SDFF NEWS BITS: ALUMNI UPDATES, FESTS, HONORS, NEW DOCS, INDUSTRY HAPPENINGS
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2 AUGUST 2022
AWARDS. HONORS. FESTIVALS. SPECIAL SCREENINGS.
Corbett Joan O’Toole, an activist and historian featured in Crip Camp (James LeBrecht and Nicole Newnham, 2020) was one of 20 artists selected for the Disability Futures Fellowship. Created by, for, and with disabled practitioners, Disability Futures is an initiative—developed in partnership with The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Ford Foundation, and administered by United States Artists—to spotlight the work of disabled creatives across disciplines and geography and amplify their voices individually and collectively.The fellowship provides 20 disabled U.S. artists, filmmakers and journalists with unrestricted $50,000 grants administered by the arts funding group United States Artists. O’Toole received the honor as part of a surprise second group of recipients, as the fellowship was initially conceived of as a one-time deal. While SDFF audiences most likely know her from her appearance in Crip Camp as an expert on the history of disability and disability rights, O’Toole is an artist, whose fiber work focuses on disability history, and an author, who penned the groundbreaking book, Fading Scars: My Queer Disability History. She has also been active in developing and supporting disabled dancers, and aiding in the foundation of the Axis Dance Company. O’Toole, who recently turned 70, joins Crip Camp director Jim LeBrecht and Bay Area Journalist/activist Alice Wong, who founded the Disability Visibility Project. LeBrecht has also recently been in the news for the role he played in helping develop an accessibility score card for film events.
Alternative Facts: The Lies of Executive Order 9066 (2019) director Jon Osaki received the Visionary Impact Award from the Japanese American Bar Association in mid-July. He received the award for his use of storytelling to educate, organize and inspire action in films like Alternative Facts, and the more recent Reparations (2021), a short that reflects on the critical role that solidarity between Black and Asian Americans in addressing systemic racism. Alternative Facts, which showed at SDFF 2020, is a feature-length doc considers the political forces and misinformation behind Executive Order 9066, which authorized the imprisonment of Japanese Americans during World War II. The film draws connections between the US’s treatment of its Japanese citizens during the war and the contemporary scapegoating of immigrants and abuses of power. The film was an SDFF 2020 official selection, which featured an interview with the filmmaker which is available to stream for free.
Imber’s Left Hand, a 2014 doc from Richard Kane (Truth Tellers, SDFF 2022) about artist Jon Imber and his partner, artist Jill Hoy, as they come to terms with his ALS diagnosis, was one of the opening films at the third MidCoast Film Festival last weekend. Kane, Hoy and co-producer Melody Lewis-Kane were in attendance for a post-screening Q&A. Kane’s Truth Tellers, which showed at SDFF2022, is also film about an artist—political artist Robert Shetterly whose work deals with racism and its reverberations. The film examines Shetterly’s Americans Who Tell the Truth, a project that explores our country’s ongoing struggle to live up to our democratic ideals with those who are not afraid to speak the truth nor challenge the status quo.
NEW FILMS & PROJECTS FROM SDFF FILMMAKERS
Documentarian Keith Maitland (Tower, A Song For You: The Austin City Limits Story) is among the filmmakers collaborating on a new PBS series, Southern Storytellers, which will premiere in the summer of 2023. The three-part TV docuseries is being spearheaded by filmmaker Craig Renaud (Last Chance High, Shelter), and will follow some of the region’s most compelling and influential contemporary creators to the places they call home. Maitland will be producing and directing the project’s 6-part digital series with Terry Lickona (Austin City Limits). The PBS Digital Studios series will explore the powerful role of place in the lyrics of Southern songwriters. Working on music docs isn’t new for Maitland. While he’s probably best-known for the animated doc Tower, a retelling of the 1966 University of Texas Tower shootings, he also made A Song For You: The Austin City Limits Story, which traces the 40-year evolution of the TV show. Both films showed at SDFF 2017.
Omar Mullick (These Birds Walk, 2014) co-wrote a recently released doc examining the life Hasna Aït Boulahcen and Islamic radicalization, You Resemble Me with Egyptian-American filmmaker Dina Amer. Raised in a rough-and-tumble suburb of Paris, Boulahcen was a troubled young woman of Moroccan descent, who endured poverty and abuse throughout her short life. She died with her cousin Abdelhamid Abaaoud, one of the ringleaders of the November 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris, during a police raid in Saint-Denis. Mullick has worked prolifically as a cinematographer, but this film, which involved sorting through 300 hours of filmed interviews, marks his first writing credit. His doc These Birds Walk, which showed at SDFF 2014, is also about kids attempting to survive rough childhoods, as it documents the struggles and resilience of Karachi street children and the Samaritans looking out for them.
Frequent collaborators Neasa Ní Chianáin and David Rane have teamed up with directors Francois Verster and Simon Wood for Girl Taken. Ní Chianáin co-wrote the film with the directing duo, with Rane producing. The film is about the reunion of a girl and the family she was stolen from 17 years prior. The reunion is the result of a chance meeting between the girl and her sister at school. Ní Chianáin’s 2017 doc with David Rane, School Life (SDFF 2018), focuses on teachers at Headfort, the only primary boarding school in Ireland, as the married couple who have kept it running for 50 years begin to consider retirement.
Award winning film director and historian Mark Cousins (The Story Of Looking) is working on March on Rome with Italian writer/director Tony Saccucci (The Duce’s Boxer, 2017) a documentary exploration of historic, Italian fascist propaganda, which is tied to the centennial of the insurrection that brough Mussolini to power in October 1922. Taking its cue from A Noi (1923), Umberto Paradisi’s official Fascist party documentary celebrating the March on Rome, the film will explore the roots of fascism by analyzing film, photographs and other material from the Italian archives. According to Variety, will mark the first high-profile documentary for the international market produced by Palomar Doc, the recently launched documentary unit of the Italian TV and film production company. Another new film from Cousins, The Ballad of a Great Disordered Heart (2022), a collaboration with folk musicians Aidan O’Rourke and Becky Manson, about Edinburgh’s Old Town and the Irish communities, ) is set to premiere at the 75th Edinburgh International Film Festival in August. Cousins’s made the SDFF 2022 film The Story Of Looking is an exploration of the role visual experience plays in our lives and culture, made as the prolific filmmaker was on the cusp of losing his sight.
IN THE NEWS
Filmmaker Violet Du Feng (Tigre Gente, EP, 2022), who directed the excellent documentary feature Hidden Letters, was one of 5 non-fiction producers selected for the Sundance Institute’s Producer’s Lab, which ran last week in Utah for the first time in 3 years. The lab is part of the producer program which is meant to support producers through year-round mentorships, grants, educational resources, strategic introductions and networking opportunities. In addition to directing, Du Fang has produced a number of docs including two recent SDFF faves: Tigre Gente (Elizabeth Unger, 2022) about the South American jaguar trade; and Our Time Machine (S. Leo Chiang, Yang Sun, 2020), about Chinese artist Maleonn’s project with his father, accomplished Peking Opera director Ma Ke, who is suffering from Alzheimer’s.
A Sexplanation (Alexander Liu, SDFF 2021) was featured in The Advocate’s 2022 Advocacy and Politics Issue (July 2022), as a much-needed makeover for queer sex ed. The doc, which overtly addresses the lack of quality sex ed in the U.S., has only become more relevant since its release, with various states passing new laws to restrict discussions of sexuality and gender in educational contexts (ie. Florida’s “don’t say gay” law). In A Sexplanation, 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. In doing so he engages in provocative conversations with psychologists, sex researchers, a Jesuit priest, and several generations of his family. The doc is available VOD through iTunes, Amazon, Google and Vimeo.
Unrest, Jennifer Brea’s film about her experience of Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (aka Chronic Fatigue Syndrome) made a recent Screen Rant list of the 7 best docs about chronic illness. The piece notes that Brea’s doc remains one of just two representations of the condition in popular media, the other being on the Golden Girls’ “Sick & Tired” episodes, which aired in 1989. The dearth of representation belies a larger problem, which Brea tackles in the film as she fights first for recognition of her illness by doctors and second for more research into the condition, which completely derails the Harvard grad student’s life. Unrest showed at SDFF 2018, and is available to stream via Netflix.
A new interview with filmmaking partners Joe Wilson and Dean Hamer, about their collaboration with Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu and illustrator Daniel Sousa on the book Kapaemahu is streaming on Kansas Public Radio. The book is part of a project that began as an animated short, which showed at SDFF 2020, and has grown into a multi-media documentary project, including a feature film, illustrated children’s book, audio book, and most recently, museum exhibit. The project’s overarching goal is to restore 15th century dual-gender Mahu healers to a historic record wiped clean by colonial and post-colonial repression, and has gotten attention across the U.S. as a model for re-engaging histories that have either been erased or elided by colonial narratives.
The 3,000-square foot John H. Scully re-creation of the 1950s Lackawanna Railroad, featured in Ross Kauffman’s documentary short Still Plays with Trains has pulled into a new home at the Liberty Science Station in New Jersey. The model will be part of a permanent exhibit, which will include clips from the film, an SDFF 2020 official selection. The meticulous, hand-crafted model was worked on by an array of architects, artists, engineers and electricians in Scully’s basement for over 15 years and includes more than 425 feet of train track, 6 complete models of New Jersey railway stations, the local coal mine industry, suburban homes, realistic bodies of water, 5,000 miniature native trees and shrubs, 400 little people, a drive-in movie theater, and multiple shops and stores including a fully-stocked grocery store.
LOCAL SCREENINGS + FILM EVENTS
The San Francisco Jewish Film Festival continues this week, through Aug. 7. The festival is presented by the Jewish Film Institute, where SDFF alumni filmmaker Jay Rosenblatt (When We Were Bullies, SDFF 2021) is the program director. This year’s festival includes The Faithful: The Pope, The Princess, and The King (SDFF 2022), Annie Berman’s fan-focused exploration of the deep veneration for, and legacies of, Pope John Paul II, Princess Diana, and Elvis. Other docs selected for the festival include Centerpiece Doc Bernstein’s Wall(Douglas Tirola, 2021) about American music icon Leonard Bernstein, Take Action Spotlight film To The End(Rachel Lears, 2022) about four visionary young activists and women of color on the front lines of the fight for a Green New Deal, Repairing the World: Stories from the Tree of Life (Patrice O’Neill, 2022) chronicling the three years that followed the hate-based mass shooting at Tree of Life synagogue shooting, and Shouting Down Midnight (Gretchen Stoeltje, 2022) about Texas State Senator Wendy Davis’s 13-hour filibuster against anti-abortion bill SB5 in 2013. Most of the screenings include post-film Q&As with the filmmakers. Rosenblatt’s Oscar® Nominated, autobiographical documentary short When We Were Bullies is available to stream on HBO/HBO MAX.
The Fire Cats—Save Something Small (Katherine Parsons, 2022) will be screened as a benefit for Forgotten Felines and Field Haven at Rialto Cinemas® on Aug. 14 (1 and 7 p.m.). Fire Cats is about efforts to rescue cats following the 2017 firestorm in Santa Rosa. The film focuses on Officer Shannon Jay, who rescued hundreds of cats during the disaster, returning them to families who had lost everything. It also looks at similar efforts a year later, during the camp fire, when a sanctioned NGO attempted to stop them. This is an issue that remains pertinent, as not one, but two massive fires engulf parts of California in the present day. A bit later in the month, the Rialto® will also be screening a lighter-hearted doc, Living Wine (Lori Miller, 2022), starting Aug. 19. The film is about 25 years of the Northern California natural wine movement. And, last but certainly not least, the highly anticipated biographical doc Loving Highsmith (Eva Vitija, 2022), which uses the diaries and notebooks of celebrated novelist and lesbian icon Patricia Highsmith to focus on her love life and struggles with identity starting September 9.
CATCH THEM WHILE YOU CAN: DOCS AIRING ON TV + STREAMING ONLINE
Glitter & Dust (Anna Koch and Julia Lemke, 2020), an SDFF 2021 doc about girls who buck gender norms by competing in the male-dominated world of rodeos, has already gotten new attention from the media after starting to stream online last week. The film, which was released two years ago, was reviewed by The Guardian on July 23, the day after it began streaming on True Story, an independent platform for documentaries.
Following its recent nationwide television premiere opening the 35th season of PBS’s POV, Wuhan Wuhan (Yung Chang, 2020) is now available to stream on the series website. The film, which showed at SDFF 2021, is an observational documentary filmed 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.
Sydney Bowie Linden’s documentary short Black Gold (SDFF 2022), about a California oil town bracing for change, is now featured in The New Yorker. The vaunted publication is streaming the film, accompanied by a short, interview-based article in which Linden talks about her intentions and experiences making the film. Linden filmed in the small town of Taft, near Bakersville, over 6 months in 2020, during the presidential campaign and election. The doc is a compelling artifact of an historic moment and one that challenges national views of California as uniformly progressive.
Award-winning filmmaker Ben Proudfoot (A Concerto Is A Conversation, The Queen Of Basketball) teamed up with tennis star Naomi Osaka (Hana Kuma production company) for MINK!, which tells the story of Patsy Takemoto Mink, a Hawaiian Democrat who became the first woman of color elected to the U.S. House of Representative. The film was the latest in a string of Proudfoot’s films released as a New York Times Op Doc, joining many of Proudfoot’s other shorts on the platform, including The Queen Of Basketball, A Concerto Is A Conversation, The Unchosen One, and The Lost Astronaut.
Since I Been Down (Gilda Shepperd, SDFF 2021) recently became available as a 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.).
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 streaming for free via the L.A. Times. 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 recent U.S. Supreme Court decision, which overturned Roe v. Wade, suspending legal access to vital reproductive health care for woman across the United States and effectively curtailing women’s bodily autonomy, prompted us to look back at our recent selections for films that can give context and dimension to a life experience, which is frequently discussed in abstract terms. The films we selected for this list either showed at the festival or were the work of SDFF alumni and include: On The Divide (Maya Cueva and Leah Galant, 2021), Personhood: Policing Pregnant Women In America (Jo Ardinger, SDFF 2020), AKA Jane Roe (Nick Sweeney, ed. Mary Manhardt, 2020), Abortion Helpline, This is Lisa (Mike Attie, Barbara Attie and Janet Goldwater, 2020), and Vessel (Diana Whitten, SDFF 2014). The in-text links above will take you to a streaming version of each film. For a list with more detailed film descriptions and more places to watch, click here.
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