SDFF NEWS BITS: ALUMNI UPDATES, FESTS, HONORS, NEW DOCS, INDUSTRY HAPPENINGS
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8 FEBRUARY 2022
NEW FILMS & PROJECTS FROM SDFF FILMMAKERS
Marian Anderson: The Whole World In Her Hands premieres tonight (2/8) on PBS American. The film, about the internationally acclaimed singer, who helped lay groundwork for Civil Rights, is being released to help kick off Black History Month. The film, by director Rita Coburn Whack (Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise, 2016), examines the life and impact of Marian Anderson, the first African American singer to perform at the White House, who performed “The Concert Heard Around The World,” an internationally broadcast live performance in front of a crowd of 75,000 people at the Lincoln Memorial. The broadcast was later cited as a vibrant childhood memory of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Coburn’s biopic Maya Angelou: The Whole World In Her Hands was an SDFF 2017 selection, and was also worked on by editor Lily Benson, whose career achievement ACE is in the Awards section, further down in this column.
Boy Nomad (2018) director Niobe Thompson partnered with filmmaker Daniella Ortega for Carbon: The Unauthorised Biography, a feature-length doc that tells the story of carbon, from its birth in the violent core of an exploding star to its place in the saga of planet earth, central to all life and to its possible ruin. The film is animated by artist Bruce Alcock (Global Mechanic), narrated by Sarah Snook (Succession), and includes interviews with Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Suzanne Simard and Katharine Hayhoe. Carbon: An Unauthorised Biography is set for theatrical release on March 3. Boy Nomad, an SDFF 2019 selection, follows a year in the life of 9 year-old, horse-loving Janibek and his family in the Mongolian Altai Mountains, culminating in winter migration.
Following in the footsteps of the 2017 doc Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story, playwright and actor Heather Massie has turned the life of the exception inventor/Hollywood star into a one-woman show, HEDY! The Life & Inventions Of Hedy Lamarr. Meanwhile, a new project by the doc’s director Alexandra Dean, Secrets of Playboy has been in the press (Forbes, NYLON). The 10-hour docuseries explores the reality behind the Playboy empire through a modern lens, examining the reality behind the copious company’s copious mythmaking. The project examines the magazine’s role in the sexual revolution, but also attends to the realities of work at the company, particularly for women. The series airs on Monday on A&E, and while the first few episodes have already aired, they are available on the network’s website for free. Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story showed at SDFF 2018 and is about the famed actress’s inventions, which included a technology that would eventually become Bluetooth.
IN THE NEWS
AFI Docs is pausing its summer, Washington-based non-fiction film festival, and temporarily merging documentary programming with the November AFI Fest. In the wake of the pandemic, AFI Docs has faced the same challenges as other film festivals, and has principally kept going by moving online. And, while the long-term plan is to keep the festival in Washington, AFI leadership elected to take a temporary break in lieu of attempting a hybrid festival at an uncertain time. This is not the first rupture in the Washington festival’s 20-year history. It spent the first 10 years of its existence as the Silver Spring festival, before being rebranded in 2013 as AFI Docs. The November AFI festival that will incorporate the Washington fest’s content was a hybrid fest last year, and already has feature-length and documentary shorts programs, the ladder shown as part of a five-year collaboration national Sunday news show Meet The Press.
On the eve of Oscar® nom announcements, an interview with Sophie and the Baron (2020) director Alexandria Jackson appeared in a one-on-one interview with Gold Derby Editor Daniel Montgomery, and as part of a roundtable discussion with 5 filmmakers on Oscar® shortlists, also hosted by Montgomery. 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 and is streaming on Disney+ as part of the launch of the platform’s new documentary division. The film is on the Oscar® shortlist for 2022, nominees will be announced the day this column drops!
Honolulu’s Bishop Museum has a new exhibit Kapaemuff Healer Stone planned for June, based on the short, animated doc Kapaemahu (Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu, Dean Hamer, Joe Wilson, 2019). The doc and exhibit are both about the hidden history of four monumental statues on Waikiki Beach, which hold the spirits of four transgender healers who brought healing traditions from Tahiti to Hawaii. The film, which is in the midst of being adapted to a feature-length project, has helped illuminate this history which had been obscured from mainstream historical narratives. The exhibition will not only explore the suppression and resurrection of Kapaemahu — it will also help to restore the monument on Waikiki Beach as a reminder of Hawaii’s long tradition of acceptance.
Basketball luminary Shaquille O’Neal booked a number of Los Angeles theaters last week to screen documentary short The Queen Of Basketball (Ben Proudfoot, 2021) in honor of the passing of its star, Lusia Harris, the first woman ever drafted by an NBA team. Harris was drafted by 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. The Queen of Basketball, a recent, award-winning short, had broadened public awareness of her life story over the past few months, and is on the Oscar® shortlist for 2022. The short is part of The New York Times Op-Docs, and was directed by Ben Proudfoot, whose SDFF films include 2019’s That’s My Jazz and 2017’s Montage: Great Film Composers and the Piano.
AWARDS. HONORS. FESTIVALS. SPECIAL SCREENINGS.
Congrats to Editor Lillian Benson, who will receive a career achievement award from the American Cinema Editors at the ACE Eddie’s on March 5. Though her work spans the spectrum, she is best known for her work on documentary, and was nominated for an Emmy for her work on the PBS history of civil Eyes On The Prize. The SDFF 2017 selection, Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise (Bob Hercules, Rita Coburn Whack) is among her many editing credits. She was also the first woman of color to join ACE 30 years ago and has been pivotal to the organization’s developed.
Wuhan Wuhan (2020) director Yung Chang is t is among the filmmakers featured at the 2022 ReFrame Film Festival. Chang was among the filmmakers to do a pre-recorded talk for the festival, and accompanied its screening of Wuhan Wuhan. Due to the pandemic, ReFrame was an online fest this year, and it programming addressed social justice, environmental activism, food justice, refugee stories, Indigenous sovereignty, art as resistance, and the importance of a free press. A comprehensive film guide is still available. Wuhan Wuhan captures life at the initial epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak and explores the universality of the pandemic experience. The film showed as part of SDFF 2021.
Filmmaker Egil Håskjold Larsen (69 Minutes of 86 Days, 2017) was on the Aurora Award jury at Norway’s Tromsø International Film Festival. The award was one of seven given out at the festival and went to the Brazilian film Medusa (Anita Rocha da Silveira, 2021), which tracks a group of masked girls determined to participate in a Christian march in which participants look for non-believers. The film also won the Faith in Film award at Tromsø. Egil Håskjold Larsen’s 69 Minutes of 86 Days followed a child refugee as she travels from Syria to Sweden. It showed at SDFF 2018.
Alessandro Cassigoli and Casey Kauffman’s Caifornie is one of 10 films selected to show at the first edition of CinemaItaliaOggi Balcani, an annual event that will showcase the best Italian film productions in Serbia and Montenegro. The goal of the project is to valorize new Italian film productions in the region, and is being promoted by the Italian cultural institute in Belgrade in collaboration with Cinecittà and the Yugoslav film library, together with the institutional support of the Italian embassies of Belgrade and Podgorica. Cinecittà contributed significantly to the organization, promoting it with important Italian distributors to showcase Italian cinema also outside traditional distribution circuits. Californie shares themes with Cassigoli and Kauffman’s 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.
LOCAL SCREENINGS + FILM EVENTS
Jon Osaki’s Alternative Facts: Executive Order 9066 will be screened at the San Francisco Asian Art Museum on 2/10 as part of a teach-in commemorating the 80th Anniversary of the order, which authorized the imprisonment of Japanese Americans during World War II. The film considers the political forces and misinformation behind the incarceration and draws connections to the contemporary scapegoating of immigrants and abuses of power. Following the screening, Osaki will join Sheryl Davis, executive director of the San Francisco Human Rights Commission, and Don Tamaki, an attorney for the plaintiff in Korematsu v. United States, for a discussion about the ties between the Japanese American redress campaign and the Black reparations movement. The evening also includes a shakuhachi (Japanese flute) performance by Masayuki Koga. Alternative Facts: Executive Order 9066 at 80 Years: Incarceration and Reparations Then and Now was an official selection of SDFF 2020, you can find a contemporaneous interview between Osaki and SDFF co-Director Jean McGlothlin here.
The Rialto Sebastopol will be doing a special IndieLens Pop-Up screening of the doc Apart (Jennifer Redfearn and Tim Metzger, 2021) this Friday, 2/10. Apart examines the stories of three women, all mothers, as they are released from prison and try to rebuild their lives as part of a pilot reentry program. The Rialto is showing an award-winning, Dramatic feature with SDFF links, Parallel Mothers (Pedro Almodóvar, 2021) through 2/10. The feature was draws from the 2019 documentary produced by the filmmaker, The Silence of Others (Almudena Carracedo, Robert Bahar, 2018)about the search for justice by families and surviving victims of the Franco regime. The Rialto Sebastopol will also begin showings of Oscar® nominated shorts on Feb. 25, including documentary shorts. The Rialto will also have a special screening of Who We Are: A Chronicle Of Racism In America (Emily Kunstler and Sarah Kunstler, 2021) on 2/25. In the film, lawyer Jeffrey Robinson draws a stark timeline of anti-Black racism in the U.S. from slavery to the myth of a post-racial America.
The Sonoma County Library’s monthly documentary film discussion group will focus on I Am Not Your Negro: James Baldwin and Race In America (Raoul Peck, 2016). Based on James Baldwin’s unfinished book, this doc is a visual essay that explores racism in America through the stories of Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. The discussion will take place Feb. 24 from 6-7 p.m. online. The discussion is free but has limited, advanced registration. The doc is available via Netflix. The monthly doc discussion group meets on the fourth Thursday of every month.
CATCH THEM WHILE YOU CAN: STREAMING DOCS
The Torture Letters (Laurence Ralph, 2020) was one of six films screened as part of Animating Realities: Documentary Social Impact Shorts at the new Academy Museum of Motion Pictures in late January. The winter screening and discussion event examined the enhanced emotional impact animation can have on real-life stories, transcending the literal and evoking emotional responses by communicating emotional experiences of events. The Torture Letters traces filmmaker Laurence Ralph’s early memory of police harassment and profiling to the horrific history of police torture in Chicago, working as a primer on the roots of police violence that is made tangible and emotionally resonant through illustrated renderings of Ralph’s personal experience. The film, which showed as part of SDFF 2021, is now available to stream in its entirely as part of the New York Times Op-Docs.
Neymar: The Perfect Chaos, a new, three-part docuseries by David Charles Rodrigues (Gay Chorus, Deep South, 2019) profiling soccer star Neymar da Silva Santos Júnior, one of the most famous and highest paid athletes in history, is now streaming on Netflix. The streaming giant partnered with LeBron James’s athlete empowerment brand Uninterrupted for the project, which tracks the soccer superstar’s rise, his career as a player, and the marketing machine that has helped create his persona, run by his father. Rodrigues’s Gay Chorus, Deep South, an SDFF 2020 selection, 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. It is now streaming on Amazon Prime.
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.
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.
Bathtubs Over Broadway (Dava Whisenant, 2018) is available via Netflix. The doc was an official SDFF 2019 film that focused on the industrial musicals and the people who make them. The doc approaches these rare, historic oddities produced by the likes of McDonalds and GE, by following a late night comedy writer who stumbles into a hilarious, hidden world of entertainment where he finds unexpected human connections. This highly entertaining doc includes appearances by David Letterman, Martin Short, Chita Rivera and Jello Biafra.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Filmmaker Jerry Rothwell’s The Reason I Jump (2021) is 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.
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