Nov 11, 2020
Four-Day Online Series Features Seven Documentary Features and Two Shorts Programs, All with Live Q&As, Plus Four Live Talks with Leaders in the Field
San Francisco, CA – SFFILM has announced the lineup of programs for the sixth annual Doc Stories film series, taking place December 3–6 as a fully online showcase. The 2020 program reflects on our tumultuous time through an inspiring and emotionally compelling range of feature-length and short films, all available to stream at home. The series also highlights the filmmakers behind much of this year’s most compelling non-fiction work through three conversations and one keynote address that will focus on topics including politics, investigative journalism, and inclusion and representation within the framework of documentary filmmaking and production.
“In a year full of twists and turns, we’re excited to present this annual series that brings together such a varied range of voices and perspectives, which is a credit to the exquisite curation by our programming team,” said SFFILM Executive Director Anne Lai. “As we embrace a fully digital event, we aim to create an easily accessible space for a wide audience to celebrate and engage with the documentary form and immerse themselves in the power and beauty of cinematic storytelling from wherever they are.”
The seven feature films and ten shorts in this year’s lineup reflect this unusual moment in world events and demonstrate the resiliency and importance of the documentary form. Series opener 40 Years a Prisoner illuminates a tragic moment of racially motivated police violence in the US and reminds us of its decades-long ramifications, while Venice Film Festival award-winner Notturno shines a poetic and deeply moving light on the effects of war in the Middle East. Other films document the tireless proprietors of a NY childcare center, the racial and gender bias of computer algorithms, and the lives of a very special dog and pig.
Film programs are ticketed and content will be available to stream within a limited window of time. Most programs are viewable between 12:01 am on Thursday, December 3 and 11:59 pm on Sunday, December 6, and views must be completed within 24 hours of starting. Access to all films is restricted geographically, with streaming only available within the state of California. All live Q&As and talks will take place on sffilm.org, and are available free of charge, worldwide.
Tickets for film programs are $8 for SFFILM members, $12 general. Doc Stories Series Passes are $25 for SFFILM members, $55 general. Box office now open online at sffilm.org.
Doc Stories is presented by Showtime Documentary Films and patrons Katie Hall and Tom Knutsen. Major support is provided by Netflix, National Geographic, ESPN Films, MTV, Participant, and Secret Sauce Media. Additional support is provided by Dolby, First Republic Bank, and Prime Group.
For complete program information, visit sffilm.org/presents.
Shalini Kantayya, USA/China/UK, 86 min
This revelatory documentary exposes the ways that AI systems have developed algorithms that can infringe on our privacy and threaten civil rights. From facial recognition software that finds it difficult to distinguish the faces of women and people of color to HR systems that reject applicants with “ethnic” or female names, the impact of these technologies cannot be underestimated. Featuring several women tackling algorithmic bias, the film reveals the unchecked power that is being wielded from the data collected from every keystroke and phone call we make.
Coded Bias will be available to stream online from 12:01 am on Thursday, December 3 until 11:59 pm on Sunday, December 6. A live Q&A with director Shalini Kantayya and other special guests will take place on Saturday, December 5 at 6:00 pm PST. This program is a free community screening; RSVP is required.
Doing the Work: Documentary Shorts
Four exquisite short films examine the crucial, selfless, backbreaking, and sometimes joyous work that individuals put themselves through to survive. From the frontlines of the protests in Hong Kong to the isolated hills of Eastern Bosnia, these four films — Do Not Split, Pandemic 19, My Father the Mover, and Then Comes the Evening — all focus on extraordinary people who are working to better their lives and the lives of others.
This shorts program will be available to stream online from 12:01 am on Thursday, December 3 until 11:59 pm on Sunday, December 6. A live Q&A with the filmmakers will take place on Saturday, December 5 at 3:00 pm PST.
40 Years a Prisoner
Tommy Oliver, USA, 110 min
The 1978 siege on the MOVE organization’s communal house in Philadelphia resulted in the death of one police officer and the life-sentence convictions of nine MOVE members. Among these nine are the mother and father of Mike Africa, Jr., who has spent much of his life trying to secure his parents’ release. Tommy Oliver’s riveting documentary dovetails the present-day story with that of the siege itself, revealing the racist motives of then-mayor (and former police commissioner) Frank Rizzo. With remarkable archival footage set alongside Mr. Africa’s tireless legal efforts, the film harrowingly demonstrates the long and ruthless arm of police brutality against revolutionary movements and communities of color.
40 Years a Prisoner will be available to stream online from 12:01 am on Thursday, December 3 until 11:59 pm on Sunday, December 6. A live Q&A with director Tommy Oliver and Mike Africa, Jr. will take place on Thursday, December 3 at 7:00 pm PST.
Victor Kossakovsky, Norway/USA, 93 min
On a farm in Norway is the beautiful sow, Gunda, first seen after she has just given birth to a litter of piglets. Over time, she tends to them as they gleefully thrive in harmony with their mother and surroundings. Without dialogue, with gorgeous black-and-white cinematography, and luscious sound design, filmmaker Victor Kossakovsky (Aquarela, SFFILM Festival 2019) captures a tender portrait of animal life — pigs, cows, and chickens — that intimately showcases conscious, curious creatures. Gunda also features one of the year’s most profoundly moving finales.
Gunda will be available to stream online from 12:01 am on Friday, December 4 until 11:59 pm on Sunday, December 6. A live Q&A with director Victor Kossakovsky will take place on Saturday, December 5 at 1:00 pm PST.
Sam Pollard, USA, 106 min
In this critical time of racial strife in America, Sam Pollard’s revelatory MLK/FBI exposes J. Edgar Hoover’s dogged and heinous attempts to discredit and humiliate Martin Luther King Jr. through rampant surveillance and wiretapping. Utilizing archival footage, old film and television clips, and numerous interviews with historians, Pollard, Spike Lee’s longtime editor, expertly crafts a compelling and unsettling portrait of Hoover’s relentless quest to destroy one of this nation’s heroes.
MLK/FBI will be available to stream online from 12:01 am on Thursday, December 3 until 11:59 pm on Sunday, December 6. A live Q&A with director Sam Pollard will take place on Sunday, December 6 at 8:00 pm PST.
New York Times Op-Docs
Op-Docs is the New York Times’s award-winning series of short-form documentaries by independent filmmakers. Always a Doc Stories highlight, this year’s selection includes work that tackles police violence, felinophilia, and the man who came this close to being the first Black man in space, plus a visit to a queer online dance party that brings the sexy back to Zoom. The program features six Op-Docs specifically curated for SFFILM.
The Op-Docs program will be available to stream online from 12:01 am on Thursday, December 3 until 11:59 pm on Sunday, December 6. The live Q&A with several filmmakers from the program will take place on Friday, December 4 at 6:00 pm PST.
Gianfranco Rosi, Italy/France/Germany, 100 min
A lone man paddles through reeds at sunset as bombs flare in the distance. A bare-bones theater group attempts to stage a play about and during wartime. A group of children processes trauma through drawing. These are just three of the magisterial moments captured in Gianfranco Rosi’s (Fire at Sea, Doc Stories 2016) immersive observational documentary exploring conflict in Iraq, Kurdistan, Syria, and Lebanon. Eschewing outside commentary, Rosi presents sometimes heartbreaking, sometimes harrowing moments captured mainly on the borderlands of these regions facing intense civil distress. Winner of the UNICEF Award at the 2020 Venice Film Festival.
Notturno will be available to stream online from 12:01 am on Thursday, December 3 until 11:59 pm on Sunday, December 6. A live Q&A with director Gianfranco Rosi will take place on Sunday, December 6 at 1:00 pm PST.
Elizabeth Lo, USA/Turkey, 73 min
The world of three stray dogs commingling among the inhabitants of the sprawling city of Istanbul is the subject of Elizabeth Lo’s beguiling documentary feature debut. The viewer is thrust into their world as they wander the busy thoroughfares and city streets of Istanbul subsisting on scraps of food and finding temporary shelter and companionship with a group of young Syrian refugees squatting in an abandoned building. With an expressive musical score by Ali Helnwein and sound design by Ernst Karel, this stunning, observational, and immersive film creates a dynamic portrait of a country in turmoil.
Stray will be available to stream online from 12:01 am on Thursday, December 3 until 11:59 pm on Sunday, December 6. A live Q&A with director Elizabeth Lo will take place on Friday, December 4 at 8:30 pm PST.
Through the Night
Loira Limbal, USA, 76 min
Loira Limbal’s poignant, heart-wrenching documentary Through the Night shines a light on the urgent need for universal child care for working parents. Deloris “NuNu” and Patrick “PopPop” are the tireless proprietors of Dee’s Tots Daycare, a 24/7 daycare center in New Rochelle, New York. Filming over two years, Limbal intimately and compassionately reveals the struggles of the mothers who rely on NuNu and PopPop to provide food, love, comfort, and solace for their infants and young children while working long hours and juggling multiple jobs to make ends meet.
Through the Night will be available to stream online from 12:01 am on Thursday, December 3 until 11:59 pm on Sunday, December 6. A live Q&A with director Loira Limbal will take place on Sunday, December 6 at 6:00 pm PST.
Beyond the Headlines: Investigative Journalism in Documentary Filmmaking
Live-streamed on Saturday, December 5 at 8:00 pm PST.
As the press continues to be attacked and stories are buried or overlooked because of the latest Tweet from the news cycle, documentary filmmakers continue to unearth and expose some of the most important issues of our time, often in real time as stories unfold. Join the documentarians and special guests behind some of the most powerful films of 2020 — Athlete A (Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk), Collective (Alexander Nanau), A Thousand Cuts (Ramona S. Diaz), and Welcome to Chechnya (David France) — to discuss the complexities of reporting and filmmaking, and the people who bring to light the grave injustices of today.
Keynote Address: Carrie Lozano
Live-streamed on Thursday, December 3 at 3:30 pm PST
To help us kick off our four-day-long series, we’re thrilled to have award-winning documentary filmmaker, journalist, and esteemed professor Carrie Lozano as our 2020 Doc Stories Keynote speaker. A beloved member of the Bay Area arts community, Lozano recently joined Sundance Institute as Director of its renowned Documentary Film Program. With this presentation and conversation, she will examine the role of artists and storytellers in the midst of great crisis and political division. As we enter a year of transformative change in the US and around the world, Lozano will share her unique perspective on the challenges and opportunities facing the documentary form and filmmakers today, reasserting their role as essential cultural beacons.
Portraits of People and Places: The Filmmaker-Subject Relationship
Live-streamed on Friday, December 4 at 3:30 pm PST
Join SFFILM’s Artist Development team for a discussion on the filmmaker-subject relationship in documentary filmmaking and the varied challenges that come with the depiction of vulnerable individuals and communities. For much of the form’s history, traditional documentary filmmaking has resulted in the exoticism and othering of subjects. Today’s filmmakers have the opportunity and responsibility to adopt a more authentic approach and to bring nuance and specificity to their subjects who often represent diverse realities. Hear from several talented storytellers on their creative process and how they craft stories, gain access, and create trust through the lens of thoughtful representation. Participants include Erika Cohn, Loira Limbal, Darcy McKinnon, Tommy Oliver, and Rajal Pitroda. Moderated by Miasarah Lai from Brown Girls Doc Mafia.
State of the Union: Political Documentaries in 2020
Live-streamed on Sunday, December 6 at 3:30 pm PST
While all presidential elections have some urgency, nothing has quite felt like Election 2020. Several of this year’s most remarkable documentaries have revolved around key issues of our time, such as voting rights, prison sentencing, and Supreme Court battles. Gathered here to discuss the importance of politically engaged filmmaking and how it can spur action and results are Garrett Bradley (Time), Lisa Cortés (co-director of All In: The Fight for Democracy), Dawn Porter (John Lewis: Good Trouble and The Way I See It), and Elyse Steinberg (co-director of The Fight).
LIVE EVENT SCHEDULE
Thursday, December 3
3:30 pm – Keynote Address: Carrie Lozano
7:00 pm – 40 Years a Prisoner (Q&A)
Friday, December 4
3:30 pm – Portraits of People and Places: The Filmmaker-Subject Relationship (live talk)
6:00 pm – New York Times Op-Docs (Q&A)
8:30 pm – Stray (Q&A)
Saturday, December 5
1:00 pm – Gunda (Q&A)
3:00 pm – Doing the Work: Doc Shorts (Q&A)
6:00 pm – Coded Bias (Q&A)
8:00 pm – Beyond the Headlines: Investigative Journalism in Documentary Filmmaking (live talk)
Sunday, December 6
1:00 pm – Notturno (Q&A)
3:30 pm – State of the Union: Political Documentaries in 2020 (live talk)
6:00 pm – Through the Night (Q&A)
8:00 pm – MLK/FBI (Q&A)
SFFILM produces a robust slate of public programs throughout the year, including red carpet premiere events, advance member screenings, and in-depth film series. With diverse offerings and a commitment to excellence in world cinema, SFFILM is the home of great film in the Bay Area all year long. For more information visit sffilm.org/presents.
SFFILM is a nonprofit organization with a mission to champion the world’s finest films and filmmakers through programs anchored in and inspired by the spirit and values of the San Francisco Bay Area. Presenter of the San Francisco International Film Festival, SFFILM is a year-round nonprofit organization delivering screenings and events to nearly 75,000 film lovers and media education programs to more than 15,000 students, teachers, and families annually. In addition to its public programs, SFFILM supports the careers of independent filmmakers from the Bay Area and beyond with grants, residencies, and other creative development services. For more information visit sffilm.org.