violence and the mitigation of harm in a racist criminal justice system have been positioned as oppositional in contemporary public discourse. The articles have all run in The Boston Globe’s racial inequity section, The Emancipator, and includes contributions from two other mission-based platforms: Inquest (decarceral) and Lux Magazine(feminist). See our full coverage of the series as a whole.
Jay Rosenblatt’s most recent, Oscar® nominated short about his daughter, How Do You Measure a Year? (28 mins) got rave reviews and write-ups from across the spectrum (Decider, Variety, Cinemaholic, High On Films, The Jewish News Of Northern California as it began streaming on Max (née, HBO Max) last week. The coverage includes an audio interview with NPR’s All Things Considered and video interview with Variety about making such a long-term, personal project, which is comprised of footage of birthday interviews Rosenblatt did with his daughter Ella for 17 years of her young life. Over the course of the short, Ella rapidly grows from a toddler to a young woman with all the beautiful and awkward stages in between while the father/daughter relationship evolves in all its complexities. How Do You Measure A Year joins Rosenblatt’s earlier autobiographical short and fellow Oscar® nominee When We Were Bullies (Jay Rosenblatt, 36 mins, SDFF 2021) on the streaming platform. 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.
LOCAL SCREENINGS + FILM EVENTS
Tomorrow evening (7/14), OUTwatch will be presenting the feature-length doc Every Body (Julie Cohen, 92 mins), about the lives of intersex people, followed by a post-screening Q&A with Sonoma County resident Bo Laurent (Cheryl Chase), who founded the intersex movement in 1993 and made the groundbreaking 1997 film Hermaphrodites Speak! Every Body tells the stories of three individuals who thrived after coming out as their authentic selves, following childhoods marked by shame, secrecy, and non-consensual surgeries. Actor and screenwriter River Gallo (they/them), political consultant Alicia Roth Weigel (she/they), and Ph.D. student Sean Saifa Wall (he/him) are now leaders in a fast-growing global movement advocating for greater understanding of the intersex community and an end to unnecessary surgeries. Woven into the story is a stranger-than-fiction case of medical abuse, featuring exclusive footage from the NBC News archives, which helps explain the modern-day treatment of intersex people. The OUTwatch event is scheduled for 7:10 p.m., July 14 at Rialto Cinemas® Sebastopol, see details and buy tickets here.
The 3rd annual Sonoma County Library Teen Film Festival is accepting submissions from Sonoma County teens (12-19 years old) through July 31. The festival features shorts, from 30 seconds-6 minutes long, and welcomes submissions of any genre, experimental, narrative fiction, documentary, etc. While the festival will stream online, its in-person premiere will be held from 7-8 p.m. on Aug. 30 at the Rohnert Park-Cotati library branch. Checkout the festival’s full submission guidelines for more information.
OUTwatch will also be presenting the narrative feature Blue Jean (Georgia Oakley, 97 mins) on July 27. Set in England in 1988, as Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government is on the cusp of passing laws stigmatizing queer folks, the film follows Jean (Rosy McEwan), a closeted gym teacher forced to lead a double life, who finds herself challenged to her core by a crisis precipitated by the arrival of a new student. The BAFTA nominated film won the People’s Choice Award at the Venice Film Festival and four British Independent Film Awards. This OUTwatch event is scheduled for 7 p.m., July 27 at Rialto Cinemas® Sebastopol, see details and buy tickets here.
The Art of Making An Impact, a free program of SDFF Summer Shorts, has been announced as part of the first annual SebArts Open House from 3-5 p.m. on Aug. 6. The event is a day of art, music and creativity, meant to showcase SebArts programs, while also honoring the volunteers and members that bring those programs to life. SDFF’s curated shorts program has yet to announce its full line-up, so stay tuned for more! You can also find details for the full SebArts Open House, right here!
CatVideoFest is coming to Rialto Cinemas® Sebastopol Aug. 12-13, with a portion of proceeds donated to Forgotten Felines of Sonoma County. The screening will feature a compilation reel of the latest and best cat videos culled from countless hours of submissions and sourced animation and music videos, as well as classic Internet powerhouse actualités. Though the sources of its videos vary, CatVideoFest is meant to be a communal experience, and is thus only available in theaters. The films two screenings, Aug. 12 and 13 at 1 p.m. will help raise money for Forgotten Felines of Sonoma County. You can find details and tickets here.
CATCH THEM WHILE YOU CAN: DOCS AIRING ON TV + STREAMING ONLINE
Let Me Be Me (Dan Crane and Katie Taber, 75 mins, SDFF 2023) about the radical, compassionate treatment program the Westphal family undertook to connect to their autistic son 20 years ago, which helped him forge a path from social isolation to professional clothing designer, is now available VOD on most streaming platforms. You can find it on Apple TV, Amazon Prime, Google Play, Vudu, Redbox, and Youtube. In addition a DOC NYC conversation with directors Dan Crane and Katie Taber, designer/film subject Kyle Westphal and producer/film subject Jenifer Wesphal, moderated by DOC NYC’s Brandon Hanson is available for free on Youtube, along with the 14 others that accompanied DOC NYC’s Spring 2023 Showcase. The offerings include a convo with SDFF alumni filmmaker Davina Pardo (Minka, SDFF 2010 and 2017), co-director/producer Leah Wolchok, and producer Sara Bernstein about their doc Judy Blume Forever, about the beloved children’s author.
Matter Of Mind: My ALS (Anna Moot-Levin, Laura Green, 54 mins, SDFF 2023) is available to stream through PBS’s Independent Lens with a “passport,” following its national broadcast in May. The doc follows three people living with the neurodegenerative disease ALS and explores the complex choices each faces as they decide how to move forward with this illness. While viewing the full doc requires a PBS “passport,” the film’s Independent Lens page includes a number of resources, including a free Q&A with one of the people featured in the film, Michele Stellato, about living and coping with ALS.
Independent Lens recently aired another SDFF 2023 film, the documentary short Everything Wrong And Nowhere To Go (Sindha Agha, 12 mins), which is available for free and in its entirety on the series website. Exploring the emerging field of “climate psychology,” the doc is a candid, intimate, but comedic, self-portrait in which the filmmaker films her search for a cure to her crippling climate anxiety.
Documentary short Healing In The Open (Dewi Marquis, 31 mins, SDFF 2023) is now available to stream in its entirety on Youtube. The short captures Gateway HorseWorks herd of horses and treatment team as they interact with clients recovering from addiction, incarceration and PTSD, and includes interviews and first-hand accounts from clients who have benefited from this unique form of therapy.
Queer love story Nelly & Nadine (Magnus Gertten, 93 mins, SDFF 2023), an account of a lesbian couple who met during, and endured, the Holocaust, has attracted attention from a range of media sources, from KQED to Digital Mafia Talkies. The documentary feature, which won the Berlin FF’s Teddy Jury Award in 2022, is now available on VOD through Apple TV, Amazon Prime, Vudu and Wolfe On Demand. The film examines an unlikely love story between the titular Nelly and Nadine, two women who met in the Ravensbrück concentration camp in Christmas of 1944. Despite being separated in the last months of the war, the lovers later reunited and spent the rest of their lives together, but ultimately also kept their love a secret, even to some of their closest family. The women’s story is told through personal archives made public by the grandchildren who uncovered their remarkable story.
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