SDFF NEWS BITS: ALUMNI UPDATES, FESTS, HONORS, NEW DOCS, INDUSTRY HAPPENINGS
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1 FEBRUARY 2022
DOCS IN THE NEWS
Investigative journalism outlet Bellingcat made its second major documentary appearance in the upcoming film Navalny (Daniel Roher, 2022), which went home with both the Audience and Festival Favorite awards at Sundance. The film is a “documentary thriller” about the Russian opposition figure Alexey Navalny, who was poisoned with novichok during a 2020 flight from Siberia to Moscow. Navalny and his team partnered with a Bellingcat journalist to investigate his attempted assassination and find proof of Kremlin involvement. The film was originally meant to be a collaboration between director Daniel Roher and Bulgarian investigator Christo Grozev, who was working for Bellingcat on a different investigation, but the topic shifted after Navalny’s poisoning. The Bellingcat investigation yielded a recording of an FSB officer confessing to the attempted murder and its cover up. Bellingcat was subject of Bellingcat: Truth In A Post-Truth World (Hans Poole, 2018), an SDFF 2020 official selection.
Lusia Harris, the first woman ever drafted by an NBA team, celebrated in the recent documentary short Queen Of Basketball (2021) died earlier this month. She was just 66 years-old. Harris was drafted by 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. Queen of Basketball, the recent, award-winning short dedicated to Harris’s achievements had broadened public awareness of her life story. 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. Queen Of Basketball is on the Oscar® shortlist for 2022.
SDFF alumni filmmaker Pedro Kos and director Jon Shenk discuss their collaboration on the acclaimed Netflix doc Lead Me Home in a recent webchat with Gold Derby’s Tony Ruiz. The two filmmakers talk about examining homelessness in America, which they approached through immersive storytelling shot in San Francisco, Los Angeles and Seattle. 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.
In honor of Holocaust Remembrance Day, Auschwitz survivor and Big Sonia subject Sonia Warshawski donated her mother’s scarf to the Kansas City exhibition Auschwitz: Not long ago. Not far away. The scarf was featured in the 2016 doc Big Sonia (Leah Warshawski and Todd Soliday) in which Warshawski, a public speaker and successful tailor shop owner, faces retirement and a resurgence of memories and fears she’s long kept at bay by committing herself to work. Big Sonia is available to rent or buy through Amazon streaming, and is also available through AMC+.
Since I Been Down (Gilda Shepperd, 2021) has been on an early January roll in the Pacific Northwest. The doc, which addresses racism in the criminal justice system, was co-presented in Vancouver last month through a collaboration between Backbone Meaningful Movies and Vashon-Maury Showing Up for Racial Justice. The screening was shown as part of a campaign aiming to transform how justice and criminal law is envisioned. The film was followed by a panel discussion that included Shepperd, producer and founder of Fabian’s Fund Lydia Barlow, Ginny Parham from Shoulder to Shoulder, and Fabian’s Fund Program Manager Willie Nobles. Since I Been Down was also screened as part of Studium Generale’s Social Justice Week. 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.
SDFF alumni filmmaker Nathalie Biancheri made Screen Daily’s list of the New Generation of Irish female writers and directors. Biancheri’s second narrative film, the boundary-pushing, high-concept film Wolf, was released in the U.S. late last year to great fanfare. The film is about a young man suffering from “species dysphoria” who believes himself to be a wolf, and stars noted method actor George MacKay. Coverage and reviews of the wild film appeared this week in The Hollywood Reporter, The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, The New York Times’, The AV Club, The Chicago Sun Times, etc. Biancheri’s doc Xavier Corbero: Portrait of an Artist in Winter was an SDFF 2018 selection.
NEW FILMS & PROJECTS FROM SDFF FILMMAKERS
David Charles Rodrigues (Gay Chorus, Deep South, 2019) has just released Neymar: The Perfect Chaos, a new 3-part doc profiling soccer star Neymar da Silva Santos Júnior, one of the most famous and highest paid athletes in history. The limited docuseries tracks the soccer superstar’s rise, his career as a player, and the marketing machine that has helped create his persona, run by his father. The doc is on Netflix, and represents a partnership between the streaming giant and Uninterrupted, basketball luminary LeBron James’s athlete empowerment brand. Rodrigues’s Gay Chorus, Deep South, an SDFF 2020 selection, follows the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus as it embarks on a tour of the American Deep South, following a wave of discriminatory anti-LGBTQ laws and the divisive 2016 election.
Unsilenced, a new historic drama from Peabody Award winning director Leon Lee (Letter From Masanjia, 2018) had its American premiere at the Pasadena Laemmle last week. Set in 1999 and inspired by real events, the film focuses on the stories of a PhD student, an American reporter and a group of students as they react to the Chinese state’s nascent ban on the practice of Falun Gong. Lee’s doc Letter From Masanjia, an SDFF 2019 selection, told the story of Sun Yi, a political prisoner at a Chinese labor camp, determined to change the system. Yi’s story became news when an American consumer found his plea for help in a box of Halloween party supplies she ordered online. The film gives a first-hand account of the camps and depicts the restrictions that shaped Yi’s life, and that of his family, even after his release.
Another new project with SDFF ties, La Guerra Civil (Eva Longoria Bastón, 2021) premiered in January at Sundance 2022. The feature was produced by filmmaker Bernardo Ruiz (Harvest Season, SDFF 2019) and explores the epic rivalry between iconic boxers Oscar De La Hoya and Julio César Chávez in the 1990s, and the cultural divide between Mexican nationals and Mexican-Americans that it made manifest. An interview with the film’s editor Luis Alvarez y Alvarez at Sundance recently appeared in Deadline. The feature-length doc is directed by Eva Longoria Bastón, best known for her work as a popular and prolific actor in U.S. film and television. The film also marks global sports entertainment company DAZN’s entry on the international film festival circuit. Ruiz’s gorgeous doc Harvest Season opened the 2019 festival and delves into the lives of people who work behind the scenes of the premium California wine industry, following the stories of Mexican-American winemakers and migrant workers who are essential to the wine business, yet are rarely recognized for their contributions.
AWARDS. HONORS. FESTIVALS. SPECIAL SCREENINGS.
My Favorite War (Ilze Burkovska Jacobsen, 2020) was screened as part of the European Stories section at the 4th annual FIPADOC earlier this month. My Favorite War was one of 12 features selected for the festival. 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. The film was an SDFF 2021 favorite that has been making its way through the European film festival circuit.
Filmmaker and multi-year SDFF alumni S. Leo Chiang is one of three filmmakers selected to act as experts for the 13 project taking part in the 2022 FACTory international pitching conference in Australia. Chiang was also selected for the jury of the Australian International Documentary Conference that puts on FACTory. Chiang’s most recent SDFF film, Our Time Machine (with Yang Sun, 2019) showed at SDFF 2020, and is about renowned Chinese artist Maleonn, who sets off to build a time machine after learning of his father’s dementia. Chiang and co-director Yang Sun also gave an exclusive interview at the 2020 festival, which is available as an SDFF Video Exclusive. Chiang’s film Out Run (with Johnny Symons, 2016) showed at SDFF 2017 and is about the world’s only LGBTQIA political party, which waged an historic quest to elect a trans woman to the Philippine Congress.
Crows Of The Desert: A Hero’s Journey through the Armenian Genocide (Marta Houske, 2017) will be screened in Los Angeles county on April 4 to commemorate the Armenian Genocide. The screening, at the Duarte Performing Arts Center will be followed by a Q&A with members of the filmmaking team. Crows of the Desert tells the story of one man’s struggle to stay alive and help save the Armenian people from near extinction in the 20th Century’s first genocide. The film, which showed as part of SDFF 2018 is comprised of extremely rare film, photographs and documents, gathered from global archives. The Armenian Genocide is commemorated throughout the month of April.
The Torture Letters (Laurence Ralph, 2020) was one of six films screened as part of Animating Realities: Documentary Social Impact Shorts at the new Academy Museum of Motion Pictures in late January. The winter screening and discussion event examined the enhanced emotional impact animation can have on real-life stories, transcending the literal and evoking emotional responses by communicating emotional experiences of events. The Torture Letters traces filmmaker Laurence Ralph’s early memory of police harassment and profiling to the horrific history of police torture in Chicago, working as a primer on the roots of police violence that is made tangible through emotionally grounded personal experience. The film, which showed as part of SDFF 2021, is now available to stream in its entirely as part of the New York Times Op-Docs.
One of Ralph’s first memories of the police is when a plainclothes officer harassed his family. Now a Princeton anthropology professor, Ralph traces his story to the entrenched practices of torture by the police. The Torture Letters focuses on what it means to be policed in America today. It moves from Ralph’s experiences with racial profiling as a teenager to the horrific history of police torture in Chicago. Born out of more than a decade of research, the film serves as an instant primer on the roots of police violence.
LOCAL SCREENINGS + FILM EVENTS
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.
The Rialto is showing a dramatic feature with SDFF links, Parallel Mothers (Pedro Almodóvar, 2021). The feature was draws 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 Rialto is also showing the extraordinary, animated doc Flee (Jonas Poher Rasmussen, 2021), a biographical narrative about a man whose impending marriage in Denmark compels him to reveal a hidden past in Afghanistan. The local theater also has Who We Are: A Chronicle Of Racism In America (Emily Kunstler and Sarah Kunstler, 2021) on the docket for Feb. 25. In the film, 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.
The Sonoma County Library’s monthly documentary film discussion group will focus on I Am Not Your Negro: James Baldwin and Race In America (Raoul Peck, 2016). Based on James Baldwin’s unfinished book, this doc is a visual essay that explores racism in America through the stories of Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. The discussion will take place Feb. 24 from 6-7 p.m. online. The discussion is free but has limited, advanced registration. The doc is available via Netflix. The monthly doc discussion group meets on the fourth Thursday of every month.
CATCH THEM WHILE YOU CAN: STREAMING DOCS
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. The doc was an official SDFF 2019 film that focused on the industrial musicals and the people who make them. The doc approaches these rare, historic oddities produced by the likes of McDonalds and GE, by following a late night comedy writer who stumbles into a 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.
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.
Filmmaker Jerry Rothwell’s The Reason I Jump (2021) is 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 filmSour 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.
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.
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