The 20th San Francisco Documentary Film Festival (SF DocFest) will June 3 – 20, 2021 with 40 features and 38 shorts across 6 different short programs. The festival opens with Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson’s Summer of Soul and close with Jasmine Stodel’s Kid Candidate.
All films will be available to view on demand anytime during the festival, and 36 of the films will also be shown at the Roxie Theater. The majority of the in-person screenings held at the Roxie Theater will also include live Q&A sessions.
With the iconic San Francisco theater announcing their reopening for May 21st, SF DocFest will be the first film festival to screen again at the Roxie Theater. “We’re looking forward to finally getting arts and arts fans in the same room again,” says Festival Director Jeff Ross. Additionally, Ross adds that “in support and celebration of the Roxie Theater reopening this year, we are donating 100% of ticket sales from our screenings back to the theater.”
The following are a few highlights of this year’s SF DocFest program.
Opening Night Film – SUMMER OF SOUL
Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson
In his acclaimed debut as a filmmaker, Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson presents a powerful and transporting documentary—part music film, part historical record—created around an epic event that celebrated Black history, culture and fashion. Over the course of six weeks in the summer of 1969, just one hundred miles south of Woodstock, The Harlem Cultural Festival was filmed in Marcus Garvey Park. The footage was never seen and largely forgotten – until now. SUMMER OF SOUL shines a light on the importance of history to our spiritual well-being and stands as a testament to the healing power of music during times of unrest, both past and present. The feature includes never-before-seen concert performances by B.B. King, Nina Simone, Sly & the Family Stone, Gladys Knight & the Pips, Stevie Wonder and more.
Closing Night Film – KID CANDIDATE
KID CANDIDATE tells the story of Hayden Pedigo, a 24-year old experimental musician, and his unlikely run for Amarillo city council after his Harmony Korine-inspired spoof campaign video went viral.
Centerpiece Film – THE SPARKS BROTHERS
How can one rock band be successful, underrated, hugely influential, and criminally overlooked all at the same time? Edgar Wright’s debut documentary THE SPARKS BROTHERS, which features commentary from celebrity fans Flea, Jane Wiedlin, Beck, Jack Antonoff, Jason Schwartzman, Neil Gaiman, and more, takes audiences on a musical odyssey through five weird and wonderful decades with brothers/bandmates Ron and Russell Mael celebrating the inspiring legacy of Sparks: your favorite band’s favorite band.
Non-Fiction Vanguard Award – KEITH MAITLAND
SF DocFest prides itself on recognizing those unconventional, creative risk-taking filmmakers that are redefining the cinematic form and are someone to watch. Keith Maitland is the latest filmmaker the festival has recognized.
Keith Maitland began his career on the streets of New York, working on the fiction side of the industry as a DGA Trainee and Assistant Director. After 7-seasons with NBC’s Law & Order, and working on a variety of features, Maitland was inspired by his documentary-photographer wife, Sarah Wilson, to try his hand at non-fiction storytelling.
On the heels of TOWER, an animated school-shooting documentary, Variety named Maitland one of “10 Documakers to Watch.” TOWER won multiple festival awards, as well as the Emmy for Best Historical Documentary.
As a filmmaker, Keith Maitland pushes artistic boundaries and redefines the cinematic form, especially with his eagerly anticipated new hybrid documentary, DEAR MR. BRODY, which uses a mix of some psychedelic animation, live-action re-enactments, and archival footage.
DEAR MR. BRODY
A psychedelic journey into the heart (and bank account) of Michael Brody, Jr, the hippie-millionaire who offered the world peace and caused a frenzy when he publicly announced a $25 million giveaway to anyone in need. A gesture that immediately put Brody and his wife into the spotlight also caused mobs of people to camp on their lawn and flood their mailboxes. Fifty years later, 12 boxes of these letters pleading for Brody’s help were discovered—unopened.
KEEPER OF THE FIRE (World Premiere)
David L. Brown, Raymond Telles, Louis Dematteis
KEEPER OF FIRE explores the life and work of activist poet Alejandro Murguia, a writer passionately involved with the struggles of his times. Following in the footsteps of Beat poets and inspired by the rich tradition of Latin American literature, Murguia fights for social justice with his words and his deeds. One of the celebrated Mission Poets, he has championed revolutions in Latin America, led cultural and educational programs in San Francisco, and campaigned against rampant gentrification nationwide all while winning two American Book Awards and becoming the first Latino to serve as Poet Laureate of San Francisco.
SKATE OR DIE (World Premiere)
Seventeen-year-old Leonardo Castillo uses skateboarding to help escape gang life and generational poverty in his Chicago neighborhood. When a gunshot wound threatens to take away his passion, Leo must face the world as an adult.
THE LUCKY ONES (World Premiere)
Debra A. Wilson
THE LUCKY ONES is a poignant Bay Area based love story of Alexander and Timothy (daughter of writer Ishmael Reed), a married couple diagnosed with schizophrenia. Their life together gives a glimpse into what it means to survive with a mental disorder and how one unexpected event can upend their already precarious world.
THE FACE OF ANONYMOUS (U.S. Premiere)
Commander X (a.k.a. Christopher Doyon) spent time on the streets around the world hiding from the FBI, but this infamous hacktivist feels most at home on the internet where he gained notoriety. Through his affiliation with Anonymous, the purposefully elusive online network responsible for corporate takedowns and political disruption, Commander X had a platform to espouse his beliefs and befriend powerful figures like Julian Assange. He takes credit for crippling credit card companies that were attempting to sideline Wikileaks and claims a role in the Arab Spring as well. It’s completely reasonable to be skeptical as to why an outspoken Doyon wants to spill the beans about his exploits and expose a group that safeguards its secret identity. But in an era when online conspiracies proliferate widely despite being under immense scrutiny, there may not be a better time to hear from someone who’s been at the vanguard of this information age.
GREEN BANK PASTORAL (U.S. Premiere)
Since the 1950’s wireless signals have been banned in Green Bank to protect its radio telescope from interference. With no cell phones and no wifi, the small Appalachian town has attracted a number of people that claim to suffer from Electro Hypersensitivity seeking respite from the modern world. This is the story of the peculiar relationship between these people, the small town folk, and the massive radio telescope in the middle of it all, aimed at the sky above.
LOST AND FOUND IN PARIS (U.S. Premiere)
It’s a never-ending flow. All day long, people come to the reception desk at the Lost and Found Office. They want to retrieve their belongings. They’re in a hurry. But, finding what has been lost is not an easy task. It requires time. The time it takes to wait for their turn and fill out the paperwork at reception. Time to explain what has been lost. Time to find the item in the warehouse and send it back with the freight elevator. It’s best to surrender to the wait and indulge in the telling of what kind of setback, accident or misfortune has caused our loss, and brought us to this place.
SEMENTARA (U.S. Premiere)
Joant Úbeda, Chew Chia Shao Min
Amid the noisy spectacle of Singapore’s golden jubilee celebrations in 2015, filmmakers Chew Chia Shao Min and Joant Úbeda conduct casual interviews with people from different walks of life, each with their own set of values and beliefs.
Inspired by Chris Marker’s brilliant Le Joli Mai, SEMENTARA, which is Malay for “temporary”, weaves together scenes of profound subjectivities and societal structures to present a compelling yet sensitive portrayal of Singapore.
THE TASTE OF DESIRE (U.S. Premiere)
Desire is the most powerful source in human life. Desires, however, are also the biggest source of frustration. In THE TASTE OF DESIRE, the oyster symbolizes our desires in life. Through captivating characters, this film examines the complexity of human desire: our relationship to the world around us and ultimately what lengths we will go to find satisfaction.
ZAHO ZAY (U.S. Premiere)
Georg Tiller, Maéva Ranaïvojaona
A young, female prison guard, works in a hopelessly overcrowded jail in Madagascar. Her observations of the realities of prison life interlace with her daydreams about her unknown father, who disappeared after murdering his own brother when she was still a child. Secretly hoping that one day her father will be washed up as a prisoner, she bypasses time by imagining his criminal career. In her fantasies, he becomes a mythical serial killer, who is obsessed with playing the dice to decide the fate of his victims. Her prison routine is suddenly torn apart when a new inmate arrives who claims to know her father.