Congrats To SDFF Alumni On News & Documentary Emmy Noms

When the nominees for the 44th Annual News & Documentary Emmy® Awards were announced last week, the list included six films screened at SDFF from 2021-23, and two more projects made by alumni filmmakers. This year’s nominees were selected from 2,300 submissions that made their broadcast or streaming premiere in 2022.

In a nomination field dominated by content from streaming platforms, SDFF alumni films tended to go against the grain, appearing on either broadcast media outlets with adjacent streaming services, like PBS (POV: Wuhan Wuhan; America Reframed: Sapelo) and Starz (Body Parts), through independent VOD (Let Me Be Me), or through newspaper editorial sites, like The New York Times (Mink!) and The New Yorker (Nuisance Bear), which are emerging as influential video platforms for documentary shorts. By contrast, both projects from SDFF alumni filmmakers appeared on streaming giants Amazon Prime (Flight/Risk) and Netflix (Meltdown: 3 Mile Island), and used that backing to address industrial disasters.

While PBS came away with 20 nominations from the documentary categories, the largest of any network or platform, docs from streaming services otherwise predominated: Netflix received 18 noms, Max (née HBO Max) 17, Amazon Prime 11, and National Geographic 10. Max and National Geographic both retained broadcast networks in 2022, which operated alongside their streaming sites, but all other network and cable channels received 3 nominations or fewer.

Although this shift isn’t new or surprising, given the ways in which streaming platforms have popularized documentary content, and changed how films are made, from funding to distribution, it continues to be a bit of a mixed bag for both filmmakers and audiences. On the one hand, more docs are being made and have the potential to move wider audiences. On the other, streaming services rely on algorithms to produce and distribute content to individual viewers in a way that ultimately privileges popular topics, reducing the diversity of content to which individual viewers are exposed, while also governing what films are funded. Truly independent film content can easily get lost in this mix. This may also explain the dearth of films about climate change, for example, in such a broad field of nominees, even in categories dedicated to nature and science.

Nonetheless, nominees are selected by “peers”—broadcast journalism and documentary filmmaking professionals—and are particularly strong in their address of race in the U.S., gender issues worldwide, war/violence and health issues. The awards ceremony for documentaries is planned for 7:30 p.m. on Sept. 27, and will be available to stream over Vimeo. However, that plan is likely contingent on the continuation of the WPA and SAG-AFTRA strikes, which have already let to the postponement of the Prime Time Emmy Awards, once set for Sept. 18.


Current Affairs Doc

Director: Yung Chang
TRT: 95 mins
SDFF 2021

Shot during the early days of the coronavirus outbreak, Wuhan Wuhan captures life at the epicenter of what would become a worldwide pandemic. The doc explores the universality of this experience by rendering portraits of a couple expecting a baby, quarantined families in a byzantine shelter, medical workers, and a psychologist.

Aired/Streamed On:

Social Issue Doc

Director: Nick Brandestini
TRT: 92 mins
SDFF 2021

Set in the Hog Hammock community of Georgia’s Sapelo Island, the last remaining enclave of the Saltwater Geechee people, Sapelo documents matriarch Cornelia Walker Bailey as she raises two adopted children and attempts to preserve preserve this rich African American culture for posterity in the face of increasing development pressures.

Aired/Streamed On:
America Reframed (PBS)

Arts & Culture Doc

Directors: Dan Crane & Katie Taber
TRT: 72
SDFF 2023

The Westphals learn that their six year-old son Kyle is on the Autism spectrum. Fearing they may never develop a real connection to him, they embark on a radical journey in which they compassionately join Kyle in his unique behaviors. Twenty years later, the family reflects on Kyle’s path from social isolation to professional clothing designer.

Aired/Streamed On:
VOD (independent)

Short Doc

Ben Proudfoot
TRT: 20 mins
SDFF 2023

Told by her daughter Wendy, MINK! chronicles the remarkable Patsy Takemoto Mink, a Japanese American from Hawaii who became the first woman of color elected to the U.S. Congress, on her harrowing mission to co-author and defend Title IX, the law that transformed education and athletics in America for generations of girls and women.

Aired/Streamed On:
The New York Times OpDocs

Cinematography & Sound

Directors: Jack Weisman
& Gabriela Osio Vanden
TRT: 15 mins
SDFF 2022

An unconventional and beautifully cinematic study of polar bears who draw tourists to Churchill, Manitoba for the specific purpose of taking wildlife photos. The film shifts perspective as it follows a polar bear on its chaotic migration, revealing an obstacle course of tourist paparazzi and wildlife officers the bears must navigate during their annual migration.

Aired/Streamed On:
The New Yorker

Music Composition

Kristy Guevara-Flanagan
TRT: 86 mins
SDFF 2023

Body Parts shows the evolution of desire and “sex” on-screen from a female perspective. Through interviews with actors and creators, the doc uncovers the often invisible processes involved in creating intimacy for mainstream American film and television, the toll these scenes exact on those directly involved, and the impact on women and girls in the real world.

Aired/Streamed On:


Investigative Doc

Director: Omar Mullick
TRT: 98
SDFF 2014: These Birds Walk

Flight/Risk follows everyday people who find themselves in the midst of a tragedy when two Boeing 737 Max planes crashed only five months apart in 2018 and 2019. The documentary feature is told from the perspective of affected family members, their legal teams, whistleblowers, and Pulitzer-winning Seattle Times journalist Dominic Gates.

Aired/Streamed On:
Amazon Prime

Historical Doc

Director: Kief Davidson
TRT: 42-48 mins/4 Eps
SDFF 2018: Bending The Arc

The series tackles the near catastrophe at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant through the lens of chief engineer and whistleblower, Richard Parks, as well as the Pennsylvania community it impacted. The doc is comprised of dramatic reenactments, archival footage, never-before-seen home video, and in-depth interviews. 

Aired/Streamed On:

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