2023 Doc Stories Program
From a Programmers: Q&A with Jessie Fairbanks
Q: Tell us about the 2023 Doc Stories program.
I am so proud to share this year’s program! We start with a jubilant Opening Night screening of Matthew Heineman’s new film American Symphony which profiles a year in the life of a creative polyglot: songwriter, singer, and performer Jon Batiste. Our Centerpiece program is Copa 71, a rousing and illuminating archival excavation of the first womens’ World Cup in Mexico in 1971. For Closing Night, we welcome back the prestigious Wim Wenders with his latest documentary Anselm, featuring life work of prolific multi-faceted artist, Anselm Kiefer, and it is presented in glorious 3-D.
We are honored to welcome back local filmmakers Amanda McBaine and Jesse Moss with their incisive new documentary The Mission, which explores the intersection of colonialism, religion, and misguided curiosity. We also feature UC Santa Cruz professor Irene Lusztig, with her moving portrait Richland about two towns wrestling with their not-so-distant atomic past. We will have Joanna Rudnick with her heartwarming film about childrens’ stories, Story & Pictures By, and will have in-person appearances from the authors and artists! There will also be in-person presentations and screenings from Lisa Cortés, Rachel Ramsay, James Erskine, Caroline Suh, Cara Mones, Kaouther Ben Hania, dream hampton, Roger Ross Williams, and many more.
And, we are honored to host a special tribute to our late friend, Julia Reichert. We curated the tribute in collaboration with Reichert’s partner, Steven Bognar, and this celebration of her life and work offers space for collective remembrance of a beloved filmmaker. Reichert was a tireless advocate for womens’ rights, workers’ rights, and mentor to a legion of documentarians. Her influence and generosity of spirit cultivated a global network of social crusaders who continue to shape the documentary genre today.
Q: Why do you love documentaries?
For me, documentaries sit somewhere between oral history and journalism. There is a proximity to the subject matter with docs that is tactile and invigorating. I always learn something new when watching a documentary and often find myself evaluating the world around me: sometimes it is an exploration of beliefs and ideologies, sometimes it is a reflection of a sense of self or community, and sometimes it is a prophetic spark to mind the patterns of human history. And no matter the content, documentaries are almost always inspirational. It may not be readily obvious at the start, but the sheer creation of a documentary is an act of defiance and hope. These films are made by people who care deeply about the world we live in, who want to engage audiences in a quest to deepen our connections and understanding of one another. There is so much to love about documentaries.
Q: What are some common misconceptions about documentary film, and what is more accurate about the artform?
That they are either didactic and elitist, or mass made fodder for streaming platforms, but documentaries are both artful and exciting! We have been living in a golden era of documentaries for well over a decade now and the expansion of doc filmmaking has encouraged so many new storytellers to the forefront who are sharing their histories, communities, and experiences in ways that enriches people and human connection. Yes, the increased interest in documentaries has also resulted in prolific sub-genres of say, true crime entertainment and celebrity biopics that can veer into campy or manufactured aesthetics, but it also means there are more individuals and collectives making docs and more artists who are pushing the form and engaging new audiences. I think people also forget that non-fiction work can be as gorgeously shot as any fiction film, with incredible narrative architecture and immersive visual styles.
Documentary film expands the boundaries of all filmmaking, and we look forward to seeing you this year at Doc Stories! Get your tickets now, so you can say, “I Saw It At SFFILM.”
About Jessie Fairbanks
Jessie Fairbanks is the Director of Programming at SFFILM. She leads the artistic curations for both the annual San Francisco International Film Festival and Doc Stories, as well as the organization’s year-round offerings, bringing fresh and compelling work and artists from around the world to the Bay Area. Prior to SFFILM, Jessie was the Director of Programming for the Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival, the oldest documentary film festival in North America. She has over 20 years of experience in the independent film space, and her earlier programming work includes DOC NYC, Tribeca Film Festival, Brooklyn Academy of Music, Sundance, Chicago International Film Festival, Hamptons International Film Festival, MountainFilm, Nashville Film Festival, Rooftop Films, and Woods Hole Film Festival.
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