SDFF NEWS BITS: ALUMNI UPDATES, FESTS, HONORS, NEW DOCS, INDUSTRY HAPPENINGS
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4 JANUARY 2022
AWARDS. HONORS. FESTIVALS
Waad al-Kateab (For Sama w/ Edward Watts, 2019) was recently announced as the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Gold Fellowship for Women’s international recipient. The year-long, £20,000 fellowship is intended to aid in global talent development and inclusion. In addition, Al-Kateab is on-location in Tokyo filming a doc about the IOC Refugee Olympic Team for XTR, a nonfiction studio. Al-Kateab received an Oscar nom, the documentary prize L’Œil d’Or at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival, and the BAFTA award for Best Documentary for For Sama. She is working with Oscar-winning producer Joanna Natasgara on the new project, for which they have secured access to the Refugee team before and during the 2021 games. The team consists of 29 athletes from 11 countries, residing in 13 host nations. For Sama (Waad al-Kateab and Edward Watts, 2019) showed at SDFF 2020, and tells the story of the siege of Aleppo from the perspective of a mother who gave birth during the ordeal.
Filmmaker Hamid Jafari (The Rock, 2016) won the award for Best Short Documentary Director for his film The Leaves at the 15th Iran International Documentary Film Festival known as “Cinema Verite” in Tehran last month. The Leaves is about a man whose desire to end his own life takes a turn after he plants and cares for saplings on a stony mountainside. Jafari’s film The Rock, a poetic rendering of the life of a woman who breaks rocks and sells them to support her family In the South of Iran, was an SDFF 2018 official selection.
Alessandro Cassigoli and Casey Kauffman’s Caifornie won the RêVolution Award Special Mention special mention at the 2021 Cinémamed – Brussels’ Mediterranean Film Festival last month. Though the directing duo worked with Vanessa Piciarelli on the script, Californie shares themes with their earlier doc Butterfly, which showed at SDFF 2020. Californie follows a young woman from Morocco who tries to fit into a small town near Naples over the course of five years; Butterfly followed Italian teen boxer Irma as she tries to find her way in life.
Leitis In Waiting (Dean Hamer, Joe WIlson, Kumu Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu, 2017) was screened as part of the 2021 Pacific Human Rights Film Festival in December. The film, which showed at SDFF 2019 is the story of Joey Mataele and the Tonga Leitis, an intrepid group of native transgender women fighting a rising tide of religious fundamentalism and intolerance in their South Pacific Kingdom. This trio of filmmakers was also responsible for the beloved animated documentary short Kapaemahu, which won at SDFF 2021 and is in currently being developed into a feature-length work to be released this Spring.
My Favorite War, Ilze Burkovska Jacobsen’s animated memoir of her Soviet childhood, which is also an antiwar film that emphasizes the importance of an individual’s right to freedom in a democratic society, was among the selections of AnimaSyros. The film resonated with the event’s theme this year: freedom and revolution, which was inspired by the 200th Anniversary of the Greek Revolution. In addition to screening the animated doc, Burkovska Jacobsen gave a presentation about animated documentary as method that can be simultaneously truthful and poetic. My Favorite War was an SDFF 2021 official selection.
Knocking Down The Fences (Meg Shutzer, 2019) was featured in the inaugural Beach Break Film Festival in Half Moon Bay at the end of December. The last film festival Half Moon Bay had was in 1998, and the new iteration will focus on independent documentaries. Knocking Down The Fences was an SDFF 2020 favorite 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.
Mainasty, the Seattle-based production company of Maikaru, subject of the 2014 doc Maikaru (Amanda Harryman), recently received a national Comcast RISE grant and has used the grant as an opportunity to talk about the deficit in attention paid to AAPI media production. Maikaru will use the grant to develop a game show pilot that he hopes will act as a proof of concept for the company as it moves forward. Maikaru was about Maikaru’s experience of human trafficking as a child, and was shown as part of SDFF 2020.
NEW FILMS & PROJECTS FROM SDFF FILMMAKERS
Filmmaker Ashley York (Hillbilly, 2018) is one of 10 filmmakers selected for Production Grants by the Southern Documentary Fund. York is being awarded the $10,000 grant for Dear Appalachia, an anthology documentary series with each episode having its own narrative arc while interweaving connected narrative threads. Each episode is being directed and produced by regional filmmakers in an effort to empower Appalachians to tell their own stories. York’s film with Sally Rubin, Hillbilly, which showed at SDFF 2019, is also about Appalachia and traces the history and development of the figure of the hillbilly in American culture and politics.
Álex Lora (The Fourth Kingdom w/ Adan Aliaga, 2017) recently wrapped shooting on his first feature-length fiction film Unicornios about the life of a polyamorous, feminist urbanite, and depicts the ways in which millennial women are seeking to change women’s roles and individual agency. Lora co-wrote the film with three female writers, Marta Vivet (The Hockey Girls), Pilar Palomero (Schoolgirls) and Greta Fernández (A Thief’s Daughter). Lora has worked for over a decade making noteworthy short films including The Fourth Kingdom, which juxtaposes a series of vignettes from the lives of immigrants in a marginal community in New York, which showed at SDFF 2018 and won the Brooklyn Film Festival award for Best Documentary Short.
Music documentarian Jim Brown (Holly Near: Singing For Our Lives, 2018) directed Peter, Paul & Mary – Live at Newport: December 21st, 1.05am for TG4 (Irish public television), which appeared as part of the network’s ongoing tradition of airing live concerts as holiday treats. Brown has made two other documentaries about the band, 50 Years with Peter, Paul And Mary (2014) and Peter, Paul And Mary: Carry It On—A Musical Legacy (2004). He also directed the SDFF 2019 selection Holly Near: Singing For Our Lives about feminist icon, activist and musician Holly Near.
IN THE NEWS
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 topped Flood Magazine’s list of the Best Music Docs of 2021. 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.
An interview between filmmaker and editor Rachel Shuman and editor of The Current, is now up on youtube. Shuman edited the recently released Storm Lake (Beth Levison and Jerry Risius, 2021) about a small, family-owned Iowa newspaper, the Storm Lake Times, fight for the survival. The film won an audience award at AFI, as well as a nod for Best Documentary Feature at Woodstock. Shuman directed the SDFF 2018 doc One October, a lyrical portrait of New York City and its people in October 2008, on the eve of President Barak Obama’s historic election and an unprecedented economic crisis.
Filmmaker Julia Bacha’s Boycott was featured in a review/column in The Washington Report On Middle East Affairs, which discusses the film’s efficacy in illustrating the ways in which anti-BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) laws can impact people’s everyday lives, regardless of their political beliefs. The film has made waves in the media since its release with think-pieces in publications from across the spectrum (The Intercept, Editor & Publisher, Jewish Currents, Arkansas Times, New York Times Opinion, Israel Hayom). The new doc explores the emergence of new laws designed to penalize Americans boycotting Israel. Bacha’s Naila and the Uprising (Julia Bacha, 2017) was an SDFF 2019 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.
After a brilliant festival run, Listening To Kenny G (Penny Lane, 2021) is finally streaming on HBO MAX, triggering volley of new criticism and think pieces from The New Yorker, Reason Magazine and Hyperallergic. The film also made Best Of 2021 lists, from The best Jewish (and Jew-ish) films of 2021 toReal Screen’s What We Loved 2021. The film’s reception may have contributed to HBO’s renewal of Bill Simmons’ Music Box, the collection of which Listening To Kenny G was a part, along with Alison Kayman’s Alanis Morisette doc Jagged and Christopher Frierson’s DMX: Don’t Try to Understand. The film interrogates the concept of taste through public sentiment around the much-maligned sax player. Filmmaker Penny Lane’s film Nuts! about radio “doctor” and public health hazard of days past, Dr. John Brinkley, was an SDFF 2018 official selection.
SDFF alumni filmmaker Nathalie Biancheri’s second narrative film, Wolf, received a second round of press following is release in early December. While the off-beat film, about a young man suffering from “species dysphoria” who believes himself to be a wolf, received a round of coverage and reviews upon initial release, a recent series of articles and interviews look at how the film was made during a pandemic (Looper), its scoring (Coming Soon), and playing misunderstood characters (Out, Cinema Blend). Biancheri’s doc Xavier Corbero: Portrait of an Artist in Winter about the famed Spanish sculptor was an SDFF 2018 selection.
The Silence of Others (Almudena Carracedo, Robert Bahar. 2018) made a short, but noteworthy appearance in a recent New York Times profile of Pedro Almodóvar, whose production company El Deseo produced the documentary. The profile was released as the famed director shoots Parallel Mothers, a film that exhumes some of Spain’s painful history, which is also the subject of the documentary. The Silence of Others followed victims and survivors of the Franco regime as they organize the groundbreaking “Argentine Lawsuit” and fight a state-imposed amnesia of crimes against humanity, in a still divided country. Parallel Mothers explores this same history through one of its lead characters, who is on a quest to unearth the bones of her great-grandfather who was murdered by the Franco-affiliated rebels at the outset of the Spanish Civil War. The Silence Of Others was an SDFF 2019 official selection.
Marshall Curry (Racing Dreams, A Night At The Garden) has signed on as a mentor for a new, expanded iteration of the Woodstock Film Festival’s Youth Film Lab, which began as a summer program four years ago but will take place starting in January this year. Curry will be joining editor Sabine Hoffman as well as animators Joy Buran and Noelle Melody for the labs. Curry’s award-film Racing Dreams, a coming-of-age documentary about three kids who dream of racing in NASCAR, showed as part of SDFF 2010.
Rosemary’s Way (Ros Horin 2020) helped the newly launched Victor Harbor Refugee Support Group complete its first successful year. The film was shown at a special fundraising for the new group, which supports refugees arriving in South Australia. The SDFF 2021 official selection is an inspirational film about the difference one determined person can make. In it, charismatic changemaker, Rosemary Kariuki, is on a mission to empower immigrant women, exposing them to new ideas, experiences and wider Australian society – her means are anything but orthodox and laughter is her secret weapon
Singer-songwriter Jodi Siegel whose father, composer Fred Siegel, was one of the key subjects in Bathtubs Over Broadway (Dava Whisenant, 2019) has released a new album Wild Hearts. A recent interview with Siegel in the Pasadena Weekly positions her work in a continuum with that of her father in a way that attends to the actual labor of making music, recalling themes from the film. Bathtubs Over Broadway was an SDFF 2020 film that focused on the creators of, and players in, industrial musicals—rare, historic oddities produced by the likes of McDonalds and GE. This highly entertaining doc also recently became available via Netflix and includes appearances by David Letterman, Martin Short, Chita Rivera and Jello Biafra.
CATCH THEM WHILE YOU CAN: STREAMING DOCS
Sophie and the Baron (Alexandria Baron, 2020) is an uplifting rendering of the creative collaboration and unlikely friendship between Rolling Stone photographer Baron Wolman, at the end of his prolific career, and up-and-coming artist Sophie Kipner, at the beginning of hers. The film showed as part of SDFF 2021 and is streaming on Disney+ as part of the launch of the platform’s new documentary division. The film is on the Oscar® shortlist for 2022.
Queen Of Basketball (2021) indie documentarian Ben Proudfoot’s Critics Choice Award-winning short is available as part of his Almost Famous series of shorts by New York Times Op-Docs. The film is about Lucy Harris, the first woman ever drafted by an NBA team, the New Orleans Jazz (now Utah Jazz) in the late 70s. Though she didn’t ultimately make the team, she left the sport with having won three national championships and an Olympic silver medal. 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. The film is on the Oscar® shortlist for 2022.
Gay Chorus, Deep South (David Charles Rodrigues, 2019) was made in response to a wave of discriminatory anti-LGBTQ laws and the divisive 2016 election, and follows the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus as it embarks on a tour of the American Deep South. The film is now streaming on Amazon Prime and showed as part of SDFF 2020.
Southwest of Salem: The Story of the San Antonio Four (Deborah S, Esquezani, 2016) recently became available through NBC’s streaming platform Peacock TV. This SDFF 2017 selection 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.
Filmmaker Jerry Rothwell’s The Reason I Jump (2021) just began streaming on Netflix. Based on Naoki Higashida’s memoir, the film looks at the diverse experiences and emotions of five young people with autism. His film Sour Grapes (Rothwell and Reuben Atlas, 2016) documented the rise and fall of wine charlatan Rudy Kuriawan, who pulled one over on connoisseurs, experts and industry folk before his downfall, and showed at SDFF 2017.
Another SDFF 2017 alumni filmmaker, Pedro Kos, also has an acclaimed new doc on Netflix, Lead Me Home, an immersive film about homelessness shot in San Francisco, Los Angeles and Seattle made in collaboration with Jon Shenk. Kos’s 2017 film with Kief Davidson Bending The Arc 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.
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.
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.
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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