SDFF NEWS BITS: ALUMNI UPDATES, FESTS, HONORS, NEW DOCS, INDUSTRY HAPPENINGS
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30 AUGUST 2022
AWARDS. HONORS. FESTIVALS. SPECIAL SCREENINGS.
Prolific director of excellent documentary shorts, Ben Proudfoot, was awarded Best Documentary for his film Mink! at the 18th Annual HollyShorts Festival. The film tells the story of Patsy Takemoto Mink, a Hawaiian Democrat who became the first woman of color elected to the U.S. House of Representative. Mink was an author and avid defender of Title IX, the federal civil rights law prohibiting sex discrimination in any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance. Co-produced with tennis star Naomi Osaka (Hana Kuma production company), the short was released in late June as a New York Times Op Doc to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Title IX. In a recent Deadline piece, Proudfoot described the HollyShorts win as particularly significant given the anniversary of Title IX. He explained that he sees the film as part of a continuity that also includes his Oscar® winning documentary The Queen of Basketball, with Mink helping to create the world that would allow female basketball pioneer Lucy Harris play the game. Mink!’s win at HollyShorts qualifies the film for 2023 Oscar® nomination. In related news, Proudfoot was honored by his hometown, Halifax, NS, with a special, free public screening of The Queen of Basketball last week. Mink!, The Queen Of Basketball and several other of Proudfoot’s films are available to stream through the New York Times Op Docs.
Free Renty: Lanier v. Harvard (David Grubin, 2021) composer Michael Bacon (older brother to actor Kevin Bacon) won an award for the film’s score the 25th Brooklyn Film Festival. 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. Free Renty: Lanier v. Harvard, which showed at SDFF 2022, is a jury nominee at the 4th Annual Morehouse College Human Rights Film Festival’s, and will be available to stream as part of the festival’s virtual element from Sept. 20-30.
SDFF 2019 Best Feature winner The Rest I Make Up (Michelle Memran, 2018) will be screened as part of a limited run revival of María Irene Fornés’ Mud/Drowning (dir. n by JoAnne Akalaitis) by/at experimental New York theater Mabou Mines. Mud/Drowning was first performed in 2019 in California as part of the Days and Nights Festival. The two works are related by Philip Glass, whose music is featured in Mud, which he then transformed into the opera Drowning. The revival will run from Sept. 21-Oct. 9, with a free screening of The Rest I Make Up on Oct. 3. The documentary feature, which showed as part of SDFF 2019, is about Fornés, a renowned Cuban-American playwright, and her unexpected friendship with the film’s director Michelle Memran.
NEW FILMS + PROJECTS FROM SDFF FILMMAKERS
América co-director Erick Stoll (American Factory) recently collaborated with Asta Taylor (What Is Democracy?) on the documentary short Freedom Dreams: Black Women And The Student Debt Crisis for investigative journalism outfit The Intercept. The new film profiles Black women educators and activists struggling under the weight of crippling student loan debt. Inspired by an eponymous book by scholar/activist D.G. Kelley, the film is narrated by educator and former Ohio state Sen. Nina Turner, a longtime ally of the growing debt abolition movement. The short examines how a lack of intergenerational wealth and persistent wage discrimination force women, and Black women in particular, to borrow at disproportionate rates and struggle with repayment. It also looks at the ways in which reactionary policy decisions have transformed education, historically positioned as a means of upward mobility, into a debt trap. The film is thematically similar to much of Stoll’s previous work, which focuses on labor, gentrification, and capitalism. His feature length doc with Chase Whiteside, América, which showed as part of SDFF 2019, which documents a family’s struggle to keep afloat and together while caring for their 93 year-old matriarch, América. Freedom Dreams is available to stream in full at The Intercept.
March On Rome (Marcia su Roma), a new film from ultra-prolific filmmaker and critic Mark Cousins (The Story Of Looking, SDFF 2022), will be opening the Venice Film Festival’s Le Giornate degli Autori on Aug. 31. While the film is slated for an Oct. 27 release to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Benito Mussolini’s “March on Rome,” it’s Venice screening is also meant to call attention to the dark anniversary, and will be complemented by Venice Classics’ screenings of Dino Risi’s 1962 comedy The March on Rome (La marcia su Roma). Cousins’s March on Rome is a collaborative effort with Italian writer/director Tony Saccucci (The Duce’s Boxer, 2017), which explores historic, Italian fascist propaganda tied to “March On Rome,” the fascist insurrection that brought Mussolini to power in October 1922. Taking its cue from A Noi (1923), Umberto Paradisi’s official Fascist party documentary celebrating the March on Rome, the film will explore the roots of fascism by analyzing film, photographs and other material from the Italian archives. The Venice Film Festival runs from Aug. 31-Sept. 10.
Another recently completed documentary from Cousins, My Name is Alfred Hitchcock, will show at the upcoming Telluride Film Festival, which runs Sept. 2-5, before its official release on Sept. 10. Cousins has had a busy year so far, having already released Jeremy Thomas, A Life Of Cinema, The Ballad of a Great Disordered Heart, and The Story Of Film: A New Generation. My Name Is Alfred Hitchcock is a documentary feature that 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 is voiced by renowned UK impressionist Alistair McGowan (The Big Impression and Spitting Image). While Cousins has characterized his Hitchcock as a 21st Century Hitchcock, speaking to the present from the grave, it’s unclear to what extent Cousins’s version will address 21st Century concerns like his treatment of female actors on set.
A new film produced by SDFF alumni filmmaker Adam Mazo, ᎤᏕᏲᏅ (What They’ve Been Taught) (Brit Hensel and Keli Gonzales, 2021) was one of six films selected for the Sundance Institute’s 2022 Indigenous Short Film Tour earlier this summer. The tour is both a virtual presentation and an in-person exhibition, featuring shorts made by indigenous directors with ties to Sundance. You can see this year’s selections here. The doc, which premiered at Sundance earlier this year, was filmed on the Qualla Boundary and Cherokee Nation and explores expressions of reciprocity in the Cherokee world. ᎤᏕᏲᏅ proceeds through a story told by an elder and first language speaker, which circles the intersection of tradition, language, land and a commitment to balance. Producer Mazo co-directed the SDFF2019 doc Dawnland with Ben Pender-Cudlip, 2018. Dawnland, provides behind-the-scenes coverage of the U.S.’s first truth and reconciliation commission, which investigated the U.S.’s removal of Native American children from their homes.
Michael-David McKernan, who directed and appeared in the COVID-era documentary short, How To Fall In Love in a Pandemic (SDFF 2021), stepped in front of the camera again to play “Michael” in the new horror feature, The Cellar (Brendan Muldowney, 2022). McKernan appeared in How To Fall In Love in a Pandemic, which is autobiographical and documents his romance with another filmmaker, after the two hastily decide to move in together after COVID hits. However, he has also appeared in a number of other films as an actor, most of them shorts. The Cellar is available to stream on Shudder and Roku+.
IN THE NEWS
Emmy nominated doc When Claude Got Shot (Brad Lichtenstein, 2022) has been making waves in Milwaukee recently. Not only will the film show at Milwaukee Film’s Cultures & Communities Festival (Sept. 14-18), the doc is also the inspiration for a new mural on North Avenue, near where Motley was shot. The mural is being spearheaded by True Skool, a youth creative arts organization that uses hip-hop culture to foster entrepreneurship and cultural awareness. Tru Skool spokeswoman Ali explained that the mural is a way to process what the film witnesses, and create something tangible from tangible and positive from the discussions prompted by the film. When Claude Got Shot follows five years in Claude Motley’s life as he tries to recover mentally and physically from being shot in the face by 15 year-old Nathan King, who was attempting to steal his car. As he recovers, Claude grapples with, and reflects on, his ambivalence over King’s incarceration for the shooting him, given the deep racism that permeates the criminal justice system. While the mural represents a response to the film and the history with which it grapples, it also incorporates elements from hip hop, with its motto Peace. Love. Community, a nod to hip-hop roots, which embody peace, love and unity. According to Ali, the mural should lead to healing and communication, while also providing an inspiration to uplift the community. In related news, the film’s director Brad Lichtenstein sat down with Libby Collins on a recent episode of Wisconsin radio station WTMJ’s “Conversations,” where it is also available to stream.
Cinematographer Edward Roqueta, director Elizabeth Unger and others who worked on the award-winning documentary Tigre Gente, discuss their work in the September issue of American Cinematographer, which showcases wildlife filmmaking. The showcase includes a discussion of recent advances in specialized cinematography equipment that have made a critical difference in the field. Tigre Gente (SDFF 2022) documents the illegal jaguar trade in South America, telling the story of a Bolivian park ranger and a young Hong Kongese journalist who risk their lives to go undercover and investigate a new, deadly jaguar trade that’s sweeping South America. The feature shuttles between the breathtaking biodiversity of Madidi National Park in Bolivia and the tense China-Myanmar border, juxtaposing the tranquility and splendor of the jungle against the men who are actively contributing to its destruction. The September issue of American Cinematographer is available now.
In honor of the 75th Anniversary of Elia Kazan’s film about antisemitism, Gentleman’s Agreement (1947), Jewish Boston published a list of 10 films tackling this issue, which has, unfortunately, persists into the present day. The only documentary on the list, Witness Theater (2018) comes from SDFF alumni filmmaker Oren Rudavsky. Witness Theater documents a program through which Holocaust survivors create dramatic productions about their lives in partnership with high school students. The film captures the ways in which this terrible history is not just recorded on a micro-scale, but affectively called back into being in the present and made a part of the emotional lives of students who might otherwise view it as a purely academic subject. Witness Theater preceded Rudavsky’s Joseph Pulitzer: Voice of the People, which showed at SDFF 2019, by one year. The later film tells the story of Joseph Pulitzer, an immigrant who became a wealthy newspaper man, who was deeply concerned with injustice, and whose commitment to fact-based news can be seen as a form of historical witness.
On a far lighter note, SDFF 2019 alumni film The Cat Rescuers (Rob Fruchtman and Steven Lawrence, 2018) made a collection of films and documentaries celebrating the bond of feline companionship. The list came out as Netflix released the recent family-friendly doc, Inside the Mind of a Cat (Andy Mitchell, 2022), in which “cat experts dive into the feline’s mind to reveal its true capabilities.” While I can’t speak to the veracity of this claim, I can say definitively that The Cat Rescuers is well worth revisiting, particularly given the pet adoption crisis currently underway in the U.S. The Cat Rescuers is a film about approaches to controlling the cat population in New York City by animal welfare activists, who attempt to fix the issue with adoption pushes and techniques that have to do with feline behaviors.
A Filmmaker Magazine piece about impact producing cited an SDFF alumni film, Unrest (Jennifer Brea, 2017), which chronicles the grad student-turned-filmmaker’s experience of myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME aka Chronic Fatigue Syndrome). The piece, penned by Sahar Driver and Sonya Childress, both of whom have worked as impact producers and strategists, gives an overview of impact documentary and the variety of campaigns that they ground. Unrest is mentioned as exemplary of a film with broad impacts (ie. movement building), with the other end of the spectrum focused on a discrete issue and a very particular set of goals (ie. changing a law or institution). This second category of impact is the one the authors identify as most at risk in the present day, and their mitigation and erasure, is ultimately deeply racist. The authors make a strong argument that elaborates a number of interrelated issues—the white gaze, how empathy is triggered, streaming platforms’ assumption and privileging of a white, male perspective, the necessity of self-representation for people of color, etc. I am not doing it justice here, but highly recommend anyone with the time, take a gander at the piece—“The Evolution of Impact: The Future of Social Change and Nonfiction Storytelling.” Unrest, a film which has aided in the recognition of ME as a disease by raising awareness on a very wide scale, and was also made by a is available to stream via Netflix.
LOCAL SCREENINGS + FILM EVENTS
Doc Night will return on September 12 with a screening of Emmy®-winner Belly Of The Beast (2020) 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.
The Rialto® will be screening the doc Living Wine(Lori Miller, 2022) on Aug. 31, and on several September and October dates as well. 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.
Hallelujah: Leonard Cohen, A Journey, A Song (Dan Geller and Dayna Goldfine, 2022), a unique music doc about the beloved singer-songwriter, will continue to run at Rialto Cinemas® Sebastopol, on Aug. 31, as well as on several September and October dates. The doc 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.
CATCH THEM WHILE YOU CAN: DOCS AIRING ON TV + STREAMING ONLINE
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.
Yung Chang’s doc about foreign correspondent and conflict journalist Robert Fisk, This Is Not A Movie (2019) will be available on the Criterion Collection’s streaming platform starting in September. In the film, Chang captures Fisk, whose career has spanned 40 years, in relentless action—feet on the ground, notebook in hand, as he travels into landscapes devastated by war, ferreting out the facts and firing reports back home to reach an audience of millions. The film is also available on kanopy (w/ public library card) or tubi (w/ ads), and VOD on Vudu, Amazon, Youtube, GooglePlay and Apple TV. An SDFF exclusive Q+A between director Yung Chang and SDFF co-director and lead programmer Jean McGlothlin from SDFF 2021 is available here.
Another of Yung Chang’s docs, Wuhan Wuhan is now available to stream on PBS’s POV website, having opened the show’s 35th season. 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.
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.
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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