SDFF NEWS BITS: ALUMNI UPDATES, FESTS, HONORS, NEW DOCS, INDUSTRY HAPPENINGS
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29 NOVEMBER 2022
AWARDS. HONORS. FESTIVALS. SPECIAL SCREENINGS
Maya Cueva and Leah Galant’s abortion doc On The Divide (SDFF 2022) was awarded the Humanitarian Award at the 2022 DOCUTAH International Film Festival. The film was one of 10 to receive honors of at the festival, which gives awards in conventional categories, like Best Feature/Short and Audience Favorites, as well as some less traditional ones like the Enlightenment Award, Distinctive Piece, and Trailblazer. 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.
Award-winning documentarian, writer, reporter and visual artist Michelle Memran received an inaugural Paul Lucas Artistic Spirit Award at Encore Ovation A Celebration of Aging Through Art earlier this month. The award is meant to honor those who champion overlooked stories and people, and is also a tribute to the late playwright and producer Paul Lucas, who helped bring the experiences of trans people to the stage in his 2012 work, Trans Scripts. Merman’s work also resonates with Encore Ovation’s overarching mission, to raise awareness of the healing power of the arts on aging. Memran’s doc The Rest I Make Up (SDFF 2019, Best Feature) tells the story of Cuban-American playwright Maria Irene Fornes living a creative life while struggling with Alzheimer’s, and the unexpected friendship she develops with Merman over the course of the film.
Projects from two SDFF alumni won honors at the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam last week. The award for best directing in the international competition went to the Simon Chambers for the David Rane-produced film Much Ado About Dying, while Mark Cousins’s March on Rome won Special Mention for the Beeld & Geluid Reframe Award. Recently in the news for his role as EP in the BIFA-nominated doc Young Plato, Rane co-directed the SDFF 2018 film School Life (SDFF 2018) with Neasa Ní Chianáin, a film that focuses on teachers at Headfort, the only primary boarding school in Ireland. Much Ado About Death was an audience favorite at IDFA, and covers the last months of the director’s flamboyant, Shakespeare-loving uncle, David. Cousins, who directed the stunning SDFF 2022 doc The Story Of Looking, a personal exploration of visual experience by a filmmaker on the cusp of losing his sight, was nominated for a very different type of film, exploring historic, fascist Italian propaganda: March On Rome. The ReFrame category in which Cousins’s film was honored celebrates films engaged in reviving, re-purposing, re-cutting, and re-signifying previously existing material. Cousins’s March On Rome explores the roots of fascism by analyzing film, photographs and other material from historic archives from the 1922 March On Rome, the insurrection that brought Mussolini to power. The recent election of the neo-fascist Brothers Of Italy, and the rising tide of far right and fascist groups worldwide has only increased the film’s relevance since it was released in late summer. The winners of the European Film Awards will be announced at a ceremony on Dec. 10 in Reykjavík.
Breaking Trail (Jesse Roesler, 2021) was announced as an official selection at a preview of the 21st Annual Wild and Scenic Film Festival, which takes place in Nevada City and Grass Valley, Feb. 16-20. The festival typically features about 100 films by, and about, activists, and holds workshops and talks by filmmakers. Its full 2023 roster will be out on Dec. 15, here. The film’s star Emily Ford is profiled in a recent piece on Minnesota Adventurers. The piece discusses her 69-day trek across the 1200-mile Ice Age Trail in winter with an Alaskan Husky named Diggins, which was documented in the beloved SDFF 2022 short Breaking Trail. Ford was the first woman and person of color to complete this incredible feat. The piece also touches on Ford and Diggins’s more recent trek across the secluded Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in sub-zero temperatures. This adventure, undertaken to drawn attention to the threat copper mining poses to this unique and vital area, is the subject of a new film, also directed by Roesler, A Voice For The Wild. The adventurer list also includes a man who broke a 25 year-old record when he completed climbing Colorado’s 58 peaks about 14,000 feet in the fastest known time; the two-time winner of the women’s division of the Tour Divide, an ultradistance, self-supported bikepacking race that spans 2,745 miles, traversing the Rocky Mountains from Banff, Alberta, to the Mexican border; a teen log-rolling champ and a pair of women who paddled a canoe more than 2,000 miles over 85 days from Minneapolis to Hudson Bay. Breaking Trail is now streaming through Outside+, the online content arm of Outside Magazine.
A rare screening of Marta Houske’s Crows of the Desert A Hero’s Journey Through The Armenian Genocide will accompany Levon Parian’s exhibit “Lost Memories,” and a collection of his photos from Armenia in the 1990s, at ReflectSpace Gallery in Glendale, a Los Angeles borough with a vibrant Armenian-American community. The screening will be followed by a discussion with the Houske, Parian, and executive director Paul Turpanjian, moderated by UCLA’s Helen Makhdoumian. Crows Of The Desert (SDFF 2018) is based on the Memoirs of Levon Yotnakhparian, who risked his life to rescue thousands of scattered, destitute survivors of the Armenian Genocide. The film includes extraordinarily are film, photographs and documents from global archives. The screening is a collaborative between the Armenian Promise Institute UCLA, ARPA Film Festival and the Glendale Central Library.
NEW FILMS + PROJECTS FROM SDFF FILMMAKERS
Lyra (Alison Millar, 2022) is a new doc about the life and death of internationally-renowned Northern Irish investigative journalist Lyra McKee has been getting attention in the press, (The Guardian, Variety, The Independent) following its Irish release in early November. The film is edited and executive produced by For Sama (SDFF 2019) editor Chloe Lamborn and co-director Edward Watts, respectively. Director Alison Millar was a close friend of the late journalist, and the doc is an emotive portrait of her life and senseless death, told through her own work and words. It emphasizes Lyra’s commitment to truth and justice for forgotten crimes, while also giving a complex picture of Northern Ireland’s political history, bringing into sharp focus the ways in which the 1998 Good Friday agreement – with its promised end to violence for future generations – has struggled to be fully realized. Though the film has been picked up for international distribution from Cinephil, it has yet to be released in the U.S.
Julia Bacha’s most recent film Boycott will be showing twice at the Leeds Palestinian Film Festival, as the UK has announced plans to pass bans on public boycotts and divestments similar to the U.S. anti-BDS laws examined in the film. Notably, those laws are also at the heart of a Supreme Court Case free speech case that has yet to be decided. The plaintiff in that Supreme Court, an Arkansas newspaper publisher, who argues that the laws essentially required the newspaper to take a political position in exchange for advertising, is among the trio of stories told in the film. The case is also at the heart of a Oct. 24 episode of Democracy Now!, featuring Bacha. The Leeds Palestinian Film Festival runs through Dec. 9, featuring 9 films and a photo exhibit, Humans of Palestine. Bacha’s 2017 film Naila and the Uprising (Julia Bacha, 2017) was an SDFF 2019 selection, and follows the story of Naila Ayesh, a woman living in Gaza during the 1987 uprisings, whose story weaves through the First Intifada, which was instrumental in forcing the world to recognize the Palestinian right to self-determination for the first time.
Oscar-winning director Ross Kauffman’s (Still Plays With Trains, SDFF 2020) new cancer doc Of Medicine and Miracles was an official selection at Pennsylvania’s Centre Film Festival, which is in its fourth year. The film chronicles the monumental task of curing cancer, as seen through the harrowing experiences of one young girl, her family, and a doctor on a mission. Kauffman tracks teams at Penn (Univ. of Pennsylvania) Medicine and the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia as they treat 6 year-old leukemia patient Emily Whitehead, culminating in the world’s first CAR T-cell therapy, which has left Whitehead cancer-free for a decade. Kauffman’s short Still Plays With Trains showed as part of SDFF 2020, and gives a glimpse of one man’s childhood in the 1950s vis-à-vis his ongoing love of toy trains.
Lili, a recent short from filmmaker Yfke van Berckelaer, was selected as one of Durham Regional International Film Festival’s Best Shorts. The film will be screened along with eight of the other best shorts that were submitted to this year’s festival on Dec. 11. Lili is a single-shot #metoo horror short about power, the misuse of power and female empowerment, featuring performances by Lisa Smit (Ares) and Derek de Lint (The Unbearable Lightness Of Being). Van Berckelaer directed the SDFF 2017 short Pepe, an intimate portrait of a 12 year-old boy with cerebral policy and his family, living in one of the poorest parts of Peru.
IN THE NEWS
Adam Mazo and Ben Pender-Cudlip’s Dawnland (SDFF 2019) was featured in the recent Teen Vogue piece 15 Native American Movies TV Shows to Watch and Learn About Indigenous History and Culture, penned by Native American journalist and cultural critic Maka Monture. Published in honor of Native American Heritage months, the list includes a handful of fiction films and TV shows from indigenous creators, and a number of films that focus on the United States’ history of systemic violence, relocation, media erasure, forced sterilization, and boarding school brutality of Indigenous peoples. Dawnland is among the films in the second category, and gives behind-the-scenes coverage of the U.S.’s first truth and reconciliation commission, which investigated the U.S.’s removal of Wabanaki children from their families and homes by government agents, and their placement with white families. Many of these children suffered devastating emotional and physical trauma after being taken from their family and many of the people interviewed for the documentary share how they have lost a sense of their identity due to these experiences. Dawnland is available to rent here.
Big Sonia (Leah Warshawski and Todd Soliday, 2016) is one of around 100 non-fiction films that will help launch a dedicated documentary section for Starzplay Pakistan, a streaming and VOD service featuring films from the U.S., U.K., India, Pakistan, and a few other countries, available in Pakistan. The film is part of a deal between Starzplay and Big Sonia’s distributor, Espresso Media International, which includes a 150-hour package of non-fiction content, including sub-genres that range from true crime to environmental stories to sports and social issues. Starzplay Pakistan is a relatively young venture, launched in 2020 between Cinepax, a Pakistani cinema chain and Lionsgate’s StarzPlay Arabia. The recent acquisition from Espresso includes 21 hours of true crime, 31 hours of educational content, and 23 hours from the company’s science and space catalog. Big Sonia 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+.
Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise (Rita Coburn Whack and Bob Hercules, 2016) made a recent Substream list of documentary features about inspirational women. Though short, the list includes a fairly diverse array of films about women, from Beyoncé’s Homecoming to Tamara Kotevska’s Honeyland about a Macedonian beekeeper, using ancient techniques. Maya Angelou and Still I Rise, which showed at SDFF 2017, weaves the author’s words with archival photos and video. Covering everything from her upbringing in the Depression-era South to her work with Malcolm X in Ghana. The film showed at SDFF 2017 and is available as an episode of American Masters via PBS on YouTube.
A doc about a truly impressive wine con artist, Sour Grapes (Reuben Atlas and Jerry Rothwell, SDFF 2017), made a recent Collider list of films about wine and wine and wine lovers. The only doc on the list, 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. Sour Grapes is available VOD on Vimeo and Vudu, and is also streaming on Amazon.
LOCAL SCREENINGS + FILM EVENT
The Petaluma Film Alliance Fall cinema series closes next Wednesday, Nov. 30 at 7 p.m. with 80s children’s classic, E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (Steven Spielberg, 1982), which celebrated its 40th Anniversary earlier this year. This family film is a cinematic fairy tale about a young boy who befriends a stranded alien and attempts to help it find its way home. Filled with laughter, heart, thrills, and wonder, E.T. remains one of the most beloved films of the modern era. Nominated for nine Oscars®, the film picked up four wins, including one for John Williams’ iconic score. The film stars Henry Thomas as Elliott, local film luminary Peter Coyote as the government agent Keys, and 6-year-old Drew Barrymore as Elliott’s younger sister. The screening will be held at the Carole L. Ellis Auditorium at the SRJC Petaluma Campus. See details on parking, tickets and COVID protocols here.
Academy Award©- and BAFTA-nominated filmmaker Luca Guadagnino’s (Call Me By Your Name, Suspiria) 2020 doc about Italian fashion icon Salvatore Ferragamo, Salvatore: Shoemaker of Dreams will begin showing at Rialto Cinemas® Sebastopol on Dec. 2. The film tracks Ferragamo’s life from humble beginnings in Bonito, Italy, where he began making shoes as a young teenager, to his time in California helping to invent the glamor of Hollywood’s silent and Classical eras, to his storied studio in Florence, Italy, where he would help found an iconic fashion house. The film includes Emmy©-nominated actor Michael Stuhlbarg’s (Call Me by Your Name, The Shape of Water) narration of Ferragamo’s 1955 memoir; a trove of 100-year-old archival footage; a “shoe ballet” created by stop-motion artist Pes; and commentary from filmmaker Martin Scorsese, shoe icons of the present day Manolo Blahnik and Christian Louboutin, members of the fashion and film industry presses, and member of Ferragamo’s family.
Sebastopol’s Fall Doc Nite series will continue on Dec. 12 with a screening of Dear Santa (2020)at 7 p.m. at Rialto Cinemas® Sebastopol, followed by a discussion with director Dana Nachman and cinematographer Mike Abela, followed by a casual gathering at Fern Bar. Dear Santa shines a light on the 100 year-old program Operation Santa. Operation Santa is a program operated by the United States Postal Service each year, that collects hundreds of thousands of letters to Santa, which can then be selected and fulfilled safely by member of the public. The film tracks one cycle of this enormous undertaking. Mirroring Santa’s fabled Christmas Eve fight, the film travels across the country, focusing on select Operation Santa centers: some in metropolitan areas, like the massive operation in New York City, and others in small towns where the post office is the heart of the community. Doc Night is a collaboration between Trim Tab, SDFF and Rialto Cinemas®. See Dear Santa Doc Night details and buy tickets here. Submit or adopt Operation Santa letters here.
Rialto Cinemas® Sebastopol has two special screenings of film history doc Exposing Muybridge scheduled for Dec. 15 at 1 and 7 p.m. with director Mark Shaffer on hand for a Q&A. The film tells the story of Eadweard Muybridge, whose photographic motion studies and experiments in motion picture projection were pivotal to the development of film. Shaffner’s doc examines Muybridge’s adventurous life and his lesser known work. Before his motion photography breakthrough, Muybridge produced one of the most celebrated early landscape catalogues of the American West. He made the first photographs of winemaking in Northern California, produced the first photographs of native Tlingit people and of Southeast Alaska, was the fourth to photograph Yosemite, the first to be hired by the U.S. government to photograph an Indian War and his photographs of Central America are widely considered the most important early images of the region. Exposing Muybridge won the 2022 Writers Guild Award for Best Documentary Screenplay. Get more information on this screening here.
The Sonoma County Library Documentary Film Discussion Group will meet, Dec. 21 to discuss environmental doc The Story Of Plastic (Deia Schlosberg, 2019), with special guest Marie Kneemeyer, Education Manager from Recology, on-hand to discuss the local waste stream. The Story of Plastic is an exposé, uncovering the ugly truth behind plastic pollution and the false solution of plastic recycling. From the extraction of fossil fuels and plastic disposal to the global resistance fighting back, the film stands out for its cohesive timeline of the current global plastic pollution crisis, including the oil and gas industry’s successful circulation of an industry-friendly narrative around pollution and climate change. THE STORY OF PLASTIC is a life changing film depicting one of the world’s most pressing environmental issues.The discussion group will be held on Zoom, Dec. 21 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.
CATCH THEM WHILE YOU CAN: DOCS AIRING ON TV + STREAMING ONLINE
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.
Anita Gou’s (prod. The Last Animals) newest film The Silent Twins (Agnieszka Smoczynska, 2022) began streaming on Peacock last week. The film isan adaptation of Marjorie Wallace’s non-fiction bestseller. Set in 1970s Wales, it tells the story of two Black women, June (Letitia Wright) and Jennifer Gibbons (Tamara Lawrence), who communicated only with eachother, created their own world, wrote fiction and committed crimes in their teens. The duo was eventually confined to a mental health facility. According to Variety, the film’s debut at Cannes received a standing ovation that lasted 4 minutes. Gou produced the SDFF 2018 selection The Last Animals (Kate Brooks, 2017), about conservationists, scientists and activists working to save elephants and rhinos from extinction.
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.
Wolf, the second narrative feature from SDFF alumni filmmaker Nathalie Biancheri (Xavier Corbero: Portrait of an Artist in Winter, 2017) is now streaming on HBO. Wolf is about a young man suffering from “species dysphoria” who believes himself to be a wolf, and stars noted method actor George MacKay. When the boundary-pushing, high-concept film was released in the U.S. late last year and polarized reviewers. Biancheri’s doc Xavier Corbero: Portrait of an Artist in Winter was an SDFF 2018 selection, which gave a charming and fascinating glimpse into the home and universe of iconic Spanish sculptor Xavier Corbero, whose career traversed a turbulent moment of Spanish history.
SDFF alumni filmmaker Ben Proudfoot’s new short, which was just announced as part of the DOC NYC 2022 line-up, The Best Chef In The World, about The French Laundry found Sally Schmitt, is part of Proudfoot’s ongoing partnership with New York Times Op Docs. The new film joins his recent project with tennis star Naomi Osaka, MINK! about Rep. Patsy Takemoto Mink, the first woman of color elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, and many of his other documentary shorts, including The Queen Of Basketball, A Concerto Is A Conversation, The Unchosen One, and The Lost Astronaut.
Drew Leung’s animated film The Chemical Factory (2021) was recently added to the Los Angeles Times series of documentary shorts, which are meant to represent “a West Coast perspective and a global view” showcasing underrepresented voices and fostering diversity in the film community. The Chemical Factory is an animated piece in which an immigrant mother retraces her early years during the Chinese Cultural Revolution to her son, the filmmaker. The series also includes several other films that were either shown at SDFF, such as The Beauty President (Whitney Skauge, 2022) about queer, black presidential candidate Terence Alan Smith, who ran for office during the ravages of the AIDS crisis in 1992; or are the work of SDFF alumni filmmakers, such as 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, or the Adam Mazo-produced (Dawnland, SDFF 2019) short ᎤᏕᏲᏅ (What They’ve Been Taught) (Brit Hensel, 2022), which explores expressions of reciprocity in the Cherokee world through a story told by an elder and first language speaker.
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