SDFF NEWS BITS: ALUMNI UPDATES, FESTS, HONORS, NEW DOCS, INDUSTRY HAPPENINGS
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30 NOVEMBER 2021
ALUMNI AWARDS. HONORS. FESTIVALS.
Oscar-nominated director and multi-year SDFF alumni, Skye Fitzgerald will mentor Colombian documentarian Pedro Samper Murillo, who was awarded one of three IDA-XRM media incubator grant for his project People Like Us. The IDA-XRM program was established this year to support and finance diversity-driven, short verité-style docs from emerging directors around the world. The program provides financial support and mentorship to awardees, all of which come from historically underrepresented countries and communities. Fitzgerald last appeared as part of SDFF 2021 for Hunger Ward, the final film in his Humanitarian Trilogy. Hunger Ward provides unflinching portraits of Dr. Aida Alsadeeq and Nurse Mekkia Mahdi as they work to save the lives of hunger-stricken children Yemen, which is on the brink of famine after years of war. An SDFF exclusive interview with Fitzgerald about Hunger Ward is now available to stream for free.
From the Wild Sea (Robin Petré, 2021) showed as part of the Screening Rights Film Festival at the University of Warwick in the UK on Nov. 26. This year’s festival focused on social justice. 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.
Filmmaker Pélin Esmer’s 2017 narrative feature Something Useful was screened as part of Sharjah Film Platform 4’s “Her Journey,” a curated program of 10 films from Turkey by female directors, grappling with women’s subjectivity and intersectional identities. The screenings are part of a multi-year film initiative between the Sharjah Art Foundation, which runs the Program 4 festival, and Istanbul Modern. The partnership is focused on advancing regional filmmaking and cinema. Esmer won the jury award for Best Feature film at SDFF 2021 for Queen Lear, which documents a theater group comprised of peasant women, who travel on foot over dusty roads to stage plays in remote villages.
Naila and the Uprising (Julia Bacha, 2017) was recently screened as part of the Palestinian Film Festival in London. The film was an SDFF 2020 selection, and follows the story of Naila Ayesh, a woman living in Gaza during the 1987 uprisings, whose story weaves through the First Intifada, which was instrumental in forcing the world to recognize the Palestinian right to self-determination for the first time. Bacha’s newest project, Boycott, which looks at the recent explosion of laws designed to penalize Americans who push boycotts against Israel, recently premiered and has spurred a number of articles and opinion pieces (Jewish Currents, Arkansas Times), including one in the New York Times Opinion section, around a 2017 Arkansas pledge mandating public agencies contract only with businesses who do not boycott Israel.
The Wind. A Documentary Thriller (Michal Bielawski, 2019) is appearing as part of a wind-themed selection at the 11th Muestra Internacional de Cine de Lanzarote in Spain, with the filmmaker in attendance. The festival started on Nov. 24, runs through Dec. 5, and is known for its tightly curated selection of original docs, often organized around a theme. The Wind, an SDFF 2020 selection, is a multi-thread story on the clash between people and the forces of nature.
NEW FILMS & PROJECTS FROM SDFF FILMMAKERS
Documentarian Pedro Kos, has two new films released via high-profile streaming services. Last week, we mentioned Lead Me Home, an immersive film about homelessness that Kos made with Jon Shenk, which is available to stream via Netflix. This week, Kos’s film Rebel Hearts about the conflict between progressive nuns and a patriarchal Catholic power structure in 1960s L.A. is streaming on Discovery+. A panel discussion with Kos, co-writer/producer Shawnee Isaac Smith, and producers Kira Carstensen and Judy Korin is available for free as part of Deadline’s 25 “Contenders” documentary film panels. Kos’s 2017 film with Kief Davidson Bending The Arc, an SDFF alumni film, 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.
While Penny Lane’s recently released Listening To Kenny G (2021) has been well-received as it has made festival rounds, Lane is on the cusp of releasing another new film, Confessions of a Good Samaritan, which is about the director’s quest to understand the nature of altruism after donating a kidney. The film has received a grant from Abigail Disney’s Fork Films, along with 10 other docs that deal with topics as varied as social justice, the pandemic’s impact on marginalized communities, climate gentrification. The film will be released in 2022. Meanwhile, Listening to Kenny G will be available on HBO MAX starting Dec. 2. The film interrogates the concept of taste through public sentiment around the much-maligned sax player. The doc has made waves at DOC NYC and every other film festival that has featured it. 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.
IN THE NEWS
American poet and activist Robert Bly died at 94 last week. Bly is best known as a public champion for poetry in the U.S., winning the U.S. Book Award in 1968 for The Light Around The Body. Bly’s work played a transformational role in shaping American poetry in the post-war era, but he was also known for his activism. Bly was an active anti-war activist in the 1970s, and later helped generate the controversial men’s movement in the 1990s. Robert Bly: A Thousand Years of Joy from Marin filmmaker Haydn Reiss played at SDFF 2017 and was one of three films Reiss made over the course of his 20-year friendship with Bly.
Martial arts superstar and director Donnie Yen (Legend of the Wolf, Highlander: Endgame, Blade II, Drunken Tai Chi) signed on to Wuhan Wuhan (Yung Chang, 2020) as an executive Producer. Yen joins a production team that includes producer Donna Gigliotti (Hidden Figures, Silver Linings Playbook and Starlight Media financier Peter Luo (Stars Collective, Road of Millennium Bodhi, Changing China). Wuhan Wuhan is an SDFF 2021 film that captured life at the initial epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak and explores the universality of the pandemic experience.
If You Have, a film SDFF alumni filmmaker Ben Proudfoot (That’s My Jazz, Montage: Great Film Composers and the Piano) made for UNICEF USA’s 75th Anniversary, will play during the non-profit’s nationwide fundraiser online as part of Giving Tuesday (Nov. 30) at 6:30 p.m. Proudfoot has also been in the news because NBA luminary Shaquille O’Neal has signed on to the indie filmmaker’s Critics Choice Award-winning short Queen Of Basketball (U.S., 22 mins) as an Executive Producer. The film is about Lucy Harris, arguably the greatest living women’s basketball player, who has won three national trophies, played in the ’76 Olympics and was drafted to the NBA.
IDFA Director Orwa Nyrabia gave an interview in Variety after the Amsterdam-based festival wrapped last week to talk about IDFA’s attention to its filmmakers, its purpose, and the tenor and focus of contemporary documentary in general. In the interview, Nyrabia speaks to the streamers’ “supermarket aspect,” which emphasizes “binging,” “seriousness shaming” in the industry, and the state of documentary in general.
Virtual publication Deadline has released a bank of panel discussions with the documentary makers responsible for 25 docs that represent “the year’s leading nonfiction.” Originally live-streamed, the documentary discussion panels are available as part of a larger Deadline Contenders series, which includes panels on fiction film (U.S. and international) and television from L.A., New York and London. The documentary panels include filmmakers from Rebel Hearts (SDFF alumni Pedro Kos), Roadrunner, Summer of Soul, Julia, Introducing Selma Blair, Becoming Cousteau, My Name Is Pauli Murray and other docs that have either made a ton of shortlists or are otherwise poised for mass media attention.
SDFF alumni filmmaker Nathalie Biancheri’s second narrative film, Wolf, opens nationwide on Dec. 3 and will be showing at the Rialto®. This wild new project is about a young man suffering from “species dysphoria” who believes himself to be a wolf, and stars noted method actor George MacKay. Biancheri’s doc Xavier Corbero: Portrait of an Artist in Winter was an SDFF 2018 selection. Today (11/30) is the last day to catch the Julia Childs biography Julia (Julie Cohen and Betsy West, 2021) at the Sebastopol theater.
CATCH THEM WHILE YOU CAN: STREAMING DOCS
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.
Bathtubs Over Broadway (Dava Whisenant, 2018) will be available via Netflix starting Dec. 9. The SDFF 2019 film follows a late night comedy writer who stumbles on a hilarious, hidden world of entertainment, where he finds unexpected human connections. The film includes appearances by David Letterman, Martin Short, Chita Rivera and Jello Biafra.
The Last Harvest (Alexis Spradic, 2018) was released for free via Vimeo for Thanksgiving and will be available to stream through the end of the year. The SDFF 2019 selection is about the growers responsible for America’s fresh fruit. The film looks at the experiences of three families to show the harsh realities faced by harvesters due to tightened immigration and inefficient guest worker programs that prevent farmers from accessing a much-needed workforce.
Gilda Shepperd’s Since I Been Down, will show at Nashville’s 12th Annual Black Film Festival, which was recently rescheduled 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.
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.
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.
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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