SDFF NEWS BITS: ALUMNI UPDATES, FESTS, HONORS, NEW DOCS, INDUSTRY HAPPENINGS
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18 JANUARY 2022
DOCS IN THE NEWS
An IndieWire column hit close to home for SDFF this week, pointing to the impact the pandemic has had on local indie film festivals, elaborating on their key role in determining the shape of future cinema, and urging cinephiles’ support to insure their future. Columnist Eric Kohn argues that small, independent festivals are among the most effective and community-oriented responses to increasingly homogenized fair offered by large media outlets, whose selections are algorithmic. Festivals, he argues, are particularly well equipped to curate films for, and from, specific communities. In doing so, they help smart, engaged audiences find independent films that will speak to them, sometimes with niche appeal. They play a valuable role in creating community, while promoting diverse, high-quality films. In doing so, Kohn argues, festivals provide a viable alternative to the algorithmic selections that determine streaming selections. In this way, he argues, small, indie film festivals and their engaged audiences are crucial to the how cinema will look in the future. Read Kohn’s column, “Want to Save the Movies? Invest in Regional Film Festivals.”
In more Gay Chorus, Deep South news, one of its central subjects, Dr. Tim Seelig, Artistic Director and Conductor of the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus, was one of The Nob Hill Gazette’s Movers & Shakers earlier this month. Dr. Seelig is being celebrated for his induction into The Academy Legends Archive in the Castro at the end of last year. He is just the third person to receive this honor. Gay Chorus Deep South documents the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus’s tour of the American Deep South, which was undertaken in response to a wave of discriminatory anti-LGBTQ laws that sprang up around the divisive 2016 presidential election. The film was an SDFF2020 Official Selection.
A 2 million year-old, European fossil has been identified as a new/previously unknown species of pangolin, which has a relatively sparse family tree. The new species is Smutsia olteniensis, and shares some characteristics with members of the Smutsia genus currently living in Africa, featured in Eye of the Pangolin(Bruce Young, 2019). The documentary is about the illegal trade in pangolin, which have been hunted to the brink of extinction for sale on the black market, and cannot survive in captivity.
SDFF 2021 selection, Since I Been Down (Gilda Sheppard, 2020) is cited as a central factor in a recently proposed Washington state bill that would have removed drive-by shootings from a list of aggravating factors for first-degree murder that result in automatic life sentences. The law, which was aimed at creating racial equity by correcting a statute that targets young black men, filed by Rep. Tarra Simmons at the behest of Superior Court Judge and ex-Senator Mike Heavey. Heavey, who voted for the law during his time as a legislator, requested the correction after seeing Kimonti Carter’s story in Since I Been Down, which convinced him the law was really a means of targeting young, black men. Carter is the only person sentenced to life without parole under the statute and has been in prison for the 1997 murder of 19 year-old Corey Pittman, who he mistakenly believing was a rival gang member at the time. Carter was 18 years old when he shot Carter, and during his time in prison has started TEACH (Taking Education and Creating History), a program that helps inmates earn college credits through courses taught by other inmates. According toa recent piece in the Kitsap Sun, Rep. Simmons, who filed the bill has become the subject of death threats, following coverage in the far right media, despite the fact that the bill has been shelved. Since I Been Down tracks Carter’s life, as well as those of other people impacted by three strikes laws and the racist depiction of young black men and children as “super predators” in the 1990s. The film showed as part of SDFF 2021.
Mountaineer and documentarian Sean Burch (The Icefall Doctor, 2021) is the subject of an interview-based feature article in InsideNoVa, about his life and work, from becoming the first Virginian to Everest to making a film about the people who risk their lives annually to build a trail to the top of the mountain. The Icefall Doctor is a kaleidoscopic and meditative view of Angnima Sherpa’s last season (after 30+ years) working in the Khumbu Icefall of Mt. Everest as leader of the most dangerous job on earth. The film showed as part of SDFF 2021.
The appearance of Lynne Sachs’ work at the recent Cork International Film Festival have already had a notable impact, with Irish artist Kat McElroy (Sample-Studio, Inter_Site) identifying the collection of films as the most influential she saw last year. Those films included Film About A Father Who (Sachs, 2020) and a shorts program of Sachs’ work, which had previously been unavailable in Ireland. 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.
NEW FILMS + PROJECTS FROM SDFF FILMMAKERS
Filmmaker Marianna Economou is following up When Tomatoes Met Wagner (2019) with a film documenting the making of Christian Dior’s “The Greek Bar Jacket” collection, a collaboration between designer Maria Grazia Chiuri and local artisans. In The Green Bar Jacket: The Making of a Dior Cruise Collection, Economou travels around Greece to visit each of the artisans who collaborated on the project, which premiered last week and is streaming on youtube for now. When Tomatoes Met Wagner (Marianna Economou, 2019) followed by a filmmaker Q&A with Marianna Economou. When Tomatoes Met Wagner is an SDFF 2020 alumni film, which tells the uplifting story of two Greek cousins and five village women, who tackle the world market with their organic tomatoes.
La Laguna (2016) director Aaron Schock’s new doc Instant life, which he directed and produced with Mark Becker, will premiere at Sundance 2022, which will be all-streaming for the second year in a row. 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. Individual tickets for this streaming premiere, and most of the Sundance 2022 roster, can still be reserved and will stream from 8 p.m., Jan. 20 at 8 p.m.-10:59 p.m., Jan. 30.
Neymar: The Perfect Chaos, a new, three-part docuseries by David Charles Rodrigues (Gay Chorus, Deep South, 2019) profiling soccer star Neymar da Silva Santos Júnior, one of the most famous and highest paid athletes in history, is being released on Netflix Jan. 25. The streaming giant partnered with LeBron James’s athlete empowerment brand Uninterrupted for the project, which tracks the soccer superstar’s rise, his career as a player, and the marketing machine that has helped create his persona, run by his father. Rodrigues’s Gay Chorus, Deep South follows the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus as it embarks on a tour of the American Deep South, following a wave of discriminatory anti-LGBTQ laws and the divisive 2016 election. The film is now streaming on Amazon Prime
Peabody Award winning director Leon Lee (Letter From Masanjia, 2018) has a new historic drama Unsilenced: When Lies Silence A Nation opening in the U.S. on Jan. 21. Set in 1999 and inspired by real events, the film focuses on the stories of a PhD student, an American reporter and a group of students as they react to the Chinese state’s nascent ban on the practice of Falun Gong. Lee’s doc Letter From Masanjia, an SDFF 2019 selection, told the story of Sun Yi, a political prisoner at a Chinese labor camp, determined to change the system. Yi’s story became news when an American consumer found his plea for help in a box of Halloween party supplies she ordered online. The film gives a first-hand account of the camps and depicts the restrictions that shaped Yi’s life, and that of his family, even after his release.
AWARDS. HONORS. FESTIVALS.
SDFF 2021 alum Wuhan Wuhan (Yung Chang, 2020) is an official selection of the 2022 ReFrame Film Festival, Jan. 25-Feb. 4. ReFrame’s programming this year addresses issues including environmental activism, food justice, refugee stories, Indigenous sovereignty, art as resistance, and the importance of a free press. A comprehensive film guide is available now, but can only be streamed in Canada. Wuhan Wuhan captures life at the initial epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak and explores the universality of the pandemic experience.
From the Wild Sea (Robin Petré, 2021) showed as part of the Middlebury New Filmmakers Festival’s MNFF Selects series, themed Humans and Animals: Shared Experiences, Intersecting World, earlier this month. From The Wild Sea is filmmaker Robin Petré’s directorial debut and documents the experiences of marine animals forced into the human world by rising sea levels, told as a poetic dialogue between human- and animal-kind. It was an official selection at SDFF 2021.
LOCAL SCREENINGS + FILM EVENTS
Jon Osaki’s Alternative Facts: Executive Order 9066 will be screened at the San Francisco Asian Art Museum on Feb. 10 as part of a teach-in commemorating the 80thanniversary of the order, which authorized the imprisonment of Japanese Americans during World War II. The film considers the political forces and misinformation behind the incarceration and draws connections to the contemporary scapegoating of immigrants and abuses of power. Following the screening, Osaki will join Sheryl Davis, executive director of the San Francisco Human Rights Commission, and Don Tamaki, an attorney for the plaintiff in Korematsu v. United States, for a discussion about the ties between the Japanese American redress campaign and the Black reparations movement. The evening also includes a shakuhachi (Japanese flute) performance by Masayuki Koga. Alternative Facts: Executive Order 9066 at 80 Years: Incarceration and Reparations Then and Now was an official selection of SDFF 2020, you can find a contemporaneous interview between Osaki and SDFF co-Director Jean McGlothlin here.
Learning To Live Together: The Return of Mad Dogs & Englishmen (Jesse Lauder, 2021) is being screened tonight (Jan. 19) at the Rialto Sebastopol, followed by a filmmaker Q&A. The film tells the story of Joe Cocker’s 1970s Mad Dogs and Englishmen tour through the Tedeschi Truck Band’s reunion of the Mad Dogs, which featured 12 original members. Starting Friday, the Rialto will be showing a feature film with SDFF links, Parallel Mothers (Pedro Almodóvar, 2021). The feature was draws from the 2019 documentary produced by the filmmaker, The Silence of Others (Almudena Carracedo, Robert Bahar, 2018) about the search for justice by families and surviving victims of the Franco regime. The Rialto has two other docs scheduled for Feb: Flee (Jonas Poher Rasmussen, 2021), a biographical narrative about a man whose impending marriage in Denmark compels him to reveal a hidden past in Afghanistan, and Who We Are: A Chronicle Of Racism In America (Emily Kunstler and Sarah Kunstler, 2021), in which lawyer Jeffrey Robinson draws a stark timeline of anti-Black racism in the U.S. from slavery to the myth of a post-racial America.
The Sonoma County Library’s monthly documentary film discussion group will focus on Three Identical Strangers (Time Wardle, 2018). The doc is about the secrets that emerge from the reunion of identical triplets separated at birth, living with three different families. The discussion will take place Jan. 27 from 6-7 p.m. online. The discussion is free but has limited registration. The doc is also available for free to library members through Kanopy. The monthly doc discussion group meets on the fourth Thursday of every month.
CATCH THEM WHILE YOU CAN: STREAMING DOCS
3 Seconds in October – the Shooting of Andy Lopez (Ron Rogers, 2021), about the 2013 shooting of 13 year-old Andy Lopez by Sonoma County Deputy Sheriff Erick Gelhaus, is set to debut nationally Jan. 22 on PBS. The film, which is narrated by SDFF’s Declare Your Independents series with NorCal Public Media, draws on interviews, previously confidential police investigative files and litigation records to give a second-by-second account of the shooting and a detailed chronology of efforts by local police and public officials to defend their actions. It also tracks community response to the shooting and demands to know what happened.
Listening To Kenny G (Penny Lane, 2021) is now available through HBO MAX. The film interrogates the concept of taste through public sentiment around the much-maligned sax player. The doc has made waves at DOC NYC and every other film festival that has featured it. 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.
Bathtubs Over Broadway (Dava Whisenant, 2018) is available via Netflix. The doc was an official SDFF 2019 film that focused on the industrial musicals and the people who make them. The doc approaches these rare, historic oddities produced by the likes of McDonalds and GE, by following a late night comedy writer who stumbles into a hilarious, hidden world of entertainment where he finds unexpected human connections. This highly entertaining doc includes appearances by David Letterman, Martin Short, Chita Rivera and Jello Biafra.
Sophie and the Baron (Alexandria Baron, 2020) is an uplifting rendering of the creative collaboration and unlikely friendship between Rolling Stone photographer Baron Wolman, at the end of his prolific career, and up-and-coming artist Sophie Kipner, at the beginning of hers. The film showed as part of SDFF 2021 and is streaming on Disney+ as part of the launch of the platform’s new documentary division. The film is on the Oscar® shortlist for 2022.
Queen Of Basketball (2021) indie documentarian Ben Proudfoot’s Critics Choice Award-winning short is available as part of his Almost Famous series of shorts by New York Times Op-Docs. The film is about Lucy Harris, the first woman ever drafted by an NBA team, the New Orleans Jazz (now Utah Jazz) in the late 70s. Though she didn’t ultimately make the team, she left the sport with having won three national championships and an Olympic silver medal. Proudfoot’s films have shown at SDFF numerous times, including 2019’s That’s My Jazz and 2017’s Montage: Great Film Composers and the Piano. The film is on the Oscar® shortlist for 2022.
Southwest of Salem: The Story of the San Antonio Four (Deborah S, Esquezani, 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.
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.
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.
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.
Filmmaker Jerry Rothwell’s The Reason I Jump (2021) is 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.
Another SDFF 2017 alumni filmmaker, Pedro Kos, also has an acclaimed new doc on Netflix, Lead Me Home, an immersive film about homelessness shot in San Francisco, Los Angeles and Seattle made in collaboration with Jon Shenk. Kos’s 2017 film with Kief Davidson Bending The Arc is also available to stream through Netflix and 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.
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