SDFF NEWS BITS: ALUMNI UPDATES, FESTS, HONORS, NEW DOCS, INDUSTRY HAPPENINGS
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23 NOVEMBER 2021
ALUMNI AWARDS. HONORS. FESTIVALS.
Congratulations to Valentina Serebrennikova, whose work on I Want To Make A Film About Women won the award for costume design in a short film, music video, or web series from the Australian Production Design Guild! I Want To Make A Film About Women (Karen Pearlman, 2020) is a formally experimental, Queer doc about Russian Constructivist women who have been rendered largely invisible in film history, and uses historical reenactment to tell its story. The film’s director, Karen Pearlman talked with SDFF co-director Jane Winslow about documentary style as part SDFF 2021. See their conversation here!
Filmmaker Chris Filippone won the award for Best Director of a Documentary Short at the 3rd Centre Film Festival in Pennsylvania for his film Huntsville Station, which he co-directed with Jamie Meltzer. The doc observes men released from the Huntsville State Penitentiary as they process their restored freedom at the local Greyhound station. Filippone and Meltzer are both SDFF 2018 alumni: Filippone for Scrap, a mini about an Oakland metal scrapper and Meltzer for True Conviction, about exoneree Christopher Scott who, after serving 13 years for a murder he did not commit, tried to further a program through which exonerated prisoners could become detectives, helping other people wrongly imprisoned.
When The Cameras Stopped Rolling (Pat Fiske, Jane Castle, 2020) was among the films recognized with Audience Awards for documentary at the Sydney Film Festival. The film, which has also been nominated for four Australian Academy of Cinema Television Arts awards, showed at SDFF 2021. In it, a cinematographer tells the story of her filmmaker mother, their legacy, and their challenging relationship, using their deep archive of footage. Other Audience Award Best Documentaries include Matthew Walker’s I’m Wanita, James Becket and Camilla Becket’s Australia/US co-production The Seeds of Vandana Shiva, Larissa Behrendt’s Araatika: Rise Up!, and Ben Lawrence’s Ithaka.
Two SDFF alumni filmmakers, Lynne Sachs and Michael-David McKernan, have work that showed as part of the Cork International Film Festival this year. In addition to streaming her recent Film About A Father Who(Sachs, 2020), CIFF also featured a program comprised entirely of Sachs’ short films, most of which were available for the first time in Ireland. The filmmaker was also in-toe for a Q&A session. Sachs’ short film with Lizzie Olesker about NYC laundromats, The Washing Society, showed as part of SDFF 2018 and is streaming, along with seven of Sachs’ other shorts on the Criterion Channel. McKernan’s short Foxglove is a dramatic short in which a young woman travels home to come to terms with her past, the memory of her mother, and her dying father. McKernan’s documentary short How To Fall In Love in a Pandemic showed as part of SDFF 2021.
NEW FILMS & PROJECTS FROM SDFF FILMMAKERS
Nefise Özkal Lorentzen new film Seyran Ateş: Sex, Revolution and Islam screened as a part of Moving Forward, a series organized by the Stanford Arts Camera as Witness Program. The new doc is a profile of Seyran Ateş, a Turkish-German lawyer, feminist, and one of Europe’s first female imams, who has garnered controversy for her stance on changing the patriarchy as it is expressed in Islam, a position that has received criticism from all sides and made Seyran the target of death threats. Özkal attended the film screening where engaged in a Q&A, salient points of which are summarized in The Stanford Daily. This new film, like Özkal’s A Gift From God was made with Jørgen Lorentzen won the SDFF 2021 Audience Award for Best Feature, made the list. Seyran Ateş is also one of 11 recipients to an IDA grant program that supports filmmakers from any historically excluded community with the intent of minimizing the financial burdens associated with pursuing a film awards campaign.
Documentarian Julia Bacha’s newest project, Boycott premiered at DOC NYC and received a lengthy write-up on The Moveable Fest. The film looks at the recent explosion of laws designed to penalize Americans who push boycotts against Israel. To do so, it tracks the story of three professionals who launch a legal battle and expose infringements on free speech in 30 U.S. states after being forced to choose between their political beliefs and their livelihoods—a news publisher from Arkansas, a speech therapist from Texas, and an Arizona attorney. The Moveable Feast article discusses how the film unravels the Christian conservative movement’s strategy for eroding freedoms at the heart of U.S. democracy. Bacha’s Naila and the Uprisingwas an SDFF 2020 selection.
Alessandro Cassigoli and Casey Kauffman’s Caifornie was one of 13 narrative features in the 14th round of the Panorama of the European Film, organized by the Zawya Art House, founded/headed by producer-director Marianne Khoury. Kauffman and Cassigoli documentary feature Butterfly, which followed an Italian teen boxer Irma as she tries to find her way in life, was an SDFF 2020 film. Californie, written by the directing duo and Vanessa Piciarelli, similarly follows a young woman from Morocco who tries to fit into a small town near Naples over the course of five years.
Gay Chorus, Deep South (David Charles Rodrigues, 2019) producer Jesse Moss has recently released Mayor Pete, a documentary about U.S. Transportation Secretary and former Presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg. Buttigieg was the first openly gay candidate to be nominated for the U.S.’s highest office by any major political party, and Moss began making the film as he followed Buttigieg during the campaign. The film began streaming on Amazon Prime on November 12. Gay Chorus, Deep South showed as part of SDFF 2020.
A new short film from Adam Mazo and Ben Pender-Cudlip, Bounty was released earlier this month and tells the disturbing history of colonial death warrants for indigenous people, which included cash rewards for the scalps of men, women, and children. The doc follows citizens of the Penobscot Nation who bring their families to Boston to read their ancestors’ death warrants, which were part of a 1755 colonial government proclamation that paid settlers to murder the tribespeople. Bounty was made to target an audience of junior high and high school-aged kids and is part of the Boston-based Upstander Project, which seeks to educate and mobilize people against injustice through documentary films. The project is also home to Mazo’s Emmy® award winning film with Pender-Cudlip, Dawnland, which showed at SDFF 2019.
Race To Alaska directors Ian Morland and Zach Carver just wrapped shooting on a new indie feature they are coproducing, Paradise, in East Hawaii last week. The new film is directed by Mx Isaacson, and starts Patricia Allison of the Netflix series Sex Education. The new film is about a young woman who seeks justice and revenge when her family, friends and hometown are threatened.
DOCS IN THE NEWS
Following a screening and filmmaker/artist Q&A at Oakland’s New Parkway last week, Alice Street (Spencer l. Wilkinson, 2020) a film about “Oakland’s Most Important Mural That You Can’t See,” has received a smattering of attention in Bay Area media. The doc is about the unlikely partnership between Chilean studio painter Pancho Peskador and Chicago aerosol artist Desi Mundo. The duo paired in order to create a four-story mural in the heart of downtown Oakland, which was completely obscured by the erection of a six-story luxury high-rise not long after it was finished. The East Bay Express, in particular, features a piece by Lou Fancher who discusses the impact of watching the film with and without sound. Oaklandside ran a more conventional, but engaging piece about the film that includes an interview with the filmmaker that tackles issues like gentrification, which are at the heart of the film.
Snowy (Kaitlyn Schwalje & Alex Wolf Lewis, 2021), a short doc about a the happiness of a tiny turtle made The Hollywood Reporter’s list of potential Oscar® documentary short nominees. “We never expected our little turtle film to make it this far,” writes filmmaker Alex Wolf of the film’s success. The short doc premiered at Sundance, played in over 80 festivals, was nominated for a Critic’s Choice Award, received a Vimeo Staff pic, made DOCNYC’s shortlist, and is now streaming through TIME studios. Snowy showed as part of SDFF 2021 and is about the filmmakers’ attempt to improve life for their family’s eponymous turtle, who has survived 10 years isolated in the family basement with minimal sunlight and companionship.
Filmmaker Neasa Ní Chianáín was interviewed by The Moveable Fest, following the DOC NYC premiere of Young Plato, her new film, co-directed with Declan McGrath. Young Plato is an observational doc set in post-conflict Belfast’s Arodyne, where a marginalized working-class community has been plagued by poverty, drugs and guns for generations. The film charts the dream of Headmaster Kevin McArevey and his team, to empower and encourage children to see beyond the limitations of their circumstances through critical thinking and pastoral care. Ní Chianáín’s School Life (co-dir. David Rane), about teachers at Headfort, the only primary boarding school in Ireland, showed as part of SDFF 2018.
The Last Laugh (Ferne Pearlstein, 2016) made Screen Rant’s list of 10 films to watch if you love Taika Waititi (Reservation Dogs, Jojo Rabbit, What We Do In The Shadows). The Last Laugh is the only documentary on the list, and is cited, at least in part, because it helps contextualize Waititi’s Hitler in Jojo Rabbit. The documentary, which showed at SDFF 2017, considers Holocaust comedy and satire, examining the history of the practice as well as the ethical issues it raises. The Last Laugh is currently available to stream on Kanopy.
Peter Luo’s Stars Collective, an initiative fund that helps promote young, diverse filmmakers across the globe announced a new partnership with the Asian World Film Festival (AWFF) during the festival in L.A. The Stars Collective is currently working with 145 filmmakers and was founded by Wuhan Wuhan (Yung Chang, 2020) producer (Malignant EP, Crazy Rich Asians financier). Wuhan Wuhan is an SDFF 2021 film that captured life at the initial epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak and explores the universality of the pandemic experience and has been making the news in its own right this week, from warm reviews to film festival selections to it inclusion on IDA’s shortlist for doc features.
The IATSE Basic Agreement was ratified last week by extremely slim margins, with a couple hundred votes from two guilds deciding the outcome. Although the agreement was rejected by 50.4% of the union’s voting members, its adoption was ultimately decided by delegates (256 yes to 188 no) awarded by majority votes within each local, with the two largest locals voting in favor of the agreement by close margins. See coverage in Variety, Deadline, or IndieWire for the full story.
The full roster of nominees for the 37th Annual IDA Documentary Awards was released last week, with its Best Feature nominees trimmed to eight, including Summer of Soul (Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson, 2021), which just won several Critics Choice Awards. Two nominees for Best Curated Series, POV (PBS) and Independent Lens (PBS) have shown multiple, award-winning SDFF docs over the years, including this year’s Documentary Emmy-winners Advocate (Philippe Bellaiche and Rachel Leah Jones, 2019) and The Rescue List (Alyssa Fedele and Zachary Fink, 2019). The awards will be announced at a ceremony in L.A. on February 5, 2022.
Time Studios, the Emmy Award®-winning television and film production division of TIME, which launched in 2020 is expanding its creative ranks, departments and overall production after bringing in $70 million and selling over 20 projects to streaming giants (Netflix, Amazon) and more traditional networks (HBO, Showtime, PBS, A&E, PBS, etc. The expansion is yet another sign of the rapid growth of streaming documentary content. The emergence of documentary streaming services, like Documentary+ and Magellan TV, both being pushed via “Black Friday” deals are another sign of this rapidly developing commercial sector.
LOCAL DOC SCREENINGS
Today (11/23) is the last day to catch much vaunted art doc Paper & Glue (JR, 2021) at the Rialto Cinemas® Sebastopol. The doc is artist/filmmaker JR’s exploration of his own work, most famously large-scale photographs that become integrated into cityscapes and lived space. Then, just in time for the Thanksgiving holiday, the Julia Childs biography Julia (Julie Cohen and Betsy West, 2021) will begin showing at the Sebastopol Rialto® on Wednesday (11/24). Also, look for SDFF alumni filmmaker Nathalie Biancheri’s second narrative film, Wolf, which opens on Dec. 3. This wild new project is about a young man suffering from “species dysphoria” who believes himself to be a wolf, and stars noted method actor George MacKay. Biancheri’s doc Xavier Corbero: Portrait of an Artist in Winter was an SDFF 2018 selection.
CATCH THEM WHILE YOU CAN: SDFF ALUMNI STREAMING DOCS
The River Run Virtual Theater will be streaming Theirs Is The Kingdom (Chris Zaluski, 2020) now through Nov. 29. The film is being shown as part of a series of favorites from the 2021 River Run festival. The film follows the creation of a contemporary fresco mural inside the sanctuary of a small church in Asheville, NC, examining the intersection of poverty and portraiture. From first sketch to final unveiling, the film witnesses the difficulties of this ancient artistic technique while also introducing rich, complex characters. The film was an official selection at SDFF 2021, and recently showed as part of North Carolina’s Cucalorus Film Festival.
Holly Near: Singing for Our Lives (Jim Brown, 2018) is available on the subscription-based streaming platform Peacock. The film, an SDFF 2019 fave, documents the life and 50-year career of singer, songwriter, social activist and Sebastopol native Holly Near, who created what Gloria Steinem called, “the first soundtrack of the women’s movement.” It also serves as an important testament to a time—a time of protest and coalition building, and the weaving of a multicultural consciousness always rooted in contemporary activism.
Knocking Down The Fences (Meg Shutzer, 2019) is available to stream through Twin Cities PBS. The short, an SDFF 2020 favorite, is about AJ Andrews, the first woman to win a Rawlings Gold Glove, and her struggle to make it as one of the best professional softball players in the world.
Gilda Shepperd’s Since I Been Down, will show at Nashville’s 12th Annual Black Film Festival, which was recently reschedule for Dec. 2-5 and will be a hybrid streaming and in-person fest. Shepperd’s doc approaches intersecting criminal justice and carceral issues by focusing on victims of the 1980s drug war who continue to languish behind bars.
The Woman Who Loves Giraffes (Alison Reid, 2018) is available through the Sundance Now! streaming service. In the SDFF 2019 selection, Dr. Anne Innis Dagg re-traces the steps of her ground-breaking 1956 journey to South Africa to study giraffes in the wild. Now, at 85 years old, Anne sees a startling contrast between the world of giraffes she once knew and the one it has become. Weaving through the past and present, her harrowing journey gives us an intimate look into the factors that destroyed her career and the forces that brought her back.
HBO has announced a Dec. 2 release date for Listening To Kenny G, director Penny Lane’s interrogation of taste and the public sentiment around the much-maligned sax player, which has made waves at DOC NYC and every other film festival where it has played. The film is part of HBO’s Music Box doc series that also includes Alison Kayman’s Alanis Morisette doc Jagged and Christopher Frierson’s DMX: Don’t Try to Understand. Lane’s film Nuts! about radio “doctor” and public health hazard of days past, Dr. John Brinkley, was an SDFF 2018 official selection.
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