SDFF NEWS BITS: ALUMNI UPDATES, FESTS, HONORS, NEW DOCS, INDUSTRY HAPPENINGS
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11 JANUARY 2022
AWARDS. HONORS. FESTIVALS
Snowy (Kaitlyn Schwalje & Alex Wolf Lewis, 2021), a short about a tiny turtle’s happiness, is one of five films to make TIME magazine’s list of the year’s best short docs. The magazine is also 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 basement with minimal sunlight and relatively little companionship.
Alice Street (Spencer l. Wilkinson, 2020) will show as part of Vancouver’s 10th KDocsFF in February, and the filmmaker and two muralists featured in the film Pancho Peskador and Desi Mundo will part of a panel discussion that also includes Brandon Gabriel, a Kwantlen First Nations muralist and Vancouver city council member Jean Swanson, the subject of the short We Need A New Map, which will accompany Alice Street.The panel will be moderated by criminologist Michael Ma. Streaming events are limited to Canada. The festival is the region’s premier social justice film festival, but will stream online this year and features a little over 20 films and three special presentations, all of which are organized around the theme “seeking truth.” The festival is organized by Kwantlen Polytechnic University and aims to showcase films subjects that grapple with issues like oppression, poverty, racism, the environment, gender equality and indigenous rights and governance. Alice Street is about the unlikely partnership between Peskador, a Chilean studio painter, and Mundo, a Chicago-born aerosol artist, who come together to tackle an ambitious project—a four-story mural in the heart of downtown Oakland situated at a unique intersection where Chinese and Afro-Diasporic communities face the imminent threat of displacement and gentrification. The film showed as part of SDFF 2021
Filmmaker Jerry Rothwell’s The Reason I Jump (2021) screened at London’s Tyneside Cinema as one of their Best of the Year picks. The Tyneside is a non-profit social hub that focuses on films’ potential to connect and educate audiences and to provide a means of representation for the marginalized. Based on Naoki Higashida’s memoir, at base the doc gives insight into human connection and thoughtfully depicts the lives of non-verbal people and their families, all of whom are also on the autism spectrum. Rothwell’s 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. The film also recently began streaming on Netflix.
NEW FILMS & PROJECTS FROM SDFF FILMMAKERS
Nacer (Roberto Valle, 2021), an animated short produced by Carlos Valle (The Chair of Life, 2015), has been nominated for Best Animated Short at the 2022 Goya Awards. The film is about a little boy who has just found out his mother is pregnant as he faces his new reality and new emotions, and was directed by Valle’s brother Roberto. The Chair Of Life, which showed at SDFF 2017, was a documentary short about the friendship between two old women, sisters-in-law, one of whom uses a chair to get around in lieu of a cane.
When filmmaker Jay Bedwani (Stretch, 2018) wrote a blurb on his favorite cultural production of the last 12 months for the Welsh news service Nation Cymru, (Lead Me Home, an immersive film about homelessness by SDFF alum Pedro Kos and Jon Shenk and Jay Hopkins’ immersive, ambient electronic record Music for Psychedelic Therapy), he also teased his own upcoming project Donna. Donna will be Bedwani’s first feature documentary and follows the story of a well-known SF transgender elder. The film will be released in Spring 2022. Bedwani’s short Stretch was an SDFF 2019 selection and is about an aging acrobat deciding whether or not his final performances of the season will close out his career as a performer. Kos, who directed Bedwani’s pick Lead Me Home directed the SDFF 2018 film with Bending The Arc Kief Davidson about doctors and activists engaging in a battle over healthcare for all in Haiti. It is now available on Netflix.
IN THE NEWS
Jon Osaki’s Alternative Facts: Executive Order 9066 will be screened at the San Francisco Asian Art Museum on Feb. 10 as part of a teach-in commemorating the 80thanniversary of the order, which authorized the imprisonment of Japanese Americans during World War II. The film considers the political forces and misinformation behind the incarceration and draws connections to the contemporary scapegoating of immigrants and abuses of power. Following the screening, Osaki will join Sheryl Davis, executive director of the San Francisco Human Rights Commission, and Don Tamaki, an attorney for the plaintiff in Korematsu v. United States, for a discussion about the ties between the Japanese American redress campaign and the Black reparations movement. The evening also includes a shakuhachi (Japanese flute) performance by Masayuki Koga. Alternative Facts: Executive Order 9066 at 80 Years: Incarceration and Reparations Then and Now was an official selection of SDFF 2020, you can find a contemporaneous interview between Osaki and SDFF co-Director Jean McGlothlin here.
3 Seconds in October – the Shooting of Andy Lopez (Ron Rogers, 2021), about the 2013 shooting of 13 year-old Andy Lopez by Sonoma County Deputy Sheriff Erick Gelhaus, is set to debut nationally Jan. 22 on PBS. The film, which is narrated by SDFF’s Declare Your Independents series with NorCal Public Media, draws on interviews, previously confidential police investigative files and litigation records to give a second-by-second account of the shooting and a detailed chronology of efforts by local police and public officials to defend their actions. It also tracks community response to the shooting and demands to know what happened.
A Washington state bill that would have removed drive-by shootings from a list of aggravating factors that result in automatic life sentences for first-degree murder appears to be dead on arrival. The law is aimed at creating racial equity by correcting a statute that targets young black men, according to Rep. Tarra Simmons, one of the representatives who filed it. The only person ever sentenced to life without parole under the statute is Kimonti Carter, whose story is featured in Since I Been Down (Gilda Sheppard, 2020). Carter is in prison for the 1997 murder of 19 year-old Corey Pittman, who he mistakenly believing was a rival gang member at the time. Carter was 18 years old when he shot Carter, and during his time in prison has started TEACH (Taking Education and Creating History), a program that helps inmates earn college credits through courses taught by other inmates. Although it comes at a time when Washington state is looking at broad sentencing reforms, the proposal is controversial and the Public Safety Committee doesn’t have time for it this session, according to Committee Chair Roger Goodman. Since I Been Down tracks Carter’s life, as well as those of other people impacted by three strikes laws and the racist depiction of young black men and children as “super predators” in the 1990s. The film showed as part of SDFF 2021.
Two key U.S. film events have been moved online over the past two weeks as the COVID omicron variant hampers travel and makes large gatherings risky. The International Documentary Association announced it is pushing the 37th annual IDA Awards from its originally scheduled dates in early February to March 4 as an online-only show. This year’s Sundance Film Festival similarly canceled all of its in-person events for 2022. Originally planned as a hybrid in-person and virtual event, the entire festival will now be held online over concerns about the unexpectedly high transmission rates of the omicron variant. The festival will still begin on January 20. For our part, SDFF is still planning an in-person festival March 24-27, followed by a virtual festival where a curated selection of 2022 films will stream.
LOCAL FILM EVENTS + SCREENINGS
The Rialto Sebastopol has a handful of docs coming up, including a free single-showing “Indie Lens Pop-Up” Missing In Brooks County (Jeff Bemiss and Lisa Molomot, 2021) today (Jan. 11) at 7 p.m., which will be followed by a discussion. The film as about a man’s search for his brother with the help of a local human rights activist/de facto PI, in a rural Texas county where more immigrants go missing than anywhere else in the country. The Rialto will also screen some lighter documentary fare with Learning To Live Together: The Return of Mad Dogs & Englishmen (Jesse Lauder, 2021), which tells the story of Joe Cocker’s 1970n Mad Dogs and Englishmen tour through the Tedeschi Truck Band’s reunion of the Mad Dogs, which featured 12 original members. The Jan. 18 screening will be followed by a filmmaker Q&A. Later this month, the Rialto will also be showing Who We Are: A Chronicle Of Racism In America (Emily Kunstler and Sarah Kunstler, 2021) in which lawyer Jeffrey Robinson draws a stark timeline of anti-Black racism in the U.S. from slavery to the myth of a post-racial America, and Parallel Mothers (Pedro Almodóvar, 2021), which isn’t a documentary but draws inspiration for one of its main characters from the 2019 documentary produced by the filmmaker, The Silence of Others (Almudena Carracedo, Robert Bahar, 2018) about the search for justice by families and surviving victims of the Franco regime.
The Sonoma County Library’s monthly documentary film discussion group will focus on Three Identical Strangers (Time Wardle, 2018). The doc is about the secrets that emerge from the reunion of identical triplets separated at birth, living with three different families. The discussion will take place Jan. 27 from 6-7 p.m. online. The discussion is free but has limited registration. The doc is also available for free to library members through Kanopy. The monthly doc discussion group meets on the fourth Thursday of every month.
CATCH THEM WHILE YOU CAN: STREAMING DOCS
After a brilliant festival run and a flurry of press, Listening To Kenny G (Penny Lane, 2021) is now available through HBO MAX. 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.
Bathtubs Over Broadway (Dava Whisenant, 2018) is available via Netflix. 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, by following a late night comedy writer who stumbles into this hilarious, hidden world of entertainment where he finds unexpected human connections. This highly entertaining doc includes appearances by David Letterman, Martin Short, Chita Rivera and Jello Biafra.
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.
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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