SDFF NEWS BITS: ALUMNI UPDATES, FESTS, HONORS, NEW DOCS, INDUSTRY HAPPENINGS
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14 JUNE 2022
AWARDS. HONORS. FESTIVALS. SPECIAL SCREENINGS.
Nefise Özkal Lorentzen’s Seyran Ateş: Sex, Revolution and Islam was an official selection of two recent film festivals, the 13th Kashish Mumbai International Queer Film Festival (June 1-5) and the 14th NYC Independent Film Festival (June 12-19). These showings prompted some recent coverage, an article in Cinestaan (Mumbai fest) about the film and its subject, as well as an interview betwen the filmmaker and Dennis Cieri. The film, an SDFF2022 fave, is a profile of Seyran Ateş, a Turkish-German lawyer, feminist, and one of Europe’s first female imams, who has garnered controversy for her stance on changing the patriarchy as it is expressed in Islam, a position that has received criticism from all sides and made Seyran the target of death threats. This new film, like Özkal’s A Gift From God was made with Jørgen Lorentzen won the SDFF 2021 Audience Award for Best Feature, made the list.
When The Camera Stopped Rolling (Jane Castle and Pat Fiske, 2020) is among the 16 docs selected for the 25thRevelation Perth International Film Festival. The doc, cinematographer Jane Castle’s doc about her filmmaker mother Pat Fiske, is a complex look at the two women, their challenging relationship, the mark both have made on the Australian film industry, and their legacy. The film, an SDFF 2021 selection, took over 8 years and makes use of deep archival footage.
I Want To Make A Film About Women (Karen Pearlman, 2019) was among the films shown at a day of Pride Month LGBTQIA+ programming at the Hoboken Historical Museum, co-presented by the Thomas Edison Film Festival and Hudson Pride Center. The screenings were accompanied by Q&As with queer filmmakers Rolando Nieves and Nicole Pometti. A film about filmmaking, I Want To Make A Film About Women engages with gaps in archival records and writes a speculative history of women working in film in the 1920s Soviet Union, which championed equality for women and innovation in the creative arts, until it didn’t. The film was a showed at SDFF 2021, accompanied by a Q&A with director Karen Pearlman, which is available for free right here, and was also nominated for the Jury Award Nom for Best Short.
Claude Motley, whose story is at the heart of When Claude Got Shot (SDFF 2022), the film’s director Brad Lichtenstein and its co-producer Santana Coleman, engaged in a post-screening discussion of the doc with African Diaspora Film Club curator Cornelius Moore, following a virtual screening of the Independent Lensfilm. The film event was hosted by Black Public Media and the Museum of African Diaspora in San Francisco. When Claude Got Shot follows five years in Claude’s life 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 showed at SDFF 2022.
NEW FILMS & PROJECTS FROM SDFF FILMMAKERS
Prolific experimental documentary auteur Lynne Sachs has just released the trailer for her upcoming film Swerve, which will soon premiere at NYC’s BAMcinemaFest. Inspired by former poet laureate of Queens, Paolo Javier, and his Original Brown Boy poems, Swerve is a meditation on writing and making images in the liminal space between a global pandemic and what might come next. The film features five New York City performers speaking in verse while wandering through food stalls in search of a new sensation. Sachs’s doc with Lizzie Olesker, The Washing Society, a dream-like, yet realistic portrayal of a day in the life of a laundry worker, showed at SDFF 2018. The Washing Society creates a, and is currently available to stream, along with most of Sachs’s body of work via the Criterion Channel online.
Another new film from an SDFF alumni filmmaker, ᎤᏕᏲᏅ (What They’ve Been Taught) (Brit Hensel and Keli Gonzales, 2021) is showing with Swerve as part of a BAMcinemaFest shorts program. ᎤᏕᏲᏅ is also one of six films selected for the 2022 Sundance Institute Indigenous Short Film Tour. 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. The film was produced by SDFF alum Adam Mazo (Dawnland, co-dir. Ben Pender-Cudlip, 2018) is one of the film’s producers. 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.
Jay Rosenblatt’s How Do You Measure a Year? won the Golden Dragon for Director in the international short film competition at the 62nd Krakow Film Festival. In the 29-minute short, a father films his daughter every year on her birthday, asking the same questions. Over the course of the short, the girl rapidly grows from a toddler to a young woman with all the beautiful and awkward stages in between while the father/daughter relationship evolves in all its complexities. Rosenblatt’s other film from 2021, When We Were Bullies (Jay Rosenblatt, SDFF2021) is now streaming on HBO/HBO MAX. When We Were Bullies is an autobiographical doc about a filmmaker who is spurred to investigate a 50 year-old bullying event in which he was complicit after a chance encounter with an old classmate. The short was nominated for Best Short Documentary at the 2022 Academy Awards®.
Filmmaker Neasa Ní Chianáin and Declan McGrath’s Young Plato, about the headmaster of a Belfast school who uses philosophy to counter powerful mythologies of violence among students, is one of 90 civil rights films being shown at the 18th annual Biografilm Festival. The festival, dedicated to biographies and life stories, will show in person screenings in Bologna through June 20, and online through June 22. Young Plato treads very similar territory to Ní Chianáin’s 2017 doc with David Rane, School Life (SDFF 2018), which focuses on teachers at Headfort, the only primary boarding school in Ireland.
Sentinels, a new documentary short co-directed by Derek Knowles (After The Fire, SDFF 2020) and Lawrence Lerew, which takes an immersive, observational tack in its presentation of the Redwood Forest Defense tree-sit, is the subject of a new piece in the Bay Area Bohemian. The film is an immersive, observational document of the Redwood Forest Defense tree-sit, bearing witness to a “radical” form of protest that, unlike street protests, takes place largely outside of the public eye, and requires a great deal of both physical and mental strength. The Bohemian piece gives a bit of context to the practice of tree sitting as a form of protest in the Bay Area, examining the “Redwood Wars” of the early 1990s. Sentinels is currently up, streaming for free via the L.A. Times.
Texas nature doc Deep In The Heart (Ben Masters, 2022) got national coverage last week with a piece in Movie Maker that accompanied the film’s limited national release. The film has been receiving a very warm welcome in Texas since its premiere at the EarthxFilm Festival in Dallas last month. 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. Deep In The Heart will have a VOD streaming release later this summer.
You Can Live Forever, a new film from executive producer John Chrisou (Inside These Walls, 2016) premiered this weekend at Tribeca. The film is about a teen lesbian sent to live in a Jehovah’s Witness community, where she falls hard for a devout believer with whom she carries on an intense affair with life-altering consequences. While the film is a narrative feature, he produced the SDFF 2017 documentary short Inside These Walls about inprisoned activist Wang Bingzhang, whose family relentlessly campaigns for his release, though he once abandoned them to pursue his political beliefs.
IN THE NEWS
The recent VOD release of A Sexplanation (Alexander Liu, 2020), has occasioned a flurry of new coverage and glowing reviews from a number of culturally significant sources: The New York Times (critic’s pick), Paste (review), The Guardian (review), Variety (filmmaker interview w/ video), Queerty (interview/article), Salon (review), etc. The doc, which overtly addresses sex ed, was released on the heels of a new Florida law prohibiting the word “gay” from being uttered in classrooms and educational context. This political circumstance has only made Liu’s film more pertinent. In the doc, 36 year-old health reporter/filmmaker Liu investigates his own repression by looking for right the wrongs of his all-American sex education—going on a quest to uncover naked truths and hard facts. A Sexplanation features provocative conversations with psychologists, sex researchers, a Jesuit priest, and several generations of his family. The film was an SDFF 2021 official selection.
Since I Been Down (2020) documentarian Gilda Shepperd wrote a guest piece for Talkhouse this week about the way that creative imagination has shaped her distinctive approach to filmmaking. The piece comes following a barrage of positive reviews for the film from a number of major news outlets (LA Times, New York Times, The Guardian, MovieMaker), which came on the heels of the films VOD streaming release. The feature-length doc, which showed at SDFF 2021, addresses racism in the criminal justice system. Since I Been Down examines a morass of intersecting criminal justice and carceral issues by focusing on victims of the 1980-90s drug war who continue to their lives behind bars, in many cases contributing to the limited community they can make in prison. Since its release, the film has been shown as in various campaigns seeking to transform how justice and criminal law are envisioned. It is now available on demand through most major streaming platforms (iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, YouTube, etc.).
The Race To Alaska (Zach Carver, 2021), which opened in the U.S. and Canada late last month, has also been receiving increased media attention from publications around the U.S. Made by a Seattle-based director, the indie doc had showings around Washington and Canada’s West Coast when it first opened, and opened to enthusiastic reviews from regional critics, all of which laud the film’s cinematography and scenery. That coverage has since expanded as screenings have popped up across the country, with the film receiving attention across the country in the communities where it has been shown, from Arkansas to New Jersey. The Race to Alaska documents a 750-mile motorless boat race described as “the Iditarod on a boat with a chance of drowning or being eaten by a Grizzly bear.” As punishing as it is his epic, the film captures an endurance race that is both punishing and beautiful and attracts the intrepid and unhinged who find their edge along a coastline. The doc was an official selection of SDFF 2021.
While Penny Lane’s most recent doc about taste Listening To Kenny G (2021) has been in the spotlight since its release last year, her mostly-animated case study of quack/talk radio pioneer John R. Brinkley, Nuts! (SDFF 2017) made a recent Collider list of fascinating docs about scammers and deceivers. The doc resonates with the present moment as it tracks the impact of bogus medical ideas, the relationship between mass media and identity, and the incredible popularity of a narcissistic, charismatic huckster. The last couple of years have been marked by a cultural fixation on scammers, prompting an onslaught of documentary and biopic series, ie. The Tinder Swindler (Felicity Morris, 2022), Anna Delvey series Inventing Anna (Shonda Rhimes, 2022), No Good Deed: A Crowdfunding Holiday Heist (Cheryl Mettendorf and Chad Pradelli, 2021), Elizabeth Holmes doc The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley (Rebecca Jarvis, 2019), Elizabeth Holmes series The Dropout (Elizabeth Meriwether, 2022), dueling Fyre Fest docs Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened (Chris Smith, 2019) and Fyre Fraud (Jenner Furst and Julia Willoughby Nason, 2019), WeWork downfall series WeCrashed (Lee Eisenberg and Drew Crevello, 2022), Operation Varsity Blues: The College Admissions Scandal (Chris Smith, 2021), Made You Look: A True Story About Fake Art(Barry Avrich, 2020, the list could go on-and-on. The scammers in these stories share character traits and methods with Lane’s depiction of Brinkley and his public reception. However, while Brinkley targeted everyday folks, particularly farm families, the new crop of swindlers by-and-large scam the affluent and/or ultra-rich. Another SDFF doc that preceded and perhaps helped precipitate the recent elevation of scammers, Sour Grapes (Reuben Atlas and Jerry Rothwell, 2017), is also well worth checking out. The film tells the story of Rudy Kurniawan, an unassuming young man who flooded the American wine market with fake vintages, valued in the millions. Like much of the new crop of scam media, Sour Grapes tells a story in which the swindler is a figure who threatens the wealthy while also appearing as a condensation of capitalist values. Sour Grapes is VOD on Vimeo and streaming on Amazon. Nuts! is available VOD from Vudu,YouTube, Google Play, Amazon, etc.
SDFF 2020 doc Gay Chorus, Deep South (David Charles Rodrigues, 2019) made a recent Cinema Blendpiece of films to stream for Pride month, and where to find them. 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. The feature-length doc is available to stream through Paramount+. Other noteworthy docs on the list include: This Is Me (2015) a collection of 5 documentary shorts (5-6 mins/each) from trans and gender-nonconfirming filmmakers, Light In The Water (2019) about the history of the West Hollywood Aquatics Club, Gender Revolution: A Journey With Katie Couric (2017), and Pray Away (2021) about conversion therapy leaders and survivors who now have spoken out against this vein of thought and the practices employed in it service.
Coverage of the recently released HBO doc, The Janes (Tia Lessin and Emma Pildes, 2022) about a pre-Roe, clandestine network of women that established an underground service for women seeking safe, affordable, illegal abortions has compared it favorably to The Freedom To Marry (Eddie Rosenstein, SDFF 2017), for its focus on activists, volunteers and those who make social change, and for its comprehensive view of an historic struggle for human rights. It’s also worth noting that both the Obergefell v. Hodges (2015) decision that codified marriage equality, and its predecessor Lawrence v. Texas (2003) that struck down anti-sodomy laws, are to some extent based on the right to privacy established in Roe v. Wade (1973). While overturning Roe wouldn’t immediately diminish the right to civil struggles these documentaries document are legally interdependent and currently threatened by the current Supreme Court.
Filmmaker Skye Fitzgerald, a multi-year SDFF alum (Hunger Ward 2021, Lifeboat 2018, 50 Feet From Syria 2015) is on the jury of Telluride’s 44th Mountainfilm Awards, which will return to in-person screening this year for the first time since 2019. Fitzgerald’s most recent short, the Academy Award® nominee Hunger Ward has also been in the news as it began streaming last week on the subscription service Paramount+, and for free on Pluto TV. Filmed inside two of the most active therapeutic feeding centers in conflict-ridden Yemen, Hunger Warddocuments two women fighting to thwart the spread of starvation against the backdrop of a forgotten war. The film provides unflinching portraits of Dr. Aida Alsadeeq and Nurse Mekkia Mahdi as they work to save the lives of hunger-stricken children within a population on the brink of famine. With unprecedented access within a sensitive conflict-zone, Hunger Ward reveals the bravery of deeply committed doctors working in the middle of the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story (Alexandra Dean, 2017) was #4 on a Movie Web ranked list of the best docs about actors. An SDFF 2018 selection, Bombshell is about the famed actress’s inventions, which included a technology that would eventually become Bluetooth. Other films on the list includes Bright Lights: Starring Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynold (Alexis Bloom and Fisher Stevens, 2016), Bruce Lee: A Warrior’s Journey (John Little and Burce Lee, 2000), Jane Fonda in Five Acts (Susan Lacy, 2018), Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind (Marina Zenovich, 2018), the short I Knew It Was You: Rediscovering John Cazale (Richard Shepard, 2009), Val (Ting Poo and Leo Scott, 2021), I Am Divine (Jeffrey Schwarz, 2013), and That Guys Dick Miller (Elijah Drenner, 2014)
LOCAL SCREENINGS + FILM EVENTS
OUTwatch continues its Spring/Summer film series on June 16 with Daresha Kyi’s doc Mama Bears, an intimate, thought-provoking exploration of the journeys taken by Sara Cunningham and Kimberly Shappley, two “mama bears”—conservative, Christian mothers whose profound love for their LGBTQ children has turned them into fierce advocates for the entire queer community—and Tammi Terrell Morris, a young African American lesbian whose struggle for self-acceptance perfectly exemplifies why the mama bears are so vitally important. The OUTwatch series will continue with a screening of Framing Agnes on July 21. The films show at 7 p.m. at Rialto Cinemas® Sebastopol. Buy tickets here!
Rialto Cinemas® will holding a special screening of the music doc George Michael Freedom Uncut (Lisa Johnson and David Austin, 2022), which focuses on the formative period in the late singer’s life and career. The film documents the making of best-selling album Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1, his subsequent battle with his record label, which reached the High Court, and the death of his first love, Anselmo Feleppa. Filmed before the musician’s untimely passing, the documentary features unseen archival footage and is narrated by the singer, who was heavily involved in the making of the film that serves as his final work. The film will show at Rialto Cinemas® on June 22 at 7 p.m.
CATCH THEM WHILE YOU CAN: DOCS AIRING ON TV + STREAMING ONLINE
Barbara Lee: Speaking Truth To Power (Abby Ginzberg, 2021) was picked up by STARZ and will be airing as part of its film series “Juneteenth: Hope & Liberation” (June 14-20). The doc paints a vivid and timely portrait of Congresswoman Barbara Lee (California-D), a steadfast voice for human rights, racial and economic justice, peace and diplomacy in the U.S. government. Lee began her tenure as an activist with the Black Panther Party and raised two sons as a single mom before becoming the highest ranking black woman in the U.S. Congress. The film showed as part of SDFF 2022.
The Booksellers (D.W. Young, 2019) producer Debra McClutchy is making her directorial debut with the 40-min doc The Martha Mitchell Effect (co-dir. Anne Alvergue, 2022), which will premiered at Sundance earlier this year and will begin streaming on Netflix June 17. The film is about Martha Mitchell, wife of a Nixon Attorney General and campaign president John N. Mitchell. Martha spoke out during Watergate, and the Nixon administration’s campaign to gaslit her into silence. McClutchy was a producer on The Booksellers, a behind-the-scenes look at the New York world of rare books, which was shown as part of SDFF 2020. It is now available through Amazon Prime.
On The Divide (Maya Cueva and Leah Galant, 2021) is available to stream on PBS’s POV series website. The film, an SDFF 2022 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.
Breaking Trail (Jesse Roesler, 2021) about the first woman and person of color to thru-hike the 1,200-mile Ice Age Trail is now streaming through Outside+, the online content arm of Outside Magazine. The relatively new streaming service features non-fiction films and series about the outdoors, adventure sports, mountaineering and mountain dogs.
Personhood: Policing Pregnant Women In America (Jo Ardinger, SDFF 2020), a doc about the dangers of fetal rights laws that encourage the surveillance and criminalization of pregnant women, is available to stream VOD. The film examines the impacts of these laws, which disproportionately target lower income women and women of color, by focusing on Tammy Loertscher. Loertscher challenged a Wisconsin fetal rights law that eroded her privacy, her right to due process, and her body sovereignty. Her story helps illustrate how these laws work at intersection of the erosion of women’s rights, the war on drugs, and the U.S.’s mass incarceration complex.Personhood is available at Amazon Prime, iTunes and Apple TV.
Wuhan Wuhan (Yung Chang, 2020) will lead the 35th season of PBS’s POV, the longest-running series for independent docs on TV, which recently released most of its upcoming schedule. Wuhan Wuhan is an observational documentary unfolding during February and March of 2020, at the height of the pandemic in Wuhan city, where the coronavirus began. With unprecedented access at the peak of the pandemic lockdown, the film focuses on five stories that focus on the human experience of the earliest days of the pandemic, as a mysterious virus began to infect Chinese citizens, and frontline healthcare workers grappled with an invisible, deadly killer. The doc will air on July 11, when it will also become available to stream via the series’ website. The film showed as part of SDFF 2021.
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