Sebastopol film festival

OUTwatch 2020 – Looking Back, Moving Forward

Features Four Docs on the History and Ongoing Struggle for LGBTQIA Civil Rights, Streaming Oct. 16-25

SDFF partner fest, OUTwatch calls attention to the history and future of civil rights with its 2020 fest theme “Looking Back, Moving Forward.” Held virtually this year due to COVID-19, OUTwatch will feature four outstanding docs that elucidate distinctive perspectives, ranges of experience and points in time. At a time when civil are embattled, festival organizers hope the films they’ve selected will honor LGBTQIA folks who have fought for civil rights, and shed light/inspire ongoing struggles to maintain and expand human rights to the entire community.

The festival will stream from Oct. 16-25, tickets are $12/household at www.OutWatchFilmFest.orgThis year’s virtual festival showcases four enlightening, empowering and entertaining documentaries:

Tongues Untied (Marlon Riggs, 1989). Two top Black Gay artists, a filmmaker and a poet, created this film in the late 1980s. The film seeks, in its author’s words, to “…shatter the nation’s brutalizing silence on matters of sexual and racial difference.” Tongues Untied combines political statement, spoken word and dance. Unfortunately, this film is as relevant today as it was in the ’80s and ’90s. If you believe Black Gay Lives Matter, you need to see this film.

Transmilitary (Gabriel Silverman, Fiona Dawson, 2018). This 2018 documentary chronicles the lives of four individuals who put their careers and their families’ livelihoods on the line by coming out as transgender to top brass officials in the Pentagon in hopes of attaining the equal right to serve. The ban was lifted in 2016, but with President Trump now trying to reinstate it, their futures hang in the balance again.

Ahead of the Curve (Jen Rainin, Rivkah Beth Medow, 2020). In 1990, Franco created a safe place for lesbians in the form of Curve magazine. Her approach to threats and erasure in the ’90s was to lift all kinds of lesbians up and make them beautifully visible. The magazine helped build a foundation for many intersectional movements being led by today’s activists in the face of accelerating threats to the LGBTQ community.

Cured (Patrick Sammon and Bennett Singer, 2020). This powerful new documentary by Bennett Singer illuminates the campaign that led the American Psychiatric Association to remove homosexuality from its list of mental illnesses in 1973.

New News Sections Added!

SDFF 2019 Selection, The Silence of Others, Garners Two Emmys


Image from The Silence of Others (Almudena Carracedo & Robert Bahar, 2018), SDFF 2019 official selection.

Tuesday night at the News and Documentary Emmy Awards, SDFF 2019 Official Selection, The Silence of Others, won two Emmys. Filmmakers Almudena Carracedo and Robert Bahar garnered one Emmy for Best Documentary and a second for Outstanding Politics and Government Documentary

The Silence of Others reveals the epic struggle of victims of Spain’s 40-year dictatorship under General Franco, who continue to seek justice to this day. Filmed over six years, the film follows victims and survivors as they organize the groundbreaking “Argentine Lawsuit” and fight a state-imposed amnesia of crimes against humanity, in a country still divided four decades into democracy.

The Silence of Others appeared as Episode 11 of PBS’s POV Season 32, and will be available on the PBS website for free until 10/08. It is also available on Netflix.

Bellingcat’s Innovative Training & Use of Citizen Investigative Journalists Grabs Attention in Hollywood

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Image from Bellingcat (Hans Poole, 2018), SDFF 2020 official selection.

While SDFF 2020 Official Selection, Bellingcat: Truth in a Post-Truth World (Hans Pool, 2018) won an Emmy in 2019, for its elaboration of s been nominated, along with collaborator Newsy, for a News and Documentary Emmy Award in the category New Approaches: Current News.

Bellingcat, the independent, international collective of researchers, investigators and citizen journalists, and the topic of SDFF 2020 Official Selection, Bellingcat: Truth in a Post-Truth World (Hans Pool, 2018) is up for an Emmy Award for Outstanding New Approaches: Current News. Bellingcat and collaborator Newsy were nominated an Emmy in News and Documentary Award for a series of open-source investigations by the two entities over the past year.

These investigations include: explorations of police violence against journalists in the US, Saudi air strikes in Yemen and executions near the border between Syria and Turkey (link here, be prepared for images of graphic violence).

Bellingcat stands out among its peers in a number of ways—it’s innovative use of publicly available data and citizen journalists, who it also trains. Founded by Eliot Higgins after the loss of his wife left him a single father, working from home, Bellingcat is notable not only for its combination of advanced technology, forensic research, journalism, online/data-driven investigative techniques, transparency and accountability, but for its use of international citizen investigative journalists, who it also trains to use cutting-edge digital techniques and crowdsourcing as journalistic approaches that are innovative and capable of keeping up with the fast pace of global news.

To explore the work Bellingcat and Newsy have done together, visit Bellingcat’s archive of Newsy collaborations, Newsy’s list of “documentaries” made with Bellingcat, and/or their youtube playlist.

The documentary Bellingcat: Truth in a Post-Truth World (Hans Poole, 2018), an official SDFF 2020 selection, won the International Emmy for Documentary in 2019, as well as a slew of honors from various European film festivals. The documentary explores the promise of open source investigation, going inside the exclusive world of the “citizen investigative journalist collective known as Bellingcat.

The Wild Director Weighs in on New Developments in Bristol Bay Mining Threat

Sebastopol Film

The Wild still of Bristol Bay from above. Photo by Mark Titus.

As we sat down for a Q&A with director Mark Titus in late July 2020 to discuss The Wild, the threats to Bristol Bay’s environment, bio-diversity and culture, which his film depicts as “a race against time,” appear to be accelerating under the current industry-friendly administration, as detailed in this recent NY Times piece. The film tracks efforts to block potentially catastrophic mining operations that have gained momentum under the Trump administration, which has dismantled EPA safeguards. Those safeguards have been protecting Bristol Bay, a “wild place that is the last of its kind on earth,” the keystone species of salmon that run in the area, and the people who have made their life in the area, including commercial, sustainable fishers and regional tribes. Unsurprisingly, the mining operation would counter a consortium of native tribe’s collective claim to the land and subsurface rights, and threatens both the survival of a keystone species of sockeye salmon and a “wild place that is the last of its kind on earth.” The threats detailed in the film have been ratcheted up and moved forward with the recent release of an Army Corps of Engineers Study that minimizes the potential damaging impacts of turning two of the Bay’s watersheds into open copper mines. 


A follow-up to the 2014 film, The BreachThe Wild depicts the conflict over Bristol Bay as a battle for Alaska’s soul that mirrors the filmmaker’s own struggle to reclaim himself from addiction. In doing so, it raises a series of larger questions about human being’s relationships to the natural environment, our perception of ourselves as somehow separated from the natural world and the dire need to change course if we are going to avert the worst impacts of climate change. In our exclusive sit-down with Titus, he elaborates on these vitally important connections, which may help us find a path forward by understanding ourselves and our connection with the world.


For more on this complex and vitally important issue, look for SDFF co-Director Jean McGlothlin’s interview with Mark Titus, which will begin streaming for free on August 9, as an SDFF Exclusive. Before watching the film, we suggest watching Titus’s visually stunning and emotionally striking film The Wild, a part of the Docs Make House Calls Environmental Film Program, which also includes L’eau Est La Vie: From Standing Rock To The Swamp (Sam Vinal, 2019), and Eye of the Pangolin (Bruce Young, 2019), featuring another SDFF exclusive interview with filmmaker Bruce Young.


SDFF’s 2020 selection, Bellingcat: Truth In A Post-Truth World (Hans Pool, 2019) and some of the journalists affiliated with it have been making the news over the past month. Bellingcat the film is tells the story of the eponymous online investigative collective. Collective leader Eliot Higgins was interviewed on 60 Minutes on July 12 to talk about an investigation he had spearheaded into the downing of flight MH17. By using open-source methods and sources, Higgins instigated and broke the story of what happened to flight Malasia Airlines Flight 17. The flight’s demise was the deadliest shoot-down incident and took the lives of 283 passengers and 15 crew. Higgins investigations showed that the Airliner had been shot down by by Russian forces as it few over banned Ukranian air space. The interview and a follow-up article are available here.

On the heels of the story of this international breakthrough, Bellingcat contributing journalist Robert Evans, who was set to speak on an investigative journalism panel at SDFF 2020 has been interviewed by several national news outlets, like The New York Times for his extensive coverage of the Portland uprisings, which have been ongoing for over 50 days. Though they hadn’t stopped since George Floyd’s murder, the Portland protests had been more-or-less ignored by the mass media until tensions escalated after police responded violently to the crowd of protestors on July 4. Since then, the story has become huge, as President Donald Trump sent in Federal agents and law enforcement regimes to the city to quell protest, against the wishes of local and state officials. As of July 25, this situation remains tense, as federal agents have engaged with protestors (and fellow citizens) using military tactics usually reserved for engagement with foreign combatants. There have also been reports that federal agents have shown up in plain clothes and grabbed individual demonstrators off the street without identifying themselves, the agency they’re with, and/or why they are picking up and detaining protestors. Evans’ coverage of the situation for Bellingcat is available here.

Although we couldn’t get the Bellingcat movie to the big screen, we encourage our audience to go take a look at their amazing investigative work!

Docs + Social Justice:
Focus on Race and Representation

A mode of representation defined by its relationship to reality, documentary has a troubled history in connection with race and racism. It is a genre that for a number of reasons is tightly bound-up with science, and developed alongside, and as evidence for, racial pseudo-science. From the motion studies of Félix-Louis Regnault to the commercial ethnography of Robert Flaherty’s Nanook of the North, the first documentaries were tethered to racial pseudo-science and early, racist forms of ethnography that were used to bolster and justify the colonial project. At the same time, documentary films have also long been concerned with progressive social values, and are frequently used as a way to explore or uncover the truth of a problem in hopes of spurring political action and/or changing its audience’s perceptions. In the present day, the online archive of documentary evidence of videos of young, black men being murdered by police perform a function that is completely antithetical to the racist purposes of early documentary, while at the same time functioning as evidence, as an inscription of reality that defines this genre of media-making.

Our news page has always attended to the impact SDFF films and filmmakers have had on the world. But at this pivotal time in which image-making, identity, ideas about truth and their relationships to reality are crucial, we have decided to add a second news page focused on the relationship between documentary media and social justice. You can find it right here.

  • Anti-Racist Media Resources
  • Monthly Media Recommendations:
    • Film Selections, including links where available.
    • Film Columns + Media Criticism
  • Documentary Recommendations
  • Growing Reading Lists on a range of topic
  • Links to a curated list of recent criticism about racism, police violence and the media.
  • Relevant film reviews

Deej Helps Commemorate ADA’s 30th Anniversary
on World TV: Streams Free All July

Deej documentary to show on PBS from Sebastopol Documentary Film Festival 2019

SDFF 2019 Official Selection, America ReFramed: DEEJ, is streaming for free this month and will be rebroadcast on World TV (KQED) on July 14 at 8 p.m. as part of a month-long commemoration and celebration of the 30th Anniversary of the Americans With Disabilities Act and the #MoveToInclude initiative. The film is an SDFF 2019 Official Selection, and its filmmaker Robert Rooy is a long-time SDFF alum. The film ended up winning a Peabody and an Emmy nomination.

DEEJ is the story of DJ Savarese (“Deej”), a gifted, young writer and advocate for nonspeaking autistics, whose work proves he’s far from silent. Though directed by Rooy, Savarese is both a commentator and co-producer of DEEJ, not merely its subject.

Once a “profoundly disabled” foster kid who was perceived as already on a fast track to nowhere, the Deej of the film is a first-year college student who insists on standing up for his peers: people who are dismissed as incompetent because they are neurologically diverse. He argues forcefully they are too often “housed in classrooms of easy lessons.” DEEJ tells a coming-of-age story that showcases a young man’s resolve and creativity in forging strong bonds with his parents, his devoted extended family, and a community of close friends. Profound and unflinching, the film reveals what it takes to make the goals of “inclusion” and “disability rights” a reality. Will Deej be able to find freedom in his own life and for others like him?

To learn more about the World Channel’s Commemoration of the ADA’s 30th Anniversary and the #Move To Include, Click Here.

To learn more about the film Deej, Click Here.

Thanks to the support of Volunteers, Filmmakers, Partners, Donors and Patrons… 

SDFF has Attained Coveted Recognition as Academy Award® Qualifying Festival

Sebastopol Documentary Film Festival is proud to announce that it has been approved by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences as an Academy Qualifying Festival for the Documentary Short Subject category.

Sebastopol film festival

Currently in its 13th year, the Sebastopol Documentary Film Festival’s mission to bring the best in documentary film to Sonoma County has just been enhanced by its inclusion as an Academy Award® qualifying festival. Of more than 8,000 film festivals currently listed on FilmFreeway’s entry portal, only 158 of those festivals have Academy Award® qualifying status.  Sebastopol Documentary Film Festival is honored to be in their company.

Recipients of the SDFF Jury Award for Short Subject and Jury Award for Mini-Doc are now eligible for consideration in the Documentary Short Subject category of the Academy Awards® without the standard theatrical run, provided the film otherwise complies with the Academy rules.

Jury Awards for SDFF 2020 were scheduled to be announced on March 25 at Opening Night ceremonies. With the advent of the pandemic, those ceremonies were postponed. The award winners have been notified.  It is with great pride that we list the winners below, noting that both the Short Subject and the Mini-Doc are eligible for consideration in the 93rd Academy Awards® Short Subject Category.

Sebastopol film festivalSebastopol film festivalSebastopol film festivalSebastopol film festival

Click pics to see filmmakers' acceptance speeches!

Click Here for Full List of SDFF 2020 Selections

Filmmaker Attempts to Shed Light on Navajo Nation’s COVID Crisis and Monumental Effort to Protect its Most Vulnerable

Sebastopol film festival

After visiting the Navajo nation earlier this month, filmmaker Karney Hatch (Overdrawn, Plant This Movie!) was overcome by the staggering number of cases and the scale of the loss facing the community and decided to volunteer in hopes of helping the Navajo & Hopi Families COVID-19 Relief Fund raise money by shooting some footage for their gofundme campaign. The Navajo Nation has been among the hardest hit by the virus and had lost over 4,000 people as of May 14. The cause, and Karney’s footage, were circulated internationally by news sources like PBS, ABC, and Al Jazeera, with the PBS News Hour eventually hiring Karney to shoot a full story.

Tragically, the news cycle has moved on while these communities and their members are left fighting for their lives. And, although there has been some press, nothing in the mainstream really goes to the heart of what’s happening and the ways in which native folks have experienced of this pandemic is part of a complex, traumatic, recurring history. For that, Karney is turning to documentary in hopes of crafting a more dynamic, deeper representation of the impacts of a loss that is both historic and part of an ongoing cycle of violence against, and disregard for, Native communities by the U.S. government. Writes Karney,“History is being written right now, can’t pass it up.”

For some context on how the COVID-19 crisis has taken shape among Native populations, a film from last year’s festival,  Dodging Bullets—Stories from Survivors of Historical Trauma (Bob Trench, 2018), is a thoughtful, complex, and detailed look at Historical Trauma as a unique and insidious part of the genetic code that conditions life across a large and variable swath of resilient Native American populations, which is thrown into sharp relief by episodes like the one unfolding in the present day.

Congrats to SDFF 2020 selection That’s My Jazz on Webby!

Sebastopol film festival

We’d like to congratulate That’s My Jazz for their Webby win in editing! That’s My Jazz is an SDFF 2020 Official Selection and one of the more recent projects to come out of Breakwater Studios, which is also responsible for Life’s Work, honored by SDFF in 2017.

Breakwater’s oeuvre of documentary shorts is well worth seeking out, particularly given its background in creating branded content, which may be at first glance appears to be at odds with documentary filmmaking. While the proliferation of branded content has been a hallmark of the era of spreadable media, Breakwater’s shorts are visually striking and emotionally compelling in completely unexpected ways.  That’s My Jazz is one of Breakwater’s newer offerings, and has appeared as part of the Tribeca Film Festival and hotdocs. The film is unexpectedly moving and beautifully shot (and edited!) and has been followed by a lauded collaboration between Ben Proudfoot/Breakwater and the New York Times, Almost Famous, which focuses on people who are just slightly adjacent to history.

Almost Famous is directed by Breakwater founder, Nova Scotian filmmaker Ben Proudfoot, who started the studio with an eye towards the “return of original and handmade filmmaking, to explore and evangelize the idiosyncratic power of the short.” The studio’s collection of documentary shorts tends to celebrate individuals or places in poetic fashion, and mix contemporary sensibility and subjects with the exploratory impulse and celebration of the film medium that defined early actualities. The studio also hearkens back to the studio era, working out of Disney’s original business offices while looking to update the creative studio campuses of the 1930s. This engagement with the past is part of what makes the studio’s thoroughly modern content stand out.

In addition to nods from traditional film festivals like Tribecca, hotdocs, or our own SDFF, Breakwater has also been in the running for newer honors like the Webbies. In 2018, they received a Webby nomination for their first original, Kunstglaser, and in 2019, they were honored in the Long Form category and the Youngest Captain winning the Best Branded Entertainment Documentary Webby. This year, Breakwater received three nods, two for That’s My Jazz, which won for Best Video Editing. Proudfoot and Breakwater have also been honored by SDFF on two occasions, most recently for That’s My Jazz, which was a 2020 Official Selection.

In That’s My Jazz Milt Abel II, a world renowned pastry chef, reflects on his relationship with his deceased father Milton Abel Sr., famed Kansas City Jazz musician. Milt longed to follow in the fortuitous footsteps of his father, but on a different stage. From a young age he found his passion in the culinary arts, working his way from being a dishwasher in diners to the head pastry chef at Thomas Keller’s prestigious restaurant, The French Laundry, and sous pastry chef at the two-Michelin-star Noma. But while Milt II was rising to the top in his career, his father’s was slowly coming to an end. That’s My Jazz follows Milt II at the peak of his career yet facing the realization of his own limitations. Finding himself at a critical crossroad of life, Milt II pushes the button to turn back time, reflecting on the rise of his star and its intersection with the sunset of his father’s.

Sebastopol film festival

Congratulations to our longtime Premier Venue Partner (and local treasure!) Rialto Cinemas® on their 20th Anniversary! While we all have our fingers crossed that we’ll be enjoying movies together at the theater soon enough, we encourage everyone to check out Rialto virtual cinemas, which is offering a host of first run art house and independent films, including one of SDFF 2020’s top official selections, The Booksellers. The virtual cinema is also a way to continue to support our local art house theater while sheltering in place. Rialto owner Ky Boyd is also giving  daily film recommendations which are (unsurprisingly) fantastic and a great way to be adventurous and sample something that may fall outside of your usual film fare. 

For more on the Rialto and its 20 years in Sebastopol check out Sonoma West’s excellent piece by clicking on their logo.

To see the Rialto’s Virtual Cinema, featuring independent first-run films, and owner Ky’s film picks, click the the Rialto logo.

Sebastopol film festival

Sebastopol Hardware + Spirit Works Distillery

This is how Sebastopol does taking care of each other…

Community businesses and individual donors have always been key partners in bringing SDFF to life. In-kind donations, monetary support, media exposure: all are vital to our existence. In recognition of their support, the SDFF team is proud to shine a light on these partners and what they are doing in this time of COVID-19.

When the community ran out of hand sanitizer early on in the pandemic, Spirit Works Distillery and Sebastopol Hardware joined forces to make and distribute it!

Both Spirit Works owner Timo Marshall and Sebastopol Ace Hardware’s Doug Bishop explained the collaboration as exemplary of community spirit and the ways in which local businesses respond to local needs. explained the distillery.

Bishop explained the collaboration: “The effort that Spirit Works Distillery and Sebastopol Hardware Center put into getting the hand sanitizer to market is what small locally owned, community minded business is all about. We are able to change and adapt quickly to meet the needs of our community in ways that large corporations never could. Spirit Works was able to quickly obtain the materials needed to produce the hand sanitizer, and sacrificed time from their regular production to manufacture a product greatly needed by the community. We at Sebastopol Hardware were then able to take the gallons they provided to us and rebottle into nearly 5,000 units, enabling us to donate enough bottles to cover every room or apartment in Sebastopol’s convalescent hospitals and senior housing facilities, and then provide for the general public. This was a necessary service to hopefully keep our community safe and maybe even save lives.”

While the hand sanitizer is now for sale, it began with a huge and much-needed donation. About half the first batch went to the local fire department for distribution, while the rest was sold to Ace wholesale.

“Our community here in Sonoma County is incredibly important to me and Ashby. Once we were able to produce our Sonoma Strong Hand Sanitizer it was a great opportunity to both supply Sebastopol Hardware in bulk -in order to reach our neighbors – while also being able to donate to Sebastopol Police and Fire and the Sebastopol Senior Center. We hope this goes some way to helping our community during this time of crisis,” explained distillery owner Timo Marshall.

For the full story, check out Sonoma West’s piece on this local effort.

We also recommend taking a look at this recent Spirit Works video, produced for Women’s Month 2020.

Happy Earth Day! 

Yarrow: The Virtues of Monochrome

A striking short of fine artist David Yarrow capturing South Georgian wildlife

Sebastopol film festival

Yarrow: The Virtues of Monochrome is an official selection of SDFF 2019, which the filmmakers let us stream for free on Earth Day! This breathtaking mini doc follows the creative process of fine art photographer David Yarrow as he steps ashore the beaches of South Georgia, in an attempt to capture the beauty and scale of this awe-inspiring natural wonder in just a single image.

SDFF 2018 Environmental documentarian helps Confront Extinction through free live lesson on Earth Day

Sebastopol film festival

SDFF 2018 filmmaker and conflict photographer Kate Brooks participated in a live, online education event for Earth Day, “Confronting Extinction,” which is now available via free streaming. The Last Animals filmmaker and conflict photographer Kate Brooks spoke on filmmaking/journalism as methods activism and conservation during an Earth Day presented by The Last Animals Foundation and The event was hosted by 17 year-old British activist Bella Lack, and includes two 40-minute panels. Kate appears in the first, “Confronting Extinction,” but a related and quite topical panel “Impacts of Illegal Wildlife Markets,” is also streaming for free now, and focuses on the impacts of poaching and wildlife market. Organizers recommend watching The Last Animals in preparation for the live lessons.

The Last Animals (Kate Brooks, 2017) is about an extraordinary group of people who go to great lengths to save the planet’s last animals. This documentary follows the conservationists, scientists, and activists battling poachers and trafficking syndicates to protect elephants and rhinos from extinction. The Last Animals follows the struggle on Africa’s front lines, behind the scenes in Asian markets, and here, the U.S. The film takes an intense look at the global response to this slaughter and the measures to genetically rescue the Northern White rhinos from the edge of extinction.

Oscar-winning short by SDFF 2010 Alum Streams Free!

Marshall Curry, whose film Racing Dreams was an SDFF 2010 Official Selection, won the 2020 Academy Award for Best Live Action Short with his remarkable and unexpectedly moving short, The Neighbors Window. Curry’s acceptance speech (above) is also incredible. The film was making the rounds nationally, along with all of the other short films nominated for Oscars until the Corona Virus made that impossible. So, he has made it available for free, right here. And, while it diverges completely from the intimacy of The Neighbors Window, his chilling 2018 piece A Night At The Garden, comprised entirely of footage from a 1939 American Nazi Party rally at Madison Square Garden, is also well worth watching, and is available to stream, here.

SF Gay Men’s Chorus Dedicates Original Piece to COVID-19 First Responders

While COVID-19 has so far prevented us from bringing you the excellent feature documentary and SDFF 2020 Official Selection Gay Chorus, Deep South (David Charles Rodrigues, 2019), it hasn’t prevented us from sharing this beautiful original composition of Cyndi Lauper’s “True Colors” by the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus. The piece is dedicated to COVID-19 first responders and you can find it right  here. Keep an eye out for the film and show the SFGMC some love for such an elegant and moving piece of work!

Keeper of the Creek Free Screening and Online Q&A with subject and filmmaker!

Bay Area filmmaker Dan Goldes, whose first feature, 5 Blocks, is an official SDFF 2020 selection, will be holding a Q&A on his 2018 short Keeper of the Creek at 2 p.m. on Saturday, April 11. Both 5 Blocks and Keeper of the Creek focus on people actively working to maintain and improve very different environments. Keeper of the Creek focuses on Dan’s brother, Joel, who adopted and stewarded a forgotten creek and watershed near his suburban Los Angeles home,  while 5 Blocks is a long-form documentary about changes to San Francisco’s Central Market Street, a neighborhood whose residents are fighting to keep the neighborhood’s identity and community as it undergoes its most dramatic change in 50 years. Both films examine the relationships between people and their environment, and show that even in an era of cynicism and divisiveness, people can act independently and collectively to make tangible differences in their environment.

Watch Keeper of the Creek here! Free, donations encouraged!

Register for a zoom Q&A with Keeper of the Creek subject Joel Goldes and filmmaker Dan Goldes here on Saturday, April 11 at 2 p.m.! Free, requires registration.

Keep an eye out for 5 Blocks, as SDFF 2020 is rescheduled!

Citizen Journalist, Research & News Collective featured in SDFF 2020
Release Short on COVID-19 & Media Environment Teeming with Disinformation

While SDFF 2020 may have been postponed, our commitment to encouraging nuanced analyses and public discussion of the current media environment and the relationship between truth and representation that has been focalized in popular discourse. To that end, we hope you’ll take a look at this a clear-eyed, sharp examination of the outbreak of disinformation that has accompanied and compounded the damage of COVID-19 worldwide, “Breaking Down The Disinformation Ecosystem Around Coronavirus.” The piece is the work of investigative journalist Robert Evans and Bellingcatan international collective or researchers, investigators and citizen journalists that partnered with video news source, Newsy for the short piece. Evans has been slated to speak on citizen journalism at SDFF 2020, after a screening of the feature Bellingcat: Truth in a Post-Truth World (Hans Pool, 2018), which tells the story of the collective’s rise and its truly revolutionary potential. The video we’ve posted here is just a small piece of Bellingcat’s diverse coverage of the pandemic.

Although the talk and screening are on-hold until we can reschedule the festival, we hope to continue to bolster the work of Bellingcat, Evans and other filmmakers and journalists affiliated with the festival who remain engaged in the rigorous processes of finding and representing truth, the life-or-death effects of which have been focalized over the past several years, and have been thrown into the sharpest possible relief by the spread of COVID-19 and the variegated responses to it.

SDFF2020 Official Selection The Great Toilet Paper Scare
Makes It’s Mark In An Unexpected Way

Sebastopol film festival
Still from Brian Gersten’s 2019 short film The Great Toilet Paper Scare, streaming for a limited time only on SDFF’s homepage.

Echo—Toilet paper lover, documentary film fanatic, and assistant to SDFF steering member Olga Browning
. (above)

SDFF 2020 programmers selected Brian Gersten’s The Great Toilet Paper Scare in the Fall, for its effective, humorous take on an early iteration of “fake news.” The film’s titular event, a toilet paper shortage, took shape following a Johnny Carson joke in 1973, and can be seen as prototypical of present day fake news that inundates social media. What neither SDFF nor filmmaker Gersten could ever have anticipated was that his story’s specific subject—a paucity of toilet paper—would be repeated in a more literal way, as consumers hoarded toilet paper and other essential items when COVID-19 made landfall in the U.S. earlier this year. Although the circumstances leading to these two shortages couldn’t be more different—a one-off Johnny Carson joke in one case, a global pandemic in the other—both arise and take shape in relationship to specific forms of media in contexts marked by distrust in institutions and reliance on word-of-mouth.

In Director Gersten’s words:

As I worked on the film over the past year I could have never imagined how bizarrely relevant this documentary would become. I have fairly mixed emotions about it all to be quite honest. While it’s nice to get your hard work out into the world, it’s also overwhelming to see what’s unfolding and to see history repeat itself in certain ways. The goal with this project from the very beginning was to simply make a film about a bizarre and forgotten piece of history that people would ideally find funny and entertaining. I think my goal now is for people to use the film as a mirror of sorts. A fun-house mirror perhaps. There are hopefully plenty of lessons to be learned, and chuckles to be had, from watching it and reflecting on it.

Despite the Coronavirus-based postponement and/or cancellation of most upcoming U.S. and International film festivals, where smaller independent films typically gain visibility and distribution, Gersten’s short has gained national notoriety. The short’s growing notoriety is due, at least in part, to its irreverent, humorous approach approach to a problem that has not only persisted, but has also morphed with the media through which it is spread. The Great Toilet Paper Scare is the subject of a March 19 column in The Atlantic, “What Misinformation Has to Do With Toilet Paper,”  is currently streaming on SDFF’s homepage and is also slated to screen as part of SDFF2020, the revised dates of which have yet to be announced.

SDFF 2020 Postponed

Sebastopol Documentary Film Festival 2020 scheduled for 26- 29 March is postponed. 

We are tremendously sad and disappointed to make this announcement.

We recognize that this is not the time to create and promote public gatherings. We are determined to do our part towards keeping a healthy and safe environment during this uncertain time.

For additional information, visit the Sonoma County Department of Health Services, WHO or Johns Hopkins COVID-19 websites. Keep up to date on SDFF 2020 through our website.

SDFF 2020 continues to stand with our community as we work together to navigate this challenge. We wish you well, friends, during this uncertain time.

We look forward to celebrating with you at a later date!

The SDFF 2020 Team
Sebastopol Center for the Arts

Gallyot interviews The Vow From Hiroshima Filmmaker

Check out the wonderful interview of  Raul Gallyot, on of KWMR-FM, with Mitchie Takeuchi, producer and director of The Vow of Hiroshima.  The interview aired this week and is now available streaming for free at KWMR and The Internet Archive.

The Vow From Hiroshima is a powerful portrait of Setsuko Thurlow, an 85-year-old survivor of the atomic bomb in Hiroshima, told through the lens of Mitchie Takeuchi, a second generation survivor. The film will screen as part of the 2020 Sebastopol Documentary Film Festival and screens on Sunday, March 29 from 1:45-3:05 p.m. at Rialto Cinemas®.
Gallyot has been a great fan of SDFF and done some fabulous interviews over the past couple of years with filmmakers who attend the festival.  During last year’s festival , he spent an hour with the founder of the rescue/school featured in The Rescue List, and another hour was with Skye Fitzgerald, Director, Lifeboat and 50 Feet from Syria.

Another Plea for Help from Chinese Factory Found in Christmas Card

A December 23 story in The Washington Post echoes details of SDFF 2019’s Letter from Masanjia. The Post’sA Girl Said She Found a Plea for Help in Her Christmas Card. The Seller is Investigating,” recounts a story that will be eerily familiar to anyone who saw last year’s entry, Letter from Masanjia. In this new story, a 6 year-old child opened a Christmas card and found a note from a worker claiming to be working under duress as forced labor and pleading for its reader to contact a human rights group. The find has led to an investigation and has halted sale of the card by British retail chain Tesco. This story bears a grim resemblance to the one recounted in Leon Lee’s Letter from Masanjiawhich began when a Portland woman found an S.O.S. note in a box of Halloween decorations. The film recounts her decision to act on the note, and follows up on the impacts of the note and the actions it set in motion, which exposed a labor camp system that persecutes political and religious dissidents. Letter from Masanjia played at SDFF 2019 and is currently available through a number of streaming platforms.

SDFF 2019 Alum Gets Emerging Storyteller Fund grant for The Sebastopol Siege

SDFF 2019 alum and Alpha Mare co-director Mimi Wilcox received Kartemquin’s Emerging Storyteller Fund grant for The Sebastopol Siege. Wilcox pitched the film at SDFF’s 2019 Peer Pitch. Kartemquin selects grantees that follow it’s mission of using documentary “to deepen our understanding of society through everyday human drama,” according to program director Jolene Pinder. Kartemquin is a collaborative community that empowers documentarians who create stories that foster a more engaged and just society.

The subject of the Wilcox’s short film is the “Sebastopol Seige,” a 1973 incident in which two men took Michaela Madden, a recently widowed mother of 5, hostage for 8 hours in her rural home­ along with a sheriff’s deputy and Press Democrat reporter. Wilcox’s film takes the incident as its starting point to explore how Madden was subsequently vilified by her community. When her family revisits the story 45 years later for the film, the powers of human compassion and police aggression come into conflict in a larger exploration of family mythology and trauma. The film, along with a slate of other Kartemquin award winners, will be previewed at a works-in-progress screening in Chicago on October 29.

Wilcox’s 2019 SDFF short, Alpha Mare, is being screened with the Worlds of Ursula K. Le Guin at this year’s last Best of the Fest screening on Nov. 7 at 7 p.m.

Pulitzer Prize Winning Journalist & SDFF 2019 Alum Lowell Bergman Gives Local Talk on State of Journalism

Pulitzer prize-winning journalist Lowell Bergman, who gave a talk on investigative journalism to accompany SDFF 2019’s screening of Factory of Lies (Jakob Gottschau, 2018), will give a talk and Q&A session this Weds., Sept. 18 at 8 p.m. at The Raven Performing Arts Theater in Healdsburg. His appearance is being sponsored by Sonoma West Publishers (SWP) and Northern California Public Media (KRCB.)

The public is invited to attend, and general admission is $10 at the door (doors open at 7:30 p.m.). All Sonoma West Times & News subscribers will be admitted free.

For more information, see this Sonoma West Times article, 0r download a PDF of the flyer.

A co-presentation of Rialto Cinemas & Sebastopol Documentary Film Festival

Festival Pass $65 – 10 admissions  
General Admission $10

Ay Mariposa
Fri, Sept. 13 at 5 p.m. • Sun, Sept. 15 at 12 p.m.
Mon, Sept. 16 at 3 p.m. • Wed, Sept. 18 at 1 p.m.

Backyard Wilderness 3D
Sat, Sept. 14 at 12 p.m. • Tues, Sept. 17 at noon
Thurs, Sept. 19 at noon

Into The Canyon
Fri, Sept. 13 at 1 p.m. • Sun, Sept. 15 at 5 p.m.
Mon, Sept. 16 at 5 p.m. • Weds, Sept. 18 at 7 p.m.

Sat, Sept. 14 at 5 p.m. • Sun, Sept. 15 at 1:20 p.m.

Point of No Return

Fri, Sept. 13 at 7 p.m. • Sun, Sept. 15 at 3 p.m. w/ filmmaker Q&A!
Tues, Sept. 17 at 1 p.m. • Thu, Sept. 19 at 3 p.m.

The River and the Wall 

Sat, Sept. 14 at 1:10 p.m. • Mon, Sept. 16 at 1 p.m.  
Weds, Sept. 18 at 5 p.m.

Rivers of a Lost Coast

Sun, Sept. 15 at 7 p.m. • Tues, Sept. 17 at 7 p.m.
Thurs, Sept. 19 at 1:15 p.m.
Co-sponsored by (50% ticket sales donated to co-sponsor CalTROUT)!

Sea of Shadows 

Sat, Sept. 14 at 7 p.m. • Tues, Sept. 17 at 3 p.m.
Thu, Sep 19 5 p.m.

The Weight of Water

Fri, Sept. 13 at 3 p.m. • Mon, Sept. 16 at 7 p.m.
Weds, Sept. 18 at 3 p.m.

Wonders of the Sea

Sat, Sept. 14 at 3:15 p.m. • Tue, Sept. 17 at 5 p.m.
Thu, Sept. 19 at 7 p.m. 3D Screening!

To Purchase Festival Passes, Please Visit the Rialto Box Office!

Purchase general admission tickets Here.

Visit the Rialto’s Air Land Sea page Here.

Get a PDF of Air Land Sea films, including full descriptions Here.

SDFF 2019 Alumni Collaborate on

New Project Crip Camp

Filmmaker Lauren Schwartzman, whose short Dust Rising was not only featured in SDFF 2018, but is also a Best of the Fest selection, is collaborating with long-time SDFF Alum Jim LeBrecht on the upcoming documentary Crip Camp.

A 35-year veteran of the film industry, who has made over 145 films, Le Brecht has honored SDFF with his presence several times in the festival’s history, most recently running a filmmaker discussion panel, “Composing for Docs,” with William Ryan Fritch at SDFF 2019. Emerging filmmaker Lauren Schartzman also attended SDFF 2019, accompanying her award winning, environmental short Dust Rising.

One of the first 7 projects selected by the Obamas for their Netflix-based production company, Higher Ground, Crip Camp documents LeBrecht’s memories of a ramshackle summer camp for disabled teens just down the road from Woodstock in the 1960s and 70s. The camp would not only transform lives, but also shaped the future of the disability rights movement.

LeBrecht has spent his career balancing his work as a sound designer, mixer and composer, with his work as an ardent disability rights activist. This film combines both passions, and will be his directorial debut. Emerging filmmaker Schwartzman joined the film as an associate producer and assistant editor.

“Elephant Path – Njaia Njoku,” Extended Streaming, Upcoming Broadcasts & Filmmaker Q&A

PBS Rebroadcast & Extended Streaming

For those of you that missed it at SDFF 2019, “Elephant Path” (Todd McGrain, 2017) has had its streaming run extended on PBS World Channel and will be available through the site until September 9. The documentary is part of PBS’s Doc World Series, and is also airing on August 11 at 3 p.m. on KQED.

To stream the film, you can either watch directly on the WORLD Channel film page, or you can watch via the PBS App on all your devices! Once you’re in the app, just search for “Elephant Path”.

World Elephant Day World Channel Facebook Broadcast & Filmmaker Q&A

Elephant Path – Njaia Mjoku will also be broadcast at noon on World Elephant Day (August 12)  on the WORLD Channel’s Facebook Page, followed by a live chat with filmmaker Todd McGrain and Elephant Listening Project’s current researcher Daniela Hedwig. Join the conversation with Todd and Daniela during and after the screening!

Follow @WORLDChannel to receive notifications for the event, and go to Elephant Path’s website for more info.

Worlds of Ursula K. Le Guin 

on PBS Masters

SDFF 2019 selection and fan favorite, Worlds of Ursula K. Le Guin (Arwen Curry, 2018) will air on PBS American Masters/KQED August 2, 2019 at 9 p.m.

In addition to SDFF, Worlds of Ursula K. Le Guinhas screened around the US and the world (from China to Lithuania), taking home awards for Best in Fest from DCIFF and Boston SciFi Film Festival. If you can’t catch it on PBS, it’s showing at the Sebastopol Center for the Arts, Thursday, Nov. 7 at SDFF 2019 Best of the Fest!

A Great Ride selected for Amazon Prime’s All Voices Festival

Stream At Home & Help Fund Filmmaker’s New Project!

SDFF 2019 Official Selection A Great Ride has been selected for Amazon Prime’s All Voices Festival. The more complete views the film gets, get the more likely filmmaker Deborah Craig and her crew are to be finalists and potentially win funding for her next project (already in progress) about Sally Gearhart. You can also catch A Great Ride on the big screen as part of SDFF 2019 Best of the Fest on September 12, where it will show with other audience faves, Lifeboat and I Have Something To Tell You.

See A Great Ride on Amazon Prime’s All Voices Festival here.

Get tickets to Best of the Fest’s Audience Favorites showing on September 12 here.

Madame Mars Goes To Cambridge,
 STEM Summit and SDFF Best of the Fest!

Festival Favorite Madame Mars and its fabulous filmmaker Jan Millsapps will be on their way to the UK in July after receiving an invite from the University of Cambridge. On their way back to California they’ll also be popping into NYC’s Academy of Sciences’ Global STEM Summit for an appearance. You can catch Madame Mars: Madame Mars: Women And The Quest For Worlds Beyond at SDFF’s Best of the Fest Shorts Program on June 6th at 7 p.m. along with other festival faves: Stretch, Spraying under the Stars and Waterfolks. Tickets are available here.

*The featured image for this page is from SDFF2020 Official Selection “Dear Homeland” by Claudia Escobar, © 2019.

Alternative Facts: The Lies of Executive Order 9066

Filmmaker: Jon Osaki, See Filmmaker Interview Now!
2018, U.S.A., TRT: 65 mins
Language: English, Subtitles: No
Trailer:, Website:, Socials – @urbanstreetfilms
Trailer: Vimeo/358876772Website: ig: @alternativefactsfilm, fb: @alternativefacts9066

Alternative Facts: The Lies of Executive Order 9066 examines the false information and political influences that led to the incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II, while also drawing parallels with the current climate of fear, targeting of immigrant and religious communities, and similar attempts to abuse the powers of the government.

Alternative Facts: The Lies of Executive Order 9066 is a documentary feature film about the false information and political influences which led to the World War II incarceration of Japanese Americans.

Alternative Facts sheds light on the people and politics that influenced the signing of the infamous Executive Order 9066 which authorized the mass incarceration of nearly 120,000 Japanese Americans. The film will expose the lies used to justify the decision and the cover-up that went all the way to the United States Supreme Court. Alternative Facts will also examine the parallels to the current climate of fear, attitudes towards immigrant communities, and similar attempts to abuse the powers of the government

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5 Blocks

Filmmaker: Dan Goldes + Robert Cortlandt, 2019, U.S.A., TRT: 50 mins
Language: English, Subtitles: No,, Socials – @urbanstreetfilms

A San Francisco neighborhood undergoes its most dramatic change in 50 years.

“5 Blocks is about the complex process of revitalizing a neighborhood, a process in which one must ask, ‘Who has the right to be here?’ People may think of city planning as an organized, linear process, but the way cities really change is through hundreds of small decisions made every day by all kinds of people. It’s a messy, non-linear, far from black-and-white process. And it requires that we all examine what kind of city—or neighborhood—we’re creating.”

—Dan Goldes, Director

San Francisco’s Market Street was once the grandest boulevard in America. Though located just minutes from City Hall, the area fell into decline and became home to some of the city’s most marginalized populations. Today, tech companies and those they employ confront the realities of existing in one of the City’s poorest neighborhoods. Five Blocks explores income disparity, changing demographics, and the nature of place.

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