SDFF NEWS BITS: ALUMNI UPDATES, FESTS, HONORS, NEW DOCS, INDUSTRY HAPPENINGS
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16 AUGUST 2022
AWARDS. HONORS. FESTIVALS. SPECIAL SCREENINGS.
The Berkeley Film Foundation honored filmmaker Deborah Craig (A Great Ride, 2018) with the prestigious Saul Zaentz Award for her new film Sally, a biopic about lesbian feminist activist, writer and professor Sally Gearhart, who passed away a little over a year ago. SDFF audiences know Sally from her show-stopping appearance in Craig’s short, A Great Ride (Deborah Craig, 2018), which documented radical, queer women’s experiences of aging. The doc is a portrait of this extraordinary woman, a tremendous thinker and activist, and explores some of the ways in which she has been written out of history. The Saul Zaentz Award is given out annually to honor the legacy of renowned filmmaker and BFF founder Saul Zaentz. The $25,000 award goes to films in post-production, giving films a cash infusion at a time when most productions really need it. The award was announced along with a spate of 2022 grants, gifting 20 films with a total of $207,000. Since its founding in 2009, BFF has awarded more than $2.3 million to 222 film projects that continuously push boundaries and inspire change. See the full story on this year’s Film Foundation grants here.
Free Renty: Lanier v. Harvard (David Grubin, 2021) was among the 26 films selected for the 4th Annual Morehouse College Human Rights Film Festival, which has both live/in-person and virtual components this year. Theatrical screenings will take place on the Morehouse campus Sept. 20-24, with a virtual fest running Sept. 20-30. The film selections are 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. Badges are now on sale at a 50 percent discount. 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.
Michael-David McKernan’s How To Fall In Love in a Pandemic (2021) is one of nine shorts selected for the Ridgefield Independent Film Festival Shorts Fest screening focused on children and cinema. The screening will be followed by a panel on the history and language of youth in cinema, from Francois Truffaut’s The 400 Blows, to Nicholas Ray’s Rebel Without a Cause to Netflix’s Stranger Things. How To Fall In Love in a Pandemic is about a romance between two filmmakers that accelerates after the duo is forced to move in together during the pandemic, having known eachother for just two weeks. The film streamed as part of SDFF 2021.
NEW FILMS + PROJECTS FROM SDFF FILMMAKERS
Director David Charles Rodrigues (Gay Chorus, Deep South, 2019) has been tapped for a new feature-length doc about high-scoring NBA trio of yore, Run TMC, which was comprised of players Tim Hardaway, Mitch Richmond and Chris Mullin, who set the stage for the present day dynasty of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green, who lead the world champion Golden State Warriors. While Rodrigues may seem like an odd choice for people who know him solely through Gay Chorus, Deep South, which showed at SDFF 2020, he recently directed the three-part docuseries, Neymar: The Perfect Chaos, which profiles soccer star Neymar da Silva Santos Júnior, one of the most famous and highest paid athletes in history. The project is being coproduced by RTG Features (Alaskan Nets) and MSM (The Last Dance). The doc is currently in pre-production, with shooting scheduled for later this year, when Hardaway is inducted to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame—joining Mullin and Richmond, who were inducted in 2011 and 2014, respectively. For more on this story, check out this more in depth article on Deadline.
Director Ben Masters and producers Katy Baldock and Jay Kleberg have just released a 250-page, illustrated coffee table book, Deep In The Heart: A Texas Wildlife Story, to accompany the eponymous documentary film, which premiered in late May and is currently streaming on demand. The trio cowrote the book, which is a visual journey through Texas’ diverse eco-regions, using stunning images captured during the three years of production. The book is meant to supplement the film, 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. The film version of Deep In The Heart is also available to stream VOD on PrimeVideo, GooglePlay, AppleTV and Vudu. This is the second SDFF documentary project this year that has grown to include an illustrated book, the other is Kapaemahu (Joe Wilson, Dean Hamer, Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu, 2021), about the hidden history of 15th century dual-gender Mahu healers. The Kapaemahu project began as animated short and has grown into a multi-media documentary project, including a feature film, illustrated children’s book, audio book, and most recently, museum exhibit.
Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise (Bob Hercules and Rita Coburn Whack, 2016) producer Steve Sarowitz’s production company with Justin Baldoni (Five Feet Apart, Clouds), Wayfarer Studios, is overseeing a live-action Pac-Man film with Bandai Namco Entertainment, the company which published the original game in the 80s. This isn’t Pac-Man’s first rodeo as far as media adaptations go. It spawned a Hanna-Barbera Saturday morning cartoon series in 1982, as well as a 2013 CG-animated series, Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures. According to the Hollywood Reporter, the film comes from original idea from Sonic the Hedgehog associate producer Chuck Williams of Lightbeam Entertainment. The much-maligned Sonic film, apparently helped spark interest in the Pacman adaptation. Although both projects are focused on significant elements of American popular culture, that’s more ore less where the similarities seem to end. The new video game project feels like a significant change from documentary projects like Maya Angelou and Still I Rise, which showed at SDFF 2017 and is available to stream via American Masters via PBS on YouTube.
IN THE NEWS
Maya Cueva and Leah Galant’s abortion doc On The Divide (SDFF 2022) was screened on Saturday as part of Cineola’s “Cuerpos Libres” film series, with Cueva in attendance for a post-screening Q&A. Cineola is a platform for Latinoamérican film, which programmed the Cuerpos Libres series in response to the Supreme Court’s recent decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, rendering abortion care illegal across half the states in the country. Filmed before the decision, On The Divide tracks the intersection of three lives at what was, at the time, the last abortion clinic on the U.S./Mexico border. The Cineola series also included a screening of Celina Escher’s “cautionary tale” about a woman who was imprisoned for 10 years in El Salvador for a miscarriage that almost cost took her life.
Ulysses Salcido, the cinematographer for Échale Ganas: The Villa’s Tacos Story (Shirley Yumeng He, 2021), penned a piece about the documentary and its subject, Villa’s Tacos, for Culinary Backstreets. The piece comes as Victor Villas became the first person to win the L.A. Taco Madness tournament in back-to-back championships. The film documents Victor’s work and dreams as a young entrepreneur, growing his weekend backyard pop-up into a full-time restaurant, rising up from the challenges of Covid-19 while maintaining his role as a loving family member and community leader, and winning the first Taco Madness Championship. The short doc was an SDFF 2022 official selection.
Richard Kane’s Truth Tellers (2021), a lesson in what it means to be a good citizen, is being made available to all Maine educators to stream for free Aug. 16-17. A follow-up conference is scheduled for Nov. 5, and will focus on how to bring the film’s messages and the history it tells into the classroom, regardless of discipline. Truth Tellers, which showed at SDFF2022, chronicles the lives of courageous Americans fighting for racial equity, climate justice, and indigenous rights through the eyes of Robert Shetterly, a long-time activist, and Maine artist. Truth Tellers is a story of Shetterly’s art and activism and a history lesson in what it means to be a citizen of a democracy. The project explores the U.S.’s ongoing struggle to live up to our democratic ideals with those who are not afraid to speak the truth nor challenge the status quo.
Retha Viviers, a global leader in the protracted battle to get myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME aka Chronic Fatigue Syndrome) officially recognized as a disease affecting millions of people, died in late July at age 55. While she succumbed to ovarian cancer, 55 is the mean age of death for people with ME. Viviers appeared in Jennifer Brea’s 2017 film Unrest, which chronicles the grad student-turned-filmmaker’s experience of ME. A tribute to Viviers by journalist and fellow ME sufferer Sam Pearce regards the film as the start of a sea change in public and medical recognition of the disease. The film was only the second representation of the disease in mass media, the first being a Golden Girls episode titled “Sick & Tired,” which aired in 1989. The dearth of representation can be seen as an index of its invisibility as a valid medical diagnosis, which is still being revised. For more about Retha Viviers, see Pearce’s tribute, which gives an overview of her activism, the shifting status of the disease, as well as information about its relationship to other diseases, including long covid. Unrest showed at SDFF 2018, and is available to stream via Netflix.
The Los Angeles Times ran an opinion piece from columnist Robin Abcarian featuring TreePeople founder Andy Lipkis, who appeared in Reflection: a walk with water (Emmet Brennan, 2021) on Monday, the same day the film became available to stream on demand. The column describes Lipkis’s work, and the film’s project, tying both to concrete conditions in Los Angeles now, as well as those project for 2040. Part personal meditation on water, part road map for positive change, Reflection: a walk with waterconfronts current environmental and systematic troubles by examining bellwethers for the future, including Los Angeles and other parts of California. The film was an SDFF 2022 selection, and its screening included an environmental stewardship panel, which you can watch right here! Reflection: a walk with water is available to rent or buy on Vimeo, and is also streaming on Gaia and Films for Action subscription services.
LOCAL SCREENINGS + FILM EVENTS
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. 18. 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), starting Aug. 19. 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.
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.
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.
CATCH THEM WHILE YOU CAN: DOCS AIRING ON TV + STREAMING ONLINE
Two SDFF 2022 shorts, Drew Leung’s The Chemical Factory(2021) and Jack Weisman and Gabriela Oslo Vanden’s Nuisance Bear (2021), alongside a trio of shorts from SDDF alumni at the virtual iteration of the 18thAnnual HollyShorts Festival, which streams on Bitpix through Aug. 20. The Chemical Factory is an animated piecein which an immigrant mother retraces her early years during the Chinese Cultural Revolution to her son, the filmmaker. Nuisance Bear isan unconventional and visually arresting study of the polar bears who draw tourists to Churchill, Manitoba. The festival also includes at least three other films from SDFF alumni: Ball And Vase(David Baram/One All The Way) a fiction short about a professor/magician struggling to reconnect with the world on his 90th birthday, How Do You Measure A Year? (Jay Rosenblatt/When We Were Bullies, SDFF) in which the filmmaker’s daughter is asked the same questions on her birthday for 29 years, and MINK!(Ben Proudfoot/A Concerto Is A Conversation) about Patsy Takemoto Mink, a Hawaiian Democrat who became the first woman of color elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. The virtual version of the fest includes shorts and panel events and can be accessed with the purchase of a pass on Bitpix.
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.
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.
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.
Award-winning filmmaker Ben Proudfoot (A Concerto Is A Conversation, The Queen Of Basketball) teamed up with 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 the latest in a string of Proudfoot’s films released as a New York Times Op Doc, joining many of Proudfoot’s other shorts on the platform, including The Queen Of Basketball, A Concerto Is A Conversation, The Unchosen One, and The Lost Astronaut.
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.
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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