SDFF NEWS BITS: ALUMNI UPDATES, FESTS, HONORS, NEW DOCS, INDUSTRY HAPPENINGS
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19 APRIL 2022
AWARDS. HONORS. FESTIVALS. SPECIAL SCREENINGS.
Filmmaker David Zucker has just completed the doc Your Friend Memphis, which had its World Premiere in the Documentary Spotlight screening section at last month’s SXSW. An early version of the film was screened as a work in progress under the moniker Memphis Seneca Edoardo Christine for SDFF 2019. The documentary is an intimate portrait of Memphis DiAngelis, shot over 5 years. Memphis is a man in his 20s living with cerebral palsy, determined to bridge the distance between the world’s expectations and his own aspirations. Check out an interview with Zucker about the project here.
Just In Time, a new project from Almost Heaven director Carol Salter, is among the first to receive funding from the Uncertain Kingdom Development Fund, which recently relaunched as a development fund for feature-length commercial projects that unpack UK culture. Salter took part in the inaugural 2019 short film initiative after winning a British Independent Film Award for Almost Heaven about a a young woman training to become a mortician in one of China’s largest funeral homes. The new project, Just In Time is described as “a lyrical documentary exploring how people work in opposition to or in harmony with time, and how ultimately it controls and defines us. And how saving time today might mean losing it tomorrow.” Almost Heaven was an official selection of SDFF 2018.
Breaking Trail (Jesse Roesler, 2021) will be featured in Minnesota’s Bemidji State College Earth Week celebration this week, and the EarthxFilm Festival, which runs May 16-23. A virtual discussion of the film will take place as part of a broader emphasis on sustainability. Breaking Trail is an SDFF 2022 film that tracks Emily Ford and her companion, an Alaskan Husky named Diggins, as they set out to hike the entire 1200-mile Ice Age Trail in winter.
NEW FILMS & PROJECTS FROM SDFF FILMMAKERS
Texas filmmaker Ben Masters will premiere his new film Deep In The Heart at the EarthxFilm Festival, which will screen films in Dallas, TX and online May 16-23. The film is a celebration of the diverse landscapes and wildlife of Texas, told through the eyes of wildlife species and narrated by Matthew McConaughey. Masters’ film with Hillary Pierce, The River and The Wall, 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 EarthxFilm festival will also be screening SDFF 2022 films Nuisance Bear(Jack Weisman and Gabriela Osio Vanden, 2021) about Manitoba polar bears, Breaking Trail(Jesse Roesler, 2021) about the first woman and person of color to thru-hike the 1,200-mile Ice Age Trail, and Tigre Gente (Elizabeth Unger, 2021) about a Bolivian park ranger and a journalist working to curtail the South American jaguar trade.
SDFF alumni filmmaker Ben Proudfoot is a the helm of If You Have, a 35-minute doc chronicling the 75-year history of UNICEF, which will be available for free on April 24. The film’s executive producers include UNICEF ambassadors/Hollywood luminaries Lucy Liu, Orlando Bloom and Sofia Carson. The film comes as UNICEF is engaged in the largest vaccine supply operation of all time. In addition to showing films at SDFF 2017 and 2019, Proudfoot had 5 films in SDFF 2022, including, A Concerto Is A Conversation, which he made with musician Kris Bowers and won the 2022 Jury Award for Best Short, and The Queen of Basketball, which won the Academy Award® this year for Best Short Documentary. These films, along most of his catalog, are available for free on his production company website: Breakwater Studios. Proudfoot was also a guest on the inaugural episode of Movie Night with CIFF, which is available now through Apple Music, Spotify and the CIFF website.
Novorossiya, a film about the pre-2022 Ukrainian eastern fronts of Donetsk and Luhansk, by Enrico Parenti (dir. Soyalism w/ Stefano Liberti, SDFF 2020) and Luca Gennari premiered at CHP:DOX earlier this month as part of a special selection of films about Ukraine. Shot in the Donbas region in 2017, the film follows the parallel stories of a handful of characters—a communist U.S. fighter from Texas, a young Ukrainian soldier, a captain in the separatist army who dreams of rebuilding the Soviet Union, an opera singer from the Donetsk opera house, two young men from a heavy metal band and two elderly women who live in a bunker. According to Parenti, interest in the film was scant prior to the full-scale Russian invasion this year, and some festivals have been hesitant to run the film, because of its focus on Russian perspectives. In a recent Variety story, Parenti argues that the perspective is pivotal to understanding what has been an 8-year war and enriches our understanding of the situation. The film also gives a fly-on-the-wall perspective of everyday life in an active war zone.
Colin Levy, whose animated documentary short My Grandfather’s Memory Bookwas a favorite at SDFF 2019, is on the jury of a new genre screenwriting competition for character-driven stories with no more than five characters and five locations. The winner will receive financing from Carte Blanche, the credits of which include Cannes pic Neptune Frost, A Mouthful of Air (Amanda Seyfried) and the upcoming Anthony Hopkins film Where Are You.
Taskovski Films, has acquired world sales rights to Jennifer Rainsford’s documentary All Of Our Heartbeats Are Connected Through Exploding Stars, which had its world premiere at Visions du Reel in Switzerland last week and has also been selected for this year’s Hot Docs. The film looks at how people, plants and animals coexisted following the March 2011 tsunami which devastated the Japanese coastline. The production company was involved in the SDFF 2021 doc Glitter & Dust(Anna Koch and Julia Lemke, 2020) about girls who buck gender norms by competing in the male-dominated world of rodeos.
IN THE NEWS
UCLA’s recently released iteration of the new Hollywood Diversity Report, which analyzes diversity in the film industry and is broadly used as an authoritative source on the subject, is facing criticism for excluding people with disabilities and LGBTQIA+ folks as minority groups. Some of the most vocal criticism has come from FWD-Doc, which represents documentary filmmakers with disabilities, and is co-chaired by activist/filmmaker/musician and multi-year SDFF alumni James LeBrecht. In a recent Variety article LeBrecht states “UCLA’s report that stands for promoting diversity is an egregious case of exclusion and perpetuates the misconception that people with disabilities do not exist in the entertainment industry. In light of ‘CODA’s’ three Oscar wins at the recent 94th Academy Awards ceremony, this oversight reinforces FWD-Doc’s assertion that this report is incomplete and not comprehensive.” Since UCLA is one of the nation’s top schools for film and media studies and is intended to track the industry’s progress in diversity and explore how that inclusion is impacting the industry, the inclusion of people with disabilities and LGBTQIA+ folks is pivotal. LeBrecht and FWD-Doc have asked that, at a minimum, the oversight and the damage it may cause, be addressed officially by the University. See Variety for the details.
Director/Producers Jane Castle and Pat Fiske (When The Cameras Stopped Rolling, SDFF 2021) will be on the panel of Beyond Womenvision, the 2022 iteration of the Pamela Denoon Lectures, Australia’s longest running feminist address. The duo will be discussing When The Cameras Stopped Rolling, in which Castle, a cinematographer, tells the story of her filmmaker mother, their legacy, and their challenging relationship, using archival footage. The event is presented by National Foundation for Australian Women and recorded by ABC Australia’s Big Ideas. To read more about how the film and Fiske’s career fit into Australia’s feminist history, see this recent article in Broad Agenda.
When Claude Got Shot (Brad Lichtenstein, 2020) will have its television debut on May 9 on PBS’s Independent Lens, which recently revealed its Spring schedule. The film follows five years in the life of Claude Motley as he tries to recover mentally and physically from being shot in the face by 15 year old carjacker, Nathan King. Claude’s story is at the center of five stories of gun violence, justice and healing, and ultimately leads him back to the boy who shot him. The film, which showed at SDFF 2022, will be available to stream online after it airs. The Spring season of Independent Lens airs from April 25-May 16.
On The Divide (Maya Cueva and Leah Galant, 2021) was featured on PBS’ POV Monday night, and is now available to stream on the series website. The film, an SDFF 20222 official selection, follows the story of three Latinx people living in McAllen, Texas who, despite their views, are connected by the most unexpected of places: the last abortion clinic on the U.S./Mexico border. As threats to the clinic and their personal safety mount, our three characters are forced to make decisions they never could have imagined.
SDFF alumni filmmaker Jay Rosenblatt’s early film Brain In The Desert (1990) was featured in the recent San Francisco Chronicle piece “Eye-opening alternatives: 9 great short films crafted by Bay Area filmmakers.” The earliest entry on the list, the film is a narrative piece about a young man who recalls walking in the desert with his girlfriend, observing the weird insects and how their strange behaviors relate to human sexuality. Rosenblatt’s documentary shorts The Kodachrome Elegies (2017) and When We Were Bullies (2021) showed at SDFF 2018 and 2021, respectively. When We Were Bullies, an autobiographical doc in which the filmmaker is spurred to investigate a 50 year-old bullying event after a chance encounter with an old classmate, is now streaming on HBO/HBO MAX.
SDFF alumni filmmaker Nathalie Biancheri discusses instinct and trusting her audience in a new interview about her film herboundary-pushing, high-concept film Wolf, which was released in the U.S. late last year to great fanfare. The film is about a young man suffering from “species dysphoria” who believes himself to be a wolf, and stars noted method actor George MacKay. Biancheri’s doc Xavier Corbero: Portrait of an Artist in Winter was an SDFF 2018 selection.
Bounty, a new short doc from filmmaker Adam Mazo (dir. Dawnland with Ben Pender-Cudlip, SDFF 2019) premiered in Boston on April 12. The new short is 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.
The Berkeley FILM Foundation is offering a new round of film grants for its 2022 cycle, which began on April 4. The foundation supports narrative and documentary works in production, post-production and distribution stages. Grants between $5,000-$25,000 are awarded to professional and student filmmakers who live or work in the East Bay for films with a strong focus on social or environmental justice. The deadline to apply is May 9. To review guidelines and learn more about eligibility, click here.
LOCAL SCREENINGS + FILM EVENTS
Rialto Cinemas® Sebastopol will be hosting some free documentary screenings this month. On April 20 at 7 p.m., Try Harder! (Debbie Lum, 2021) will screen as an IndieLens Pop-Up. The doc examines the intersection of class, race and educational opportunity as experienced by Seniors at San Francisco’s top-ranked public high school, who are in the midst of applying to elite colleges. On April 28 at 6:30 p.m., Angst(Matt Skerritt, 2020), a doc designed to raise awareness around anxiety and mental health will be screened for free in collaboration with the Sonoma County Office of Education.
OUTwatch has organized a film series that begins April 21 with Jump, Darling! (Phil Connell, 2021) about a rookie drag queen who escapes to the country following a break-up, only to find his grandmother in steep decline yet desperate to avoid the local nursing home. The film stars legendary actor Cloris Leachman in her final role. The film shows at 7 p.m. at Rialto Cinemas® Sebastopol. The series also includes Rebel Dykes (May 19), Mama Bears(June 16) and Framing Agnes (July 21).
The Israeli Film Festival will be back for its 7th year, with a hybrid in-person and virtual fest screening seven films at the Rialto® and online April 26-May 17. The selections include 3 documentaries Black Flowers(Tammy Federmanm 2021) about , The Last Chapter of A.B. Yehoshua (Yair Qeder, 2021), and That Orchestra with the Broken Instruments,2021). The festival is presented by the Jewish Community Center of Sonoma County.
AVFest, formerly known as the Alexander Valley Film Festival, is returning for its 8th year, running screenings across Sonoma County from April 29-May 8. The festival will return to an entirely live/in-person festival this year, and includes a mix of fiction and documentary features and shorts from diverse perspectives. Check out their line-up here.
The Sebastopol Doc Night series continues on May 9 at 7 p.m., with a screening of Symphony of the Soil, followed by a discussion with producer Deborah Koons Garcia and editor Vivien Hillgrove. Filmed on four continents, Symphony of the Soil highlights the elaborate relationships between soil and all other elements of the environment and life on earth, and examines human’s relationship to soil and its key role in ameliorating the climate crisis. The screening and discussion will be screened at 7 p.m. at Rialto Cinemas® and will be followed by a casual gathering at Fern Bar. Doc Night is a collaboration between Trim Tab, SDFF, and the Rialto®.
CATCH THEM WHILE YOU CAN: STREAMING DOCS
Ferne Pearlstein’s The Last Laugh (Ferne Pearlstein, 2016) is currently available to stream on Kanopy, which is available for free to anyone with a library card. The documentary, which showed at SDFF 2017, considers Holocaust comedy and satire, examining the history of the practice as well as the ethical issues it raises. The film includes appearances by Mel Brooks, Sarah Silverman and Gilbert Gottfried, who died this week after battling a long illness.
SDFF 2018 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. The film was nominated for the 2022 Oscar for Documentary Short Subject. 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. Dr. Paul Farmer, whose work was documented in the film recently died in Rwanda, where he was working as a doctor and professor. Central to Bending The Arc, Farmer’s life work is also documented in the book Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest Of Dr. Paul Farmer, A Man Who Would Cure The World.Since I Been Down (Gilda Shepperd, 2021) is now streaming on SundanceNow. The feature-length doc, which showed at SDFF 2021, addresses racism in the criminal justice system. Shepperd’s doc approaches intersecting criminal justice and carceral issues by focusing on victims of the 1980s drug war who continue to languish behind bars. Since its release, the film has been shown as in various campaigns seeking to transform how justice and criminal law are envisioned.
Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story (Alexandra Dean, 2017) will be shown on PBS’s American Masters on May 3 and May 6, and is also available for free through the American Masters website until May 18. The American Masters website for the film also includes a number of new interviews and archival information, including an interview with Mel Brooks and recently unearthed audio of interviews with the inventor/actor. Bombshell showed at SDFF 2018 and is about the famed actress’s inventions, which included a technology that would eventually become Bluetooth. Dean also directed the recent 10-hour docuseries Secrets of Playboy, which is available through A&E. The project explores the reality behind the Playboy empire through a modern lens, examining the reality behind the company’s copious myth-making, its role in the sexual revolution, and the realities of the women who have worked at the company
Big Sonia (Leah Warshawski and Todd Soliday, 2016) is available to stream for free through KSMQ/PBS through April 30. The film focuses on 91 year-old Auschwitz survivor Sonia Warshawski, whose forced retirement occasions a resurgence of memories and fears that she’s long kept at bay by committing herself to work. An SDFF 2017 selection, Big Sonia is also available to rent or buy through Amazon streaming, and is also available through AMC+.
Fine Lines (Dina Kheirno, 2018) is among Outside/Climbing’s top 10 best climbing films now available to stream. The film made the list for its focus on philosophies of climbing, and is up on Amazon for free (with commercials). The film showed at SDFF 2018 and features three years of interviews with climbers about what drives them to regularly leave behind their families and everyday comforts to risk their lives scaling mountains.
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.
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.
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.
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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