SDFF NEWS BITS: ALUMNI UPDATES, FESTS, HONORS, NEW DOCS, INDUSTRY HAPPENINGS
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17 MAY 2022
AWARDS. HONORS. FESTIVALS. SPECIAL SCREENINGS.
Two SDFF 2022 selections, Listen To The Beat Of Our Images (Audrey Jean-Baptiste and Maxime Jean-Baptiste, 2020) and Nuisance Bear (Jack Weisman and Gabriela Osio Vanden, 2021) appeared at Vancouver’s 21st annual DOXA Documentary Film Festival last week. Listen To The Beat Of Our Images explores the construction of the Kourou Space Centre in French Guyana as seen through the eyes of the local population. Nuisance Bear is an unconventional and visually arresting study of the polar bears who draw tourists to Churchill, Manitoba. Nuisance Bear is one of a handful of SDFF 2022 films also showing at the EarthxFilm Festival, which began this week and is available to stream online. The details of that festival are in the streaming section below.
Rahul Jain’s environmental doc Invisible Demons won a Jussi Award for best documentary. The Jussi’s are Finland’s premier film industry prize. Invisible Demons 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.
The Silent Shore (Nathalie Giraud and Timothée Corteggiani, 2021) is an official selection of New Zealand’s 17th Doc Edge Festival. The hybrid festival will begin streaming on June 1, with in-theatre screenings from June 15-26 (Auckland, Christchurch) and 30 June-10 July (Wellington). In this lush, moving documentary short, fantasy author Pierre Dubois and his wife, Aline, talk about 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.
Prosopagnosia (Steven Fraser, 2021) was awarded the Honorable Mention for Animated Shorts at this year’s RiverRun film festival. The documentary short, now a New York Times Op-Doc, is a story of identity drawn from Fraser’s own experience of face blindness. It uses expressive animation to investigate intimacy, communication and memory. In it, Fraser expressive animation to investigate intimacy, communication and memory, exploring the contents of a memory box he made for himself of self-portraits, sketches and other personal items. RiverRun ran from April 21-30, and announced its Jury Winners late last week, you can see them all right here.
On The Divide (Maya Cueva and Leah Galant, 2021) had a special screening by Planned Parenthood Santa Barbara last week, as part of an effort to raise awareness around the more than 500 abortion restrictions have been introduced across 41 states already this year, and the impending Supreme Court Decision that will overturn Roe v. Wade, setting off a number of trigger laws that will make abortion illegal in many states. The film’s relevance to the current situation and Texas’s abortion laws in particular have also prompted attention in publications like Latino Rebels.The film follows the story of three Latinx people living in McAllen, Texas who, despite their views, are connected by the most unexpected of places: the last abortion clinic on the U.S./Mexico border. As threats to the clinic and their personal safety mount, our three characters are forced to make decisions they never could have imagined. One of the film’s producers, Gabriela Gonzalez, was also featured in a Movieweb piece this week, which discusses on her work in expanding Latina representation, with a particular emphasis on On The Divide, as well as the Sell/Buy/Date (Sarah Jones, 2022), a feature that debuted at SXSW earlier this year. On The Divide is an SDFF 2022 official selection, which had its national debut as part of PBS POV’s Spring line-up and is available to stream on the series website.
Filmmaker Shaleece Haas (Real Boy, SDFF 2017) was on the selection committee for the Sundance Institute’s new Humanities Sustainability Fellowship, a year-long program for 20 U.S.-based under-resourced nonfiction mediamakers whose work and livelihood have been grossly affected by the pandemic. Though all in different phases of their careers, each fellow is involved in producing or directing a humanities-focused feature-length documentary or piece of nonfiction emerging media and will receive $60,000 in installments over 12 months, along with the support from a mentor and project advice. The fellowship is being funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities. SDFF alumni Haas is one of a dozen filmmakers, journalists and academics on the selection committee. Her 2016 film Real Boy is about a charismatic teenager navigating the ups and downs of gender transition who is taken under the wing of his idol Joe Stevens, a celebrated transgender musician fighting his own demons.
Sam Smartt’s science doc Luminous (2021) is among the 8 films in competition at this year’s Lighthouse International Film Festival documentary program. The film documents Professor Larry Molnar and a team of students as they test his prediction of the near-future explosion of a star in the face of skepticism in the field. Smartt’s A Name That I Admire about a dairy farmer’s decision to cast his ballot for an unlikely candidate in the 2016 election showed at SDFF 2017. The festival runs June 3-5 in New Jersey and includes indie features, docs and shorts and will take place in person.
A screening of Joseph Pulitzer: Voice of the People (Oren Rudavsky, SDFF 2019) and a related panel discussion will be among the events marking this year’s World Press Freedom Day in Nigeria. The event is the result of a collaboration between the U.S. Consulate General and the Media Career Development Network. The film tells the story of Joseph Pulitzer, a Hungarian immigrant who retained his focus on injustice even after he became a successful newspaperman and fought the dangers of “fake news” and the suppression of fact-based news over 100 years ago. The film’s theme is in-keeping with the focus of this year’s World Press Freedom Day, which is to increase the role of local news in fending off misinformation. The film discussion will be moderated by Mary Anne Duke Okon (Host, Plus TV Africa) and includes panelists Pelu Awofesu (Managing Editor, Trávû), Ugonma Cokey (Deputy Director, Voice Of Nigeria) and Kunle Akinrinade (Head, Weekend Crime Desk, The Nation).
NEW FILMS + PROJECTS FROM SDFF FILMMAKERS
Mark Cousins’ (The History of Cinema: An Odyssey, The Story Of Looking) new film Jeremy Thomas, A Life Of Cinema opened this week in Paris. The film documents a 5-day road trip the two filmmaker took with the legendary producer Thomas (The Last Emperor, The Sheltering Sky, Rabbit Proof Fence, Naked Lunch)from England to Cannes. During their intimate sojourn across the French countryside, the two reflect on many of producer Thomas’s most famous films. This is the second doc Cousins has made with Thomas; the first,The Storms of Jeremy Thomas premiered at Cannes in 2021. Cousins’ The Story Of Looking, an exploration of the role visual experience plays in our lives and culture made by a filmmaker on the cusp of losing his sight, was an SDFF 2022 jury nominee.
Mama Has A Mustache, a recently finished animated short about gender and family from filmmaker Sally Rubin (Hillbilly, 2018)has been selected for Project: Hatched 2022. Driven by audio of interviews with kids (mostly from Rubin’s daughter’s own circle), the film looks at gender through their eyes. Rubin uses a quirky and colorful use of clip art and mixed media to explore how children are able to experience a world outside the traditional gender binary. The film went into circulation late last year for educational purposes with a teaching toolkit and discussion guide, and has since begun an impressive festival run, receiving raved reviews. Project: Hatched helps US-based filmmakers who have recently completed (or nearly completed) films with the lifecycle of documentaries, ie. distribution, festivals, awards season, markets and impact campaigns. The program is the work of Chicken & Egg Pictures, which supports women nonfiction filmmakers whose storytelling helps catalyze social change. This is the second film Rubin has worked with Chicken & Egg on, the first was Deep Down (w/ Jen Gilomen, 2011), about the fight for natural resources in Kentucky. Rubin’s 2018 film Hillbilly, which she made with Ashely York, that dissected the figure of the Hillbilly in American culture showed at SDFF 2019.
Texas filmmaker Keith Maitland (Tower, SDFF 2017) was interviewed on NPR this week about his new doc, Dear Mr. Brody, which was recently screened for the Austin Film Society reopening. In the interview, Maitland talks about the film, which examines the events that unfolded around Oleomargarine heir Michael Brody Jr., a 21-year-old hippie millionaire after he promised to give away his $25 million inheritance to anyone who needed money, in an effort to usher in a new era of world peace in 1970. Brody received thousands of letters from people across the spectrum who needed money, which he never read. While Brody initially gave some of his fortune away, he died within 3 years of the offer after being hospitalized for drug and mental health issues. In Maitland’s interview with NPR, he discusses the recently opened letters featured in the film, Brody as a cultural phenomenon, and what the situation augered for the future. Dear Mr. Brody is already available to screen on Discovery+.
Stéphane Riethauser (Madame, 2019) pitched his newest film project Orpheus at the closing session of the Torino Lovers Goes Industry 2022, a forum for LGBTQIA+ filmmakers held in tandem with the 37th Lovers Film Festival. The dramatic feature is about a young man, Leo, who is hired to dance the lead in Orpheus at the opera, where he falls in love with famous choreographer Matthias Stern. Riehauser’s doc Madame about an intimate conversation between grandmother and her grandson exploring gender, sexuality and transmission of identity was an SDFF 2020 official selection.
IN THE NEWS
Ilze Burkovska Jacobsen (My Favorite War, 2020) has been selected for the Jury of the Contrechamp Feature Competition at Annecy 2022. Annency is an international festival for animated film that takes place in France each year, and the Contrechamp section replaces the Out-of-Competition section at the festival and features more challenging, unique films. Jacobsen’s animated doc My Favorite War showed at SDFF 2021 and tells the story of the director’s childhood during the 1970s and the Soviet Occupation of Latvia.
The Vow From Hiroshima (Susan Strickler, 2019) producer Mitchie Takeuchi is sharing her experiences as a second-generation Hiroshima survivor today (May 17) during the public unveiling of artist Pedro Reyes’s sculpture Zero Nukes. The 30-foot-tall inflatable sculpture is the center piece of Amnesia Atómica NYC and will be on view in Times Square through May 24. In addition to the sculpture, Amnesia Atómica includes a performance series, Artists Against the Bomb, a participatory work by Reyes called Stockpile, a VR piece, a variety of calls to action and other events. Amnesia Atómica NYC is intended to bring experts, political leaders, and engaged citizens together to address nuclear threats. The Vow From Hiroshima is an SDFF 2020 film that paints an intimate portrait of 85 year-old Setsuko Thurlow, a Hiroshima survivor and activist whose life has been animated by her passion to rid the world of nuclear weapons, culminating in her acceptance speech at the 2017 Nobel Peace Awards.
The same two docs from SDFF alumni filmmakers that made a recent list of films with the highest ratings among Netflix viewers—Crip Camp and Dick Johnson Is Dead— also made a list of the 50 best films available on Netflix right now. Crip Camp: A DIsability Revolution(James LeBrecht and Nicole Newnham, 2020) is about the summer camp that helped birth the disability rights movement. In Dick Johnson Is Dead (Kirsten Johnson, 2020), a filmmaker helps her father prepare for the end of his life through a series of staged photographs. Other noteworthy docs on the list include Robert Greene’s Procession (2021), which uses a combination of fact and fictionalization to get at the heart of the abuse suffered by six boys at the hands of Catholic priests; Ava DuVarnay’s iconic 13th (2016), which traces America’s mass incarceration of black men back to the 13th Amendment; David France’s The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson (2017) an homage to Johnson that is framed by her murder and reflects on violence against transgender folks in the present day; and Julia Reichart and Steven Bognar’s Oscar winning American Factory (2019), which explores the complexities of American labor by examining a Dayton, Ohio plant, once owned by GM, now a Chinese auto glass company.
Disability Is Diversity, a nationwide campaign and PSA urging Hollywood to increase the number of people with disabilities behind and in front of the camera, launched last week. The campaign comes from the Inevitable Foundation, a nonprofit launched by Richie Siegel and Marisa Torelli-Pedevska in June 2021 that seeks to fund and mentor disabled mid-career screenwriters. According to a recent Varietypiece on the campaign, the statistics for inclusion are dismal—though disabled people make up more than 20% of the population, only 2% of on-screen characters have disabilities and less than 1% of writers in Hollywood are disabled. Disability Is Diversity is the first campaign created by an all-disabled international team and will run across several platforms, including print, digital, audio and billboards in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago and Atlanta.
An interview with director Yung Chang about his recently released pandemic doc Wuhan Wuhan is up on Movieweb. The interview focuses on the filmmaker’s decision to make the film, the responsibility he felt towards his subject, and the need to tell the city’s story. The piece follows the film’s May 6 U.S. release on V.O.D. and in limited theatrical engagements. The film is an observational documentary unfolding during February and March of 2020, at the height of the pandemic in Wuhan city, where the coronavirus began. The film focuses on five stories that focus on the human experience of the earliest days of the pandemic, as a mysterious virus began to infect Chinese citizens, and frontline healthcare workers grappled with an invisible, deadly killer. The film showed as part of SDFF 2021.
Following the release of a report of gender in the production of “factual television” by the UK’s We Are Doc Women (WADW), a group of British documentary production companies, including heavy-hitters like the documentary departments of the BBC and Channel 4, have committed to employing 50% women directors across their output. The report found that despite having similar aspirations to men in factual television, women remain in lower paid roles while their male counterparts are three times more likely to be directors. This is clear in the WADW survey: only 27% of factual TV output is currently directed by women. By contrast, 76% of researchers on factual TV projects in the UK are women. Though numbers appear slightly more promising for projects helmed by producer-directors, 44% of which are women according to the WADW report, women producer-directors were also more heavily represented in the survey sample. A similar survey by the Creative Diversity Network put women producer-directors at around 33%. The WADW’s statistics for the percentage of women producers (70%) and assistant producers (41%) correlate fairly well with existing surveys. While these numbers seem high, most of the workers surveyed aspired to direct, not produce. While the WADW report attempts to analyze the gendered division of labor in the report, it is hindered by the scope of the survey, in particular the omission of information on race, sexuality and gender identity that might further elucidate the variety of ways in which sexism and misogyny factors figure into hiring practices, the pay gap, etc. While the WADW findings are (unfortunately) not terribly surprising, a significant group of production companies have responded with a commitment to gender parity among the directors of their output. In addition to the BBC and Channel 4, the group also includes Specialist Factual and Current Affairs and independent production companies, Gold Star Productions, ie ie Productions, Lambent Productions, Middlechild, Mindhouse and Yeti Media. It is not immediately clear how these companies intend to proceed with such a commitment.
LOCAL SCREENINGS + FILM EVENTS
OUTwatch continues its Spring/Summer film series this Thursday, May 19 with Rebel Dykes (Siobhan Fahey, 2021), a heady, energized mash-up of animation, unseen archive footage and interviews, which provides intimate insight into a politically charged, artistically radical subculture in 1980s London. Bringing together BDSM nightclubs, inclusive, sex-positive feminism, DIY zine culture, post-punk musicians and artists, squatters, activists and sex workers, these rebel dykes went out onto the streets to make their voices heard. The film shows at 7 p.m. at Rialto Cinemas® Sebastopol. The series will continue with Daresha Kyi’s Mama Bears (June 16) and Chase Joynt’s Framing Agnes (July 21). Buy tickets here!
Sebastopol’s 7th Israeli Film Festival is in its final week of in-person and virtual fest screenings, and wraps today (May 17). The selections include 3 documentaries Black Flowers (Tammy Federmanm 2021) about , The Last Chapter of A.B. Yehoshua (Yair Qeder, 2021), and That Orchestra with the Broken Instruments (Yuval Hameiri, 2021). The festival is presented by the Jewish Community Center of Sonoma County. Black Flowers is about Holocaust survivors who are working through traumatic memories with art, The Last Chapter of A.B. Yehoshua is a portrait of the titular A.B. Yehosua, a beloved Israeli author, and That Orchestra with the Broken Instruments is about a peculiar collaborative effort to make harmony in the frequently discordant city of Jerusalem.
The final film in the Spring Doc Nights series, Reflection: a walk with water (Emmet Brennan, 2021) will be screened at Rialto Cinemas® on June 6 at 7 p.m. The screening and discussion will be screened at 7 p.m. at Rialto Cinemas® and will be followed by a casual gathering at Fern Bar. Part personal meditation on water, part road map for positive change, Reflection: a walk with water confronts current environmental and systematic troubles by examining bellwethers for the future, including Los Angeles and other parts of California. The film was an SDFF 2022 selection, and its screening included an environmental stewardship panel, which you can watch right here! Doc Night is a collaboration between Trim Tab, SDFF, and the Rialto®. Buy tickets here, or check out our Doc Night page for more details.
CATCH THEM WHILE YOU CAN: DOCS AIRING ON TV + STREAMING ONLINE
When Claude Got Shot (Brad Lichtenstein, 2020) had its national TV debut on May 9, but remains available to stream via PBS’s Independent Lens. The film follows five years in the life of Claude Motley as he tries to recover mentally and physically from being shot in the face by 15 year old carjacker, Nathan King. Claude’s story is at the center of five stories of gun violence, justice and healing, and ultimately leads him back to the boy who shot him. The film, which showed at SDFF 2022, will be available to stream online after it airs.
The EarthxFilm festival will be screening SDFF 2022 films Nuisance Bear (Jack Weisman and Gabriela Osio Vanden, 2021) about Manitoba polar bears, Breaking Trail (Jesse Roesler, 2021) about the first woman and person of color to thru-hike the 1,200-mile Ice Age Trail, and Tigre Gente (Elizabeth Unger, 2021) about a Bolivian park ranger and a journalist working to curtail the South American jaguar trade. The festival will also be showing Deep In The Heart, a new film by SDFF 2020 filmmaker Ben Masters who made The River and The Wall. The festival runs online May 16-23. In addition to being temporarily available via EarthxFilm, Breaking Trail is also streaming through Outside+.
Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story (Alexandra Dean, 2017) will be available for free through PBS’s American Masters website until May 18. The American Masters website for the film also includes a number of new interviews and archival information, including an interview with Mel Brooks and recently unearthed audio of interviews with the inventor/actor. Bombshell showed at SDFF 2018 and is about the famed actress’s inventions, which included a technology that would eventually become Bluetooth.
Filmmaker Kief Davidson’s (Bending The Arc, SDFF 2018) new 4-part docuseries about the worst nuclear power incident in U.S. history, The Meltdown: Three Mile Island, began streaming on Netflix May 4 to much fanfare. The series tackles the near catastrophe at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant through the lens of chief engineer and whistleblower, Richard Parks, as well as the Pennsylvania community it impacted. The doc is comprised of dramatic reenactments, archival footage, never-before-seen home video, and in-depth interviews. The doc’s subject resonates with Davidson’s other films including Bending The Arc, which he co-directed with Pedro Kos. Kos has also made a recent documentary for Netflix, the critically acclaimed feature-length doc Lead Me Home, an immersive film about homelessness shot in San Francisco, Los Angeles and Seattle made in collaboration with Jon Shenk. The SDFF2018 doc that they co-directed is also available to stream through Netflix. Bending The Arc 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.
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