.What’s Up, Doc: The Sebastopol Documentary Film Fest

Perhaps Alfred Hitchcock said it best when he declared, “In feature films, the director is God; in documentary films, God is the director.”

Naturally, this assumes A) a higher power and B) that the Auteur Theory is bunk. No matter what one believes, those who like their truth at 24 per second are in luck—the Sebastopol Documentary Film Festival (SDFF) has what one needs.

Now in its 16th year, SDFF starts Thursday, March 16 with an opening night celebration that will find the West County burg once again teeming with filmmakers, film fans and over 60 films from around the world. SDFF is distinguished by being an Academy Award-qualifying festival, which means viewers can get a rare sneak peak of documentaries on the cinematic horizon long before awards season spurs wider releases.

music in the park san jose
music in the park san jose

“What is also unique is that every film that is submitted is vetted, meaning screeners actually watch each film,” says Cynthi Stefenoni, producer and SDFF co-director. “With over 650 films submitted from around the world, the final round is screened by six viewers before being chosen to be in the festival.”

The highly-curated results of these endeavors include both feature-length films and shorts, many of which are followed by conversations with the filmmakers after the screenings.

This year, the fest’s special discussion panels are clustered under three main categories—style, industry and justice.

Opening night kicks off with a reception and a screening of Exposure, which finds a Muslim chaplain, a French biologist, a Qatari princess and eight other women from the Arab World and the West attempting to ski across melting Arctic sea ice to the North Pole. In this tale of resilience and survival, director Holly Morris and her team document the group’s myriad challenges, including frostbite, polar bears, self-doubt and sexism.

This year, the fest’s special discussion panels are clustered under three main categories—style, industry and justice—and will include, among other filmmakers, Nina Nawalowalo, director of A Boy Called Piano (the heart-breaking story of Faʻamoana John Luafutu, detailing his experience as a state ward in New Zealand), and Bernardo Ruiz, director of El Quipo, which chronicles an unlikely meeting between a legendary American forensic scientist and a group of Argentine students.

An Emmy-nominated filmmaker, Ruiz tells through film of the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team, which revealed the truth to Argentine families about their “disappeared” loved ones, generating evidence that led to the conviction of hundreds of perpetrators in and out of government.

The evening of the screening, the filmmaker will be in conversation with human rights investigator Eric Stover in a special panel entitled “In Search Of Justice” at 4:15pm, Saturday, March 18, at the Robert Brent Auditorium, Sebastopol Center for the Arts, 282 S. High St., Sebastopol. Tickets are $12, $5 for students with ID.

To learn more about SDFF, including program and ticket information, visit sebastopolfilmfestival.org.

Daedalus Howellhttps://dhowell.com
Daedalus Howell is the writer-director of the feature filmsPill Head and the upcoming Werewolf Serenade. Learn more at dhowell.com.

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