SDFF NEWS BITS: ALUMNI UPDATES, FESTS, HONORS, NEW DOCS, INDUSTRY HAPPENINGS
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11 OCTOBER 2022
AWARDS. HONORS. FESTIVALS. SPECIAL SCREENINGS
Nuisance Bear (Jack Weisman and Gabriela Oslo Vanden, 2021), won the juried Best Non-Fiction Short award at the 25th annual Short Shorts Film Festival & Asia (sic), which runs through Oct. 23 at the Tokyo Photographic Museum of Art, and will also stream online. The film is also an official selection of the upcoming Banff Centre Mountain Film Festival, which will screen films on-site and online Oct. 29-Nov. 6. Nuisance Bear isan unconventional and visually arresting study of polar bears who draw tourists to Churchill, Manitoba for the specific purpose of taking wildlife photos. The doc shifts perspective, revealing an obstacle course of tourist paparazzi and wildlife officers the bears must navigate during their annual migration. Nuisance Bear was an SDFF 2022 official selection.
For Love And Legacy (AK Sandhu, 2021), will showing as part of two upcoming fests: The Mill Valley FF and The Montclair FF. The documentary short, which showed as part of SDFF 2022, documents how sculptor Dana King’s hands and activist Fredrika Newton’s memories combine to build a new monument that honors the Black Panther Party’s vital place in American history. For Love And Legacy will be screened as part of the Shorts: Painting Pictures block at the Mill Valley festival on Oct. 12 at 3:45 p.m. in San Rafael, and will also be available to stream for the festival’s duration, from Oct. 6-16. The film will show at the Montclair Film Festival, where it is in competition as part of the juried documentary category, on Oct. 23 at 2 p.m. The Clairmont festival runs Oct. 21-30 in New Jersey.
SDFF alumni filmmaker Ben Proudfoot continues to make waves on the U.S. indie festival circuit, with his shorts The Queen Of Basketball and The Best Chef In The World. His newest, The Best Chef In The World, which recently debuted at Telluride,is an official selection at Nova Scotia’s Devour! The Food Film Festival, which is focused on the future of food this year, and runs Oct. 24-30.The short is about Sally Schmitt, the original founder of The French Laundry. In addition, last week, The Queen Of Basketball won the Best of the Fest award at the 17th Annual Sioux City International Film Festival. The Oscar-award winning short is about Lucy Harris, the first woman drafted to an NBA team. The film has been in the news since its Oscar win, at least in part, because Proudfoot used his acceptance speech to call attention to the plight of queer WNBA star Brittney Griner, who was sentenced to 9 years in a Russian penal colony on Cannabis charges. For more information on this case, see the WNBA petition for her swift and safe release at change.org. Both films are available through New York Times Op Docs.
Kelcey Edward’s The Art Of Making It (2022) was among the official selections of the 9th Annual Greater Farmington Film Festival, a recent Michigan festival that focuses on indie films “with a conscience.” The Art Of Making It is a cautionary tale about what America stands to lose if we don’t rethink how we value artists, and a love letter to those who persevere in their artistic practice in spite of the extraordinary odds against ever achieving a sustainable career. The Art Of Making It is available to stream VOD on Amazon, GooglePlay and YouTube.
NEW FILMS + PROJECTS FROM SDFF FILMMAKERS
The River and The Wall (Ben Masters, 2019) producer Nancy P. Sanders is an executive producer on the celebrated new doc Exposure (Holly Morris, 2022), which tracks an expedition of 13 women from Arab and European nations as they attempt to ski across the melting Arctic sea ice to the North Pole. The visually stunning doc is directed by Holly Morris (The Babushkas of Chernobyl, 2015) and filmed by a crew almost entirely comprised of women. It captures the explorers’ at every stage of their journey, from selection and training to braving the ice from the Arctic outpost of Longyearbyen, the northernmost community in the world to the North Pole, working through profound differences in language, religion, communication and culture to achieve a singular, common goal. The doc is already on the festival circuit where it has won almost a dozen awards. Sanders’s SDFF 2020 film, The River and The Wall is also about a journey, following 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.
A new doc produced by Armando Croda (co-director, Im Leaving Now (Ya Me Voy), 2018) I Am Vanessa Guillén (Christy Wegener, 2022) will be released through Netflix on November 17. The film is about U.S. army soldier Vanessa Guillen who was murdered by a colleague shortly after telling her mother she’d been sexually harassed after being stationed at Fort Hood in 2020. The murder happened at the peak of the #MeToo movement, and spurred her family to fight for historic military reform, which took shape as the I Am Vanessa Guillén Act of 2020. The bill allows members of the army to make sexual harassment complaints to an individual outside of their immediate chain of command. Croda co-directed the SDFF 2019 doc I Am Leaving Now (Ya Me Voy) with Lindsey Cordero. The film is a lyrical meditation on the crossroads at which its subject Felipe, heartbroken and betrayed, finds himself. After spending 17 years working low-paying jobs in Brooklyn, living undocumented and sending money home to Mexico, he is ready to go home, but finds that his family has squandered the money he’s sent them, is deeply in debt and needs him to continue to stay in the U.S.
XTR Studios, the non-fiction studio founded and run by Lifeboat (Skye Fitzgerald, 2018) producer Bryn Mooser is opening a 35,000 square-foot hub for documentary productions in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Echo Park, according to The Hollywood Reporter. The studio will open in the former home of BelleVarado Studios, which will include work and meeting spaces, a soundstage, recording studio, along with production and postproduction facilities. The space will house XTR productions, which produces, funds and distributes films, series and podcasts, and operations for the company’s free non-fiction streaming platform, Documentary+. XTR currently has 25 projects in production, joining an impressive roster of over 80 docs, including Oscar nominated Ascension (Jessica Kingdom, 2021), Emmy- and Peabody-winning 76 Days (Hao Wu, Weixi Chen, Anonymous, 2020) , National Geographic’s The Territory (Alex Prtiz, 2022), SDFF 2022 selection Tigre Gente (Elizabeth Unger, 2021), and I Didn’t See You There (Reid Davenport, 2022), a documentary feature about living with disability that premiered at Sundance and will be in theaters this month.
IN THE NEWS
The Beauty President (2021) filmmaker Whitney Skauge is among the inaugural cohort of GLAAD’s newly launched Equity in Media and Entertainment Initiative, a three-year program focused on developing and elevating the work of Black LGBTQIA+ creatives. The initiative is a pipeline program designed to help address and resolve the existing gap in equitable representation onscreen and behind the scenes in Hollywood. Each of the 10 creators selected will be granted $10,000 for a project that will be produced during their time with the initiative. Skauge’s documentary short The Beauty President, which showed at SDFF 2022, captures activist Terence Alan Smith in the present day, as he reflects on his historic run for president in 1992, at the height of the AIDS pandemic, as his drag person Joan Jett Black. The short is a coproduction of Lena Waithe and Rishi Rajani’s Hillman Grad Productions and Ben Proudfoot’s Breakwater Studios, which became the premiere film in an LA Times initiative showcasing nonfiction shorts from a West Coast perspective. The film remains available through Breakwater Studios and the L.A. Times, where it is accompanied by a written piece from Skauge. GLAAD, née the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, is an American NGO that monitors portrayals of LGBTQIA+ folks across the media. For more on the GLAAD in Equity in Media and Entertainment Initiative, see Abbey White’s coverage in The Hollywood Reporter.
Free Renty: Lanier v. Harvard (2021) filmmaker David Grubin and heroine Tamara Lanier were interviewed together on the WNYC culture podcast and radio show All Of It with Alison Stewart in advance of the film’s wide release on Oct. 11. Free Renty tells the story of Lanier’s fight to force Harvard University to cede possession of daguerreotypes of her great-great-great grandfather, an enslaved man named Renty. The daguerreotypes were commissioned in 1850 by a Harvard professor to “prove” the superiority of the white race. The images remain emblematic of America’s failure to acknowledge the cruelty of slavery, the racist science that supported it and the white supremacy that continues to infect our society today. The film, which showed as part of SDFF 2022, tracks Lanier’s lawsuit against Harvard and features attorney Benjamin Crump, author Ta-Nehisi Coates and scholars Ariella Azoulay and Tina Campt. Free Renty: Lanier v. Harvard will be available VOD via iTunes, Apple TV, Amazon Prime, and Vimeo starting today, Oct. 11. See more on how to help Lanier in her struggle with Harvard, click here.
After releasing the titles of 30 features and 13 docs in late August, the European Film Academy has added 6 more titles to the shortlist for the European Film Awards, 5 features and 1 doc—SDFF alumni filmmaker Mark Cousins’s doc March on Rome. Cousins’s March On Rome explores historic, Italian fascist propaganda tied to the insurrection, the “March On Rome,” which brought 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. The European Film Award nominees are selected by the European Film Academy Board, and will be revealed on Nov. 8. The winners will be announced at a ceremony on Dec. 10 in Reykjavík.
LOCAL SCREENINGS + FILM EVENTS
Slow Food Russian River will be hosting a screening of doc Children of the Vine (2022) on Oct. 11 at Rialto Cinemas® Sebastopol, with director Brian Lilla in-toe for a post-screening discussion. Children of the Vine examines the controversy around Glyphosate (Monsanto’s Roundup), which is both carcinogenic and the most widely used herbicide in the world, now found in over 80% of food grown in the U.S. At the same time, this solution-focused doc highlights more sustainable large-scale farming practices, which remain capable of feeding the world. The film will show at 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. with filmmaker Brian Lilla on-hand for post-screening discussions. Preserve Rural Sonoma County is a non-profit working to protect the character of Sonoma County from the urbanization and commercialization of rural lands. See screening details here. For an excellent interview with Lilla, a Sonoma County local, about the film and the dangers of Round-Up, see this piece in the Sonoma County Gazette.
As much about the present as the past, Riotsville, U.S.A., a new doc from Sierra Pettengill examining law enforcement brutality during the Civil Rights movement, opens Rialto Cinemas® Sebastopol Oct. 8. Using training footage of Army-built model towns called “Riotsvilles” where military and police were trained to respond to civil disorder, in addition to nationally broadcast news media, Pettengill connects the stagecraft of “law and order” to the real violence of state practice. Recovering an obscured history whose effects have shaped the present in ways both insidious and explosive, Riotsville, U.S.A. is a poetic and furious reflection on the rebellions of the 1960s–and the machine that worked to destroy them.
The Petaluma Film Alliance Fall cinema series continues on Wednesday, Oct. 12 at 7 p.m. with A Place In The Sun (George Stevens, 1951), a visually stunningHollywood Classic starring Elizabeth Taylor, Shelley Winters and Montgomery Clift. Combining elements of noir and romance, the film is an adaptation of Theodore Dreiser’s novel and play, An American Tragedy, which was based on the life of Chester Gillette, who was convicted of killing his pregnant girlfriend in 1906. About a man faced with a harrowing choice while working with a wealthy uncle and attempting to gain a foothold in the upper class society, the film deals with issues that continue to resonate in the present. The Fall Cinema Series will continue through Nov. 30, with the majority of screenings on Wednesdays in the Carole L. Ellis Auditorium at the SRJC Petaluma Campus. See details on parking, tickets and COVID protocols here. The series is being co-presented by SRJC’s Chair of Communications Studies, Mike Traina, and film production teacher Brian Antonson, who collaborated with Sara Alexander on the SDFF 2020 film A Pilgrimage about artist Genevieve Barnhart. For more on the Film Alliance’s fall movie series, see the Argus Courier’s recent article.
The 2022 Green and Environmental Film Festival of San Francisco will be screening a selection of 48 films, most will stream on demand through October 16 with select films showing in-person at the Roxie Theater through October 13. The Green Film Festival is interested in exploring all aspects of “environmental film” from compelling documentaries and adventure films to narrative fiction films and midnight movies with environmental themes. The festival includes special screenings and an impressive array of local offerings, like a late night showing of French eco sci-fi Vesper (Kristina Buozyte & Bruno Samper, 2020), Opening Night film Passing: In The Shadows of Everest from local filmmaker Nancy Svendsen, Centerpiece film Pleistocene Park from local filmmaker Luke Griswold-Tergis, Closing Night Film Into The Weeds: Dwayne “Lee” Johnson vs. Monsanto Company about a local, Vallejo man’s battle with the agribusiness giant, and a smattering of local shorts. See the festival’s official announcement for more details on special screenings. The Green and Environmental Film Festival is an SDFF partner and a presentation of SF IndieFest, and runs concurrently with the related IndieFest SF Indie Short Film Festival.
Moonage Daydream, a new, genre defying immersion into the art and sounds of David Bowie from Brett Morgen (The Kid Stays in the Picture, Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck, Jane) will continue showing at the Rialto Cinemas® Sebastopol Thursday, Oct. 13. Told through sublime, kaleidoscopic imagery, personal archived footage, unseen performances, and anchored by David Bowie’s music and words, Moonage Daydream is the first film to be supported by the David Bowie Estate, which granted Morgen unprecedented access to their collection. See Rialto Cinemas® screening details and tickets.
Hallelujah: Leonard Cohen, A Journey, A Song (Dan Geller and Dayna Goldfine, 2022), a unique music doc about the beloved singer-songwriter, will continue to run at Rialto Cinemas® Sebastopol, through Oct. 13. The doc explores Cohen’s work and life through the prism of his hymn Hallelujah, a touchstone for many other recording artists, and most of the rest of the population who has heard it played. The doc was approved by Cohen a couple of years before he passed away, and as a result includes never-before-seen materials from the Cohen Trust including Cohen’s personal notebooks, journals and photographs, performance footage and extremely rare audio recordings and interviews. Tickets are available here. You can also catch interviews with filmmakers Dayna Goldfine and Dan Geller at NorCal Public Media and KSRO.
Sebastopol’s Fall Doc Nite series will continue on November 14 with a screening of Not Without Us (Mark Decena, 2016) at 7 p.m. at Rialto Cinemas® Sebastopol, followed by a discussion with director Mark Decena, and a casual gathering at Fern Bar. Filmed during the 2015 U.N. Climate talks in Paris, two weeks after terrorists attacks created a state of emergency that outlawed all “unofficial” political gatherings, Not Without Us follows seven global grassroots activists as they attempt to unleash the only force that they can to prevent catastrophic climate change: the will of the people. Not Without Us documents a crucial moment in history, framing the root causes of the global climate crisis and the greatest inequality in the history of mankind, as one and the same. Seen from the perspective of frontline communities, the film interweaves the personal stories and motivations of the activists portrayed, conveying to a broader audience why the call for deeper and far reaching change is not only necessary, but also humane. Doc Night is a collaboration between Trim Tab, SDFF and Rialto Cinemas®. See Not Without Us Doc Night details and buy tickets here.
The Sonoma County Library Documentary Film Discussion Group will meet, Oct. 19 to discuss Robin’s Wish (Tylor Norwood, 2020), an intimate portrait of actor/comedian Robin Williams and his invulnerable spirit.Robin’s Wish is the story of what really happened to Williams, who suffered from biopolar disorder, and what his mind was fighting. The discussion group will be held on Zoom, Oct. 19 at 6 p.m., attendance requires registration, see details and availability on the Sonoma County Library Events Calendar. The film is available to screen on Kanopy with a library card, and all participants must view it on their own before the meeting.
The Return Of Tanya Tucker—Featuring Brandi Carlile (Kathlyn Horan, 2022), which documents the creative collaboration of two female country singers, trailblazer Tanya Tucker and contemporary star Brandi Carlile, and the friendship that develops between them. Tucker was an iconoclast, who defied standards for feminine behavior in Country Music in the 80s and 90s, who was lured back to the spotlight when superfan Carlile, now at the peak of her career, wrote an album for her. The film takes stock of the past while remaining vitally alive in the present, the film uses rare archival footage and photos to delve into Tucker’s history and to examine her bumpy ride back to the top with Carlile, experimenting with new sounds and reaching a new audience. The Return Of Tanya Tucker—Featuring Brandi Carlile will begin showing at Rialto Cinemas® Sebastopol on Nov. 4.
CATCH THEM WHILE YOU CAN: DOCS AIRING ON TV + STREAMING ONLINE
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.
Polish filmmaker Rafal Malecki’s documentary short Rust (SDFF 2022) about renowned artist-welder Mariola Wawrzusiak-Borcz will stream as part of the “Enviro Arts” shorts block of the 2022 Green and Environmental Film Festival of San Francisco, which runs through Oct. 16. Rust explores Borcz’s work, which critiques modern civilization, her creative practice, and her obsessive work ethic, capturing the artist as she roams post-industrial areas in search of scrap metal that she will transform into figures of endangered animals and children affected by war. The Green and Environmental Film Festival is an SDFF partner and a presentation of SF IndieFest, which includes films from all genres (docs, narrative, animation, etc.) unified by environmental themes and sustainable solutions. The fest will run from Oct. 6-16 at the Roxie Theater in San Francisco and online.
SDFF alumni filmmaker Ben Proudfoot’s new short, The Best Chef In The World, about Sally Schmitt, the original founder of The French Laundry, is part of Proudfoot’s ongoing partnership withNew 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
SDFF 2021 Jury Award winning short Unforgivable (Marlén Viñayo, 2020) recently aired on VICE’s The Short List with Suroosh Alvi, along with a Alvi’s interview with filmmaker Viñayo. Unforgivable tells the story of a hitman for the 18th Street gang who deals with his sexuality inside an evangelical Salvadoran prison, where he is not just guilty of crimes, but of an “unforgivable sin” under God and gang: being gay. Both film and interview are now available to stream on the series website. Check out VICE’s full video catalog, where you can also find an episode of The Short List from last season about SDFF 2021 short Last Meal, including an interview with filmmakers Marcus McKenzie and Daniel Principe.
Yung Chang’s doc about foreign correspondent and conflict journalist Robert Fisk, This Is Not A Movie (2019) will be available on the Criterion Collection’s streaming platform starting in September. In the film, Chang captures Fisk, whose career has spanned 40 years, in relentless action—feet on the ground, notebook in hand, as he travels into landscapes devastated by war, ferreting out the facts and firing reports back home to reach an audience of millions. The film is also available on kanopy (w/ public library card) or tubi (w/ ads), and VOD on Vudu, Amazon, Youtube, GooglePlay and Apple TV. An SDFF exclusive Q+A between director Yung Chang and SDFF co-director and lead programmer Jean McGlothlin from SDFF 2021 is available here.
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.
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