SDFF NEWS: ALUMNI UPDATES, NEW FILMS, FESTS, INDUSTRY – 27 JULY 2023
- 6 months ago
27 JUNE 2023
AWARDS. HONORS. FESTIVALS. SPECIAL SCREENINGS + EVENTS.
SebDocs 2023 Curtain Raiser doc, Dusty & Stones (Jesse Rudoy, 82 mins), about a Swazi country music duo’s journey to Texas to perform at a battle of the bands, took home the Best Documentary Feature Award at this year’s Atlanta Film Festival. The other jury award given by the fest went to a film co-directed by an SDFF 2023 alumni filmmaker. The documentary short winner Breaking Silence (18 mins) was co-directed by Annie Silverstein and Amy Bench, whose animated short More Than I Want To Remember won the SebDocs jury award for best documentary short. Breaking Silence explores the relationship between a deaf activist and his hearing daughter, reflecting on her how imprisonment has shaped their relationship and advocacy.
More Than I Want To Remember (Amy Bench, 15 mins) and another SebDocs 2023 short, Swimming Through (Samantha Sanders, 16 mins), has also been selected to show as part of this year’s Lunafest. Though their subjects and style are wildly different, both films are by and about women. Rendered through rich animation, More Than I Want To Remember tells the story of a 14 year-old refugee who undertakes a solo cross-continent journey to find her family, while Swimming Through captures the friendship forged by three women who cope with the pandemic by swimming through the winter in Lake Michigan. Now in its 22nd year, the traveling festival features films either by or about women, and travels the U.S. and Canada, frequently showing in small towns and cities that may not have independent film festivals, raising money for local nonprofits. Swimming Through is available for free through July 12 as part of The Wrap‘s Short List film festival, which returned this year with 12 new shorts after a two-year hiatus.
Move When the Spirit Says Move: The Legacy of Dorothy Foreman Cotton (Ry Ferro and Deborah C. Hoard, 80 mins, SDFF 2023), a portrait of a charismatic, courageous and consistently overlooked key player in the Civil Rights Movement, closed the 20th Annual African Diaspora International Film Festival in Chicago on Juneteenth, and was also recently screened at the 18th Harlem International Film Festival. The film tells the of Dorothy Foreman Cotton, a bold and highly effective leader who educated thousands in their citizenship rights and inspired generations of activists with her powerful freedom songs. Cotton was the only woman on Dr. Martin Luther King’s executive staff. Director/Producer Deborah C. Hoard and Executive Producer and Senior Advisor Laura Branca were in attendance for a post screening discussion and reception. You can also catch Hoard and co-director Ry Ferro talk about the film with Dr. Nsenga K. Brown on a Women’s History episode of The Burton Wire Live, which is now available through Oakland-based Post News Group.
Madeleine Lim’s most recent documentary feature, Jewelle: A Just Vision (Madeleine Lim, 64 mins, SDFF 2023) was screened at the live version of San Francisco’s Frameline film festival in mid-June, and is available to stream through July 2 part of the festival’s digital encore. In honor of the film and its Frameline screening, radio station KPFA’s Women’s Magazine interviewed Lim and the film’s subject, author/activist Jewelle Gomez. The doc casts a hope-filled spotlight on the Lambda award-winning novelist, activist, and philanthropist, Jewelle Gomez, an Ioway/Wampanoag Native American, and Cape Verdean/Black lesbian Femme elder, whose life and work evince the power of art as activism. The film is available to stream through Frameline as part of the Local Legends showcase, along with Belonging: Trans Indian Story (Amir Jaffer, 40 mins), through July 2.
Aikāne, a new, romantic, animated short from multi-year SDFF alumni filmmakers Dean Hamer and Joe Wilson, and illustrator/artist Daniel Sousa, was also an official Frameline 47 selection, which was screened theatrically and will be shown as part of the festival’s upcoming streaming encore, June 24-July 2. In the film, a valiant island warrior, wounded in battle against foreign invaders, falls into a mysterious underwater world. Although this is their first foray into fiction, SDFF audiences are likely familiar with Hamer and Wilson for their documentaries, which have increasingly focused on LGBTQIA stories and histories generating from Hawaii the live action feature Leitis In Waiting (SDFF 2019), a tender portrait of an intrepid group of trans women fighting a rising tide of fundamentalism in their South Pacific Kingdom, to the animated short Kapaemahu (SDFF 2020), a richly animated short that brings to life the hidden, queer history of four monumental stone on Waikiki Beach, and the legendary transgender healing spirits within them. The filmmakers unique understanding of Hawaiian history and mythology informs Aikāne, itself a Hawaiian term of respect for intimate friends of the same sex. The filmis to stream alongside 6 other films as part of Frameline’s program Shorts: The Lovers Tarot, through July 2.
Several SDFF alumni films were screened as part of the annual Mendocino Film Festival, including SDFF 2023’s Body Parts (Kristy Guevara-Flanagan, 86 mins), which examines the evolution of sex on-screen from a woman’s perspective; I Like It Here (Ralph Arlyck, 87 mins) an intimate film that confronts the experience of aging and reflects on the joys of living; The Best Chef In The World (Ben Proudfoot, 20 mins) about Sally Schmitt, original founder of The French Laundry; Town Destroyer (Deborah Kaufman and Alan Snitow, 55 mins) that tracks a high-profile battle over New Deal art in a San Francisco High School,and the SDFF 2022 selection The Art of Un-War (Maria Niro, 63 mins) about world renowned artist Krzysztof Wodiczko’s collaborative public art pieces. This was the Mendocino FF’s 16th iteration, featuring 37 independent films that emphasize original storytelling, unique voices, and cinematic artistry.
In addition to the Mendocino fest, Arlyck’s autobiographical account of “life’s last lap,” I Like It Here (87 mins, SDFF 2023) was also recently screened at the Mendocino Film Festival and the inaugural, live version of DC/DOX Festival. The doc is Arlyck’s attempt to convey how it feels to see his life winding down, wistfully confronting the reality of aging and the pleasures of being alive. Arlyck’s camerawork mimics physical obstacles and challenges, as the filmmaker reflects on the experience of aging while enjoying time with friends and family. The film’s focus on the experience of aging puts it firmly in-line with the DC/DOX emphasis on human dignity. A new festival, DC/DOX fills the hole left by the shuttering of the American Film Institute’s SilverDocs and AFI Docs, the latter of which was run by DC/DOX co-director Sky Sidney. Many of this year’s films and film subjects come from marginalized communities, from Native American journalists to Black trans sex workers to elderly people looking for dignity and meaning in more personal ways.
The festival also includes A Still Small Voice, an entry SDFF alumni filmmaker Luke Lorentzen (Midnight Family, 90 mins, SDFF 2019), which follows aspiring hospital chaplain follows Mati, as she completes her residency at NYC’s Mount Sinai Hospital at the height of the pandemic, during the deadliest two years in U.S. history. The doc offers an intimate portrait of Mati’s struggle to find balance on a daily basis, and a glimpse at what hope and meaning look like in a seemingly hopeless situation. A Still Small Voice is Lorentzen’s second documentary feature, and shares a focus on an emotional, healthcare related issue, with his first film, Midnight Family (SDFF 2019 Jury Award for Best Feature) a visually stunning look at a harrowing family-run ambulance service in Mexico City.
Inside The Beauty Bubble (Cheryl Bookout and Cheri Gaulke, 31 mins) about America’s “hairstorian” Jeff Hafler’s struggle to keep his roadside Beauty Bubble Salon & Museum afloat, was screened at the Thomas Edison FF’s Pride Event last week. The film, which also foregrounds Hafler’s family life with his son and husband, was paired with another LGBTQIA doc, Leo & Nymph (Hsin-An Pan, 27 mins), which focuses on Cao Liou (Leo), a 25 year-old drag queen known as “Nymphia.” The screening was a collaboration with Hoboken Historical Museum and the podcast Remakes, Reboots & Revivals, which is making a recording of the post-screening discussion available through June. In addition to the Pride screening, Inside The Beauty Bubble won the Thomas Edison FF’s Stellar documentary award in 2023, with Gaulke taking home the Edison Innovation Award. The festival also features two other shorts from Gaulke and Bookout, Gloria’s Call and Miss Alma Thomas: A Life In Color, as part of its curated 2023 Women’s HERstory Month Program, which can be streamed through the festival’s website. The program also includes a conversation between the filmmakers and festival director Jane Steuerwald.
El Equipo (The Team) (Bernardo Ruiz, 81 mins), which won the Jury Award for Best Documentary Feature at this year’s SebDocs Festival, was one of three documentary features in competition at the 25th Cine Las Americas Film Festival. The Austin-based festival showcases Latin American and Indigenous films from across the Americas, which has recently begun to include Spanish and Portuguese entries. El Equipo is a deeply ethical and instructive variation on true crime documentary, envisaging the unlikely collaboration between an American forensic scientist and a group of Latin American students, which changed the course of forensic science and international human rights.
Mini-doc Of Wood (Owen Klatte, 7 mins, SDFF 2023), which uses stop animation footage of wood carvings to render a history of wood, won the Cream City Cinema Jury Award at this year’s Milwaukee Film Festival. The juried award is given out annually by the fest to a local standout short or feature. Of Wood’s unique, labor-intensive animation was achieved by cutting together stills of images as they are progressively carved into an 18 round of wood. In doing so, the doc presents a history of mankind’s use of wood through the ages, while commenting on today’s culture of excessive consumerism.
NEW FILMS & PROJECTS FROM SDFF FILMMAKERS
Colonel Kalsi (co-dir. Anand Kamalakar, 39 mins, SDFF 2023) co-director Geeta Gandbhir has been in the news recently for her documentary short with Samantha Knowles, How We Get Free, about a woman working to combat injustices caused by Colorado’s cash bail system. The film documents two years of work done by Elizabeth Epps and the Colorado Freedom Fund, helping impoverished clients make bail for crimes that are frequently trivial, so their lives aren’t completely derailed by a system which would otherwise keep them incarcerated while they await trial. The doc culminates with Epps run for State Assembly in hopes of changing the system. The film showed at the 66th San Francisco International Film Festival, as part of program with two other short docs about U.S. prisons: What These Walls Won’t Hold (Adamu Chan, 42 mins) about the COVID crisis inside San Quentin, and Sol In The Garden (Emily Cohen Ibañez and Débora Souza Silva, 21 mins) about a formerly incarcerated woman’s garden.
Gandbhir also gave a talk on documentary interview techniques as part of Sundance Collab’s Advisor Studio Series in late May. In it, Gandbhir identifies interviews as the backbone of documentary storytelling, and details recommendations for effectively conducting them. The talk includes practical takeaways, including techniques for building trust, and crafting and conducting interviews, the visual choices documentarians must make while they do so, and how to develop a distinct interview style. While the live presentation and Q&A are over, key points from it appear as an article on the Sundance website, and a video of the full event is available for $5 or free for Sundance Collab members.
IN THE NEWS
A short piece celebrating both the doc Art & Pep (Mercedes Kane, 89 mins, SDFF 2023) and the 45-year relationship that it captures ran in national LGBTQIA media source The Advocate, following a talk by the film’s executive producer Kevin Hauswirth to Block Club Chicago. The film tells the love story of Art Johnston and José Pepe Peña, who have owned a Chicago hub for Queer activism since the 1980s, the Sidetrack bar. The film captures the couple’s relationship and their engagement with the ongoing fight for LGBTQIA rights in their own backyard, and nationwide. The film will show at the Sidetrack’s 41st anniversary on June 20. Art & Pep also began streaming on Peacock on June 1, where it will be streaming for the foreseeable future.
Best known to SebDocs audiences for her experimental, found footage documentary feature Jade Helm (15 mins, SDFF 2023), director Debi Cornwall has won the Prix Elysée 2023 for her photography project Citoyens Modèles (Model Citizens). The Prix Elysée is an international prize that supports a mid-career artist and/or photographer as they develop an original project. Cornwall’s project examines the staging of reality and the performance of citizenship in the United States, rendering a militarized country whose citizens cannot agree on what is true. The project explores how various fictions are deployed, marketed and adopted across a variety of cultural and institutional cites (from museums to trade shows to military academies), preparing citizens for the realities of a society in the grip of a violent and perpetual crisis. You can see more of Cornwall’s work for the Prix Elysée here.
Body Parts (86 mins, SDFF 2023) director and UCLA film professor Kristy Guevara-Flanagan was among the experts interviewed for a PBS News Hour report that visited intimacy coordinators-in-training. The report explains the introduction of intimacy directors and coordinators as a means of insuring consent and on-set safety, which received increased attention in the “aftermath” the #METOO movement. The piece was reported by arts and culture reporter Jeffrey Brown and focuses on Intimacy Directors and Coordinators, interviewing the SAG-AFTRA accredited company’s CEO Jessica Steinrock, Director of Advanced Training Claire Warden, and trainee Ariella Salinas Fiore, as well as director/actor Sarah Polley (Women Talking, Stories We Tell), actor Rachel McAdams (Spotlight, The Notebook), andGuevara-Flanagan, whose doc traces the evolution of on-screen “sex” from a woman’s perspective. The piece is available to stream on the PBS News Hour website, where it is also available as an audio file and as written transcripts. Body Parts is now available to stream on demand via YouTube, AppleTV, Prime Video, Google Play and Vudu.
Nora Jacobson, the filmmaker behind SDFF 2023 feature Ruth Stone’s Vast Library Of The Female Mind (76 mins), was recently interviewed as part of Illinois Public Media’s The 21st about her subject, the acclaimed writer Ruth Stone. Over the course of her life, Stone transformed intense grief and tragedy into poetry, while also working tirelessly to provide for her children. The audio interview is available to stream or download on the episode website.
CATCH THEM WHILE YOU CAN: DOCS AIRING ON TV + STREAMING ONLINE
Just in time for Pride Month, Nelly & Nadine (Magnus Gertten, 93 mins, SDFF 2023), an account of queer love that endured through the Holocaust, has attracted attention from a range of media sources, from KQED to Digital Mafia Talkies. The documentary feature, which won the Berlin FF’s Teddy Jury Award in 2022, is now available on VOD through Apple TV, Amazon Prime, Vudu and Wolfe On Demand. The film examines an unlikely love story between the titular Nelly and Nadine, two women who met in the Ravensbrück concentration camp in Christmas of 1944. Despite being separated in the last months of the war, the lovers later reunited and spent the rest of their lives together, but ultimately also kept their love a secret, even to some of their closest family. The women’s story is told through personal archives made public by the grandchildren who uncovered their remarkable story.
Let Me Be Me (Dan Crane and Katie Taber, 75 mins, SDFF 2023) about the radical, compassionate treatment program the Westphal family undertook to connect to their autistic son 20 years ago, which helped him forge a path from social isolation to professional clothing designer, is now available VOD on most streaming platforms. You can find it on Apple TV, Amazon Prime, Google Play, Vudu, Redbox, and Youtube. In addition a DOC NYC conversation with directors Dan Crane and Katie Taber, designer/film subject Kyle Westphal and producer/film subject Jenifer Wesphal, moderated by DOC NYC’s Brandon Hanson is available for free on Youtube, along with the 14 others that accompanied DOC NYC’s Spring 2023 Showcase. The offerings include a convo with SDFF alumni filmmaker Davina Pardo (Minka, SDFF 2010 and 2017), co-director/producer Leah Wolchok, and producer Sara Bernstein about their doc Judy Blume Forever, about the beloved children’s author.
Matter Of Mind: My ALS (Anna Moot-Levin, Laura Green, 54 mins, SDFF 2023) is available to stream through PBS’s Independent Lens with a “passport,” following its national broadcast in May. The doc follows three people living with the neurodegenerative disease ALS and explores the complex choices each faces as they decide how to move forward with this illness. While viewing the full doc requires a PBS “passport,” the film’s Independent Lens page includes a number of resources, including a free Q&A with one of the people featured in the film, Michele Stellato, about living and coping with ALS.
Independent Lens recently aired another SDFF 2023 film, the documentary short Everything Wrong And Nowhere To Go (Sindha Agha, 12 mins), which is available for free and in its entirety on the series website. Exploring the emerging field of “climate psychology,” the doc is a candid, intimate, but comedic, self-portrait in which the filmmaker films her search for a cure to her crippling climate anxiety.
Documentary short Healing In The Open (Dewi Marquis, 31 mins, SDFF 2023) is now available to stream in its entirety on Youtube. The short captures Gateway HorseWorks herd of horses and treatment team as they interact with clients recovering from addiction, incarceration and PTSD, and includes interviews and first-hand accounts from clients who have benefited from this unique form of therapy.
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