SDFF NEWS BITS: ALUMNI UPDATES, FESTS, HONORS, NEW DOCS, INDUSTRY HAPPENINGS
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7 DECEMBER 2021
ALUMNI AWARDS. HONORS. FESTIVALS.
SDFF alumni filmmaker Bernardo Ruiz was on the Gotham Awards jury for Best New Nonfiction TV series, which was handed out on Nov. 29. The winner in Ruiz’s category was Philly D.A. a non-fiction show about he first term of progressive Philadelphia D.A. Larry Krasner. The New York-based awards historically celebrate American indie film, but have grown increasingly global in scope. The best documentary feature award was open to international documentaries for the first time this year. That award went to Danish doc Flee (Jonas Poher Rasmussen, 2021), an animated doc about a man whose impending marriage in Denmark compels him to reveal a hidden past in Afghanistan. Ruiz is an SDFF alumni filmmaker, whose gorgeous doc Harvest Season opened the 2019 festival. Harvest Season delves into the lives of people who work behind the scenes of the premium California wine industry, following the stories of Mexican-American winemakers and migrant workers who are essential to the wine business, yet are rarely recognized for their contributions.
Alessandro Cassigoli and Casey Kauffman’s Caifornie is one of eight titles selected for official competition at the 2021 Cinémamed – Brussels’ Mediterranean Film Festival, which runs through Dec. Though the directing duo worked with Vanessa Piciarelli on the script, Californie shares themes with their earlier 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.
Not one, bit two, but three SDFF alumni films Yarrow (Dom West and Abraham Joffe ACS, 2019), Voice Above Water (Dana Frankoff, 2020) and Race To Alaska (Zach Carver and Ian Morland, 2019) appeared at Nottingham’s Ocean Film Festival. The films capture extremely different relationships to water-based environs. In Yarrow, fine art photographer David Yarrow attempts to capture the beauty and scale of awe-inspiring, icy South Georgia wildlife. By contrast, in Voice Above Water, is about a 90 year-old Balinese fisherman who responds to pollution in the ocean by collecting plastic each day. Race To Alaska shows still another relationship to the ocean as it depicts the experience of competitors along 750 miles of one of the most difficult endurance challenges on earth.
The Wind. A Documentary Thriller. (Michal Bielawski, 2019) is part of a special selection of films organized around the theme “wind” at Spain’s beloved Muestra Internacional de Cine de Lanzarote, which is in its 11thyear. The moody doc is about the halny wind—a cyclical, but unpredictable, sometimes deadly, weather element in the Polish mountains. The halny particularly affects the inhabitants of Zakopane, changing picturesque mountain trails into a set for an untamed performance of nature. Bielawski will introduce the screening. The wind-themed features include Les vent des amoureux (Alber Lamorisse) and Winged Migration (Maritxel Colell).
Last Meal (Marcus McKenzie and Daniel Principe, 2020) received an honorable mention at this year’s South Australian Screen Awards. The film was supported by the South Australian Film Corporation, which puts on the awards, and approaches the issue of capital punishment by looking at inmates’ last meals. The film was an SDFF 2021 official selection.
Sapelo (Nick Brandestini, 2020) won the curator’s choice for Best Documentary at the 12th East Oregon Film Festival, which wrapped at the end of November. The curator’s choice awards are selected through festival organizers’ consideration of audience feedback after the festival. Sapelo was an SDFF 2021 film co-sponsored by SF DocFest/IndieFest and features matriarchal griot, Cornelia Walker Bailey, as she guides her adopted sons, coming of age in the last remaining enclave of the Saltwater Geechee people.
From the Wild Sea (Robin Petré, 2021) is one of seven docs showing at Tehran’s Cinéma Verité film festival, now in its 15th year. From The Wild Sea is filmmaker Robin Petré’s directorial debut and documents the experiences of marine animals forced into the human world by rising sea levels, told as a poetic dialogue between human- and animal-kind. It was an official selection at SDFF 2021.
My Favorite War (Ilze Burkovska Jacobsen, 2020) won a Special Mention from the 2021 Manchester Animation Festival. Another animated doc, Flee (Jonas Poher Rasmussen, 2021) won the Best Feature Film award at the ceremony, evincing growing esteem for the marriage of documentary and animation. My Favorite War is an animated memoir of a Soviet childhood and an antiwar film that emphasizes the importance of an individual’s right to freedom in a democratic society. The film, an SDFF 2021 favorite, was a late addition to the Manchester’s original line-up.
The Rest I Make Up (Michelle Memran, 2018) will be screened as part of The Public Theater’s Under The Radar Festival, which is known for hosting and launching cutting edge stage performances. The film, which showed as part of SDFF 2019 is about renowned Cuban-American playwright María Irene Fornés and her unexpected friendship with Memran. The film will be screened on Jan. 15 and 22, and is co-presented by Mabou Mines and Weathrvane Productions
NEW FILMS & PROJECTS FROM SDFF FILMMAKERS
Filmmaker Eleanor Sharpe’s new feature-length project with Nickolas Bird, Phil Liggett: The Voice of Cyclingabout the man known as the “David Attenborough of cycling,” who has been the sport’s vocal accompaniment for decades. Sharpe’s 2015 doc Remembering the Man was an SDFF 2017 selection about a boyhood romance that took shape in the 1970s at a prestigious Catholic school, between two men who reunite over the course of the film.
Anne Innis Dagg, star of The Woman Who Loves Giraffes (Alison Reid, 2018), has started a charitable foundation and has new projects in the work with Netflix, according to a PIVOT magazine piece about Dagg’s daughter, Mary, who has recently made the charity her full-time focus. The Anne Innis Dagg Foundation (AID) supports giraffes, their habitats, and the people who work with them. The Woman Who Loves Giraffes is an SDFF 2019 alumni film, available through Sundance Now!, GooglePlay/YouTube, iTunes and Amazon Prime in the U.S. The film weaves together the past and present as Dagg retraces the steps of her ground-breaking 1956 journey to South Africa to study giraffes in the wild, and examines the factors that destroyed her career and the forces that brought her back.
NBA luminary Shaquille O’Neal has signed on to indie documentarian Ben Proudfoot’s Critics Choice Award-winning short Queen Of Basketball (U.S., 22 mins) as an Executive Producer. The film is about Lucy Harris, arguably the greatest living women’s basketball player, who has won three national trophies, played in the ’76 Olympics and was drafted to the NBA. Proudfoot’s films have shown at SDFF numerous times, including 2019’s That’s My Jazz and 2017’s Montage: Great Film Composers and the Piano.
IN THE NEWS
The Guardian published an excellent and entertaining piece about Penny Lane’s new doc Listening To Kenny G (Penny Lane, 2021). The article talks to filmmaker and her subject about how the project came about and their experiences working with each other. By no means a straight music biography, the film interrogates the concept of taste through public sentiment around the much-maligned sax player. The Guardian piece also addresses how the musician feels about the project. Listening To Kenny G is also receiving critical attention across the media spectrum from giant journalistic outfits like the New York Times, NBC News and The New Yorker to more niche online culture sources like Collider and Vox. The doc has made waves at DOC NYC and every other film festival that has featured it, and is newly available through HBO’s Music Box doc series, which also includes Alison Kayman’s Alanis Morisette doc Jagged and Christopher Frierson’s DMX: Don’t Try to Understand. Lane’s film Nuts! about radio “doctor” and public health hazard of days past, Dr. John Brinkley, was an SDFF 2018 official selection.
Photos by filmmaker/photographer Marian Carrasquero, who co-directed SDFF 2020 film Irse with Jean-Philippe Dobrin, were featured in a New York Times profile of influencer, journalist and cancer survivor Martha Izquierdo. Carrasquero’s photos of the unlikely, 49 year-old Tik Tok star who has spoken out on a variety of life experiences including sexual assault, are stunning. Irse addresses the Venezuelan exodus and its impact on families by depicting the journeys of two expecting mothers seeking safety in Colombia.
Filmmaker Julia Bacha’s Boycott continued to make waves this week, with articles in The Intercept andEditor & Publisher joining a handful from last week (Jewish Currents, Arkansas Times, New York TimesOpinion). The new doc explores the emergence of new laws designed to penalize Americans boycotting Israel. Bacha’s 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. Bacha’s newest project
SDFF 2020 short Motorcycle Man (Daniel Lovering, 2019) got some love this week in Adventure Rider. The film depicts motorcycle racer Dave Roper’s quiet commitment to the sport, racing every year since 1972, winning hundreds of races around the world and becoming the first American to triumph at the Isle of Man Tourist Trophy race. The film is a study of Roper’s lifelong passion and devotion to the racing, which is emphasized through competition footage.
SDFF 2021 alumni film Alice Street (Spencer l. Wilkinson, 2020 about “Oakland’s Most Important Mural That You Can’t See,” will be shown at 4 free Chicago screenings between Dec. 5-12. The screenings are presented by Hyde Park native Desi Mundo and Kingdom Rock, old skool Chicago rapper and co-founder of Chicago Hip-Hop Heritage Museum. Because of the screenings and the film’s resonance with issues/experiences like gentrification that take shape in cities around the country, the film also got a thoughtful write-up from The Chicago Crusader, which also includes details on the upcoming screenings.
Another alumni of this year’s festival, Red Horizon (Thomas Johnstone, 2020) was screened as a Colorado Springs military event on Dec. 6. The screening was followed by a Q&A with the filmmaker and some of the folks featured in the film, all students (or former students) on Red Tail Scholarship at Tuskegee University. The documentary short is about a group of pilots who are dedicated to keeping the legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen alive while pursuing their dreams of becoming professional aviators and inspiring the Black community to take to the skies and change racial imbalance that persists in the world of aviation.
Art and cultural commentary source, Hyperallergic featured a Thanksgiving piece on Bounty (Adam Mazo and Ben Pender-Cudlip, 2021), a new doc that uncovers the disturbing history of colonial death warrants for indigenous people, which included cash rewards for the scalps of men, women and children. Following their Emmy® award winning film Dawnland, Bounty is filmmakers Mazo and Pender-Cudlip’s second film about Penobscot Nation history. The doc follows some of the Nation’s current citizens and their families to Boston ton read their ancestors’ death warrants, which were part of a 1755 colonial government proclamation that paid settlers to murder the tribespeople. Dawnland, which goes behind-the-scenes of the U.S.’s first truth & reconciliation commission, investigating the U.S.’s removal of Native American children from their homes, showed at SDFF 2019.
Filmmaker Dan Goldes, whose films Arrested (Again) and 5 Blocks appeared at SDFF 2018 and 2020, respectively, shared A Thanksgiving Story, an audio reminiscence for KQED about his holiday tradition—helping to feed the homeless. Arrested (Again) tells the story of activist and Greenpeace chair Karen Topakian’s multiple arrests, and examines why she feels this first amendment right is crucial. 5 Blocks is about changes undergone by San Francisco hub, Market Street, over the past 50 years.
Filmmakers Anita Gou and Amanda Lipitz discuss adoption and China’s one-child policy in a new interview published in Character Media. The duo partnered for the recent doc Found (dir. Lipitz, prod. Gou, 2021), which follows three adopted American teens who discover they are related over 23andMe, and embark on a journey together to explore their Chinese roots. The film was released on Netflix in late October. Gou also produced SDFF 2018 selection The Last Animals (Kate Brooks, 2017), about conservationists, scientists and activists working to save elephants and rhinos from extinction.
Documentarian Pedro Kos’s Lead Me Home, an immersive film about homelessness shot in San Francisco, Los Angeles and Seattle made in collaboration with Jon Shenk, was featured in both the San Francisco Chronicle and San Francisco Examiner this week. The film is available to stream via Netflix. Kos’s 2017 film with Kief Davidson Bending The Arc, an SDFF alumni film, is also available to stream through Netflix and documents the birth of Partners In Health, which began 30 years ago with the work of a group of extraordinary doctors and activists working to save lives in a Haitian village and became a battle in the halls of power for healthcare for all.
SDFF alumni filmmaker Nathalie Biancheri’s second narrative film, Wolf, received a ton of press after opening nationwide on Dec. 3. The movie is about a young man suffering from “species dysphoria” who believes himself to be a wolf, and stars noted method actor George MacKay. Coverage and reviews of the wild film appeared this week in The Hollywood Reporter, The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, The New York Times’, The AV Club, The Chicago Sun Times, etc. Biancheri’s doc Xavier Corbero: Portrait of an Artist in Winter was an SDFF 2018 selection.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) announced eligibility lists for animated, documentary and international features this week, and SDFF 2021 alum Wuhan Wuhan (Yung Chang, 2020) made the documentary list. The film captured life at the initial epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak and explores the universality of the pandemic experience, and was included on this year’s IDA’s shortlist for doc features. Submissions dipped this year with 138 eligible films in the documentary feature category, which is exactly 100 less than in 2020 (a peak year). Shortlists for Documentary and International categories will be released on Dec. 21, nominations on February 8.
CATCH THEM WHILE YOU CAN: STREAMING DOCS
Southwest of Salem: The Story of the San Antonio Four (Deborah S, Esquezani, 2016) was picked up by NBC’s streaming platform Peacock TV and became available on Dec. 2. This 2017 SDFF selection examines the criminal justice system through the arrest of four women in San Antonio at the tail end of the “Satanic ritual abuse panic” of the 1990s. The four women, all Latina, all lesbian, were wrongfully convicted of a heinous sexual assault. The film documents their treatment by the criminal justice system and their continued efforts to prove their innocence after serving several decades in prison.
Filmmaker Jerry Rothwell’s The Reason I Jump (2021) just began streaming on Netflix. Based on Naoki Higashida’s memoir, the film looks at the diverse experiences and emotions of five young people with autism. His film Sour Grapes (Rothwell and Reuben Atlas, 2016) documented the rise and fall of wine charlatan Rudy Kuriawan, who pulled one over on connoisseurs, experts and industry folk before his downfall, and showed at SDFF 2017.
Bathtubs Over Broadway (Dava Whisenant, 2018) will be available via Netflix starting Dec. 9. The SDFF 2019 film follows a late night comedy writer who stumbles on a hilarious, hidden world of entertainment, where he finds unexpected human connections. The film includes appearances by David Letterman, Martin Short, Chita Rivera and Jello Biafra.
Knife Skills (Thomas Lennon, 2017), an SDFF 2018 selection and Academy Award® nominee, is showing on The New Yorker’s youtube station. The doc follows the launch of an haute cuisine restaurant in Cleveland, staffed by men and women recently released from prison. The film documents the challenges of men and women finding their way after their release. They all have something to prove, and all struggle to launch new lives; an endeavor as pressured and perilous as the ambitious restaurant launch of which they are a part.
The Last Harvest (Alexis Spradic, 2018) will be available to stream through the end of the year for free via Vimeo. The SDFF 2019 selection is about the growers responsible for America’s fresh fruit. The film looks at the experiences of three families to show the harsh realities faced by harvesters due to tightened immigration and inefficient guest worker programs that prevent farmers from accessing a much-needed workforce.
Holly Near: Singing for Our Lives (Jim Brown, 2018) is available on the subscription-based streaming platform Peacock. The film, an SDFF 2019 fave, documents the life and 50-year career of singer, songwriter, social activist and Sebastopol native Holly Near, who created what Gloria Steinem called, “the first soundtrack of the women’s movement.” It also serves as an important testament to a time—a time of protest and coalition building, and the weaving of a multicultural consciousness always rooted in contemporary activism.
Knocking Down The Fences (Meg Shutzer, 2019) is available to stream through Twin Cities PBS. The short, an SDFF 2020 favorite, is about AJ Andrews, the first woman to win a Rawlings Gold Glove, and her struggle to make it as one of the best professional softball players in the world.
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