SDFF NEWS BITS: ALUMNI UPDATES, FESTS, HONORS, NEW DOCS, INDUSTRY HAPPENINGS
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24 MAY 2022
AWARDS. HONORS. FESTIVALS. SPECIAL SCREENINGS.
The March On Washington Film Festival hosted the D.C. premiere of Barbara Lee: Speaking Truth to Power (Abby Ginzberg, 2021) on Monday night, followed by a post-screening discussion panel featuring Ginzberg, Lee, House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) and Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-Del), moderated by White House correspondent April Ryan. This year marks the 10th anniversary of the March On Washington Festival, which was founded to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the historic Civil Rights March On Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Barbara Lee: Speaking Truth To Power paints a vivid and timely portrait of Congresswoman Barbara Lee (California-D), a steadfast voice for human rights, racial and economic justice, peace and diplomacy in the U.S. government. Lee began her tenure as an activist with the Black Panther Party and raised two sons as a single mom before becoming the highest ranking black woman in the U.S. Congress. The doc showed as part of SDFF 2022.
Two screenings of Crip Camp: A DIsability Revolution (James LeBrecht and Nicole Newnham, 2020) kicked off the sixth annual A Series Of Fortunate Events festival earlier this month. Though the fest has returned to in-person screenings, the festival’s presentation of Crip Camp includes virtual discussions with one of the film’s stars, disability rights advocate Judy Heumann and disability rights attorney Virginia Knowlton Marcus. The summer-long festival’s goal is to highlight creativity and diversity while promoting the work of artists and performers with disabilities. In addition to films, the festival also includes a juried art exhibition, Movement, featuring work by North Carolina artists. Crip Camp documents the story of the modern American Disability Rights Movement, beginning with the congregation of a generation of young soon-to-be-activists at Camp Jened in the late 1960s. The film’s co-writer/co-director, composer, filmmaker and activist James LeBrecht is a longtime SDFF collaborator.
Red Horizon (Thomas Johnstone, 2020) will soon be kicking off the 2nd Annual Greenwood Film Festival in Tulsa. The documentary short will be screened in a program On June 8 with short thriller The InHouse (Kameron McQueen, 2022) and documentary feature African Redemption: The Life and Legacy of Marcus Garvey (Roy T. Anderson, 2022). Red Horizon focuses on a group of young pilots dedicated to keeping alive the legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen, the first unit of black U.S. military pilots, while also pursuing their dreams of becoming professional aviators and inspiring young Black folks to take to the skies and change racial imbalance that persists in the world of aviation. The Tuskegee Airmen were the first unit of black U.S. military pilots. The film is an SDFF 2021 official selection.
On The Divide (Maya Cueva and Leah Galant, 2021) showed at the 22nd annual Martha’s Vineyard Film Festival last weekend. The film follows the stories of three Latinx people living in McAllen, Texas who, despite their views, are connected by the most unexpected of places: the last abortion clinic on the U.S./Mexico border. As threats to the clinic and their personal safety mount, our three characters are forced to make decisions they never could have imagined. On The Divide, an SDFF 2022 official selection, is available to stream on PBS’s POV series website.
NEW FILMS & PROJECTS FROM SDFF FILMMAKERS
Sentinels, a new documentary short co-directed by Derek Knowles (After The Fire, SDFF 2020) and Lawrence Lerew, takes an immersive, observational tack in depicting the Redwood Forest Defense tree-sit. The only active tree-sit at the time of filming, the action was the work of a small group of young activists, who sought to stop a large logging company. The filmmakers see the film as a form of bearing witness to a mode of radical activism that, unlike street protests, takes place largely outside of the public eye, and requires a great deal of both physical and mental strength. According to the filmmakers, there are now more than half a dozen such actions. The film is available for free in the Los Angeles Times and is accompanied by a short written piece by the filmmakers. The filmmakers also gave a recent interview about the project, which is available as audio on the Oregon Public Broadcasting website.
Johan Palmgren, whose short Traffic Separating Device, about how drivers and pedestrians react to novel new road sign, was featured at SDFF 2019, pitched a new doc, The Meteorite, with Isabel Andersson at the Hot Docs ’22 forum. Like Traffic Separating Device, The Meteorite takes a humorous look at human idiosyncrasies when reacting to the unknown. More a character study than a science-driven piece, the proposed new film is about the meteorite hunters who searched for, and eventually found, a rare meteorite that had fallen to earth.
Last weekend, Sonoma State University’s Center for Environmental Inquiry and Listening for Change hosted a screening of Embers Of Awakening: From Firestorms to Climate Healing (Phyllis Rosenfield, 2022) a new doc about the 2017 Tubbs fire in Sonoma and Napa Counties and climate change. Narrated by activist/actor and SDFF collaborator Peter Coyote, the doc is based on personal stories from fire survivors and interviews with scientists and other experts about the changes necessary to curtail a future of frequent, and exponentially more dangerous wildfires. Director Phyllis Rosenfield has already made the 10-part project History and Healing After the Fires, a ten segment video recorded and edited oral history of the Sonoma firestorms of 2017. Saturday’s special screening was followed by a panel discussion of experts in various pertinent fields.
The first promo for Unicorns, the highly anticipated first fiction film by esteemed documentarian and SDFF 2018 alumni filmmaker Alex Lora (The Fourth Kingdom, The Kingdom of Plastics, 2017), will show at Cannes next week. In contrast to his documentary focus on outsiders and outcasts, like those at the Brooklyn recycling center whose conversations make up The Fourth Kingdom, Unicorns focuses on a young, female protagonist with everything going for her. Though the new film won’t be out until Fall, it has already been picked up by international distributor/producer Filmax.
Julia Scotti, of Julia Scotti: Funny That Way (Susan Sandler, 2020) fame, has released her second comedy album, Primal Cuts. To promote the album, Scotti discusses the album, named for her father, a butcher, in a recent interview with New Jersey 101.5, Scotti has also been featured on Showtime’s recent special Even More Funny Women Of A Certain Ageand will be part of a related, national stand-up tour this summer. Scotti’s new album is available through almost all major audio platforms. Julia Scotti: Funny That Way is a portrait of the transgender comedian, examining how her decision to transition at 47 years old impacted her career and family life, and also featuring. The film, which is also peppered with the comedienne’s wit and wisdom, showed as part of SDFF 2021.
Wuhan Wuhan (Yung Chang, 2020) will lead the 35th season of PBS’s POV, the longest-running series for independent docs on TV, which recently released most of its upcoming schedule. Unlike the true crime and celebrity-driven docs that populate streaming platforms, POV has retained its emphasis on issue-driven films.Wuhan Wuhan is an observational documentary unfolding during February and March of 2020, at the height of the pandemic in Wuhan city, where the coronavirus began. With unprecedented access at the peak of the pandemic lockdown, the film focuses on five stories that focus on the human experience of the earliest days of the pandemic, as a mysterious virus began to infect Chinese citizens, and frontline healthcare workers grappled with an invisible, deadly killer. Wuhan Wuhan will air on July 11, when it will also become available to stream via the series’ website. The film showed as part of SDFF 2021.
For Sama (Waad al-Kateab and Edward Watts, SDFF 2020), a personal documentary about the Siege of Aleppo made a recent Collider list of the 9 most unflinching war films of all time. The doc traces five years of filmmaker Waad al-Kateab’s life during the uprising, as she falls in love, gets married and gives birth while apocalyptic conflict rises around her. The Collider list of war films includes a range of fiction films from extremely well-known entries like Apocalypse Now (Francis Ford Coppola, 1979) and Gallipoli (Peter Weir, 1981) to less popular but extremely well regarded work like the animated feature about Japan at the end of World War II Grave of the Fireflies (Isao Takahata, 1988). For Sama is the one of just two docs on the list, the other being Ari Folman’s animated doc Waltz With Bashir (1982).
For Sama is also on a list of docs about that reveal the magnitude of the global refugee crisis from the Hindi news aggregator Sakshi. Because it focuses on a crisis that is still growing, the Sakshi list includes only relatively recent docs, including acclaimed animated film Flee (Jonas Poher Rasmussen, 2021) about an Afghan man’s reflections on his past, Ai Weiwei’s Human Flow (2017), which gives both micro- and macro- views of the global refugee crisis; and Born In Syria (Bernán Zin, 2016), which focuses on children’s experiences of war and displacement.
The Race To Alaska (Zach Carver, 2021) opened in the U.S. and Canada on May 20. Made by a Seattle-based director, the indie doc has showings around Washington and Canada’s West scheduled for the next couple of weeks, and has received enthusiastic reviews from regional critics, all of which laud the film’s cinematography and scenery. The Race to Alaska documents a 750-mile motorless boat race described as “the Iditarod on a boat with a chance of drowning or being eaten by a Grizzly bear.” As punishing as it is his epic, the film captures an endurance race that is both punishing and beautiful and attracts the intrepid and unhinged who find their edge along a coastline. The doc was an official selection of SDFF 2021.
Texas documentarian Ben Masters (The River and the Wall, 2019) is receiving a warm critical reception (Culture Map Austin, D Magazine) for his new film Deep In The Heart, which premiered at the EarthxFilm Festival in Dallas earlier this Month. The film is a celebration of the diverse landscapes and wildlife of Texas, told through the eyes of wildlife species and narrated by Matthew McConaughey. Masters’ film with Hillary Pierce, The River and The Wall, which was an official selection of SDFF 2020, is similarly focused on conservation and follows 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.
Chicago’s 2022-23 iteration of the Doc Talk Show will kick off tomorrow with a special interview between renowned doc producer and mentor Gordon Quinn (PBS’s Independent Lens, Hoop Dreams) and producer-director Bob Hercules (Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise, 2016). Quinn will show clips from his personal Kartemquin films during the one-on-one interview, which will be followed by a larger discussion including some of Quinn’s other Mentees/filmmakers. Hercules’s film with Rita Coburn Whack, Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise, documenting the American Poet Laureate’s life, was an SDFF 2017 official selection.
Bending The Arc (Pedro Kos and Kief Davidson, 2017) is on a recent Movieweb list of the best social justice docs on Netflix. The film, an SDFF 2018 official selection, documents the birth of Partners In Health, which began 30 years ago with the work of a group of extraordinary doctors and activists working to save lives in a Haitian village and became a battle in the halls of power for healthcare for all. The list includes a number of docs about racism and the fight for racial justice in America including Whose Streets? (Sabaah Folayan and Damon Davis, 2017), which examines how the police killing of teenager Mike Brown sparked the Black Lives Matter movement; I Am Not Your Negro (Raoul Peck 2016) an exploration of the history of racism in the U.S. through its civil rights leaders; and Ava DuVarnay’s iconic 13th (2016), which traces America’s mass incarceration of black men back to the 13th Amendment. Other entries, like David France’s The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson (2017) explore the intersection of racism, misogyny and anti-trans sentiment. The doc is an homage to Johnson that is framed by her murder and reflects on violence against transgender folks in the present day. The list also includes docs about the struggle for gender equity, bodily autonomy and representation. The entries are rounded out with the timely inclusion of Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight For Freedom (Evgeny Afineevsky, 2015) about the 2013-14 Ukranian student demonstrations that supported European integration and grew to a revolutionary movement seeking the resignation of then-president Viktor Yanukovich.
LOCAL SCREENINGS + FILM EVENTS
The final film in the Spring Doc Nights series, Reflection: a walk with water (Emmet Brennan, 2021) will be screened at Rialto Cinemas® on June 6 at 7 p.m. The screening and discussion will be screened at 7 p.m. at Rialto Cinemas® and will be followed by a casual gathering at Fern Bar. Part personal meditation on water, part road map for positive change, Reflection: a walk with water confronts current environmental and systematic troubles by examining bellwethers for the future, including Los Angeles and other parts of California. The film was an SDFF 2022 selection, and its screening included an environmental stewardship panel, which you can watch right here! Doc Night is a collaboration between Trim Tab, SDFF, and the Rialto®. Buy tickets here, or check out our Doc Night page for more details.
OUTwatch is hosting a Pride Month screening of Poppy Field (Eugen Jebeleanu, 2020) to benefit OUTright’s LGBTQI Ukraine Emergency Fund. In the film, a young, Romanian police officer, Cristi, tries to find the balance between two opposing parts of his identity: that of a man working in a macho hierarchical environment and that of a closeted gay person who tries to keep his personal life a secret. The film will have two screenings on June 9 at 1 and 7 p.m. at Rialto Cinemas® Sebastopol.
OUTwatch will also be continuing its Spring/Summer film series on June 16 with Daresha Kyi’s doc Mama Bears, about conservative Christian families raising gay kids. Framing Agnes (July 21). The films show at 7 p.m. at Rialto Cinemas® Sebastopol. Buy tickets here!
The new Bay Area Media Makers Summit (BAMMS) will take place June 3-5 in San Francisco and Oakland. The summit will bring together local film festivals, organizations, funders and filmmakers, fostering an increasingly collaborative, healthy and inclusive Bay Area filmmaking community. The summit includes casual mixers, as well as workshops and presentations by local filmmakers on a variety of topics. The event is free and open to filmmakers and media makers, but requires registration.
CATCH THEM WHILE YOU CAN: DOCS AIRING ON TV + STREAMING ONLINE
Breaking Trail (Jesse Roesler, 2021) about the first woman and person of color to thru-hike the 1,200-mile Ice Age Trail is now streaming through Outside+, the online content arm of Outside Magazine. The relatively new streaming service features non-fiction films and series about the outdoors, adventure sports, mountaineering and mountain dogs.
When Claude Got Shot (Brad Lichtenstein, 2020) had its national TV debut on May 9, but remains available to stream via PBS’s Independent Lens. The film follows five years in the life of Claude Motley as he tries to recover mentally and physically from being shot in the face by 15 year old carjacker, Nathan King. Claude’s story is at the center of five stories of gun violence, justice and healing, and ultimately leads him back to the boy who shot him. The film, which showed at SDFF 2022, will be available to stream online after it airs. The Spring season of Independent Lens airs from April 25-May 16.
The SDFF 2021 film, When We Were Bullies (Jay Rosenblatt, 2021) is now streaming on HBO/HBO MAX. When We Were Bullies is an autobiographical doc about a filmmaker who is spurred to investigate a 50 year-old bullying event in which he was complicit after a chance encounter with an old classmate. The short was nominated for Best Short Documentary at the 2022 Academy Awards®.
Southwest of Salem: The Story of the San Antonio Four (Deborah Esquenazi, 2016) recently became available through NBC’s streaming platform Peacock TV. This SDFF 2017 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.
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