SDFF NEWS BITS: ALUMNI UPDATES, FESTS, HONORS, NEW DOCS, INDUSTRY HAPPENINGS
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31 MAY 2022
AWARDS. HONORS. FESTIVALS. SPECIAL SCREENINGS.
The Silent Pulse Of The Universe, Ben Proudfoot’s short about severely under-appreciated scientist Jocelyn Bell, was nominated for the FOCAL International Award for best use of footage in a documentary short. Now in their 19th year, the FOCAL awards celebrate the best examples of archive restoration and preservation, and the best uses of archival footage in creative and cultural industries. The Silent Pulse Of The Universe was an SDFF 2022 official selection that used present day interviews and archival footage to recount Bell’s time as a graduate student in the late 1960s. Immense skepticism from her male superiors pushed Bell to make one of the greatest astrophysical discoveries of the 20th Century. Nonetheless, she was belittled and sexually harassed by the media, and the Nobel Prize was awarded to her professor and his boss.
The Art Of the Un-War (Maria Niro, 2021) will open the 27th New Jersey International Film Festival this Friday, June 3 with a screening at Rutgers followed by a filmmaker Q&A. The film will also be available via on-demand video/streaming on June 3. The film, which received an SDFF 2022 Jury Award honorable mention, explores war, trauma, displacement and xenophobia through the work of internationally renowned artist Krysztof Wodiczko, who invites war veterans, refugees, and the homeless to co-create projects so they can speak about their plights in public spaces. The New Jersey festival will take place on select Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from June 3-12, with online screenings available for 24 hours on the films’ in-person show dates.
Vaunted composer and A Concerto Is A Conversation (SDFF2022) co-director Kris Bowers (Dear White People, Bridgerton, King Richard) will be among the featured speakers in a webinar of award-winning Black film and TV composers, being held to commemorate Juneteenth. The June 7 virtual event is being hosted by the L.A. chapter of the Association of Independent Music Publishers. The panel will be moderated by award-winning composer and jazz bassist Marcus Miller, and also includes speakers Kathryn Bostic (Amy Tan: Unintended Memoir, Toni Morrison-The Pieces I Am, Women of the Movement, Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go For It, Black Art in the Absence of Light, Dear White People, Gem of the Ocean); Kurt Farquhar (The King of Queens, Moesha, Soul Food, Black Lightning, American Soul); and Amanda Jones (Home, Somebody Somewhere, American Horror Stories, Good Trouble, A Black Lady Sketch Show). All of the speakers will share personal experiences, behind-the-scenes stories, and their perspectives on the progress of diversity, equity, and inclusion across the entertainment sector, as well as discuss projects they are currently working on and their hopes for the future. The event is free and open to the public with registration.
Over 300 students from around Ohio made their way to the Liberty Aviation Museum on May 25 to watch the short doc, Red Horizon (Thomas Johnstone, SDFF 2021) and hear Tuskegee Airman Dr. Harold Brown speak about his experience. Amelia Tolbert, one of the young trainees featured in the documentary, also answered questions, remotely. The museum screened the film to help call attention to the persistent racial imbalance of professional pilots. To this day, only 3 percent of commercial pilots are people of color or minorities. Red Horizon is a documentary short about a group of pilots dedicated to keeping the legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen, the first unit of black U.S. military pilots, alive while pursuing their dreams of becoming professional aviators and inspiring the Black community to take to the skies and change racial imbalance that persists in the world of aviation.
A special screening of Tell Them We Were Here, featuring a performance from longtime SF freak-folk fave Vetiver (Andy Cabic) screened at the historic Balboa Theater on May 21 with filmmakers Griff and Keelan Williams in toe. The film examines Bay Area artists making politically motivated, socially conscious artwork, while also framing the artists and their work in context, showing how pivotal vital creative communities are to healthy societies and political change. Because although each of the artists is exemplary of perseverance and generosity, together they represent an empowering alternative worldview that emphasizes creativity and community over capitalism. The film features Sadie Barnette, Amy Franceschini, Alicia McCarthy, Nigel Poor of Ear Hustle, Jim Goldberg, Tucker Nichols, Lynn Hershman Leeson. Tell Them We Were Here was the opening film of SDFF 2022.
Washington’s Edmonds School District hosted a screening and discussion of Alternative Facts: The Lies of Executive Order 9066 (Jon Osaki, 2019) on May 23 in recognition of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage month. The feature-length doc considers the political forces and misinformation behind Executive Order 9066, which authorized the imprisonment of Japanese Americans during World War II. The film draws connections between the US’s treatment of its Japanese citizens during the war and the contemporary scapegoating of immigrants and abuses of power. The film was an SDFF 2020 official selection, which featured an interview with the filmmaker which is available to stream for free.
NEW FILMS & PROJECTS FROM SDFF FILMMAKERS
The Booksellers (D.W. Young, 2019) producer Debra McClutchy is making her directorial debut with the 40-min doc The Martha Mitchell Effect (co-dir. Anne Alvergue, 2022), which will premiered at Sundance earlier this year and will begin streaming on Netflix June 17. The film is about Martha Mitchell, wife of a Nixon Attorney General and campaign president John N. Mitchell. Martha spoke out during Watergate, and the Nixon administration’s campaign to gaslit her into silence. McClutchy was a producer on The Booksellers, a behind-the-scenes look at the New York world of rare books, which was shown as part of SDFF 2020. It is now available through Amazon Prime.
H Is For Harry (2018) co-director Ed Owles is producing a new project, under the working title Red Herring, which is one of twelve projects selected for the 2022 Film Independent Documentary Lab. Directed by Kit Vincent, the upcoming film is about a young filmmaker who receives a cancer diagnosis then enlists his family on an intimate and darkly humorous journey to help them come to terms with his illness. Owles’s SDFF 2019 doc with Jaime Taylor, H Is For Harry, was a coming-of-age story about an 11 year-old boy who arrives at secondary school unable to read, but is helped along by a dedicated teacher. Best known for throwing the annual Independent Spirit Awards, Film Independent’s NEA-funded doc lab is an intensive program two-week program for feature-length films in post-production, providing creative feedback and story notes to participating filmmakers, while helping them strategize for the completion, distribution and marketing of their films.
Podium, a new doc directed by Rachel Leah Jones, and produced by Jones and Philippe Bellaiche, is among the initial round of projects to be presented at this year’s CoPro market in Tel Aviv. CoPro is designed to bring international attention and funding to new Israeli doc projects. Jones and Bellaiche are the duo behind Advocate (SDFF 2020), a documentary portrait of Jewish-Israeli human rights lawyer Lea Tsemel, who has represented political prisoners for nearly 50 years. The subject of Podium remains under wraps for now.
IN THE NEWS
Following its recent release at New York’s Quad Theater, Fanny: The Right To Rock (Bobbi Jo Hart, 2021) has received a new wave of rave reviews, as well as coverage of the band’s erasure from rock history, which the film remedies. These include the New York Times piece “The All-Female Band Fanny Made History. A New Doc Illuminates It,” and another from Film Threat. An SDFF 2022 Audience Award winner, Fanny: The Right To Rock tells the story of the first all-female band to be signed to a major record label in the U.S. The Northern California band, founded by two Filipina-American sisters, included queer members, and were written out of music history until fairly recently. The film’s director Bobbi Jo Hart also 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. In addition to its limited theatrical release, the film is also now streaming on Crave.
Stats presented by the European Audiovisual Observatory at Cannes Docs/Cannes Film Market, show that European documentary film is thriving, with the number of productions almost returned to pre-pandemic levels, though statistics vary significantly from country-to-country. And, according to Variety reporting, there is consensus among filmmakers and folks in the industry that streaming platforms have stimulated a new appetite in audiences, particularly the youthful ones. However, the growing popularity of documentary content has been accompanied by a change in its format, with docuseries taking center stage and edging out more traditional forms of documentary storytelling, which privileges story-focused storytelling over observation, voice-of-god, verité and other documentary structures. The rise of the docuseries and its popularity on streaming is also accompanied by more capitalized forms of funding, whereas documentaries, as a general rule have typically had more niche audiences and have also relied on state, non-profit and other forms of funding extrinsic to studios and streamers. While the EAO stats and Variety article are focused on Europe, the numbers and sentiment comport with trends in the U.S. as well, raising many of the same questions and concerns about how changes in format and funding may also impact how documentaries function as media.
Leitis In Waiting (Dean Hamer, Joe WIlson, Kumu Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu, 2017) made a Rotten Tomatoes list of “11 Films and TV Series That Give Power To Pacific Islander Voices” amassed for AAPI Heritage Month. 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 who made Leitis In Waiting is also responsible for the beloved animated documentary short Kapaemahu, which won at SDFF 2021. Other noteworthy documentary entries on the list include Merata: How Mom Decolonized The Screen (Heperi Mita, 2018), a tribute to the filmmaker’s mother, Māori activist Merata Mita; and Out Of State (Ciara Lacy, 1970), an investigation of how the prison industrial complex has impacted Native Hawaiians.
Since I Been Down (Gilda Shepperd, 2021), which just began on demand streaming via most major streaming platforms (iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, YouTube, etc.), received an overwhelmingly positive write-up in the New York Times. While the paper’s coverage isn’t quite a film review, it speaks to the success of the film in calling attention to its subjects in an empathetic way. The feature-length doc, which showed at SDFF 2021, addresses racism in the criminal justice system. The doc approaches intersecting criminal justice and carceral issues by focusing on victims of the 1980s drug war who continue to languish behind bars. Since its release, the film has been shown as in various campaigns seeking to transform how justice and criminal law are envisioned and is also streaming on Sundance Now.
For Sama (Waad al-Kateab and Edward Watts, SDFF 2020), a personal documentary about the Siege of Aleppo is one of a handful of docs about the global refugee crisis being added to Netflix and Amazon Prime. The doc traces five years of filmmaker Waad al-Kateab’s life during the uprising, as she falls in love, gets married and gives birth while apocalyptic conflict rises around her. Other docs being added are Flee (Jonas Poher Rasmussen, 2021) about an Afghan man’s reflections on his past, Ai Weiwei’s Human Flow (2017), which gives both micro- and macro- views of the global refugee crisis; and Born In Syria (Bernán Zin, 2016), which focuses on children’s experiences of war and displacement.
A Sexplanation (Alexander Liu, 2020), which will be released across major streaming and cable platforms in the U.S. and Canada on June 7, got a glowing review from the UK’s Female First last week. In the doc, 36 year-old health reporter/filmmaker Liu investigates his own repression by looking for right the wrongs of his all-American sex education—going on a quest to uncover naked truths and hard facts. A Sexplanation features provocative conversations with psychologists, sex researchers, a Jesuit priest, and several generations of his family.
Cirque Du Cambodia (Joel Gershon, 2020) got a recent, positive write-up from Circus Talk, which applauds both the film and Phare Ponleu Selpak, the Cambodian social circus on which the film focuses, for bringing the performing arts to audiences that might not otherwise have access to such performances or career opportunities. The doc, an SDFF 2022 selection, follows the real-life journey of two teenagers with the classic dream of running away to join the circus, but with a twist. Rolling Pictures, which recently acquired the film, describes it as an inspirational work that depicts circus programs and arts education as potentially transformative for marginalized youth. Circus Talk is an online professional resource for the circus community.
Joseph Pulitzer: Voice of the People (Oren Rudavsky, SDFF 2019) was among the U.S.-sponsored events marking this year’s World Press Freedom Day in nations across the world. The screenings are 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.
LOCAL SCREENINGS + FILM EVENTS
The final film in the Spring Doc Nights series, Reflection: a walk with water (Emmet Brennan, 2021) will be screened at Rialto Cinemas® this Monday, 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. Both film and screening both made East Bay Express’s recent “Critical Viewing: Essential Documentaries To Watch This Summer.” 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.
OUTwatch is hosting a Pride Month screening of Poppy Field (Eugen Jebeleanu, 2020) to benefit OUTright’s LGBTQI Ukraine Emergency Fund. In the film, a young, Romanian police officer, Cristi, tries to find the balance between two opposing parts of his identity: that of a man working in a macho hierarchical environment and that of a closeted gay person who tries to keep his personal life a secret. The film will have two screenings on June 9 at 1 and 7 p.m. at Rialto Cinemas® Sebastopol.
OUTwatch will also be continuing its Spring/Summer film series on June 16 with Daresha Kyi’s doc Mama Bears, about conservative Christian families raising gay kids. Framing Agnes (July 21). The films show at 7 p.m. at Rialto Cinemas® Sebastopol. Buy tickets here!
The first Bay Area Media Makers Summit (BAMMS) will take place June 3-5 in San Francisco and Oakland. The summit will bring together local film festivals, organizations, funders and filmmakers, fostering an increasingly collaborative, healthy and inclusive Bay Area filmmaking community. The summit includes casual mixers, as well as workshops and presentations by local filmmakers on a variety of topics. The event is free and open to filmmakers and media makers, but requires registration.
The 21st San Francisco DocFest starts and tomorrow, June 1, with films screening at the Roxie Theater and streaming online. The 12-day festival includes a number of films with SDFF connections. The Faithful: The Pope, The Princess, The King (SDFF 2022), Annie Berman’s fan-focused exploration of the deep veneration and legacies of pope John Paul II, Princess Diana, and Elvis is among the DocFest selections that will stream as part of the virtual fest. The Mission (2022), a film co-produced by Still I Rise Films/Mimi Chakarova (The Mirror, SDFF 2022), is part of the Bay Area Resilience shorts block, which will be accompanied by a Q&A with directer Hélène Goupil. The film focuses on longtime Mission activist Valerie Tulier-Laiwa who jumps into action to meet her neighborhood’s needs when COVID hits. Lastly, Sentinels, a new documentary short co-directed by Derek Knowles (After The Fire, SDFF 2020) and Lawrence Lerew, takes an immersive, observational tack in its presentation of the Redwood Forest Defense tree-sit. Sentinels will show with Clarissa’s Battle (Tamara Perkins, 2021) about activist/organizer Clarissa Doutherd on June 4 at the Roxie. All films will be available to stream online. for the duration of the festival, June 1-12.
CATCH THEM WHILE YOU CAN: DOCS AIRING ON TV + STREAMING ONLINE
On The Divide (Maya Cueva and Leah Galant, 2021) is available to stream on PBS’s POV series website. The film, an SDFF 2022 official selection, 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.
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 Spring season of Independent Lens airs from April 25-May 16.
Breaking Trail (Jesse Roesler, 2021) about the first woman and person of color to thru-hike the 1,200-mile Ice Age Trail is now streaming through Outside+, the online content arm of Outside Magazine. The relatively new streaming service features non-fiction films and series about the outdoors, adventure sports, mountaineering and mountain dogs.
The SDFF 2021 film, When We Were Bullies (Jay Rosenblatt, 2021) is now streaming on HBO/HBO MAX. When We Were Bullies is an autobiographical doc about a filmmaker who is spurred to investigate a 50 year-old bullying event in which he was complicit after a chance encounter with an old classmate. The short was nominated for Best Short Documentary at the 2022 Academy Awards®.
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