SDFF NEWS BITS: ALUMNI UPDATES, FESTS, HONORS, NEW DOCS, INDUSTRY HAPPENINGS
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23 AUGUST 2022
AWARDS. HONORS. FESTIVALS. SPECIAL SCREENINGS.
Maya Cueva and Leah Galant’s abortion doc On The Divide (SDFF 2022) has been nominated for an Imagen Award in the Best Documentary category. Now in its 37th year, the Imagen Awards honor Latino storytelling, performances, writing and creative expression in television and film. Winners will be announced at the Oct. 2 awards ceremony. Released a couple of months before the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, which effectively rendered abortion inaccessible and/or illegal for many Americans, On The Divide tracks the intersection 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.
Prosopagnosia (Steven Fraser, 2021) made the short list for the prestigious Grierson Award in the documentary shorts category. The documentary short, which won the Best mini award at SDFF 2022 and is now a New York Times Op-Doc, is a story of identity drawn from Fraser’s own experience of face blindness. It uses expressive animation to investigate intimacy, communication and memory. In it, Fraser expressive animation to investigate intimacy, communication and memory, exploring the contents of a memory box he made for himself of self-portraits, sketches and other personal items. The Grierson Awards, also known at the British Documentary Awards, commemorate the pioneering Scottish documentary filmmaker John Grierson (1898 – 1972), famous for Drifters and Night Mail and the man widely regarded as pivotal to the development of documentary as a field. The awards celebrate documentaries from Britain and abroad that have made a significant contribution to the genre and demonstrate quality, integrity, creativity, originality and overall excellence. A trio of films from SDFF alumni filmmakers also made Grierson shortlists: autism spectrum doc The Reason I Jump (2020) from director Jerry Rothwell (Sour Grapes w/ Reuben Atlas, SDFF 2017) made the Molinare prize short list for best International single documentary; film history/theory assemblage The Story Of Film: A New Generation from documentarian and professional cinephile Mark Cousins (The Story Of Looking, SDFF 2022) is shorted for best Arts doc; and philosophical youth education doc Young Plato from Neasa Ní Chianáin and Declan McGrath(School Life, SDFF 2018) is short listed for Best Cinema Documentary. Nominations will be announced on Sept. 21, and winners will be announced at a Nov. 10 awards ceremony.
Blurring The Color Line (Crystal Lee Kwok, SDFF 2022) was awarded the Best Documentary prize at the 9th annual Black Cat Picture Show film festival last weekend. The festival is the only adjudicated film festival in Augusta, Georgia, where the documentary is also set. In Blurring The Color Line, director Kwok reflects on her Grandmother’s past, growing up Chinese in one of Augusta’s predominantly Black neighborhoods during Jim Crow. The film complicates a black and white historical narrative while exposing uncomfortable truths behind today’s Afro-Asian tensions.
NEW FILMS + PROJECTS FROM SDFF FILMMAKERS
Bururman Abdi (Neighbor Abdi), a new film from Douwe Dijkstra (Green Screen Gringo, 2016) was not only shown at the 75th annual Locarno film festival earlier this month, it was the runner-up for the Pardi Di Domini short film award and became the festival’s candidate for the European Film Awards’ short film competition. In the documentary short Douwe and his neighbor Abdi adopt a creative process so the , a furniture designer and support worker, whose former life in Somalia was marked by war and violence. Dijkstra’s Green Screen Gringo, which showed at SDFF 2020, also functioned through lighthearted artifice, carting around a green screen around Brazil and creating mixtape portrait of the country, as seen through the eyes of the visitor.
Another SDFF alumni filmmaker Stéphane Riethauser (Madame, 2019) had a new project pop up at Locarno. Riethauser’s film Orpheus was one 11 projects selected for the Locarno Film Festival’s Alliance 4 Development, a co-program in which delegates from selected projects receive feedback from international experts, partake in one-on-one meetings with potential partners, and attend panels and networking events. Riethauser presented Orpheus with producer Véronique Vergari (Luna Films, Switzerland) and coproducer Thomas Lambert (Tomsa Films, France). The dramatic feature is about a young man, Leo, who is hired to dance the lead in Orpheus at the opera, when he falls in love with famous choreographer Matthias Stern. Riethauser’s doc Madame about an intimate conversation between grandmother and her grandson exploring gender, sexuality and transmission of identity was an SDFF 2020 official selection.
Shirley Abraham and Amit Madheshiya’s pandemic doc The Great Abandonment is an official selection of the International Documentary and Short Film Festival of Kerala, which runs Aug. 26-31 at Thiruvananthapuram. The short is about India’s largest COVID-19 lockdown, which forced millions of migrant workers to walk back to their home villages after they were left without their livelihoods in cities. Abraham and Madheshiya’s documentary feature, The Cinema Travelers, which showed at SDFF 2018, journeys alongside the traveling cinemas that have historically brought movies to remote villages and are increasingly threatened by easily accessible digital technology. The Kerala documentary and short film festival is organized by Kerala State Chalachitra Academy and the Department of Cultural Affairs, and is now in its 14th year.
IN THE NEWS
Midnight Family, an upcoming Apple+ TV series, inspired by SDFF 2020 Jury Winner Familia de Medianoche (Midnight Family) (Luke Lorentzen, 2020), is poised to be the platform’s first original Spanish language series with an entirely Latinx cast and crew. Rather than reproducing events and characters from the doc, the show takes the film’s basic premise as its central hook and setting—a family-run ambulance in Mexico City’s competitive for-profit market. However, where the doc focuses on the Ochoa family, the series follows fictional Marigaby Tamayo (Renata Vaca), a medical student by day who spends her nights saving lives throughout Mexico City aboard her family’s privately owned ambulance. Like the documentary, the series interested in showing Mexico City by night, in all its sprawling diversity. Midnight Family was created for television by Julio Rojas (La Jauría) and Gibrán Portela (Güeros, The Untamed), who also serves as a writer on the project, with Natalia Beristáin (The Mosquito Coast, Luis Miguel: The Series) as showrunner and director. While the series has yet to receive an official release date, the documentary Midnight Family is available VOD on Apple+.
SDFF 2021 Jury Award winner Unforgivable (Marlén Viñayo, 2020) has been selected to appear on VICE’s The Short List with Suroosh Alvi. Unforgivable tells the story of a hitman for the 18th Street gang who deals with his sexuality inside an evangelical Salvadoran prison, where he is not just guilty of crimes, but of an “unforgivable sin” under God and gang: being gay. The film will air on Sept. 1, followed by a conversation between director Viñayo and journalist Alvi. Check out VICE’s full video catalog, where you can also find an episode from last season about SDFF 2021 short Last Meal, including an interview with filmmakers Marcus McKenzie and Daniel Principe.
Filmmaker Ben Proudfoot (That’s My Jazz, A Concerto Is A Conversation, The Queen Of Basketball) has been making news in the industry rags since his recent documentary short, Mink! , qualified for Oscar® consideration, which entails winning an Academy Qualifying festival, like SDFF. If Mink! gets nominated, Proudfoot will be the only person to land best documentary short noms in three consecutive years. His Oscar® run started when A Concerto Is A Conversation was nominated in 2021, and continued with The Queen Of Basketball, which won in 2022. Proudfoot’s possible record was mentioned in a recent piece in The Hollywood Reporter about the recent surge in celebrity-centric projects working to qualify for the Academy Awards’ short-form categories this year. While Proudfoot’s films have had celebrity producers attached, they also have concrete connections to the films. Mink!, which tells the story of Patsy Takemoto Mink, the first woman of color elected to the U.S. House of Representative, and a strong supporter of Title IX, is coproduced by tennis star Naomi Osaka. Basketball stars Shaquille O’Neal and Steph Curry both have producing credits on The Queen Of Basketball, a film about Lucy Harris, the first woman drafted to an NBA team. All three of Proudfoot’s films mentioned are available to stream for free through New York Times Op-Docs. Shortlists for the 2023 Oscars® will be released on Dec. 21.
Reece Cargan, producer of two SDFF 2022 shorts, Everyman (Jack Goessens, 2021) and Prosopagnosia (Steven Fraser, 2021), made the first iteration of Screen International and Screen Scotland’s Rising Stars of Scotland, a talent spotlight for Scottish actors, writers and filmmakers. The program aims to identify and promote the next generation of Scottish film talent, most on the cusp of major professional breakthroughs, to the international industry. After producing Everyman, which showed at SDFF 2022 and won best short film at the Scottish Queer International Film Festival, Cargan produced and secured funding for another of Goessen’s films, the short Who I Am Now. Cargan is also producing Bircan Birol’s feature-length documentary Your Honour, about a Kurdish woman fighting to become the first openly transgender lawyer in Turkey.
After The Fire (Spencer Seibert, Derek Knowles, 2018) appeared in a Mashable list of 23 must-watch climate change docs. The documentary short appears in the entry for the slightly longer film, Fire In Paradise (Zachery Canepari and Drea Cooper, 2019), which tells the camp fire story through first-hand footage and interviews with survivors and first responders. Like Fire In Paradise, After The Fire examines the experiences of those who lived through it. However, instead of focusing on live footage of the disaster, After The Fire follows a trio of residents as they struggle to find places in a community that was reshaped overnight. The Mashable list includes a host other films that document the diverse ways in which climate change is impacting localized areas and the people who live in them, including The Great Green Wall (Jared P. Scott, 2020), which travels through Africa’s Sachel Region of, where temperatures are rising 1.5 times faster than the global average; Anote’s Ark (Matthew Rytz, 2018) about the Pacific Island of Kiribati, which is on the brink of annihilation from sea-level rise, and it’s former president/climate change action advocate Anote Tong; Chasing Ice (Jeff Orlowski, 2012), which focuses on the Extreme Ice Survey, a project that entailed hauling time-lapse cameras across the arctic; and Thank You For The Rain (Julia Dahr and Kisilu Musya, 2017) in which Kenyan farmer and co-director Musya captures how climate change damages his life, and that of his family and village. The list also includes documentaries focused on the global causes of climate change, from This Changes Everything (Avi Lewis, 2015), which visits 9 communities on the front lines of climate change, inspired by Naomi Klein’s book of the same name; The Condor and the Eagle(Sophie and Clément Guerra, 2019), which focuses on the impact of the fossil fuel industries, in particular on indigenous people; Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret (Kip Anderson, 2014), which investigates the relatively unchallenged livestock industry and its destructive effect on the planet; and Anthropocene: The Human Epoch (Nicholas de Pencier, Jennifer Baichwal and Edward Burtynsky, 2019) a cinematic meditation on humanity’s massive reengineering of the planet.
LOCAL SCREENINGS + FILM EVENTS
Doc Night will return on September 12 with a screening of Emmy®-winner Belly Of The Beast at 7 p.m., followed by a discussion with director Erika Cohn, and a casual gathering at Fern Bar. Filmed over seven years with extraordinary access and intimate accounts from currently and formerly incarcerated people, Belly of the Beast exposes modern day eugenics and reproductive injustice in California prisons. Doc Night is a collaboration between Trim Tab, SDFF and Rialto Cinemas®. See Belly Of The Beast and Doc Night details here. Buy Tickets here.
The highly anticipated biographical doc about celebrated American author Patricia Highsmith (Strangers On A Train, The Talented Mr. Ripley, The Price Of Salt), Loving Highsmith (Eva Vitija, 2022), begins showing at Rialto Cinemas® Sebastopol on September 9, with some screenings shown as part of OUTwatch’s 2022 film series. Based on Highsmith’s diaries, notebooks, and other personal writings, which reflect on her lovers, friends and family, the film casts new light on the famous thriller writer’s life and work, permeated by themes of love and its defining influence on identity. Tickets are available through the Rialto®, here.
Hallelujah: Leonard Cohen, A Journey, A Song (Dan Geller and Dayna Goldfine, 2022), a unique music doc about the beloved singer-songwriter, will continue its run at the Rialto Cinemas® Sebastopol through Aug. 25, on Aug. 31, and on several September and October dates as well. The film explores Cohen’s work and life through the prism of his hymn Hallelujah, a touchstone for many other recording artists, and most of the rest of the population who has heard it played. The doc was approved by Cohen a couple of years before he passed away, and as a result includes never-before-seen materials from the Cohen Trust including Cohen’s personal notebooks, journals and photographs, performance footage and extremely rare audio recordings and interviews. Tickets are available here. You can also catch interviews with filmmakers Dayna Goldfine and Dan Geller at NorCal Public Media and KSRO.
The Rialto® will be screening Living Wine (Lori Miller, 2022) through Aug. 25, on Aug. 31, and on several September and October dates as well. The film’s run at the theater includes a special 4 p.m. showing on Aug. 21, which will be followed by a Q&A with filmmaker Lori Miller and winemaker Darek Trowbridge. The film is about the nascent, but growing Northern California natural wine movement. It focuses on three main subjects—Sonoma County’s Darek Trowbridge, who comes from a legacy winemaking family but rejects their corporate winemaking; Santa Cruz’s Megan Bell, who was formally educated at UC Davis and came up in the conventional wine industry before forging her own path with a natural wine business; and Gideon Beinstock, a master winemaker farming his vineyards in the Sierra foothills with techniques he learned from French artisan winemakers. Tickets are available here.
CATCH THEM WHILE YOU CAN: DOCS AIRING ON TV + STREAMING ONLINE
Free Renty: Lanier v. Harvard (David Grubin, 2021) is a jury nominee at the 4th Annual Morehouse College Human Rights Film Festival’s, which will be available to stream Sept. 20-30. Free Renty tells the story of Tamara Lanier, an African American woman determined to force Harvard University to cede possession of daguerreotypes of her great-great-great grandfather, an enslaved man named Renty. The daguerreotypes were commissioned in 1850 by a Harvard professor to “prove” the superiority of the white race. The images remain emblematic of America’s failure to acknowledge the cruelty of slavery, the racist science that supported it and the white supremacy that continues to infect our society today. The film focuses on Lanier and tracks her lawsuit against Harvard, and features attorney Benjamin Crump, author Ta-Nehisi Coates and scholars Ariella Azoulay and Tina Campt. The film showed as part of SDFF 2022. Right now, passes for the Human Rights Festival’s digital program half off. The festival’s program is comprised of films meant to provoke discussions about immigration, race, gender identity, politics, health care, and law enforcement, along with many other human rights and social justice topics.
Ben Masters’s new film Deep In The Heart is available to stream VOD on PrimeVideo, GooglePlay, AppleTV and Vudu. The film is a celebration of Texas’s diverse landscapes and wildlife, told through the eyes of wildlife species and narrated by actor Matthew McConaughey Masters’ film with Hillary Pierce, 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.
Peabody Award winning director Leon Lee’s 2018 doc Letter From Masanjia is now available to stream on Amazon Prime and Paramount+, and VOD via iTunes, GooglePlay and Vimeo. The documentary feature is an SDFF 2019 selection that tells 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. Lee’s newest film, Unsilenced is an historical drama set in 1999, which deals with very similar issues. It is available to stream VOD on Vimeo, Amazon, iTunes and GooglePlay .
Keith Maitland’s animated doc Tower (SDFF 2017) a retelling of the 1966 University of Texas Tower shootings, made a recent Paste Magazine list of the 10 best movies to stream on Sundance Now. Tower is an animated reenactment of the massacre, which unfortunately still feels relevant and of-the-moment, given the onslaught of mass shootings that occur with regularity in the U.S. Tower is also available VOD on Amazon, iTunes, Google Play and Vudu.
Following its recent nationwide television premiere opening the 35th season of PBS’s POV, Wuhan Wuhan (Yung Chang, 2020) is now available to stream on the series website. The film, which showed at SDFF 2021, is an observational documentary filmed 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.
Sydney Bowie Linden’s documentary short Black Gold (SDFF 2022), about a California oil town bracing for change, is now featured in The New Yorker. The vaunted publication is streaming the film, accompanied by a short, interview-based article in which Linden talks about her intentions and experiences making the film. Linden filmed in the small town of Taft, near Bakersville, over 6 months in 2020, during the presidential campaign and election. The doc is a compelling artifact of an historic moment and one that challenges national views of California as uniformly progressive.
The recent U.S. Supreme Court decision, which overturned Roe v. Wade, suspending legal access to vital reproductive health care for woman across the United States and effectively curtailing women’s bodily autonomy, prompted us to look back at our recent selections for films that can give context and dimension to a life experience, which is frequently discussed in abstract terms. The films we selected for this list either showed at the festival or were the work of SDFF alumni and include: On The Divide (Maya Cueva and Leah Galant, 2021), Personhood: Policing Pregnant Women In America (Jo Ardinger, SDFF 2020), AKA Jane Roe (Nick Sweeney, ed. Mary Manhardt, 2020), Abortion Helpline, This is Lisa (Mike Attie, Barbara Attie and Janet Goldwater, 2020), and Vessel (Diana Whitten, SDFF 2014). The in-text links above will take you to a streaming version of each film. For a list with more detailed film descriptions and more places to watch, click here.
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