SDFF NEWS BITS: ALUMNI UPDATES, FESTS, HONORS, NEW DOCS, INDUSTRY HAPPENINGS
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26 JULY 2022
AWARDS. HONORS. FESTIVALS. SPECIAL SCREENINGS.
Nefise Özkal Lorentzen’s Seyran Ateş: Sex, Revolution and Islam won the award for Best Documentary Feature at the 2022 NYC Independent Film Festival in mid-June. The film, an SDFF2022 fave, is a profile of Seyran Ateş, a Turkish-German lawyer, feminist, and one of Europe’s first female imams, who has garnered controversy for her stance on changing the patriarchy as it is expressed in Islam, a position that has received criticism from all sides and made Seyran the target of death threats. She recently caused a stir when the Ibn Rushd-Goethe Mosque, founded by Ateş, flew the rainbow flag during Berlin’s Pride Month. Seyran Ateş was nominated for the jury award for best feature at SDFF 2022. Her earlier film, also made with partner Jørgen Lorentzen, A Gift From God, won the Audience Award for Best Feature at SDFF 2021. That film is about the bloodiest coup in Turkish history.
The Beauty President (Whitney Skauge, 2021) is one of nine films selected for the Auntyland Film Festival’s student-curated showcase of Summer Specials. AuntyLand Film Festival is a Tribeca-based community-driven event devoted to short films by and for diverse women and BIPOC storytellers. The festival’s 2022 programming marks its first steps towards providing year-round, hybrid (digital and in-person) programs. The Beauty President, which showed at SDFF 2022, captures activist Terence Alan Smith in the present day, as he reflects back on his seminal civil rights campaign and its place in American history. In 1992, at the height of the AIDS pandemic, Smith made a historic bid for president of the United States as his drag queen persona Joan Jett Blakk. 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.
NEW FILMS & PROJECTS FROM SDFF FILMMAKERS
Director-producer Fiona Cochrane’s (Strange Tenants: Ska’d For Life, Gorilla Girls, Can Art Stop A Bullet) new film Patou: In Black and White is being screened as part of the Melbourne Documentary Film Festival, which runs through July 31 in theaters and online. The film tracks the 4-decade career of singer Pat Powell (Patou), a British-born musician of Jamaican descent who moved to Australia in an attempt to escape racism, and would become one of the country’s most accomplished, but also “hidden” vocal talents. A situation which, itself, can be seen as an expression of racism. According to a recent piece in The Age, the film came about after Cochrane met and interviewed Patou while filming the SDFF 2020 selection Strange Tenants, which tracks the career of the politically outspoken, eponymous Australian ska band.
For Sama producer Siobhan Sinnerton is working on a new project with filmmakers Tamana Ayazi (National Geographic Grantee) and Marcel Mettelsiefen (Watani: My Homeland) about Afghan politician Zarifa Ghafari. When Ghafari became mayor of a provincial capital in 2019, she was the youngest person, and one of only a few women, to become a mayor in Afghanistan. In the time since, she has received an International Woman of Courage Award from the U.S., and survived three assassination attempts as she tries to advance women’s rights. According to IndieWire, the film is being made for Netflix and co-produced by Hillary and Chelsea Clinton. Sinnerton’s 2019 production, For Sama (Waad al-Kateab and Edward Watts, SDFF 2020) also ended up on Slash Film’s list of the 95 Best Documentaries Ever. For Sama traces five years of filmmaker al-Kateab’s life during the uprising, as she falls in love, gets married and gives birth while apocalyptic conflict rises around her.
Filmmaking partners Alessandro Cassigoli and Casey Kauffman talk about their third film collaboration, Californie in a recent Cineuropa interview given at the Giornate degli Autori, where the film is in competition this year. Now in its 18th year, the Giornate degli Autori is an independent film festival associated with the Venice Film Festival, modeled after Directors’ Fortnight at Cannes. Californie is Kauffman and Cassigoli’s first fiction feature together, and share’s themes with the duo’s doc Butterfly, which showed at SDFF 2020. Californie follows a young woman from Morocco who tries to fit into a small town near Naples over the course of five years; Butterfly followed Italian teen boxer Irma as she tries to find her way in life. The trailer for the film is available here.
The trailer for Anita Gou’s (prod. The Last Animals) new production The Silent Twins (Agnieszka Smoczynska, 2022) dropped last week. The film has been picked up by Focus Features since its Cannes Un Certain Regard debut and has a Sept. 16 release date. The film is an adaptation of Marjorie Wallace’s 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 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.
Following its July 15 release, Jay Bedwani’s Donna, documentary love letter to/about trans activist and artist Donna Personna has gotten an immediate and very warm reception from some fairly high-brow places (Sight and Sound/BFI, Little White Lies, AnOther, Scannain) for its sensitive depiction of a “vital” history, and for Donna’s charisma and performance as a storyteller. In addition to reviews, The Upcoming did a recent interview with Bedwani about how he first met Donna and decided to make the doc, which is up on Youtube. Donna tells the story of the well-known San Francisco transgender elder, who has helped make and witness the history of trans activism. The film captures Donna at 70, reflecting on the past while nurturing the future of the movement, mentoring the next generation. The film isn’t Donna’s first foray into the representation of trans history, having co-written a play about the Compton’s Cafeteria riot, an oft-overlooked moment of queer resistance and police brutality. Donna is Bedwani’s first feature. His 2018 short Stretch was an SDFF 2019 selection and is about an aging acrobat deciding whether or not his final performances of the season will close out his career as a performer. Donna will have limited theatrical release, and is also available to stream on Bohemia Euphoria.
Confoundingly prolific filmmaker Mark Cousins’ collaboration with folk musicians Aidan O’Rourke and Becky Manson, The Ballad of a Great Disordered Heart (2022) will premiere at the 75th Edinburgh International Film Festival, which runs Aug. 12-20. The film offers an evocative view of Edinburgh’s Old Town and the Irish communities who have called it home. Cousins’s made the SDFF 2022 film The Story Of Looking is an exploration of the role visual experience plays in our lives and culture made by a filmmaker on the cusp of losing his sight. Since it showed, he has released 2-3 other projects that have put him in the news, and is also working on several more.
Filmmaker Julia Bacha’s Boycott was featured in a recent Middle East Eye piece, which discusses how the film frames anti-BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) laws by focusing on people whose daily lives have been impacted by them. In the piece, Bacha argues that these laws, which prohibit states from contracting with businesses and people who are boycotting Israel, are a free speech issue and should be concerning regardless of political affiliation. According to the article, these laws are also operating largely under the radar, with only 24 percent of Americans aware that they exist. Bacha’s 2017 film Naila and the Uprising (Julia Bacha, 2017) was an SDFF 2019 selection, and follows the story of Naila Ayesh, a woman living in Gaza during the 1987 uprisings, whose story weaves through the First Intifada, which was instrumental in forcing the world to recognize the Palestinian right to self-determination for the first time.
IN THE NEWS
Bellingcat, an independent, international collective of open source researchers, investigators and citizen journalists, and the subject of the 2018 doc Bellingcat: Truth in a Post-Truth World (Hans Pool), has been labeled an “undesirable” organization by the Russian Government. According to independent news source, The Moscow Times, Russia’s Prosecutor General’s Office has accused the collective of posing a threat to Russian security. This new designation follows on the heels of the Russian government’s a decision late last year to brand Bellingcat and nine other independent journalists “foreign agents.” These two designations (undesirable and foreign agent) are related and meant to hobble journalists’ ability to work in Russia. However, The Moscow Times explains the label “undesirable” is more severe, and typically makes work in the country impossible, putting journalists at risk for legal penalties, including jail. However, Bellingcat founder Eliot Higgins has dismissed the new designation on Twitter, explaining that the collective has no legal, financial or staff presence in Russia, and thus the government there has no real means of enforcement. The documentary Bellingcat: Truth in a Post-Truth World was an official SDFF 2019 selection that explores the promise of open source investigation and the fight for journalistic integrity in a growing media milieu dominated by fake news.
Maya Cueva and Leah Galant’s doc about the intersection of three lives at the last abortion clinic on the U.S./Mexico border before Roe v. Wade was overturned rendering abortion in Texas entirely illegal, On The Divide (SDFF 2022)filmmakers was screened last week by the Party for Socialism & Liberation’s San Antonio, TX chapter. The screening was followed by a Q&A and brief presentation from a special guest who lives near the US/MX border and works for Latina Institute for Reproductive Justice. Filmmaker Maya Cuevo is also interviewed in a recent Rightnowish episode done just before the U.S. Supreme Court stripped abortion rights from women. The interview focuses on reproductive rights and immigration, which feel particularly key as recent media coverage has focused on relatively extreme cases rather than on the communities that will see the most overall damage as a result of the lack of available, legal abortions.
Following its recent nationwide television premiere opening the 35th season of PBS’s POV, Wuhan Wuhan (Yung Chang, 2020) has gotten overwhelming positive coverage from a range of national publications (Film Threat, The Wall Street Journal, Yahoo! News Canada) for its compassionate, personal approach, and its work combatting anti-Asian racism. Wuhan Wuhan 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. The film showed as part of SDFF 2021 and remains available to stream on the POV’s website.
Filmmaker Ben Proudfoot (A Concerto Is A Conversation, That’s My Jazz, Breakwater Studios) sat down for an interview with CTV’s The Social to talk about the inspiration behind his Oscar®-winning short, The Queen of Basketball, its deeply inspiring star Luisa Harris, and some of the A-list athletes who ended up producing the film. The short is a biopic that restores Harris’s name and groundbreaking accomplishment to history. Harris was the first woman ever drafted by an NBA team when she was drafted by the New Orleans Jazz (now Utah Jazz) in the late 70s. Though she didn’t ultimately make the team, she left the sport with having won three national championships and an Olympic silver medal. The short, an SDFF 2022 official selection, was originally released as a New York Times Op-Doc. Proudfoot recently teamed up on a new New York Times Op Doc with another groundbreaking female athlete, tennis star Naomi Osaka (Hana Kuma production company), for MINK!, which 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. The film was released in late June to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Title IX, the federal civil rights law that prohibits sex discrimination in any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance, which Mink fought to defend.
The Healer Stones of Kapaemahu (Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu, Dean Hamer, Joe Wilson, 2021), which began as an animated short has grown into a multi-media documentary project, including a feature film, illustrated children’s book, audio book, and most recently, museum exhibit. The exhibit is garnering a fair amount of attention following its premiere at the Bishop Museum in mid-June, with features penned for national publication, like The Washington Post, the Associate Press, and the Toronto Sun, as well as regional in regional outlets far from Hawaii’s shores, like Austin’s KXAN and Walla Walla’s Union Bulletin. While the overall project is successfully restoring 15th century dual-gender Mahu healers to the historic record, the museum exhibit, in particular, represents institutional recognition not only of the Mahu healers, but also of the colonial and post-colonial repressions of that history. In this sense, the project can be seen as a blueprint or model for restoring repressed histories, be they pre-colonial, queer, feminist, etc. to the record after intentional suppression and erasure. The Kapaemahu exhibit will be up at the Bishop Museum in Honolulu through Oct. 15.
San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus (SFGMC) recently released an updated video timeline of its first 44 years, made by singing member and historian Tom Burtch. The update comes on the heels of the Artistic Director Tim Seelig’s retirement after a 30-year tenure helming the choir. 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. The updated video history includes footage from Seelig’s farewell concert, Final Words, earlier this month, as well as other recent accomplishments and milestones. Gay Chorus, Deep South is available to stream through Paramount+.
LOCAL SCREENINGS + FILM EVENTS
The San Francisco Jewish Film Festival continues this week, through Aug. 7. The festival is presented by the Jewish Film Institute, where SDFF alumni filmmaker Jay Rosenblatt (When We Were Bullies, SDFF 2021) is the program director. This year’s festival includes The Faithful: The Pope, The Princess, and The King (SDFF 2022), Annie Berman’s fan-focused exploration of the deep veneration for, and legacies of, Pope John Paul II, Princess Diana, and Elvis. 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. Rosenblatt’s Oscar® Nominated, autobiographical documentary short When We Were Bullies is available to stream on HBO/HBO MAX.
A new, unique music doc about a beloved singer-songwriter, Hallelujah: Leonard Cohen, A Journey, A Song (Dan Geller and Dayna Goldfine, 2022), will play at the Rialto Cinemas® Sebastopol starting this Friday, July 29. 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. The Rialto Cinemas® already has a few other noteworthy docs scheduled: a benefit screening Forgotten Felines and Field Haven benefit The Fire Cats—Save Something Small (Katherine Parsons, 2022) about efforts to rescue cats following the 2017 firestorm in Santa Rosa on Aug. 14; Living Wine (Lori Miller, 2022) about 25 years of the Northern California natural wine movement starting Aug. 19, and last, but certainly not least, the highly anticipated biographical doc Loving Highsmith (Eva Vitija, 2022), which uses the diaries and notebooks of celebrated novelist and lesbian icon Patricia Highsmith to focus on her love life and struggles with identity starting September 9.
CATCH THEM WHILE YOU CAN: DOCS AIRING ON TV + STREAMING ONLINE
Glitter & Dust (Anna Koch and Julia Lemke, 2020), an SDFF 2021 doc about girls who buck gender norms by competing in the male-dominated world of rodeos, has already gotten new attention from the media after starting to stream online last week. The film, which was released two years ago, was reviewed by The Guardian on July 23, the day after it began streaming on True Story, an independent platform for documentaries.
Dear Mr. Brody, a new doc from Texas filmmaker Keith Maitland (Tower, SDFF 2017), still making its rounds on the festival circuit, was recently snapped up by Discovery+/Warner Bros. The film examines the events that unfolded around Oleomargarine heir Michael Brody Jr., a 21-year-old hippie millionaire after he promised to give away his $25 million inheritance to anyone who needed money, in an effort to usher in a new era of world peace in 1970. Brody received thousands of letters from people across the spectrum who needed money, which he never read. While Brody initially gave some of his fortune away, he died within 3 years of the offer after being hospitalized for drug and mental health issues. In Maitland’s interview with NPR, he discusses the recently opened letters featured in the film, Brody as a cultural phenomenon, and what the situation augured for the future. Dear Mr. Brody is already available to screen on Discovery+.
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) recently became 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.
Sydney Bowie Linden’s documentary short Black Gold (SDFF 2022), about a California oil town bracing for change, is being 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. Like most of the state’s inland areas, Taft is deep red, but Linden tells The New Yorker that the film’s point isn’t political. She was hoping to capture how citizens of the small town grappled with the change to their way of life they saw on the horizon with the incoming Biden administration. They imagined the new president would signal the end of the oil industry that keeps the town employed. While that hasn’t happened, the film 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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