SDFF NEWS BITS: ALUMNI UPDATES, FESTS, HONORS, NEW DOCS, INDUSTRY HAPPENINGS
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3 JANUARY 2023
AWARDS. HONORS. FESTIVALS. SPECIAL SCREENINGS + EVENTS.
One SDFF 2022 selection and three docs from SDFF alumni filmmakers have been shortlisted for 95th Academy Awards®. Vaunted and visually arresting, Gabriela Oslo Vanden and Jack Weisman’s Nuisance Bear (2021), which recently received an honorable mention for IDA’s Pare Lorentz Award, has been shortlisted for Best Documentary Short. The celebrated SDFF 2022 film isan unconventional and beautifully cinematic study of polar bears who draw tourists to Churchill, Manitoba for the specific purpose of taking wildlife photos. Three other docs with SDFF ties made the Oscar® shortlists. Two docs by SDFF alumni join Nuisance Bear on the shortlist for documentary shorts: How Do You Measure a Year? from When We Were Bullies filmmaker Jay Rosenblatt, and The Martha Mitchell Effect, co-directed by Debra McClutchy, who produced The Booksellers (D.W. Young, SDFF 2020). In addition, Sara Dosa’s Fire Of Love (Sara Dosa, 2022), for which SDFF alumni filmmaker Pablo Alvarez-Mesa (La Pesca, SDFF 2018) did cinematography, made the shortlist for Best Documentary Feature. The 15-entry shortlists in the documentary categories will be winnowed down to 5 nominees in each category on Jan. 24. Winners will be announced at the 95th Academy Awards® ceremony on March 12.
Maya Cueva and Leah Galant’s extremely timely and thoughtful doc On The Divide (SDFF 2022) is one of five films nominated for Best U.S. Latinx Film by Cinema Tropical. Cinema Tropical is a nonprofit that boosts Latin American cinema in the United States, which has given out yearly awards for 13 years. This year, nominees include 25 titles from 12 countries, in addition to the 5-film U.S.-Latinx Film cohort,which is comprised entirely of films directed by women for the first time. Released just months before the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision to overturn the national abortion protections afforded by Roe v. Wade, On The Divide tracks the intersection 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, these three are forced to make decisions they never could have imagined. The winners of the 13th Annual Cinema Tropical Awards will be announced at a ceremony on Jan. 12 at Film at Lincoln Center in New York.
Maria Niro’s Krzysztof Woiczko: The Art Of Un-War (née The Art Of Un-War, SDFF 2022) will make its New York premiere at the 34th New York Jewish Film Festival on Jan. 14. The film, recipient of an SDFF 2022 Jury Award honorable mention, explores war, trauma, displacement and xenophobia through the work of internationally renowned artist Krysztof Wodiczko, who invites war veterans, refugees, and the homeless to co-create projects so they can speak about their plights in public spaces. The screening will be followed by a Q&A with Niro and the film’s subject, artist Krzysztof Wodiczko, moderated by The Jewish Museum’s Darsie Alexander. The festival will also host the world premiere of a new 4K restoration of the groundbreaking 1997 documentary A Life Apart: Hasidism in America by Oren Rudavsky (Joseph Pulitzer: Voice of the People, SDFF 2019) and Menachem Daum. The doc was among the first American films to offer a full, distinctive, inside look at the traditional Eastern European Jewish communities that found their most vital enclaves in America after mass migrations post–World War II. The premiere will be followed by a panel discussion with co-directors Daum and Rudavsky. Fordham professor and Mitzvah Girls author Ayala Fader, as well as film interviewees Pearl Gluck (filmmaker and Penn State professor), Marcus Allison (environmental researcher), and Rabbi Mayer Schiller.
A film that examines gentrification and displacement by examining a public art controversy, Alice Street (Spencer Wilkinson, SDFF 2021) will open the Architecture and Design Film Festival (ADFF:DC) on Jan. 26 in Washington, D.C. The screening will be followed by a Q&A with filmmaker Spencer Wilkinson. Alice Street is an SDFF 2021 selection about the unlikely partnership between Chilean studio painter Peskador and Chicago-born aerosol artist Mundo, who come together to tackle an ambitious project—a four-story mural in the heart of downtown Oakland, situated at a unique intersection where Chinese and Afro-Diasporic communities face the imminent threat of displacement and gentrification. After the conclusion of the mural, the construction of a luxury condominium threatens to demolish the artwork. Alice Street is one of 16 films from 11 countries that will show at ADFF:DC, which selects films that investigate the cultural and environmental impact of design on fashion, real estate, art, architecture, urban planning and housing. The screening comes after a yearlong national impact tour for Alice Street and filmmaker Wilkinson, which included over 80 screenings and Q&As, where the film was used to create engaging dialogue on local issues related to housing, gentrification and shared public spaces.
NEW FILMS & PROJECTS FROM SDFF FILMMAKERS
Boifriend (2023), an upcoming film from Everyman (2021) director Jack Goessens, is among the 20 feature film projects selected for the 40th CineMart at International Film Festival Rotterdam, Jan. 29-Feb. 1. CineMart is IFFR Pro’s co-production market, where a curated lineup of projects in development are presented to international industry representatives, including independent feature film projects and select Immersive (XR) projects. Boifriend is Goessens’ first feature film, a character-driven story on the fluidity of gender and sexuality, which shares themes with Everyman, an 11-minute personal, visual essay about gender transition, which focuses on social context and implications while exploring how the world is different living as female compared to being perceived as male. Everyman was an official selection at SDFF 2022.
Call Me Miss Cleo, a new doc from Unrest director Jennifer Brea is co-directing and Celia Aniskovich (Burn It Down!), has been getting broad coverage strong reviews since it was released on HBO Max in December (Movieweb, Metacritic, Gold Derby, The Wall Street Journal, L.A. Times). The feature-length doc tells the story of ‘90s late night TV icon Miss Cleo, portrayed by L.A. actress Youree Dell Harris, the Psychic Readers Network, and the 1-900 number industry that has since profoundly diminished. A character used to advertise a psychic pay-per-call hotline, who went on to host the Psychic Readers Network TV show, Miss Cleo vanished from the air in 2002 after the FTC launched an investigation into the Psychic Readers Network. Brea and Aniskovich attempt to examine Harris’s story in context, exploring how performance, race, economic need, and other factors contributed to Miss Cleo’s rise and fall from the public eye. Brea is an SDFF alumni, whose autobiographical film Unrest showed at SDFF 2018. In that film, Brea, at the time a grad student, chronicles her experience of myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME aka Chronic Fatigue Syndrome), raising awareness of a disease that was unacknowledged at the time. Unrest is available to stream via Netflix.
Director Ben Proudfoot’s short Mink! (The New York Times, 2022) got a recent boost after Breakwater Studios released a half hour discussion between the filmmaker and tennis champion Naomi Osaka, who served as executive producer on the project. The film tells the story of Rep. Patsy Mink, the first woman of color elected to U.S. Congress, and Title IX, a measure that prohibits gender discrimination in institutions that receive federal funding, which Mink championed relentlessly. Released on measure’s 50th Anniversary, the film examines the immediate aftermath of Title IX’s enactment, in particular the collision of the personal and the political that pulled Mink away from a floor vote on restrictions to Title IX three years after it was passed. The film marks Proudfoot’s collaboration with Osaka, who like Rep. Mink broke a glass ceiling when she became the first Asian player to hold the top rank in singles. This is the second time in recent memory that Proudfoot has collaborated with a star athlete. His Oscar® winning 2021 film The Queen Of Basketball (SDFF 2022), about Title IX pioneer Luisa Harris, the first woman to be drafted by the NBA, was executive produced by basketball stars Stephen Curry and Shaquille O’Neal. Both Mink! and The Queen Of Basketball are available to stream via The New York Times Op-Docs and Breakwater Studios.
IN THE NEWS
The Beauty President (2021) filmmaker Whitney Skauge and star Terence Alan Smith, who ran for president in the 80s as his drag persona Joan Jett Blakk, were both interviewed on the anniversary of the film’s release for an Into piece. In it, Skauge and Smith discuss the celebrated film’s impact and the legacy of Blakk’s presidential run. The Beauty President tells the story of Smith’s historic 1992 bid for U.S. president as Joan Jett Blakk at the height of the AIDS pandemic. The film captures Smith in the present day, as he reflects on his campaign, a seminal civil rights campaign, and its place in American history. The film appeared at SDFF 2022 alongside its Breakwater Studios brethren, including A Concerto Is A Conversation, The Queen Of Basketball and The Silent Pulse Of The Universe.
Breakwater Studios and its founder, filmmaker Ben Proudfoot (Mink!, The Queen Of Basketball, A Concerto Is A Conversation), are also heavily featured in Kelsey Brown’s recent Documentary piece, “The Short Docs Pathway—Long on Visibility and Virality, Slim on Sustainability, which examines what the “Golden Age of Documentaries” has meant for short films. The piece discusses how changes in documentary production and distribution over the past 20 years, in particular the rise of streaming platforms, have impacted documentary shorts. While streaming platforms have caused a proliferation of documentary projects, they are often sensationalized and overwhelmingly focused on celebrities or true crime. According to the article, documentary shorts do not share financial incentives with their feature-length counterparts, and are increasingly hosted and shared via news or social media platforms. While this has made shorts more accessible to a larger audience, funding is limited in a way that makes full-time filmmaking challenging for those who make shorts. Moreover, the film industry and funding sources tend to treat shortform filmmaking as a second-tier format for emerging talent. Proudfoot is interviewed for the piece and his career is positioned as a challenge to this model, from his start releasing shorts on Vimeo, to his work with The New York Times Op-Docs, to his continued work on shorts following his recent Oscar® win, to the success of Breakwater Studios, a production company focused solely on shorts. The piece also includes comments on the state of the field and funding from Caitlin Mae Burke and Merrill Sterritt, co-directors of IF/Then Shorts, a program a funding advocacy and career development program for documentary shorts, and A-Doc and Brown Girls Doc Mafia collective member/filmmaker Ash Goh Hua (I’m Free Now, You Are Free, 2020).
Mark Cousins’ The Story Of Film: A New Generation was among The Herald’s picks for the best Scottish films of the year. The film is a follow-up to Cousins’s 15-part series, The Story of Film: An Odyssey, which gave an overview of world cinema from the advent of the artform through 2009. The new doc is a feature-length exploration of how technology is changing the course of cinema in the 21st Century, done by an examination of films Cousins believes are the most impactful works of recent cinema, from 2010 to 2021. The Herald’s selection of this deeply optimistic film stands in stark contrast to the stormy news that marked the end of the year for Scottish cinephiles: the closure of Edinburgh’s celebrated Filmhouse cinema and the apparent demise of the Edinburgh International Film Festival. The new film was also recently released on DVD through Music Box Films, and has received positive reviews for the quality of the wide-ranging clips it incorporates. The Story of Film: A New Generation is also available VOD on Amazon, AppleTV, GooglePlay, Vudu and Youtube. Cousins personal doc The Story Of Looking showed as part of SDFF 2021. The film an exploration of the role visual experience plays in our lives and culture made by a filmmaker on the cusp of losing his sight.
A doc about a truly impressive wine con artist, Sour Grapes (Reuben Atlas and Jerry Rothwell, 2016), made a recent list of 10 Underrated Documentaries from CBR, a news source dedicated to comics. The film, an SDFF 2017 fave, tells the story of Rudy Kurniawan, an unassuming young man who flooded the American wine market with fake vintages, valued in the millions. In doing so, the film also gives shape to the world of high end wine auctions. Sour Grapes is available VOD on Vimeo and Vudu, and is also streaming on Amazon.
LOCAL SCREENINGS + FILM EVENTS
The Sonoma County Library Documentary Film Discussion Group will meet, Jan. 18 via Zoom to discuss Do I Sound Gay? (David Thorpe, 2014), a doc about the stereotype of the gay voice. The film explores what it means to “sound gay,” the amalgamation of cultural anxieties expressed in the identification and ridicule of the “gay voice,” and the ways in which those anxieties continue to trigger bullying and violence against gay people. Do I Sound Gay? includes a number of interviews with famous gay folks, including Tim Gunn, Don Lemon, Dan Savage, David Sedaris, George Takei and Margaret Cho. The discussion group will be held on Zoom, Jan. 18 at 6 p.m., attendance requires registration by 5 p.m., see details and availability on the Sonoma County Library Events Calendar. The film is available to screen through Kanopy with a library card. All participants must view the film on their own before the meeting.
A special screening of the doc Precious Guru: Journey Into the Heart of the Second Buddha (2020), followed by a Q&A with director Marc Wennberg and musician Peter Rowan, will take place at the Rialto® Cinemas Sebastopol on Jan. 31at 7 p.m. The feature length doc examines the life, times and legacy of Padmasambhava–the 8th Century Indian yogi who carried Buddhism over the Himalayas into Tibet. Revered for centuries in the Himalayan regions as the second Buddha, Padmasambhava’s influence has become a global phenomenon, carried across the world by refugee lamas, following the Chinese takeover of Tibet in 1959. He is also known as Guru Rinpoche, which translates as Precious Guru. Precious Guru is told by people from three continents, including Tibetan monastics and lay people encountered by the production team on their Himalayan travels, as well as accomplished lamas like Mingyur Rinpoche, western Buddhist teachers like Lama Tsultrim Allione, Lama Glenn Mullin and Professor Robert Thurman. Get tickets here.
CATCH THEM WHILE YOU CAN: DOCS AIRING ON TV + STREAMING ONLINE
The Woman Who Loves Giraffes (Alison Reid, 2018) is one of 80 films recently made available on Kino Lorber’s playlist of free docs on youtube. The film is an SDFF 2019 selection, in which zoologist 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, Dagg reflects on the 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. The Woman Who Loves Giraffes is available to stream in the U.S. for free on the Kino Lorber youtube channel, with a subscription through Kino Now, and VOD on iTunes, Google Play, and Vudu.
Omar Mullick’s These Birds Walk (2013) will be available on Mubi, starting Jan. 24. Simultaneously heart-wrenching and life-affirming, These Birds Walk follows the story of a young runaway boy whose life hangs on one critical question: where is home? The streets, an orphanage, or the family he fled in the first place. The film, which showed at SDFF 2014, is an ethereal and inspirational story of resilience, which documents the struggles and resilience of Karachi street children and the Samaritans looking out for them.
Zach Carver’s 2021 doc The Race To Alaska, got a wide VOD release last week by Freestyle, the digital film distribution division of Byron Allen’s Allen Media Group. 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. The Race To Alaska is now available via iTunes, AppleTV+, Amazon, GooglePlay, Youtube, Vimeo, xBox, Pojektor, and Adventure Sports TV.
The Silent Shore (Nathalie Giraud and Timothée Corteggiani, 36 mins) is now streaming on The New Yorker Documentary, accompanied by a short written piece about the film and its making, which includes some reflections by Giraud and Corteggiani. The short is a lush, moving documentary in which fantasy author Pierre Dubois and his wife, Aline, discuss the power of writing, imagination, and the deep connection with life that has brought them through the suicide of their teenaged daughter Melanie, who took her life following a heartbreak. The Silent Shore was an SDFF 2022 Jury Nominee.
Rahul Jain’s participant doc on climate change, Invisible Demons (Tuhon merkit), began streaming on MUBI this week, and has continued to draw new reviews from large market publications and smaller culture mags, including The Guardian, Paste, Scroll.in, and The Film Stage. The film, which was nominated for the Golden Eye when it premiered at Cannes in 2021, has also continued to make the rounds on the festival circuit, opening Spain’s Another Way Film Festival last week. The film captures the effects of climate change in Delhi and the environmental cost of India’s rapidly-growing economy, while meditating on the aesthetics of human disconnection with the natural world. This is Jain’s second doc. His first, Machines, a masterful meditation on work, was an SDFF 2018 selection.
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