SDFF NEWS BITS: ALUMNI UPDATES, FESTS, HONORS, NEW DOCS, INDUSTRY HAPPENINGS
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16 NOVEMBER 2021
ALUMNI AWARDS. HONORS. FESTIVALS. DOC NEWS
Unsilenced, Leon Lee’s new feature film that showcases China’s human rights abuses won an 2021 Audience Award at the Austin Film Festival. The film is based on the true story of two young couples who were students at China’s Tsinghua University and paid a heavy price after helping a western journalist break through the Chinese Communist Party’s surveillance and obstruction apparatus to expose its draconian persecution of Falun Gong adherents. Lee’s documentary Letter from Masanjia about Sun Yi, a prisoner in a forced labor camp whose determination to tell the world about Chinese human rights violations begins to bear fruit after an American woman finds his plea for help tucked into a random delivery and alerts the media. The doc showed as part of SDFF 2019.
From the Wild Sea (Robin Petré, 2021) showed as part of the Climate Crisis Film Festival, which streamed and was screened Nov. 1-14, roughly coinciding with COP26. The UK-based festival’s goal is to provide a systemic perspective behind the raw human stories of climate change. The festival streams internationally for free. From The Wild Sea is filmmaker Robin Petré’s directorial debut and documents the experiences of marine animals forced into the human world by rising sea levels, told as a poetic dialogue between human- and animal-kind. It was an official selection at SDFF 2021.
Laurence Ralph was awarded the Social Impact Spotlight Award at the Black in Animation Awards on Sunday night. Ralph is an independent filmmaker and Professor of Anthropology at Princeton University, whose animated short The Torture Letters, focuses on what it means to be policed in America today. The film, an SDFF 2021 official selection, traces his memories and life story to the entrenched practices of torture by the police. The awards, themed “Lift While We Climb” this year, are given by Black Women Animate and honors Black people in animation who are blazing a trail to the future.
The Red Nation Film Festival presented The Lakota Daughters (Victoria Kupchinetsky, 2020) earlier this month as part of ongoing events celebrating Native American Heritage Month. The Lakota Daughters documents how women of the once-matrilineal Oglala Lakota tribe work to create a “girl society” to empower 10-18 year-olds on the Pine Ridge Reservation and help them bring a brighter future into focus. The 33-minute film and SDFF 2021 official selection, showed in L.A. along with three other shorts: Poteet, about Native American artist Poteet Victory; Joe Buffalo, about the titular legendary skateboarder and his recovery from residential school trauma; and Love in the Valley, a visual Valentine to Indigenous artist Lonnie Anderson’s wife and their home in Albuquerque’s South Valley.
The Australian Academy of Cinema Television Arts (AACTA) has nominated When The Cameras Stopped Rolling (Pat Fiske, Jane Castle, 2020) in four of its five documentary categories: Best Documentary, Best Editing in a Doc, Best Original Score in a Doc, and Documentary Sound. In the film, which showed at SDFF 2021, a cinematographer tells the story of her filmmaker mother, their legacy, and their challenging relationship, using their deep archive of footage. The awards will be held on Dec. 8 at the Sydney Opera House.
I want to make a film about women (Karen Pearlman, 2020) won a Festival Award for Outstanding Achievement in Short Film from the Newport Beach Film Festival, the 22nd iteration of which was held in person in late October. I Want To Make A Film About Women is a queer, speculative, documentary love letter to Russian constructivist women, pieced together through the gaps and elisions in archival material that focuses almost solely on men. The film was featured at SDFF 2021, and an exclusive interview with its filmmaker Karen Pearlman is available for free through SDFF recently-released video exclusives.
When We Were Bullies (Jay Rosenblatt, 2021) won the Audience Award for Documentary Short at the 34thannual Virginia Film Festival. The short film captures a coincidental meeting that spurs the filmmaker to investigate a bullying event from 50 years ago in which he was complicit. It showed at SDFF 2021.
Just off of winning an award for best animated film at the Calvart Journal Film Festival, My Favourite War (Ilze Burkovska Jacobsen, 2020) will appear at the London Baltic Film Festival in late November, where filmmaker Ilze Burkovska Jacobsenwill also give a Q&A. The film is an animated memoir of a Soviet childhood and an antiwar film that emphasizes the importance of an individual’s right to freedom in a democratic society. It was an SDFF 2021 official selection and a nominee in animation for the Oscars.
Dear Mr. Brody, a new film from Keith Maitland about Michael Brody Jr., a 21-year-old hippie millionaire who in 1970 promised to give away his $25 million inheritance in an effort to usher in a new era of world peace, is showing as part of the 9th annual Calgary Documentary Film Festival Nov. 24-27. Maitland is the filmmaker behind SDFF 2017 selection A Song For You: The Austin City Limits Story.
Skál, a documentary short by Cecilie Debell and Maria Tórgarð about a young woman who grew up in a Christian congregation on the Faroe Islands and wrote a collection of poetry from a series of texts to a hip-hop artist, is one of fourteen films that duked it out in the documentary competition at the 63rd Nordic Days Lübeck. Debell’s film My Mother Is Pink about a mother and son who set off on a journey to heal their relationship by driving cross-country in a bright pink campervan showed at SDFF 2018.
NEW FILMS & PROJECTS FROM SDFF FILMMAKERS
A new, immersive documentary short by Pedro Kos and Jon Shenk that captures homelessness from multiple perspectives, Lead Me Home, is streaming on Netflix. The film personalizes the overwhelming issue by telling the real-life stories of those going through it as a first step toward challenging uninformed attitudes and outmoded policies and gives the audience a rare, in-depth look at the scale, scope and diversity of the over 500,000 people living unsheltered America today. Kos’s film with Kief Davidson Bending The Arc (2017) is an SDFF alumni film, which 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. It is also currently available to stream on Netflix.
Filmmaker Neasa Ní Chianáín’s new film with Declan McGrath, Young Plato, just premiered at DOC NYC. Young Plato is an observational doc set in post-conflict Belfast’s Arodyne, where a marginalized working class community has been plagued by poverty, drugs and guns for generations. The film charts the dream of Headmaster Kevin McArevey and his team, to empower and encourage children to see beyond the limitations of their circumstances through critical thinking and pastoral care. Ní Chianáín’s film with David Rane, School Life, about teachers at Headfort, the only primary boarding school in Ireland, showed as part of SDFF 2018.
Bobbi Jo Hart’s doc about Fanny, the first all-female rock group to release an LP on a major label, Fanny: The Right To Rock was acquired by Film Movement. Fanny was formed in Sacramento in 1960 by to Filipina-American sisters and their friends, released 5 critically-acclaimed records in as many years, toured with bands like Chicago, and were written out of history until the reformed 50 years later. Hart 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.
The Elverman, a new documentary short from Isla Badenoch about the night life of Gloucestershire amateur elver (baby-eel) hunters, was among the documentary shorts in competition at Camerimage this year. The short has gotten praise for its atmospheric account of this tradition, which entailed complex night photography shooting an eel that is transparent and roughly the size of a glass noodle. 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.
Ben Proudfoot has just released a new New York Times Op-Doc, Almost Famous: The Other Fab Four about four teenagers from Liverpool who were changing the face of pop music—The Liverbirds! Their names were Mary, Sylvia, Pam and Val. Proudfoot’s films have shown at SDFF numerous times, including 2019’s That’s My Jazz and 2017’s Montage: Great Film Composers and the Piano.
ALUMNI DOCS IN THE NEWS
A short doc about a tiny turtle’s happiness, Snowy (Kaitlyn Schwalje & Alex Wolf Lewis, 2021) made TIME magazine’s online edition on Nov. 5. The magazine is streaming the short, an SDFF 2021 selection, and also features a substantial interview with the filmmakers. Snowy is about the filmmakers’ attempt to improve life for their family’s eponymous turtle, who has survived 10 years isolated in the family basement with minimal sunlight and companionship.
Moviemaker Magazine ran a piece by filmmaker Darby Duffin on how he and co-director Adam Jones hope Fish & Men will change how its audience eats. Fish & Men was an SDFF 2021 film that exposes the high cost of cheap fish by revealing how consumer demand drives the global seafood economy and threatens local fishermen.
Bay Area filmmaker Abi Singh was appeared in a recent article “The Evolution of Documentary Filmmaking l Adobe” that explores how the genre has adapted to online platforms. In addition to making critically acclaimed films, like No Vacancy, an SDFF 2018 film about San Francisco artists being priced out of the city, Singh works for Adobe Premiere Pro.
Filmmaker and SDFF 2021 alumni Irena Taskovski (Glitter and Dust, 2020) was one of four experts to participate in the second day of the New Vision Forum at Ji.hlava. The New Vision Forum is a financing, co-production and networking event dedicated to supporting European documentary production, which is open to U.S. filmmakers and producers looking for co-production, sales, distribution and broadcasting opportunities in Europe. The forum is known for its embrace of innovative forms of documentary and non-fiction storytelling, such as docu-series and web-series, VR and AR, live documentaries, expanded-cinema projects and video games. Taskovski sat on a feedback panel for films at various stages of production and post-production.
Producer Anita Gou and Director Amanda Lipitz appeared on KCRW’s The Business podcast to discuss the new doc Found (Amanda Lipitz, 2021), which was released on Netflix in late October. The film follows three adopted American teens who discover they are related over 23andMe, and embark on a journey together to explore their Chinese roots. Gou produced SDFF 2018 selection The Last Animals (Kate Brooks, 2017).
A recent piece by Addie Morfoot in Variety covered the ways in which streaming companies are rapidly altering the Oscar race for documentaries via the types of high-budget campaigns that used to be the sole providence of narrative feature films. The article argues that while the Oscar race has never taken place on a totally level playing field, the increase in money and attention being throw at documentaries since they became de rigeur content for streaming platforms has made it more difficult for underdogs.
LOCAL DOC SCREENINGS
Ascension (Jessica Kingdon, 2021) a new doc about the pursuit of the “Chinese Dream” that is on 2021 documentary shortlists from IDA, was nominated for multiple Critics’ Choice Documentary Awards and is also in competition at DOC NYC, began showing at the Sebastopol Rialto runs through Nov. 18. The Rialto will also be screening two other new docs this month Paper & Glue (JR, 2021), in which artist JR explores his own work, most famously large-scale photographs that become integrated into cityscapes and lived space starting Nov. 19, and the Julia Childs biography Julia (Julie Cohen and Betsy West, 2021) starting Nov. 24.
Alice Street (Spencer l. Wilkinson, 2020) a film about “Oakland’s Most Important Mural That You Can’t See,” is showing tonight (11/16) at Oakland’s New Parkway Theater, followed by a post-screening dialogue with the filmmaker, and both principle artists: Pancho Peskador, a Chilean studio painter, and Desi Mundo, a Chicago-born aerosol artist. The doc is about the artist’s unlikely partnership, formed to tackle an ambitious project, a four-story mural in the heart of downtown Oakland, which was completely obscured by the erection of a six-story luxury high-rise not long after it was finished. The film is being shown as part of the Berkeley Film Foundation’s documentary screening series. Alice Street is an SDFF 2021 alumni film.
CATCH THEM WHILE YOU CAN: STREAMING DOCS
The River Run Virtual Theater will be streaming Theirs Is The Kingdom (Chris Zaluski, 2020) now through Nov. 29. The film is being shown as part of a series of favorites from the 2021 festival. The film follows the creation of a contemporary fresco mural inside the sanctuary of a small church in Asheville, NC, examining the intersection of poverty and portraiture. From first sketch to final unveiling, the film witnesses the difficulties of this ancient artistic technique while also introducing rich, complex characters. The film was an official selection at SDFF 2021.
Holly Near: Singing for Our Lives (Jim Brown, 2018) will be available on the subscription-based streaming platform Peacock, starting November 17. 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.
Knocking Down The Fences (Meg Shutzer, 2019) is available to stream through Twin Cities PBS. The short, an SDFF 2020 favorite, is about AJ Andrews, the first woman to win a Rawlings Gold Glove, and her struggle to make it as one of the best professional softball players in the world.
SDFF ALUMNI STREAMERS, NOVEMBER END DATES
Gilda Shepperd’s Since I Been Down, will show at Nashville’s 12th Annual Black Film Festival, which was recently reschedule for Dec. 2-5 and will be a hybrid streaming and in-person fest. 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.
The Woman Who Loves Giraffes (Alison Reid, 2018) will become available through Sundance Now! streaming service on November 22. 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.
HBO has announced a Dec. 2 release date for Listening To Kenny G, director Penny Lane’s interrogation of taste and the public sentiment around the much-maligned sax player, which has made waves at DOC NYC and every other film festival where it has played. The film is part of HBO’s Music Box doc series that also 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.
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