SDFF NEWS BITS: ALUMNI UPDATES, FESTS, HONORS, NEW DOCS, INDUSTRY HAPPENINGS
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1 NOVEMBER 2022
AWARDS. HONORS. FESTIVALS. SPECIAL SCREENINGS
IDA just released its shortlist for 2023 awards, and two SDFF 2022 films, Nathalie Giraud and Timothée Corteggiani’s The Silent Shore and Gabriela Osio Vanden and Jack Weisman’s Nuisance Bear, are on it, along with docs from SDFF alumni filmmakers Ben Proudfoot (MINK!), Jamie Meltzer (Not Even for a Moment Do Things Stand Still), Adam Mazo ( ᎤᏕᏲᏅ (What They’ve Been Taught) and Bounty), Ben Pender-Cudlip (Bounty), Neasa Ní Chianáin (Young Plato), and David Rane (Young Plato). The International Documentary Awards (IDA) is the most prestigious worldwide event dedicated to documentary. IDA nominations will be announced on Nov. 11, and are selected from the shortlist by independent committees of 310 documentary makers, curators, critics, and industry experts from 52 countries. The winners will be announced at the 38th IDA awards ceremony on Dec. 10. For a fuller elaboration of the SDFF films on this year’s IDA shortlist, check out the full story here.
In addition to making the IDA shortlist Neasa Ní Chianáin and David Rane’s Young Plato was one of 15 films to make the British Film Institute’s longlist for Best Feature Documentary, which was released last week, as was Mark Cousins’s The Story Of Film: A New Generation. Young Plato is an uplifting film about the headmaster of Belfast’s Holy Cross Catholic boy’s school, a quirky Elvis lover who uses philosophy to counter powerful mythologies of violence among students from rough circumstances. The film treads very similar territory to Ní Chianáin’s 2017 doc with David Rane, School Life (SDFF 2018), which focuses on teachers at Headfort, the only primary boarding school in Ireland. Cousins’s nominated doc The Story Of Film: A New Generation is a follow-up to The Story of Film: An Odyssey, in which the filmmaker examines the most impactful works of recent cinema, from 2010 to 2021. The film is an optimistic exploration of how technology is changing the course of cinema in the 21st Century and the ways in which COVID is impacting the process. It is a worthwhile companion piece to 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, which showed at SDFF 2022. BFI will announce its nominees this week, and winners will be revealed at the 25th British Film Awards ceremony on Dec. 4.
Jennifer Huang’s This Adventure Called California and Crystal Lee Kwok’s Blurring The Color Line, both SDFF 2022 selections, showed as part of the United Nations Association Film Festival in Palo Alto last week, as did SDFF alumni filmmaker Derek Knowles’s Sentinels (co-dir. Lawrence Lerew). Founded 25 years ago in conjunction with the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the film festival’s continued focus on films concerned with human rights from across the spectrum is evident in this year’s selections. Blurring The Color Line is filmmaker Kwok’s reflection 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 of America’s racial history while exposing uncomfortable truths behind today’s Afro-Asian tensions. This Adventure Called California is a short documentary film about recently-divorced Arnoldo, who comes to the United States from Mexico to win back his family but meets only brutality and despair, until a chance encounter at a racquetball court changes the course of his life. Sentinels, co-directed by After The Fire (SDFF 2020) filmmaker Knowles,takes an immersive, observational tack in depicting the Redwood Forest Defense tree-sit. The only active tree-sit at the time of filming, the action was the work of a small group of young activists, who sought to stop a large logging company. The filmmakers see the film as a form of bearing witness to a mode of radical activism that, unlike street protests, takes place largely outside of the public eye, and requires a great deal of both physical and mental strength.
Elizabeth Unger’s Tigre Gente (2022) is one of 5 films showing at the UK Green Film Festival, the UK’s only national environmental film festival, which is returning for its 10th year with screenings across the country from Nov. 2-13. 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.
For Love And Legacy (AK Sandhu, 2021), showed at the Shorts: Painting Pictures block at the recent Mill Valley FF, where it also inspired the workshop Reel Life: History on Film. During the workshop, Sandhu discussed using motion picture archives and selecting footage for the film, which documents how sculptor Dana King’s hands and activist Fredrika Newton’s memories combine to build a new monument that honors the Black Panther Party’s vital place in American history. Filmmaker, composer and fellow SDFF alumni Jim LeBrecht, who co-directed Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution (2020), was also in attendance, leading an “Accessibility Scorecard in Exhibition” panel.
NEW FILMS + PROJECTS FROM SDFF FILMMAKERS
Miguel López Beraza’s new short (Walls, 2014) Ponto final premiered at the 38th Warsaw Film Festival, where it also won Best Short, which an Oscar® qualifying award. In the documentary short, Beraza returns to his family home and asks his parents to play a game where they become movie stars. The acting game is a pretext that compels his parents to talk about the cancer they both overcame, and their ongoing fear of loss. López Beraza’s Walls, whichshowed at SDFF 2017, documents a day in the life of longtime neighbors living in an aging building, from the building’s point of view.
This Is Not A Movie (Yung Chang, 2019) cinematographer Duraid Munajim’s newest project Hanging Gardens (Ahmed Yassin Al Daradjim, 2022) became the first Iraqi film to be an official selection at the Venice Film Festival when it screened there earlier this Fall, drawing attention to the potential of a new national cinema movement in the country. In the film, two orphaned brothers barely by as garbage pickers in Baghdad’s “Hanging Gardens” dump, when the younger of the two, 12 year-old As’ad finds an American sex doll who provides a financial windfall for the brothers when they figure out she is able to speak. However, she is kidnapped by a local crime boss just as As’ad begins to question her exploitation who is able to speak, leading the brothers on a dangerous rescue mission. Munajim’s cinematography on the project has received praise, in particular his framing the two boys as they move through the landfill, the desert and the corners of Baghdad. Munajim was also the cinematographer on This Is Not A Movie, a doc about foreign correspondent and conflict journalist Robert Fisk. The film captures Fisk’s relentless action over the course of his 40-year career—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 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.
Bururman Abdi (Neighbor Abdi), a new film from Green Screen Gringo (2016) director Douwe Dijkstra (Green Screen Gringo, 2016) won Best International Short Film at the 49th Film Fest Gent. In the documentary short, Douwe helps his neighbor and friend, Abdi, a furniture maker and support worker from Somalia, investigate a painful history marked by war and violence, through a creative process that includes playful reconstructions in a special effects studio. 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.
The Queen Of Basketball (Ben Proudfoot, 2021) producer Erick Peyton’s new project, Underrated, a doc about Warrior’s star Steph Curry, was just acquired by Apple+. The film is directed by Peter Nicks (Homeroom, 2021), who is also producing, along with Peyton, Ryan Coogler (Black Panther, 2018), Jenelle Lindsay (Cancer Alley, 2021), A24, and Curry’s Unanimous Media. Underrated documents Curry’s unique playing style and his career, ending with his 2022 journey to win a fourth NBA title with the Warriors, and his first NBA Finals Most Valuable Player trophy. Peyton is an old hand at producing basketball docs. In addition to Oscar-winning short, The Queen Of Basketball (SDFF 2022) about Lucy Harris, the first woman drafted to an NBA team, he regularly works with Curry’s Unanimous Media, and has made a number of other basketball films and series, including Stephen vs. The Game (2019), Benedict Men (2020), and Jump Shot: The Kenny Sailors Story (2019).
The trailer for Omar Mullick’s (These Birds Walk, 2014) new project, You Resemble Me, which examines the life Hasna Aït Boulahcen and Islamic radicalization. Mullick co-wrote the film with Egyptian-American filmmaker Dina Amer, who is also directing. Raised in a rough-and-tumble suburb of Paris, Boulahcen was a troubled young woman of Moroccan descent, who endured poverty and abuse throughout her short life. She died with her cousin Abdelhamid Abaaoud, one of the ringleaders of the November 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris, during a police raid in Saint-Denis. Mullick has worked prolifically as a cinematographer, but this film, which involved sorting through 300 hours of filmed interviews, marks his first writing credit. His doc These Birds Walk,which showed at SDFF 2014, is also about kids attempting to survive rough childhoods, as it documents the struggles and resilience of Karachi street children and the Samaritans looking out for them.
IN THE NEWS
Filmmaker Julia Bacha (Naila and the Uprising, 2017) was a guest on the Oct. 24 episode of Democracy Now!, focused on the court case at the heart of her newest film, Boycott. The episode follows the ACLU’s filing of an appeal with the Supreme Court that would uphold existing federal free speech standards by overturning an Arkansas anti-BDS law is one of more than 30 states with copycat laws meant criminalize the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement, which seeks to boycott Israel and Israeli goods to protest its violation of Palestinian rights. The ACLU has argued that the right to boycott is foundational to U.S. politics, and constitute protected speech, The plaintiff in the ACLU lawsuit, whose case is followed in Boycott, is Alan Leveritt, The Arkansas Times publisher, who says that law essentially required the newspaper to take a political position in return for advertising. Leveritt, and the ACLU lawyer arguing the case, Brian Hauss, are also a part of the episode’s group conversation. The episode is available to download, listen to, watch or read via the episode’s website. Boycott was also an official selection at the 31st Philadelphia Film Festival, which wrapped up last weekend. The documentary feature showed as part of the festival’s State Of The Union line-up, which highlights films that document significant figures and events in American politics and democracy. 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.
The D-Word has posted an informal panel discussion about educational distribution for docs, between founder Doug Block, James-Michael Boyer, Director of Operations at Collective Eye Films, Rachel Gordon, author of The Documentary Distribution Toolkit: How To Get Out, Get Seen, And Get An Audience, which was recently released through Routledge. The video discussion includes Gordon speaking on the realities of self-distribution, grassroots marketing techniques, and identifying and interacting with educational instructors who may be able to place films on syllabuses or screen in classrooms, and Boyer discussing deliverable requirements, how his company makes acquisitions, and the role of festivals in launching films. The panel discussion is available to screen for free on youtube.
Filmmaker S. Leo Chiang of Our Time Machine fame will be the featured participant in a pair of free documentary filmmaking workshops in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City this month. The workshops will focus on providing basic knowledge of post-production, indie film distribution, fundraising for doc projects, and how to submit docs to film festivals. The program is co-organized by the Center for Assistance and Development of Movie Talents (TPD), and the U.S. Embassy in Vietnam. Chiang’s Our Time Machine (co-dir. Yang Sun, 2020), which showed at SDFF 2020, is about Chinese artist Maleonn’s project with his father, accomplished Peking Opera director Ma Ke, who suffers from Alzheimer’s. The film is available to stream VOD on iTunes, Amazon, Apple+, Google Play, Youtube, and FandangoNow. SDFF’s exclusive interview with Chiang and co-director Yang Sun is available here.
Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story (Alexandra Dean, 2017) made a recent MovieWeb list of the Best Documentaries About Hollywood Icons. Bombshell was an SDFF 2018 selection about Austrian actress Hedy Lamarr, who fled an oppressive marriage and created a name for herself as one of Hollywood’s top leading ladies, but was also a talented and inquisitive inventor who created a system that is now considered the basis of Bluetooth. Based on a trove of previously unknown interviews, Hedy Lamarr, the screen siren who was called “the most beautiful woman in the world” is reborn as an inventor who helped the war effort.
Unsilenced, Leon Lee’s feature film showcasing China’s human rights abuses made its Australian premiere in Sydney last month. The film, which has been screened at U.S. film festivals since late 2021, is based on the true story of two young couples who were students at China’s Tsinghua University and paid a heavy price after helping a western journalist break through the Chinese Communist Party’s surveillance and obstruction apparatus to expose its draconian persecution of Falun Gong adherents. Lee’s documentary Letter from Masanjia about Sun Yi, a prisoner in a forced labor camp whose determination to tell the world about Chinese human rights violations begins to bear fruit after an American woman finds his plea for help tucked into a random delivery and alerts the media. The doc showed as part of SDFF 2019.
LOCAL SCREENINGS + FILM EVENT
On Nov. 1, AV Film and Healdsburg Climate Action will be presenting a selection of Bay Area Environmental Shorts, with filmmakers in toe for a post-screening Q&A session. The event is part of an effort to promote better stewardship of the Sonoma County environment and to acknowledge the impacts of climate change and urban growth. Curated by AV Film, the collection of shorts are the work of Bay Area documentarians, focused on keeping local plant, animal, insect, and sea life in balance. The film selections include SDFF alumni films, Dick Ogg: Fisherman (Cynthia Abbott, 2019), Don’t Feed The Coyotes (Nick Stone Schearer, 2021), and Plant Heist (Chelsi and Gabriel de Cuba, 2020). Filmmakers from all three shorts will be in attendance for a post-screening discussion. The 90-minute showcase will take place on Nov. 1 at 6 p.m. at Headsburg’s Barndiva. Wine and cocktails will be available for purchase. Tickets are $30 each, $5 for students, and can be purchased here.
A refreshing and timely exploration of modern masculinity, Cat Daddies (Mye Hoang, 2022) is tender portrait of 9 men from all walks of life, whose lives have been forever changed by their cats, which is showing at the Rialto this week. The film crosses the U.S. to visit its “cat dads,” who include a firefighter, a truck driver, a Hollywood stuntman, an ad executive turned cat rescuer, a police officer, a software engineer, an actor/Instagram influencer, a school teacher and an undocumented and disabled immigrant living on the streets of New York City. Though wildly different from eachother, these men all share an unconditional love for their cats and have a story to tell about it. Cat Daddies explores how being a “cat person” has no gender, and suggests that the unlikely bond between man and cat is here to stay. Cat Daddies is showing at Rialto Cinemas® Sebastopol this week.
The Return Of Tanya Tucker—Featuring Brandi Carlile (Kathlyn Horan, 2022), which documents the creative collaboration of two female country singers, trailblazer Tanya Tucker and contemporary star Brandi Carlile, and the friendship that develops between them. Tucker was an iconoclast, who defied standards for feminine behavior in Country Music in the 80s and 90s, who was lured back to the spotlight when superfan Carlile, now at the peak of her career, wrote an album for her. The film takes stock of the past while remaining vitally alive in the present, the film uses rare archival footage and photos to delve into Tucker’s history and to examine her bumpy ride back to the top with Carlile, experimenting with new sounds and reaching a new audience. The Return Of Tanya Tucker—Featuring Brandi Carlile will begin showing at Rialto Cinemas® Sebastopol on Nov. 4.
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.
Sebastopol’s Fall Doc Nite series will continue on November 14 with a screening of Not Without Us (Mark Decena, 2016) at 7 p.m. at Rialto Cinemas® Sebastopol, followed by a discussion with director Mark Decena, and a casual gathering at Fern Bar. Filmed during the 2015 U.N. Climate talks in Paris, two weeks after terrorists attacks created a state of emergency that outlawed all “unofficial” political gatherings, Not Without Us follows seven global grassroots activists as they attempt to unleash the only force that they can to prevent catastrophic climate change: the will of the people. Not Without Us documents a crucial moment in history, framing the root causes of the global climate crisis and the greatest inequality in the history of mankind, as one and the same. Seen from the perspective of frontline communities, the film interweaves the personal stories and motivations of the activists portrayed, conveying to a broader audience why the call for deeper and far reaching change is not only necessary, but also humane. Doc Night is a collaboration between Trim Tab, SDFF and Rialto Cinemas®. See Not Without Us Doc Night details and buy tickets here.
The Sonoma County Library Documentary Film Discussion Group will meet, 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.
CATCH THEM WHILE YOU CAN: DOCS AIRING ON TV + STREAMING ONLINE
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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