We stand in solidarity with people of color and anti-racists protesting police violence and other forms of state-sanctioned white supremacy. In support of this ongoing movement, and in-keeping with our belief in the power of documentary to help us look beyond ourselves and to foster critical thinking, we’re adding a permanent, evolving section to this website, dedicated to social justice in documentary media, Click Here to see the beginning of that page–a selection of documentary suggestions about racism in the U.S.


Click Above Image To See SDFF 2021 Trailer!

Amazon Prime Video Direct Expels Indie Docs and Shorts from Streaming Platform

In late February, a number of independent documentarians found the already difficult tasks of accessing new audiences at home and making ends meet in a pandemic even more arduous when their films were expelled from Amazon Prime Video Direct as part of a blanket policy change that removed unsolicited non-fiction and short-form content. While independent filmmakers have a number of other streaming platforms left open to them, such as Vimeo, YouTube, Google Play, etc., Amazon Prime’s subscription-based service had the most potential in terms of reach and revenue generating potential. Journalists Chris Lindahl and Dana Harris-Bridson’s coverage of this situation for IndieWire is among the few journalistic accounts to focus on what this policy change has meant for filmmakers, and describes the pre-purge relationship between Amazon Prime and those who used the platform to stream their work. Filmmakers and distributors were able to make docs and shorts available to an enormous potential audience via an already-familiar platform, which, in turn, helped Amazon Prime amass the country’s largest catalog of streaming film and contributed to its image as a home for independent film. This mutually beneficial relationship, Amazon’s emphasis on its relationship to independent film, and a total lack of warning, meant many filmmakers were caught off guard when their films suddenly disappeared from the platform in what filmmaker Robert Steven Williams calls “The Prime Pandemic Purge.”

Congratulations to SDFF Alumni Skye Fitzgerald, Ben Proudfoot, Jim LeBrecht and Sara Bolder On Their Oscar® Nominations!

A Concerto is a Conversation, SDFF alum Ben Proudfoot’s much-celebrated collaboration with film composer and co-Director Kris Bowers and The New York Times OpDocs is nominated for Best Documentary Short.

The final film in SDFF Alum Skye Fitzgerald’s “Humanitarian Cinema Trilogy,” the short observational doc, Hunger Ward: The Last Hope Against War and Starvation, was nominated for a best documentary short Academy Award.

An innaugural release from the Obama’s Higher Ground Productions, Crip Camp marks debuts from SDFF alumni composer and sound designer Jim LeBrecht and Sara Bolder, debuts respectively. The film is up for Best Documentary Feature.

SDFF Alum Shortlisted for Oscar® for Animated, Hybrid Narrative of Hidden, Third-Gender History

Kapaemahu Becomes First Hawaiian Film in Animated Short Category

Tahitian healers with dual female and male spirits greeted by Hawaiians. Still from Kapaemahu animated by Daniel Sousa, and co-written/co-directed by Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu, Dean Hamer and Joe Wilson.

When the Academy of Motion Picture Arts released its most recent crop of 2021 nominees, Kapaemahu became the first Hawaiian film to be shortlisted in the animated shorts category. The film is co-directed and produced by a trio first-time Oscar nominees—Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu, Dean Hamer and Joe Wilson—whose work is already much-beloved by SDFF audiences. Like the trio’s last SDFF film, Leitis In Waiting (2018, 62 mins) and the earlier Lady Eva (2017), Kapaemahu focuses on indigenous third-gender identity. While the films have strong thematic resonances, Kapaemahu departs from conventional documentary form, bringing a hidden history to life through Daniel Sousa’s striking animation and Wong-Kalu’s narration in Olelo Niihau, a pre-colonial Hawaiian language.

End of an Era for Doc Festival Circuit

Two long-time, fabled festival directors have moved on in the last two months. After many tireless years at the helm, Hot Docs Executive Director Brett Hendrie and Full Frame’s Director Deidre Haj are both leaving their respective leadership roles, having accomplished groundbreaking work. Their impact will remain, but their absences will be felt as documentary festivals try to find a way forward after a year that has turned movie-watching in general, and festivals in particular, on their heads.

Hendrie has been part of Hot Docs for 20 years, spending the last 8 as Executive Director. In that time, he has grown the festival’s audience and the value of its awards and prizes. He has also expanded the festival’s “Docs For Schools” education program, and launched the Netflix-supported Canadian Storytellers Project, which supported filmmakers from underrepresented communities.

My Mother Was Here gets Nod in the North

Intimate doc revealing oft invisible aspects of Elderhood continues to resonate in COVID times

Filmmaker/author Rustin Thompson recently received a nod for Best Documentary by a Seattle filmmaker at the upstart Seattle Film Festival for his challenging, but deeply moving film My Mother Was Here. The relevance of this SDFF 2019 official selection has only grown during the COVID crisis, as the harsh economic and emotional realities of many elders, and their differential exposure to risk have been thrown into sharp relief. While Thompson’s film speaks to these larger issues, it is an intimate portrait of his mother in her later years, and his changing relationship to her. In this sense, it is also a cathartic and reflective film to watch as so many people have found their parents and grandparents taken from them without warning, leaving open so many loose ends.

My Mother Was Here is available to stream now through Vimeo-on-Demand, while Thompson’s website is home to some of his other film work and writing, including reviews of documentaries like the recently honored Dick Johnson Is Dead,(Kirsten Johnson and Nels Bangerter, 2020) and SDFF 2020 Best Feature Midnight Family (Luke Lorentzen, 2020).

Congratulations to SDFF Alumni on IDA Award Wins!

Congratulations to Jim LeBrecht and Sara Bolder for Crimp Camp’s wins! Crimp Camp won the International Documentary Association Awards for Best Feature and ABC News VideoSource Award. It also garnered an honorable mention for the Pare Lorentz Award. The film was directed and produced by LeBrecht and Nicole Newnham and produced by Sara Bolder. It is a movie that we cannot recommend highly enough for the story it tells about how disability rights became common parlance in the U.S., and how to make social change. With over 170 film credits to his name, LeBrecht is a Bay Area film luminary, who founded Berkeley Sound Artists (BSA), which specializes in post production audio for documentaries and has operated for over 20 years. He was added to SF Film’s Essential List, honoring Bay Area film luminaries in 2017, has penned and published articles on sound in documentary, and given master classes in sound design for institutions like the International Documentary Association. LeBrecht has been a supporter of SDFF for many years, appearing on numerous panels, guiding and encouraging new filmmakers. He’s also composed music and done sound design on more films than we can name. His credits include the Academy Award-winning The Blood of Yingzhou District (Ruby Yang, 2006) and Emmy/Academy Award-winning shortform doc, 4.1 Miles (Daphne Matrziaraki, 2017), which is available to stream on PBS’s POV. Recent SDFF films include The Pushouts, Bathtubs Over Broadway and From Baghdad to the Bay. On top of all of his film ventures, LeBrecht has been a lifelong, ardent disability rights advocate, and it is this purpose and passion that Crip Camp captures.

Crip Camp was produced by Netflix and is available to stream now.

See Trailer Now!

The warmest digital applause to East Bay filmmaker Nels Bangerter for collecting a best editing award at IDA, along with a nod for best writing with co-writer/director Kirsten Johnson for Dick Johnson Is Dead. The film also won Sundance’s Special Jury Award for Innovation in Nonfiction Storytelling, and Independent Lens’ New York Times Critic’s Pick. Bangerter edited SDFF Selections Out In The Silence and Kuma Hina, both of which were written and directed by filmmaking partners and festival regulars Dean Hamer and Joe Wilson. Bangerter was also a consulting editor on SDFF 2016 mini Best of Luck with the Wall (Dir. Josh Begley), a 7-minute voyage across the US-Mexico border, stitched together form 200,000+ satellite images. In addition to engaging with audiences at his films, Bangerter has been a lively figure at SDFF, consistently giving feedback at Peer Pitch and making himself available to new filmmakers. Bangerter and Johnson previously collaborated on Cameraperson (2016), another imaginative and complex piece of work that met with critical acclaim. While Dick Johnson Is Dead shares a self-reflexive quality with Cameraperson, it is also a deeply personal piece of work in which daughter/filmmaker Kirsten Johnson explores how movies can be used to grapple with some of life’s most profound experiences. Dick Johnson Is Dead was produced by Netflix and is available to stream there now.

Watch Trailer!

Congrats to SDFF Alum on their IDA 2021 Nominations!

Congratulations to Jim LeBrecht (director/producer) and Sara Bolder (producer) whose groundbreaking directorial debut Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution has been nominated for best feature film and best director. Crip Camp reflects on a summer camp located close to Woodstock, which galvanized a group of teens with disabilities, becoming activists who would take the Country by storm, forging a path that has made the world a more equal place for everyone. LeBrecht and Bolder have been a longtime friends to SDFF, with LeBrecht designing sound, composing and scoring more of our films than we can possibly count. Crip Camp is available to stream right now on Netflix, check out the trailer here.

Congratulations to Jaime Meltzer and Chris Filippone, whose film Huntsville Station is up for Best Short.  Huntsville Station is a meditative look at a moment of major transition as inmates released from Texas State Penitentiary encounter the small pleasures of everyday life waiting for the bus. Meltzer’s film Informant won SDFF’s jury prize in 2012. We also highly recommend True Conviction, which speaks to the present moment. See Huntsville Station here.

Kudos to director Jerry Rothwell  whose film The Reason I Jump won the 2020 Sundance World Cinema Documentary Audience Award. A cinematic adaptation of a book written by 13 year-old Naoki Higashida, it seeks to create an immersive experience evocative of the lived experiences of nonspeaking autistic people. The film fuses Higashida’s insights with intimate portraits of 5 exceptional young people, each of whom experiences reality in a remarkably different way. The film evokes Rothwell’s early film and SDFF 2009 audience sneaker hit, Heavy Load, about a group of people with learning disabilities who start a punk band. Rothwell’s Sour Grapes (2017) and How To Change The World (2016) have also graced SDFF’s screens.

SDFF Alum Win AFI Grand Jury ‘Short Abortion Helpline, This is Lisa’ as Supreme Court Passes New Women’s Health Restrictions

Abortion Helpline, This is Lisa by SDFF alums Barbara and Mike Attie and Janet Goldwater won the AFI Docs 2020 Grand Jury Short Award  and is shortlisted in IDA’s Best Short category. This documents an abortion helpline in Philadelphia, through which counselors field urgent calls from who people seek to end a pregnancy, but can’t afford to. “Abortion Helpline, This Is Lisa” reveals the brutal impact of the Hyde Amendment, designed to prevent those struggling financially from access to abortion. The short has particular resonance this week, as the U.S. Supreme Court banned women’s access to the “abortion pill” without an in-person physician visit. Given travel restrictions around COVID 19, the ruling makes the pill almost inaccessible to women who live in health care deserts, rural areas and states with strict abortion restrictions. All three filmmakers have shown work at SDFF. Mike Attie’s Moment To Moment was an SDFF 2020 Official Selection, In Country showed in 2014, and Mr. Mack’s Kitchen in 2010. Barbara Attie and Janet Goldwater have worked together on multiple projects, including Bob’s Knee, which showed as part of SDFF 2009.

If the surprise Supreme Court decision and Abortion Helpline, This Is Lisa  piqued your interest in the relationship between women’s health, self-determination and citizenship, you should also take a look at SDFF2020 selection Personhood: Policing Pregnant Women In America (Jo Ardinger, 2019). Personhood tells a story that ripples far beyond the right to choose and into the lives of every pregnant person in America. It focuses on Tammy Loertscher, whose fetus was given to an attorney, while the courts denied Tammy her constitutional rights. In this timely documentary, we see her sent to jail, and then forced to challenge a Wisconsin law that eroded her privacy, her right to due process, and her body sovereignty. Personhood reveals the danger of fetal rights laws which now exist in thirty-eight states. These little known laws encourage the surveillance and criminalization of pregnant women, while disproportionately targeting lower income women and women of color. These laws lie at the intersection of the erosion of women’s rights, the war on drugs, and our mass incarceration complex. Personhood is available to stream on Amazon Prime and Apple TV.

Revisiting hillbilly

2018 Doc Resonates in the Present Day, Provides Context for Hillbilly Elegy Adaptation, and the Critical Discourse Around It

Behind-the-scenes. Production still from the making of hillbilly (Ashley York and Sally Rubin, 2018), an SDFF 2019 Official Selection that is currently available to stream on both Netflix and Amazon Prime.

When Netflix delivered Ron Howard’s film adaptation of J.D. Vance’s bestseller Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family in Crisis to the small screen after the 2020 election, it returned the autobiographical work and the ways in which it had been used during the 2016 election to heavy public scrutiny. Though Vance has been critical of the Trump administration, the book was released amid a contentious national election, and became almost omnipresent across a diverse array of media and news outlets. In general, both book and author as “authentic” voices of the rural, working-class, conservative, white Americans whose votes put President Donald Trump into office. Ironically, the veracity of the hillbilly archetype that Vance both perpetuates and criticizes was purposefully developed and maintained across American popular culture since the 1870s. That history is made tangible in Sally Rubin and Ashley York’s 2018 documentary hillbilly, the relevance of which has only grown in the years since its release. The documentary poses questions about the relationship between representation, perception and systemic oppression that have become central to understanding American cultural and political life and personal experiences within it. As Sally Rubin, co-Director of (Sally Rubin and Ashley York, 2018) wrote to us in December:

Pop culture helps to bridge divides of all kinds (regional, socio-economic, and political divides are just a few) by helping people from different backgrounds to understand viscerally the experiences of others. Pop culture, including documentary, has the potential to bridge divides deeply and quickly, through providing examples of real people living in ways that may be unfamiliar and based on mere caricatures and stereotypes.

-Sally Rubin, co-Director, hillbilly

Thanks to the support of Volunteers, Filmmakers, Partners, Donors and Patrons… 

SDFF has Attained Coveted Recognition as Academy Award® Qualifying Festival

Sebastopol Documentary Film Festival is proud to announce that it has been approved by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences as an Academy Qualifying Festival for the Documentary Short Subject category.