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Doc Awards Race Expands to San Francisco

Doc Awards Race Expands to San Francisco

While DOC NYC gets under way November 12 with a full program of documentaries and its influential Shortlist of 15, on the other coast the San Francisco Film Society just wound up its inaugural Doc Stories Festival celebrating the year’s best long and short docs (November 5-8), which was supported by HBO Documentary Films, Catapult Film Fund and Chicken & Egg Pictures. 
The Doc Stories lineup ranged from new, unreleased films to breakouts from the festival circuit hustling for Oscar attention. Just about every screening (several were sold out) presented guest Q & As with the likes of Oscar frontrunner Matt Heineman (“Cartel Land”). 

READ MORE: The Oscar Documentary Race After the Fall Festivals 

While the fall calendar in New York and Los Angeles is packed with varying awards events aimed at voters, the Academy contingent in San Francisco came out to screenings full of local opinion-makers and folks from the tech community, as well as an SFFS brunch including some 15–20 key doc branch members along with area voters from other branches, and about 25 local filmmakers. Several doc filmmakers worked the room, including Heineman and others with films screening at the fest: Liz Garbus (“What Happened, Miss Simone?”), Amy Berg (“Janis: Little Girl Blue”) and David Osit and Malika Zouhali-Worrall’s “Thank You for Playing.” Also in the room were Morgan Neville (“Best of Enemies”), Stevan Riley (“Listen to Me Marlon”), Kim Longinotto (“Dreamcatcher”), Irene Taylor Brodsky, Molly Thompson, Field of Vision’s AJ Schnack, Rob Epstein, B Ruby Rich and Zoe Reiniger, among others. “Spending a morning eating a yummy brunch with top doc filmmakers from SF and around the world in an environment away from the chaos of awards season in Los Angeles was refreshing,” said Berg.

Netflix also threw a private dinner at Spruce for Evgeny Afineevsky and ‘Winter on Fire,” which documents the Maidan uprising in Ukraine. Other high-profile docs on display included Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy and Andy Schocken’s “Song of Lehore,” Davis Guggenheim’s “He Named Me Malala,” Kent Jones’ “Hitchcock/Truffaut,” and Laurie Anderson’s “Heart of a Dog.” 

“The battle lines extended North,” said SFFS executive director Noah Cowan, who worked with programmer Rachel Rosen to assemble Doc Stories around an area doc funders convention. Doc Stories also featured a one-day private Doc Congress, a workshop gathering for a number of documentary funders to discuss emerging trends in the field, present case studies and explore best practices in documentary financing and distribution. The festival estimates that some $1 billion in wealth got together to find ways to improve the Bay Area’s doc filmmaking culture and impact US doc production. The major national family foundations and several key individual funders joined the day of discussion, as well as Simon Kilmurry, Executive Director of the International Documentary Association.

Alongside the features, Doc Stories showcased a number of short films, including the opening night program of New York Times Op-Docs and “Profiles in Courage: Short Documentaries from HBO,” as well as an early look at work from Laura Poitras’s Field of Vision indie filmmaking unit, which was introduced at the New York Film Festival. “The confluence of journalism, filmmaking and technology that makes San Francisco so vibrant and important to contemporary culture is also a huge driver of Field of Vision,” said Poitras. 

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