SDFF NEWS BITS: ALUMNI UPDATES, FESTS, HONORS, NEW DOCS, INDUSTRY HAPPENINGS
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15 NOVEMBER 2022
AWARDS. HONORS. FESTIVALS. SPECIAL SCREENINGS
The Beauty President (Whitney Skauge, 2021) is one of around 50 films selected for the SF Trans Film Fest, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. The Beauty President tells the story of activist Terence Alan Smith’s historic 1992 bid for U.S. president as his drag persona Joan Jett Blakk, at the height of the AIDS pandemic. The film captures Smith in the present day, as he reflects back on his seminal civil rights campaign, and its place in American history. The film appeared at SDFF 2022 alongside its Breakwater Studios brethren, including A Concerto Is A Conversation, The Queen Of Basketball and The Silent Pulse Of The Universe. The SF Trans FF also included Mama Has A Mustache, an animated short about gender and family from SDFF alumni filmmaker Sally Rubin (Hillbilly, 2018). Driven by audio of interviews with kids (mostly from Rubin’s daughter’s own circle), the film looks at gender through their eyes. Rubin uses a quirky and colorful use of clip art and mixed media to explore how children are able to experience a world outside the traditional gender binary. Rubin’s 2018 film Hillbilly, which she co-directed with Ashely York, which dissected the figure of the Hillbilly in American culture showed at SDFF 2019. While its two theatrical programs showed over the weekend, the SF Trans Film Festival’s streaming selections will be available through Nov. 20, see the virtual catalog here.
A film that examines gentrification and displacement by examining a public art controversy, Alice Street (Spencer Wilkinson, 2020) was screened at three events in the Pacific Northwest last week the Seattle Hip Hop Film Festival, where it headlined, Vancouver’s Heart of the City Festival, and a special event at Bainbridge Island Museum of Art. Filmmaker Spencer Wilkinson and artist Desi Mundo were on hand for post-screening Q&As at each event. The Northwest screenings are part of a national impact tour, which has so far included over 80 screenings and Q&As, where the film is used to create engaging dialogue on local issues. The tour is intended to help shift the national conversation towards a public-art approach to social justice, at a pivotal moment in our history. According to tour organizer Tabatha Laanui, interest in the film has been growing as cost of living skyrockets and gentrification becomes a national issue, with small and mid-sized cities beginning to experience displacement issues typical of large urban areas. The screenings have all been held in collaboration with diverse, local organizations, including museums, public art groups, art houses and theaters, housing equity groups, etc. Alice Street is an SDFF 2021 selection 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.
Breaking Trail (Jesse Roesler, 2021) is one of three films shown at the 9th annual Honoring Our Veterans: Mountainfilm On Tour in Savannah, GA last Thursday. Though part of Telluride Mountainfilm’s touring collection, this event includes a special selection of 7 documentary shorts, which put the stories of vets front-and-center, including Breaking Trail. The documentary short is an SDFF 2022 fave that that tracks Emily Ford and her companion, an Alaskan Husky named Diggins, as they set out to hike the entire 1200-mile Ice Age Trail in winter. Ford was the first woman and person of color to complete this incredible feat. Breaking Trail is now streaming through Outside+, the online content arm of Outside Magazine. For and Diggins are also at the heart of Roesler’s new short, A Voice For The Wild, in which the duo attempts to cross the secluded Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in subzero temperatures to raise awareness about the threat posed by copper mining.
Sustainability and climate action non-profit Sustainable Works and the City of Santa Monica are hosting a special “live” virtual screening of Reflection: a walk with water (Emmet Brennan, 2021), followed by a panel discussion with the filmmaker and L.A.-based experts and activists on Nov. 17. Part personal meditation on water, part road map for positive change, Reflection: a walk with water confronts current, systemic environmental issues by examining bellwethers for the future. The doc is particularly pertinent to Los Angeles communities, as it follows Brennan as he sets out to walk 200 miles next to the iconic Los Angeles aqueduct, encountering cultural leaders, ecological iconoclasts, and indigenous wisdom keepers along the way, who are re-envisioning our relationship to water. The film was an SDFF 2022 selection, and its screening included an environmental stewardship panel, which you can watch right here! Reflection: a walk with water is available to rent or buy on Vimeo, and is also streaming on Gaia and Films for Action subscription services.
NEW FILMS + PROJECTS FROM SDFF FILMMAKERS
Ben Masters’s (The River and The Wall, 2019) wrote and filmed American Ocelot, a recent episode of PBSs Nature (season 41, episode 4). Masters filmed the episode in the American Ocelot’s native territory, deep in South Texas, where the species is on the brink of extinction. With only 120 known ocelots remaining, its continued survival depends on the cooperative efforts of ranchers, scientists and government agencies, which have an opportunity to make the plight of the ocelot “one of the greatest conservation opportunities of our time,” according to Masters. Watch the full American Ocelot episode of Nature, here. Masters’ The River and The Wall (2019), which was an official selection of SDFF 2020, is similarly focused on conservation and follows five friends who set out to document the borderlands and explore the potential impacts of a U.S.-Mexico border wall on the natural environment.
On The Divide (Maya Cueva and Leah Galant, SDFF 2022) producer Elizabeth Woodward wrote a guest piece for Filmmaker about self-distributing her latest project, You Resemble Me (Dina Amer, 2022), an award winning film examining the life Hasna Aït Boulahcen and Islamic radicalization. According to Woodward, though the film has shown at over 70 festivals, where it won more than 30 awards, it received no meaningful distribution offers. Given limited (and limiting) options, the film’s stakeholders decided to strike out on their own and distribute the film independently. In her Filmmaker piece, Woodward details how they researched, then proceeded with self-distribution, and points to her experience with documentary impact campaigns as crucial to their strategy with the new film, a narrative feature. While Woodward’s piece describes the nuts and bolts of self-distribution, the film’s director and co-writer, Dina Amer wrote an accompanying piece in Filmmaker, which identifies the intersection of racism, Islamophobia, and misogyny the film grapples with as the main obstacle to distribution. She also explains that even when distributors loved the film, they were concerned audiences would react negatively to the film’s humanization of a woman falsely identified as a terrorist. However, she also hopes the film’s success will help inspire other filmmakers working on projects viewed as lacking commercial viability. You Resemble Me opened at select theaters nationwide earlier this month, you can find screening dates and buy tickets here. The film was also cowritten by SDFF alumni filmmaker Omar Mullick (These Birds Walk, 2014), whose involvement is outlined in last week’s news update.
When Claude Got Shot (Brad Lichtenstein, 2022) producer Steven Cantor is partnering with Gala Film for his new project Four Down, based on Nick Schuyler’s bestselling biographical account of a tragic boating accident and survival story. After the accident, Schuyler survived for 43 hours atop an overturned boat in the Gulf of Mexico before being rescued by the U.S. Coast Guard, however his best friend and two other NFL players perished in the ordeal. The project’s partnership with Gala is a bit of an outlier. Gala is a decentralized film platform very recently launched by the blockchain gaming platform Gala Games. The film platform will be decentralized, with content hosted by a series of independently owned and operated, licensed “nodes.” This model also resembles the company’s gaming platform in through its offerings of NFTs and tokens. Four Down appears to be the company’s first foray into documentary filmmaking. While most of his recent work is in sports documentary, Cantor produced the SDFF 2022 film When Claude Got Shot. The film documents 5 years in the life of shooting survivor Claude Motley, as he recovers mentally and physically, and grapples with his ambivalence over his 15 year-old assailant’s incarceration, given the deep racism that permeates the criminal justice system. When Claude Got Shot is available VOD on AppleTV and iTunes.
Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story (2017) director Alexandra Dean’s new limited series Where The Truth Lies. about the 2011 Casey Anthony trial and resulting cultural phenomenon, will be out this month on Peacock. Anthony was accused, then acquitted, of the murder of her 2 year-old daughter, in a case that spurred traditional and social media frenzies. In a recent statement, Dean explained her motivation for the series, and its emphasis on Anthony’s perspective, thusly: “Since her acquittal in 2011, public opinion of Casey Anthony has been largely shaped by the media convinced of her guilt. Casey had never given an in-depth or on-camera interview explaining her actions until now, and as a filmmaker and journalist, my interest was in getting closer to the unbiased truth by hearing all sides of the story–from opposing voices to Casey herself.” While the series has received some flak for its true crime focus, Dean characterizes the work as a startling psychological portrait that may cause the public to regard this story in a new light. Where The Truth Lies includes Anthony’s first in-depth interview in 5 years, and utilizes Anthony’s personal archives, behind-the-scenes footage, and evidence provided by the defense to zoom back into the story that once dominated the media. Dean’s Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story showed at SDFF 2018 and is about the famed actress’s inventions, which included a technology that would eventually become Bluetooth.
IN THE NEWS
RiverBlue producer Lisa Mazzotta was profiled in a recent L.A. Weekly feature about her rise in the industry as an award-winning producer, from pioneering online content for early 2000s prestige television to producing a diverse array of projects, including docs that have packed a punch on environmental and social issues. From a small town with no Hollywood connections, Mazzotta identifies the communication skills she has honed as central to her success. She also discusses her forthcoming projects, including producing, writing, and directing the short Objects In The Mirror, and producing the doc Daughters (Natalie Rae and Angela Patton), which follows the lives of four young girls who prepare for the first ever father/daughter dance in a jail in Washington, DC. RiverBlue (David McIlvride and Roger Williams, 2016) was an SDFF 2017 selection, which chronicles an unprecedented around-the-world river adventure led by renowned paddler and conservationist, Mark Angelo, who ends up uncovering and documenting the dark side of the global fashion industry.
Zach Carver’s 2021 doc The Race To Alaska was recently acquired by Freestyle Digital Media (Sharkwater Extinction, SDFF 2020), and will receive a wide release online on Nov. 29. Freestyle is the digital film distribution division of Byron Allen’s Allen Media Group, which has also recently picked up SDFF 2022 doc When Claude Got Shot (Brad Lichtenstein, 2022) and the SDFF 2020 doc Sharkwater Extinction (Rob Stewart, SDFF 2020). The Race to Alaska documents a 750-mile motorless boat race described as “the Iditarod on a boat with a chance of drowning or being eaten by a Grizzly bear.” As punishing as it is his epic, the film captures an endurance race that is both punishing and beautiful and attracts the intrepid and unhinged who find their edge along a coastline. The doc was an official selection of SDFF 2021. The Race To Alaska is available for pre-order now on iTunes and AppleTV+.
The 2022 music doc Fanny: The Right To Rock (Bobbi Jo Hart, 2021) was back in the press this week for a number of disparate reasons, all of them good. The movie and band were the subject of an NPR story about Fanny reuniting for a show in Kansas City in early October, one of less than a handful of live performances the band has played in support of the film. The band’s arrival in Kansas City was the culmination of a nine-month process that united the city’s music, film and Filipino communities. One of the show’s organizers, Jackie Nugent, Vice Chair of the Filipino Association of Greater Kansas City, hopes the show will not only raise awareness and appreciation of Filipino culture, but also inspire young girls and queer folk. The film was also the subject of a Deadline feature that accompanied the film’s Nov. 8 appearance as part of For the Love of Docs, a virtual event series from Deadline and IDA, presented by National Geographic. Fanny: The Right To Rock tells a pop music history that is typically left off the record, that of Fanny, the first all-female rock band to get a major record deal in the U.S. This groundbreaking all-female band was also queer and majority Filipina-American, with guitarist June Millington and her sister Jean making music together in the Philippines long before their arrival on California shores in the mid-1960s, where they became popular not only with fans but with other, vaunted musicians. 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, Fanny The Right To Rock is also now streaming VOD Vudu/Fandango.
LOCAL SCREENINGS + FILM EVENT
The Petaluma Film Alliance Fall cinema series continues on Wednesday, Nov. 16 at 7 p.m. with the 2020 Italian doc, The Truffle Hunters (Michael Dweck and Gregory Kershaw, 84 mins). This delightful documentary follows a handful of men and their trusty canine companions as they scour the forests of Piedmont, Italy in search of the rare and illusive white Alba truffle, one of the most expensive and highly sought after mushrooms on earth. Exquisitely photographed and completely entertaining, the film functions as both a heartwarming character study and a treatise on capitalist exploitation. The film was awarded Outstanding Achievement in Cinematography by the American Society of Cinematographers and Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Documentary by the Director’s Guild of America. The Petaluma Film Alliance Fall cinema Series will continue through Nov. 30, with the majority of screenings on Wednesdays in the Carole L. Ellis Auditorium at the SRJC Petaluma Campus. See details on parking, tickets and COVID protocols here.
Special screenings of award-winning, Russo-Ukrainian war doc The Earth Is Blue As An Orange (Iryna Tsilyk, 2020) at Rialto Cinemas® Sebastopol on Nov. 17 to benefit the non-profit Mira Action, which sources and delivers emergency response vehicles and medical supplies to Ukranian hospitals and ERs. The screening will be followed by a panel discussion with Mira Action’s Executive Director Sergei Ostapenko. Cinema Documentary at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival, The Earth Is Blue As An Orange is a remarkable document of the Russo-Ukrainian War through the literal lens a family’s creative process, and an optimistic testament to the power of art and beauty in the face of destruction. When poet/filmmaker Iryna Tsilyk first visits the Trofymchuk-Gladky family home in Krasnohoriva, a town on the front lines of war-torn Eastern Ukraine, she is surprised by what she finds. While the outside world is made up of bombings and chaos, single mother Anna and her four children are managing to keep their home as a safe haven, full of life and full of light. Every member of the family has a passion for cinema, so it feels natural for them to shoot a film inspired by their own life during a time of war. The creative process raises the question of what kind of impact cinema might have during times of disaster, and how to picture war through the camera’s lens. For Anna and the children, transforming trauma into a work of art is the ultimate way to stay human. The film is in Ukranian and Russian with English subtitles and will be screened at Rialto Cinemas® Sebastopol on Nov. 17 at 1 and 7 p.m. See screening/benefit details here.
The Sonoma County Library Documentary Film Discussion Group will meet tomorrow, Nov. 16 to discuss Elizabeth Holmes/Theranos doc The Inventor: Out For Blood In Silicon Valley (Alex Gibney, 2019). Holmes has been in the news over the course of 2022, after her trial and conviction on four counts of felony fraud and conspiracy, for which she’s still awaiting sentencing. The film examines the now-defunct startup Theranos, and its enigmatic founder and CEO Elizabeth Holmes, whose purported ambition was to revolutionize blood testing through biotech, spawned one of the largest frauds in Silicon Valley. The case has also spawned an Edward R. Murrow award-winning podcast The Dropout, a scripted limited series of the same name, for which actress Amanda Seyfried won an Emmy. The discussion group will be held on Zoom, Nov. 16 at 6 p.m., attendance requires registration, see details and availability on the Sonoma County Library Events Calendar. The film is available to screen through Access Media On Demand with a library card, through HBO and Hulu with subscriptions, and through most other streaming services VOD. All participants must view the film on their own before the meeting.
Sebastopol’s Fall Doc Nite series will continue on Dec. 2 with a screening of Dear Santa (2020)at 7 p.m. at Rialto Cinemas® Sebastopol, followed by a discussion with director Dana Nachman and cinematographer Mike Abela, followed by a casual gathering at Fern Bar. Dear Santa shines a light on the 100 year-old program Operation Santa. Operation Santa is a program operated by the United States Postal Service each year, that collects hundreds of thousands of letters to Santa, which can then be selected and fulfilled safely by member of the public. The film tracks one cycle of this enormous undertaking. Mirroring Santa’s fabled Christmas Eve fight, the film travels across the country, focusing on select Operation Santa centers: some in metropolitan areas, like the massive operation in New York City, and others in small towns where the post office is the heart of the community. Doc Night is a collaboration between Trim Tab, SDFF and Rialto Cinemas®. See Dear Santa Doc Night details and buy tickets here. Submit or adopt Operation Santa letters here.
Academy Award©- and BAFTA-nominated filmmaker Luca Guadagnino’s (Call Me By Your Name, Suspiria)2020 doc about Italian fashion icon Salvatore Ferragamo, Salvatore: Shoemaker of Dreams will begin showing at Rialto Cinemas® Sebastopol on Dec. 2. The film tracks Ferragamo’s life from humble beginnings in Bonito, Italy, where he began making shoes as a young teenager, to his time in California helping to invent the glamor of Hollywood’s silent and Classical eras, to his storied studio in Florence, Italy, where he would help found an iconic fashion house. The film includes Emmy©-nominated actor Michael Stuhlbarg’s (Call Me by Your Name, The Shape of Water) narration of Ferragamo’s 1955 memoir; a trove of 100-year-old archival footage; a “shoe ballet” created by stop-motion artist Pes; and commentary from filmmaker Martin Scorsese, shoe icons of the present day Manolo Blahnik and Christian Louboutin, members of the fashion and film industry presses, and member of Ferragamo’s family.
CATCH THEM WHILE YOU CAN: DOCS AIRING ON TV + STREAMING ONLINE
The Silent Shore (Nathalie Giraud and Timothée Corteggiani, 36 mins) is now streaming on The New Yorker Documentary, accompanied by a short written piece about the film and its making, which includes some reflections by Giraud and Corteggiani. The short is a lush, moving documentary in which fantasy author Pierre Dubois and his wife, Aline, discuss the power of writing, imagination, and the deep connection with life that has brought them through the suicide of their teenaged daughter Melanie, who took her life following a heartbreak. The Silent Shore was an SDFF 2022 Jury Nominee.
Anita Gou’s (prod. The Last Animals) newest film The Silent Twins (Agnieszka Smoczynska, 2022) began streaming on Peacock last week. The film isan adaptation of Marjorie Wallace’s non-fiction bestseller. Set in 1970s Wales, it tells the story of two Black women, June (Letitia Wright) and Jennifer Gibbons (Tamara Lawrence), who communicated only with eachother, created their own world, wrote fiction and committed crimes in their teens. The duo was eventually confined to a mental health facility. According to Variety, the film’s debut at Cannes received a standing ovation that lasted 4 minutes. Gou produced the SDFF 2018 selection The Last Animals (Kate Brooks, 2017), about conservationists, scientists and activists working to save elephants and rhinos from extinction.
Rahul Jain’s participant doc on climate change, Invisible Demons (Tuhon merkit), began streaming on MUBI this week, and has continued to draw new reviews from large market publications and smaller culture mags, including The Guardian, Paste, Scroll.in, and The Film Stage. The film, which was nominated for the Golden Eye when it premiered at Cannes in 2021, has also continued to make the rounds on the festival circuit, opening Spain’s Another Way Film Festival last week. The film captures the effects of climate change in Delhi and the environmental cost of India’s rapidly-growing economy, while meditating on the aesthetics of human disconnection with the natural world. This is Jain’s second doc. His first, Machines, a masterful meditation on work, was an SDFF 2018 selection.
Wolf, the second narrative feature from SDFF alumni filmmaker Nathalie Biancheri (Xavier Corbero: Portrait of an Artist in Winter, 2017) is now streaming on HBO. Wolf is about a young man suffering from “species dysphoria” who believes himself to be a wolf, and stars noted method actor George MacKay. When the boundary-pushing, high-concept film was released in the U.S. late last year and polarized reviewers. Biancheri’s doc Xavier Corbero: Portrait of an Artist in Winter was an SDFF 2018 selection, which gave a charming and fascinating glimpse into the home and universe of iconic Spanish sculptor Xavier Corbero, whose career traversed a turbulent moment of Spanish history.
SDFF alumni filmmaker Ben Proudfoot’s new short, which was just announced as part of the DOC NYC 2022 line-up, The Best Chef In The World, about The French Laundry found Sally Schmitt, is part of Proudfoot’s ongoing partnership with New York Times Op Docs. The new film joins his recent project with tennis star Naomi Osaka, MINK! about Rep. Patsy Takemoto Mink, the first woman of color elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, and many of his other documentary shorts, including The Queen Of Basketball, A Concerto Is A Conversation, The Unchosen One, and The Lost Astronaut.
Drew Leung’s animated film The Chemical Factory (2021) was recently added to the Los Angeles Times series of documentary shorts, which are meant to represent “a West Coast perspective and a global view” showcasing underrepresented voices and fostering diversity in the film community. The Chemical Factory is an animated piece in which an immigrant mother retraces her early years during the Chinese Cultural Revolution to her son, the filmmaker. The series also includes several other films that were either shown at SDFF, such as The Beauty President (Whitney Skauge, 2022) about queer, black presidential candidate Terence Alan Smith, who ran for office during the ravages of the AIDS crisis in 1992; or are the work of SDFF alumni filmmakers, such as 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, or the Adam Mazo-produced (Dawnland, SDFF 2019) short ᎤᏕᏲᏅ (What They’ve Been Taught) (Brit Hensel, 2022), which explores expressions of reciprocity in the Cherokee world through a story told by an elder and first language speaker.
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