SDFF NEWS BITS: ALUMNI UPDATES, FESTS, HONORS, NEW DOCS, INDUSTRY HAPPENINGS
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22 DECEMBER 2021
NEW FILMS + PROJECTS FROM SDFF FILMMAKERS
When it premieres at Sundance 2022, ᎤᏕᏲᏅ (What They’ve Been Taught) (Brit Hensel with Keli Gonzales, 2021) will be the festival’s first official selection directed by a female citizen of the Cherokee Nation. Filmed on the Qualla Boundary and Cherokee Nation, ᎤᏕᏲᏅ explores expressions of reciprocity in the Cherokee world through a story told by an elder and first language speaker, which circles the intersection of tradition, language, land and a commitment to balance. SDFF alum Adam Mazo (Dawnland, 2018) is one of the film’s producers, who also recently released Bounty, a film he made with Dawnland co-director Ben Pender-Cudlip about a 1755 colonial proclamation urging Bostonians to kill and scalp members of the Penobscot Nation. The pair’s SDFF 2019 doc, Dawnland, provides behind-the-scenes coverage of the U.S.’s first truth & reconciliation commission, which investigated the U.S.’s removal of Native American children from their homes.
Another new project with SDFF ties, La Guerra Civil (Eva Longoria Bastón, 2021) will premiere at Sundance 2022. The feature was produced by filmmaker Bernardo Ruiz (Harvest Season, SDFF 2019) and explores the epic rivalry between iconic boxers Oscar De La Hoya and Julio César Chávez in the 1990s, which sparked a cultural divide between Mexican nationals and Mexican-Americans. The feature-length doc is directed by Eva Longoria Bastón, best known for her work as a popular and prolific actor in U.S. film and television. This will be Longoria’s festival debut as a director, but also marks global sports entertainment company DAZN’s entry on the international film festival circuit. Ruiz’s gorgeous doc Harvest Season opened the 2019 festival and 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.
Composer Nainita Desai (For Sama, The Reason I Jump) scored 14 Peaks: Nothing Is Impossible (Torquil Jones, 2021), which chronicles Nepali mountaineer Nirmal ‘Nims’ Purja as he summits all 14 of the world’s 8,000-metre peaks in seven months and breaks one of mountaineering’s toughest records. Desai was interviewed about scoring the doc, which moves between panoramic and intimate spaces, by the BBC’s Classical Music. 14 Peaks premiered at DOC NYC and was recently released on Netflix in late November, where it joins The Reason I Jump (2021), a film by SDFF alumni Jerry Rothwell (Sour Grapes w/ Roger Atlas, 2016). Desai also scored Academy Award® nominee and SDFF 2020 official selection For Sama(Waad al-Kateab and Edward Watts, 2019).
A discussion between actress and disability rights advocate Selma Blair (Introducing Selma Blair) and documentarian, composer and disability rights advocate James LeBrecht (Crip Camp), about their breakthrough docs, bringing disability visibility to able-bodied audiences, accessibility issues in the film industry and Hollywood’s growing disability rights movement was published in a recent edition of The Hollywood Reporter. The chat was originally part Blair’s acceptance of the Equity in Entertainment Award at the industry mag’s Women in Entertainment party. Both groundbreaking films are available to stream: Introducing Selma Blair (Rachel Fleit, 2021) on Discovery+, Crip Camp (James LeBrecht and Nicole Newnham, 2020) on Netflix.
Documentarian David Charles Rodrigues (Gay Chorus, Deep South, SDFF 2020) has a new soccer docuseries Neymar: The Perfect Chaos coming out via Netflix on January 25. The streamer partnered with LeBron James’s athlete empowerment brand Uninterrupted for the 3-part project, which profiles Neymar da Silva Santos Jr., one of the most famous and highest-paid athletes in history. In addition to tracking the soccer superstar’s rise and career, the series also gives a behind-the-scenes look at the marketing machine that has helped create his persona, which is run by his father. Rodrigues’s Gay Chorus, Deep South follows the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus as it embarks on a tour of the American Deep South, following a wave of discriminatory anti-LGBTQ laws and the divisive 2016 election.
AWARDS. HONORS. FESTIVALS.
From the Wild Sea (Robin Petré, 2021) made Paste Magazine’s list of the 25 Best Documentaries of 2021. 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. Another film on the Paste list is Young Plato by SDFF 2018 alumni Neasa Ní Chianáín (School Life, 2017) made the list. Young Plato is an observational doc set in post-conflict Belfast’s Arodyne, where a marginalized working-class community has been plagued by poverty, drugs and guns for generations. The film charts the dream of Headmaster Kevin McArevey and his team, to empower and encourage children to see beyond the limitations of their circumstances through critical thinking and pastoral care. Ní Chianáín’s SDFF 2018 film School Life (co-dir. David Rane) was thematically similar and focused on teachers at Headfort, the only primary boarding school in Ireland.
My Favorite War (Ilze Burkovska Jacobsen, 2020) showed as part of the Politics section of Le Carrefour du cinéma d’animation in mid-December. The Forum des images-supported endeavor is now in its 18th year and among the most important annual European animation events. My Favorite War was one of 12 features selected for the festival. The film 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 was an SDFF 2021 favorite that has been making its way through the European film festival circuit.
Voice Above Water (Dana Frankoff, 2020) won the 2022 Global Sustainability Film Award in the category of Nature Based Solutions. The awards are put on by tve, a UK-based media charity founded by the UN Environment Programme, the World Wildlife Fund-UK, and ITV. The SDFF 2021 alumni film is about Waya Nyo, a 90 year-old fisherman who has devoted his life to collecting a seemingly never-ending supply of garbage from the ocean.
When The Camera Stopped Rolling (Pat Fiske, Jane Castle, 2020) is among the official selections of the 2022 Capricorn Film Festival in Queensland, where the filmmakers will do a Q&A following the screening. The festival will be back to in person events when it begins in January, but will also be making some of its films available for at-home streaming for the first time. In When The Camera Stopped Rolling, a cinematographer tells the story of her filmmaker mother, their legacy, and their challenging relationship, using their deep archive of footage. The feature-length doc showed at SDFF 2021.
Metrograph, a New York movie theater that branched into distribution and a curated, at-home streaming service for prestige content, held a Lynne Sachs retrospective at its New York base, with the filmmaker in attendance for all screenings, which included A Film About A Father Who, Washing Society (co-dir. Lizzie Olesker), Clostheslines, A Month Of, as well as a separate program of shorts. Washing Society was an SDFF 2018 selection and creates a dream-like, yet realistic portrayal of a day in the life of a laundry worker, in the past and present.
IN THE NEWS
The newly formed Disney Original Documentary recently launched with the acquisition of the short Sophie and the Baron (Alexandria Jackson, 2020). The new division principally formed to produce and acquire content for Disney+. The mega-streamer very recently released Peter Jackson’s thematically related, 3-part doc about The Beatles, Get Back, which has received a great deal of attention. Sophie and the Baron is an uplifting rendering of the creative collaboration and unlikely friendship between Rolling Stone photographer Baron Wolman, at the end of his prolific career, and up-and-coming artist Sophie Kipner, at the beginning of hers. The film showed as part of SDFF 2021.
NBA luminary and Queen Of Basketball (Ben Proudfoot, 2021) Executive Producer Shaquille O’Neal has been busy promoting the film, singing the praises of its subject, Luisa Harris, calling her “the GOAT you never heard of.” Lucy was the first woman ever to be drafted by an NBA team, 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. 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.
SDFF 2021 alum Wuhan Wuhan (Yung Chang, 2020) will appear at the 2023 ReFrame Film Festival, which will be a virtual event that can be streamed anywhere in Canada. Wuhan Wuhan captures life at the initial epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak and explores the universality of the pandemic experience. It is eligible for the 2023 Academy Awards and is on this year’s IDA’s shortlist for doc features. ReFrame’s programming this year speaks to issues including environmental activism, food justice, refugee stories, Indigenous sovereignty, art as resistance, and the importance of a free press. A comprehensive list of the festival’s full program will be released in early January. The festival will run from Jan. 25-Feb. 4.
Documentarian and SDFF 2021 alum Anna Thomson (Yoghurt Utopia, 2020) has been appointed vice chair of the Directors UK Board, the professional association of directors in UK Film and Television. The board will be co-vice-chaired by television director/producer James Hawes, and chaired by TV director and producer and documentarian Karen Kelly. Thomson is a documentarian and non-fiction or factual director whose SDFF film Yoghurt Utopia is about a young psychologist at a failing mental institution in Spain who started a business with a handful of patients that grew into a multi-million dollar brand now employing hundreds of people.
Filmmaker Pélin Esmer’s first feature, the 2002 film The Collector was name-checked by Rafeeq Ellias as inspiration for that director’s new doc If Memory Serves Me Right about cinephile and film critic Rashid Irani, who died earlier this year during the COVID lockdown. Already living in isolation, the pandemic further cut the writer off from everyday life, as he could no longer do what he most loved with others—go to the movies. Like Ellias’s new project, Esmer’s film has a tragic feel and profiles an obsessive, isolated man, her uncle Mithat, who lives in an apartment choked with books and other items he has collected over the course of his life. Esmer won the jury award for Best Feature film at SDFF 2021 for Queen Lear, which documents a theater group comprised of peasant women, who travel on foot over dusty roads to stage plays in remote villages.
Lastly, renowned feminist author, activist and cultural critic bel hooks died last week. Hooks’s work has been pivotal to the development and ascent of intersectional feminism, which understands race and class as parameters of oppression that have developed in tandem with patriarchy and inform differential experiences of gender. A native of Appalachia, hooks appeared on-screen as both expert and example in the SDFF 2019 doc Hillbilly (Sally Rubin and Ashley York, 2018). The film traces the history and development of the figure of the hillbilly in Appalachia, with particular attention to its emphasis on whiteness, which obscures the realities and cultures of Black Appalachians.
CATCH THEM WHILE YOU CAN: STREAMING DOCS
After a brilliant festival run, Listening To Kenny G (Penny Lane, 2021) is now available through HBO MAX. The film interrogates the concept of taste through public sentiment around the much-maligned sax player. The doc has made waves at DOC NYC and every other film festival that has featured it. The film is part of HBO’s Music Box doc series that 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.
Southwest of Salem: The Story of the San Antonio Four (Deborah S, Esquezani, 2016) recently became available through NBC’s streaming platform Peacock TV. This SDFF 2017 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.
Another SDFF 2017 alumni filmmaker, Pedro Kos, also has an acclaimed new doc on Netflix, Lead Me Home, an immersive film about homelessness shot in San Francisco, Los Angeles and Seattle made in collaboration with Jon Shenk. Kos’s 2017 film with Kief Davidson Bending The Arc 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.
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.
The Woman Who Loves Giraffes (Alison Reid, 2018) is available through the Sundance Now! streaming service. In the SDFF 2019 selection, Dr. Anne Innis Dagg re-traces the steps of her ground-breaking 1956 journey to South Africa to study giraffes in the wild. Now, at 85 years old, Anne sees a startling contrast between the world of giraffes she once knew and the one it has become. Weaving through the past and present, her harrowing journey gives us an intimate look into the factors that destroyed her career and the forces that brought her back.
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