SDFF NEWS BITS: ALUMNI UPDATES, FESTS, HONORS, NEW DOCS, INDUSTRY HAPPENINGS
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14 DECEMBER 2021
NEW FILMS & PROJECTS FROM SDFF FILMMAKERS
A new series, Secrets of Playboy, from filmmaker Alexandra Dean (Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story, This Is Paris) will premiere on A&E on Jan. 24, and will also be available through the cable network’s app. The docuseries is 10 hours and explores the reality behind the Playboy empire through a modern lens, examining the reality behind the copious company’s copious mythmaking. The series examines the magazine’s role in the sexual revolution, but also attends to the realities of work at the company, particularly for women. Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story showed at SDFF 2018 and is about the famed actress’s inventions, which included a technology that would eventually become Bluetooth.
La Laguna (2016) director Aaron Schock’s new doc Instant life, which he directed and produced with Mark Becker, will premiere at Sundance 2022 in the Spring. The film tells the story of Yolanda Signorelli von Braunhut, the Amazing Live Sea-Monkey heiress, who is in a battle with a giant toy company to regain control over the iconic novelty pioneered by her husband. Dispossessed of her sole source of income, Signorelli von Braunhut now lives at the Sea-Monkey estate without electricity or running water, where she struggles to regain ownership of the novelty and restore its reputation. The subject of the new film is a significant departure from La Laguna, an SDFF 2017 official selection, which tells the story of a Mayan boy’s remarkable journey from childhood to adolescence in a southern Mexico.
A new project from filmmaker Penny Lane, Confessions Of A Good Samaritan is getting support from Olive Hill Media, Sandbox Films and Impact Partners. Gabriel Sedgwick, who has produced prior Lane projects Hail Satan? and Listening to Kenny G is also on board for this new project. Confessions Of A Good Samaritan follows from Lane’s decision to donate her kidney to a stranger, which propelled her to understand the science, history and ethics behind organ transplants. Meanwhile, Lane’s Listening To Kenny G, was released on HBO MAX this week and has continued to flourish in the press, with new interviews in Thrillist, Filmmaker Magazine and Slate. Listening To Kenny G interrogates the concept of taste through public sentiment around the much-maligned sax player. 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.
AWARDS. HONORS. FESTIVALS.
Michael-David McKernan’s How To Fall In Love in a Pandemic won the award for best documentary short at the Port Townsend Film Festival. The film is about a romance that accelerates against the backdrop of the pandemic as two filmmakers are forced to move in together after knowing each other for just two weeks. It streamed as part of SDFF 2021.
The Booksellers (D.W. Young, 2019) is a part of the Come Back Film Festival, which is taking place in Tokyo’s Ikebukuro District in Tokyo earlier this month. The film festival’s aim is to help showcase films released during the pandemic. The Booksellers was a selection of SDFF 2020, which was originally programmed as an in-person festival, but pivoted to streaming when the pandemic hit. Festivals unable to make similar pivots, in most cases, were cancelled for the year, limiting exposure for many films released in that period. The Booksellers is a behind-the-scenes look at the New York world of rare books.
Ritoma (Ruby Yang, 2018) will be shown as part of the Interflow x Renaissance Gurl Festival this year. The Hong Kong festival is dedicated to nurturing young, creative talent, and includes eleven films from 9 Hong Kong directors, who attended and did Q&As with audiences after their films screened. An SDFF 2019 official selection Ritoma follows nomads of the Tibetan Plateau as they navigate the collision of tradition and modernity.
IN THE NEWS
Last Meal (Marcus McKenzie and Daniel Principe, 2020) was acquired worldwide by VICE Media and will be packaged as part of the second season of the documentary series The Short List with Suroosh Alvi. The film, which approaches the issue of capital punishment by looking at inmates’ last meals, also recently named the Bend Film Festival’s Best Documentary Short, was an SDFF 2021 official selection.
Filmmaker and multi-year SDFF alumni S. Leo Chiang has been selected for the jury of the Australian International Documentary Conference. The Conference also announced that the Indigenous Creators Program will also be returning in 2022. Chiang’s most recent SDFF film, Our Time Machine (with Yang Sun, 2019) showed at the 2020 festival, and is about renowned Chinese artist Maleonn, who sets off to build a time machine after learning of his father’s dementia. Chiang and co-director Yang Sun also gave an exclusive interview at the festival, which is available as an SDFF Video Exclusive. Chiang’s film Out Run (with Johnny Symons, 2016) showed at SDFF 2017 and is about the world’s only LGBTQIA political party, which waged an historic quest to elect a trans woman to the Philippine Congress.
Karen Pearlman’ Digital Afterlives (2018) is among the dance films selected for this year’s New Grounds Dance Film Collection’ from Tampa’s Moving Current Dance Collective. Pearlman directed the short with choreographer Richard James Allen. In it, A man in white-winged angel shoes awakes in infinite black to the strains of Liszt’s Dance of the Dead. Pearlman’s I Want To Make A Film About Women (2020), a queer, speculative, documentary love letter to Russian constructivist women, showed at SDFF 2021, where Pearlman also did a discussion on style, which is available as an SDFF Video Exclusive.
Playwright Lizzie Olesker and filmmaker Lynne Sachs collaboration The Washing Society (Lizzie Olesker and Lynne Sachs, 2018) showed at the TISCH Metrograph earlier this week, along with Sachs’ film A Month of Single Frames made with and for experimental filmmaker Barbara Hammer and Roberta Cantow’s Clotheslines. The Washing Society creates a dream-like, yet realistic portrayal of a day in the life of a laundry worker, both past and present. The film showed as part of SDFF 2018.
Found (Amanda Lipitz, 2021) producer Anita Gou discusses the film and her experience filming in China in a new Variety piece Oscar’s Documentary Race Includes Underdog Contenders ‘Found,’ ‘Pauli Murray’ and ’45 Days’. Found follows three adopted American teens, one of whom is Lipitz’s niece, who discover they are related over 23andMe, and embark on a journey together to explore their Chinese roots. The film was released on Netflix in late October in the U.S., where, at the time of release, anti-Asian hate speech had climbed by over 1,500%. 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.
Filmmaker and editor Rachel Shuman did a Q&A to accompany free showings of Storm Lake (Beth Levison and Jerry Risius, 2021) about a small, family-owned Iowa newspaper, the Storm Lake Time’s fight for the survival. Shuman edited the film, which won an audience award at AFI, as well as a nod for Best Documentary Feature at Woodstock. Shuman directed the SDFF 2018 doc One October, a lyrical portrait of New York City and its people in October 2008, on the eve of President Barak Obama’s historic election and an unprecedented economic crisis.
CATCH THEM WHILE YOU CAN: STREAMING DOCS
Southwest of Salem: The Story of the San Antonio Four (Deborah S, Esquezani, 2016) was picked up by NBC’s streaming platform Peacock TV and became available on Dec. 2. This 2017 SDFF selection examines the criminal justice system through the arrest of four women in San Antonio at the tail end of the “Satanic ritual abuse panic” of the 1990s. The four women, all Latina, all lesbian, were wrongfully convicted of a heinous sexual assault. The film documents their treatment by the criminal justice system and their continued efforts to prove their innocence after serving several decades in prison.
Filmmaker Jerry Rothwell’s The Reason I Jump (2021) just began streaming on Netflix. Based on Naoki Higashida’s memoir, the film looks at the diverse experiences and emotions of five young people with autism. His film Sour Grapes (Rothwell and Reuben Atlas, 2016) documented the rise and fall of wine charlatan Rudy Kuriawan, who pulled one over on connoisseurs, experts and industry folk before his downfall, and showed at SDFF 2017.
Bathtubs Over Broadway (Dava Whisenant, 2018) will be available via Netflix starting Dec. 9. The SDFF 2019 film follows a late night comedy writer who stumbles on a hilarious, hidden world of entertainment, where he finds unexpected human connections. The film includes appearances by David Letterman, Martin Short, Chita Rivera and Jello Biafra.
Knife Skills (Thomas Lennon, 2017), an SDFF 2018 selection and Academy Award® nominee, is showing on The New Yorker’s youtube station. The doc follows the launch of an haute cuisine restaurant in Cleveland, staffed by men and women recently released from prison. The film documents the challenges of men and women finding their way after their release. They all have something to prove, and all struggle to launch new lives; an endeavor as pressured and perilous as the ambitious restaurant launch of which they are a part.
The Last Harvest (Alexis Spradic, 2018) will be available to stream through the end of the year for free via Vimeo. The SDFF 2019 selection is about the growers responsible for America’s fresh fruit. The film looks at the experiences of three families to show the harsh realities faced by harvesters due to tightened immigration and inefficient guest worker programs that prevent farmers from accessing a much-needed workforce.
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.
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.
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