SDFF NEWS BITS: ALUMNI UPDATES, FESTS, HONORS, NEW DOCS, INDUSTRY HAPPENINGS
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5 JULY 2022
AWARDS. HONORS. FESTIVALS. SPECIAL SCREENINGS.
Nuisance Bear (Jack Weisman and Gabriela Osio Vanden, SDFF 2022) won best film in the non-fiction short competition at the 24th Short Film Festival & Asia 2022 (SSFF & ASIA). Nuisance Bear is an unconventional and visually arresting study of the polar bears who draw tourists to Churchill, Manitoba. The festival is the largest international shorts festival in Asia and is accredited by the Academy Awards®. This year’s theme was “Meta Cinema” and explored a “new era” of film, exploring film experiments including theutilization of AI and neuroscience, online screening and the experience of VR short film in virtual space. Other SDFF 2022 selection The Queen of Basketball (Ben Proudfoot, 2021) also appeared as part of the festival’s non-fiction programming.
The Faithful: The Pope, The Princess, and The King, Annie Berman’s fan-focused exploration of the deep veneration and legacies of Pope John Paul II, Princess Diana, and Elvis, an SDFF 2022 selection, is an official selection of the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, which begins July 21 and runs through August 7. The film is one of 35 docs programmed for the festival, which will include both in-person screenings at the Castro Theater and some streaming content as well. Other docs selected for the festival include Centerpiece Doc Bernstein’s Wall (Douglas Tirola, 2021) about American music icon Leonard Bernstein, Take Action Spotlight film To The End (Rachel Lears, 2022) about four visionary young activists and women of color on the front lines of the fight for a Green New Deal, Repairing the World: Stories from the Tree of Life (Patrice O’Neill, 2022) chronicling the three years that followed the hate-based mass shooting at Tree of Life synagogue shooting, and Shouting Down Midnight (Gretchen Stoeltje, 2022) about Texas State Senator Wendy Davis’s 13-hour filibuster against anti-abortion bill SB5 in 2013. Most of the screenings include post-film Q&As with the filmmakers. In addition to screening The Faithful at the festival, Berman is also a 2022 Filmmaker in Residence at the Jewish Film Institute. The JFI Residence Program is an annual, competitive artist residency that provides creative, marketing and production support for emerging and established filmmakers in the United States whose projects explore and expand thoughtful consideration of Jewish history, life, culture and identity. The Faithful will screen at 11:15 a.m. on Monday, July 25 at the Castro with Berman in attendance. Tickets are available here.
The Art Of Making It (Kelcey Edwards, 2022) opened at New York’s IFC Center on June 29 where it will have a limited run through July 7. The film’s June 29 opening was followed by a Q&A with director Edwards, producer Debi Wisch, editor Nyneve Laura Minnear, co-editor Ines Vogelfang, DP Sebastian Lasaosa Rogers and subjects Chris Watts, Sebastian Errazuriz, Gisela McDaniel, Nick Cueva, Ambre Kelly and Andrew Gori. The doc, an SDFF 2022 selection, follows a diverse cast of young artists at defining moments in their careers, exploring whether the art world ecosystem meant to nurture them is actually failing them. Embracing the conundrum of how artists must be in the market, but not of it, The Art Of Making It is a cautionary tale about what America stands to lose if we don’t rethink how we value artists, and a love letter to those who persevere in their artistic practice in spite of the extraordinary odds against ever achieving a sustainable career.
Letters From Baghdad (Sabine Krayenbühl, Zeva Oehlbaum, 2016) made its Australian debut on Saturday as part of the 8th Castlemaine Documentary Film Festival. The screening will be followed by a discussion panel featuring historian and heritage advisor Kacey Sinclair and interdisciplinary artist Sari Braithwaite, moderated by film scholar Deane Williams. Letters from Baghdad uses stunning, rare footage to tell the story of Gertrude Bell, an exceedingly powerful woman in the British Empire in her day who has been written out of history. Even more influential than her friend T.E. Lawrence (aka Lawrence of Arabia), Bell shaped the destiny of Iraq after World War I in ways that still reverberate today. The film chronicles her extraordinary journey into both the uncharted Arabian desert and the inner sanctum of British colonial power. The doc showed at SDFF 2018.
Everyone Deserves Sex Ed (EDSE) is hosting a virtual screening of A Sexplanation (Alexander Liu, SDFF 2021) today, July 7, followed by a conversation with EDSE founder and lead educator Anne Hodder-Shipp. The doc, which overtly addresses the lack of quality sex ed in the U.S., has only become more relevant since its release, with various states passing new laws to restrict discussions of sexuality and gender in educational contexts (ie. Florida’s “don’t say gay” law). In A Sexplanation, 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. In doing so he engages in provocative conversations with psychologists, sex researchers, a Jesuit priest, and several generations of his family. EDSE is an organization that seeks to increase access to affordable, accurate, bias-aware, and LGBTQIA+ expansive sex ed by providing a range of education-based services and trainings. Tickets to the EDSE screening on Kinema are $5, and available worldwide. In addition to the special screening, Liu also sat down for an interview with Aussi journalist Peter Gray to talk about his experience of sex ed, coming out, making the film and the recent Roe v. Wade decision. A Sexplanation (Alexander Liu, 2020) is also available VOD through iTunes, Amazon, Google and Vimeo.
NEW FILMS & PROJECTS FROM SDFF FILMMAKERS
Vaunted examiner of popular culture and “bad” taste Penny Lane (Nuts!, Listening To Kenny G) is on board to direct Mrs. America, a doc that will use the history of the Mrs. America beauty pageant to examine the changing role of American womanhood over the last 45 years. Producers currently on the project include Anonymous Content’s Nick Shumaker (Nothing Lasts Forever/Jason Kohn) and Jessica Grimshaw (A Wilderness of Error/Errol Morris), Fremantle’s Global Head of Docs Mandy Chang and Spinning Nancy’s Gabriel Sedgwick (Hail Satan?/Penny Lane) will produce the film, along with Amanda Branson-Gill and Whitney Sudler-Smith (Southern Charm/Bravo). Lane directed the SDFF 2017 film Nuts! about “goat gland” Dr. John Brinkley, a quack physician and radio star at the turn of the century, which shares an interest in pop culture obsession and scientific speculation with the forthcoming Y2K. Nuts! is available VOD on Vudu, YouTube, Google Play, Amazon, etc.
Brad Lichtenstein (When Claude Got Shot, SDFF 2022) and Yoruba Richen (The Killing of Breonna Taylor) have collaborated on American Reckoning a feature-length doc from Frontline that investigates the 1967 murder of Wharlest Jackson Sr., a local NAACP leader. Drawing from rarely seen footage filmed by Ed Pincus and David Neuman more than 50 years ago in Natchez, Mississippi, the film reveals an untold story of the civil rights movement and Black resistance. In following the Jackson family’s search for answers, American Reckoning also taps into the groundbreaking reporting of journalist Stanley Nelson, who investigated allegations of the involvement of a Ku Klux Klan offshoot, known as the Silver Dollar Group.American Reckoning is the latest component of Frontline’s multiplatform initiative Un(re)solved, telling the stories of more than 150 victims of civil rights era killings for whom there has been no justice. American Reckoning is available for free through PBS as both an audiocast and a documentary film. When Claude Got Shot tells five stories of gun violence, justice and healing, with gunshot wound victim Claude Motley’s story of recovery at its center. An interview with director Lichtenstein remains up on the PBS Independent Lens website, following the film’s appearance as part of the series in May.
Having already released two docs this year, Jeremy Thomas, A Life Of Cinema and The Story Of Film: A New Generation, documentarian and professional cinephile Mark Cousins (The Story Of Looking, The Story of Film: An Odyssey) has yet another new feature-length doc My Name Is Alfred Hitchcock on the way. The new film re-examines the life and career of the legendary London-born auteur a century after the release of his first feature film, Number Thirteen (1922). Written from Hitchcock’s perspective in first-person, the infamous and frequently revered director will be voiced by renowned UK impressionist Alistair McGowan (The Big Impression and Spitting Image). While Cousins has said his Hitchcock is a 21st Century Hitchcock, speaking from the grave, it’s unclear to what extent his contemporary Hitchcock will reflect on 21st Century concerns like his on-set treatment of female actors. Cousins has also recently completed March On Rome, about Benito Mussolini and Italian fascist propaganda, and is now working on A Sudden Glimpse To Deeper Things, about the Scottish abstract artist, Wilhelmina Barns-Graham. Cousins’s SDFF 2022 film 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.
Filmmaker and artist Andy Smetanka’s new project, 7 years in the making, A Place—sort of recently premiered in Missoula, the community whose history makes up the fabric of the film. The film project is comprised of 100 years of Missoula’s “home videos,” scenes from the past, which came first from Smetanka’s own home videos, then included those of his friends, and finally included footage from the local Mansfield archive—everything from the first ever footage of the town to, a semi-nude party to depictions of Klansman at a mock trial with some people in black face. While it’s not clear if this project is intended for a wider audience, Smetanka explained in local news coverage that the film works against historic nostalgia that casts the past as fundamentally better than the present. Smetanka directed the 2015 doc And We Were Young, a brutal and beautiful animated oral history of American soldiers in the final months of the Great War, which showed at SDFF 2017.
IN THE NEWS
Renowned experimental documentarian Lynne Sachs and Queens poet Pablo Javier interviewed eachother about their collaboration on the new film Swerve, which premiered at NYC’s BAMcinemaFest in late June. Inspired by former poet laureate of Queens, Paolo Javier, and his Original Brown Boy poems, Swerve is a meditation on writing and making images in the liminal space between a global pandemic and what might come next. The film features five New York City performers speaking in verse while wandering through food stalls in search of a new sensation. The Moveable Fest interview includes a discussion of literalizing poetic verse in images and of the decision to leave the poet’s Tagalog verse untranslated. Sachs’s doc with Lizzie Olesker, The Washing Society, a dream-like, yet realistic portrayal of a day in the life of a laundry worker, showed at SDFF 2018. The Washing Society creates a, and is currently available to stream, along with most of Sachs’s body of work via the Criterion Channel online.
San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus (SFGMC) Artistic Director Tim Seelig has announced his retirement after a 30-year tenure helming the choir. Seelig was featured in the SDFF 2020 doc Gay Chorus, Deep South(David Charles Rodrigues, 2019), which followed the SFGMC as it embarked on a tour of the American Deep South, following a wave of discriminatory anti-LGBTQ laws and the divisive 2016 election. A single-night farewell concert for Seelig, Final Words, will take place on Wednesday, July 13, at 7:30 pm at San Francisco’s Davies Symphony Hall. Tickets are on-sale now by 415-864-6000 or visiting https://www.sfgmc.org. Seelig recently received a Crescendo lifetime achievement award, which was reproduced by LGBTQIA newspaper San Francisco Bay Times. Gay Chorus, Deep South is available to stream through Paramount+.
When Joe Wilson and Dean Hamer pop up in our news updates, its typically because they are involved in some new, amazing project, lately that’s been their ongoing collaboration with Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu on all things Kapaemahu: short film, feature film, animated book, museum exhibit restoring an erased history, the list goes on. However, this week the filmmaking couple were mentioned, along with Wilson’s beautifully-crafted documentary Out In Silence, in the opening of an Op-Ed about the critical importance of queer role models at a time when the volume of anti-LGBTQIA+ hate speech and attempts erasure have been turned up to 11. The Op-Ed, which ran int The Progressive Magazine and the Hawaii Tribune Herald was penned by Laura Goetz, who uses the platform to urge parents of LGBTQIA kids and teens to look beyond queer celebrities as inspirational figures, take the time to find adult queer folks in fields that interest their children to help them feel the promise of their future. This is particularly crucial at a time when queer role models may be suppressed, targeted and erased from educational contexts even in areas of the country where they seem most welcome. Out In Silence is available to stream for free on the film’s website.
Following its premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival in June, Ross Kauffman’s (Still Plays With Trains, SDFF 2020) new film Of Medicine and Miracles is getting coverage in major industry outfits like The Hollywood Reporter. Inspired by Kauffman’s wife’s battle with cancer, the film chronicles teams at Penn (Univ. of Pennsylvania) Medicine and the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia as they treat 6 year-old leukemia patient Emily Whitehead, culminating in the world’s first CAR T-cell therapy, which has left Whitehead cancer-free for a decade. The Hollywood Reporter coverage identifies the film as a considerate primer, which lacks surprises “values the emotional aspects of June and Whitehead’s stories, then the science and then the context.” Kauffman’s is an SDFF alumni filmmaker, with a very different sort of doc, Still Plays With Trainsabout a man’s ongoing love of toy trains showing as part of SDFF 2020.
Th Documentary Development Initiative is taking applications for 2022 Fellowship Grants of $50,000 until July 26. The initiative is a partnership between The Gotham, HBO Documentary Films, created for non-fiction storytellers who identify as BIPOC, LGBT!+ and/or storytellers with disabilities. The program is meant to provide resources and support to 10 thought-provoking, character-driven contemporary projects. Get more information about the initiative and how to apply here.
LOCAL SCREENINGS + FILM EVENTS
Two special screenings of the doc Children of the Vine (Brian Lilla, 2022), with director in-toe, will be hosted by the Rialto Cinemas® on July 12 as a benefit for Preserve Rural Sonoma County. Children of the Vine examines the controversy around Glyphosate (Monsanto’s Roundup), which is both carcinogenic and the most widely used herbicide in the world, now found in over 80% of food grown in the U.S. At the same time, this solution-focused doc highlights more sustainable large-scale farming practices, which remain capable of feeding the world. The film will show at 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. with filmmaker Brian Lilla on-hand for post-screening discussions. Preserve Rural Sonoma County is a non-profit working to protect the character of Sonoma County from the urbanization and commercialization of rural lands.
OUTwatch continues its Spring/Summer film series on July 21 with a screening of experimental history Framing Agnes (Chase Joynt, 2022). The film tells the story of Agnes, the pioneering, pseudonymized, transgender woman who participated in Harold Garfinkel’s gender health research at UCLA in the 1960s, who has long stood as a figurehead of trans history. Using a blend of fiction and nonfiction, including meticulous vintage reenactments performed by a cast of trans actors, director Chase Joynt explores where and how Agnes’s platform has become a pigeonhole and attempts to widen the frame through which trans history is viewed—one that has remained too narrow to capture the multiplicity of experiences eclipsed by Agnes’s experience. Framing Agnes re-envisions the imposition of framing on the cultural memory of transness, and through its collaborative mode of production tears away the myth of isolation as a mode of existence for transgender history-makers. The films show at 7 p.m. at Rialto Cinemas® Sebastopol. Buy tickets here!
CATCH THEM WHILE YOU CAN: DOCS AIRING ON TV + STREAMING ONLINE
Since the U.S. Supreme Court decided to overturn Roe v. Wade last week, here are a couple of docs about abortion in the U.S. that have recently shown at SDFF, are available to stream and offer sustained looks at how abortion restrictions impacted women’s lives prior to this recent decision: On The Divide (Maya Cueva and Leah Galant, 2021) and Personhood: Policing Pregnant Women In America (Jo Ardinger, SDFF 2020). On The Divide 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.
Personhood: Policing Pregnant Women In America, a doc about the dangers of fetal rights laws that encourage the surveillance and criminalization of pregnant women, is available to stream VOD. The film examines the impacts of these laws, which disproportionately target lower income women and women of color, by focusing on Tammy Loertscher. Loertscher challenged a Wisconsin fetal rights law that eroded her privacy, her right to due process, and her body sovereignty. Her story helps illustrate how these laws work at intersection of the erosion of women’s rights, the war on drugs, and the U.S.’s mass incarceration complex. Personhood is available at Amazon Prime, iTunesand Apple TV.
Wuhan Wuhan (Yung Chang, 2020) will lead the 35th season of PBS’s POV, the longest-running series for independent docs on TV, airing this Monday, July 11. Wuhan Wuhan is an observational documentary unfolding during February and March of 2020, at the height of the pandemic in Wuhan city, where the coronavirus began. With unprecedented access at the peak of the pandemic lockdown, 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. When the doc airs on July 11, it will also become available to stream via the series’ website. The film showed as part of SDFF 2021.
You can still catch Barbara Lee: Speaking Truth To Power (Abby Ginzberg, 2021) streaming on Starz , and VOD via Amazon and iTunes. The doc paints a vivid and timely portrait of Congresswoman Barbara Lee (California-D), a steadfast voice for human rights, racial and economic justice, peace and diplomacy in the U.S. government. Lee began her tenure as an activist with the Black Panther Party and raised two sons as a single mom before becoming the highest ranking black woman in the U.S. Congress. The film showed as part of SDFF 2022.
Since I Been Down (Gilda Shepperd, SDFF 2021) is another SDFF alumni film that has recently become available as a VOD streaming release. The feature-length doc, which showed at SDFF 2021, addresses racism in the criminal justice system. Since I Been Down examines a morass of intersecting criminal justice and carceral issues by focusing on victims of the 1980-90s drug war who continue to their lives behind bars, in many cases contributing to the limited community they can make in prison. Since its release, the film has been shown as in various campaigns seeking to transform how justice and criminal law are envisioned. It is now available on demand through most major streaming platforms (iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, YouTube, etc.).
Sentinels, a new documentary short co-directed by Derek Knowles (After The Fire, SDFF 2020) and Lawrence Lerew, which takes an immersive, observational tack in its presentation of the Redwood Forest Defense tree-sit, is streaming for free via the L.A. Times. The film is an immersive, observational document of the Redwood Forest Defense tree-sit, bearing witness to a “radical” form of protest that, unlike street protests, takes place largely outside of the public eye, and requires a great deal of both physical and mental strength.
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.
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