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Bay Area Documentary Filmmakers   

Michael Fox The Bay Area has an international reputation as a bastion of documentary filmmakers. Over the last 40 years, local filmmakers have gravitated to exposing contemporary social injustices at home and abroad and reviving ignored or forgotten history. Each session of the class features a recent film followed by an intimate conversation with the director. We'll focus on the practical and ethical challenges of making documentaries, encompassing every step of the process from conception to distribution. Films: This class is mainly about the filmmakers and construction...the films are lined up as the class approaches. These films are typically not available to the public and these are exclusive viewings. See below for titles and descriptions There are only three places in the country—New York, Los Angeles and the Bay Area—where a different lineup of independent documentary filmmakers could be assembled for a class year after year. Bay Area doc makers are a highly political breed, dedicated to exposing social injustices at home and abroad and reviving ignored or forgotten history. Each session of the class features a recent film followed by a discussion with the director. We’ll focus on the practical and ethical challenges of making documentaries, from conception through production and post production to distribution. More details will be provided in the syllabus Apr. 11 James Q. Chan and Corey Tong Forever, Chinatown (2016) 32 min Unknown, self-taught 81-year-old artist Frank Wong has spent the past four decades recreating his fading memories by building romantic, extraordinarily detailed miniature models of the Chinatown rooms of his youth. Forever, Chinatown premiered at the Full Frame Documentary Festival and screened locally at Doc Stories last fall. James Q. Chan’s producing credits began on The History Channel’s 10 Days That Unexpectedly Changed America (Emmy Award for Outstanding Non-Fiction Series) and HOWL (2010). Corey Tong’s credits include executive producer of the Oscar-nominated and Emmy-winning doc Last Day of Freedom 2015).Tong is the former director of the S.F. Int’l Asian American Film Festival (CAAM) and former IFFCON director of special projects. Apr. 18 Tommie Dell Smith The Groove is Not Trivial (2016) 62 min Scottish fiddler Alasdair Fraser’s journey in search of self-expression epitomizes the wider movement of people reclaiming their cultural roots and finding their voices (and a sense of community) through music. The groove in traditional music transcends toe-tapping fun to become a source of personal and political liberation. The Groove is Not Trivial premiered at the 2016 Mill Valley Film Festival and was the closing night film at the Sebastopol Documentary Film Festival. Tommie Dell Smith began her filmmaking career as Associate Producer on Broken Rainbow (1984), a study of the Navajo/Hopi land dispute in Arizona that won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature. The filmmaker was introduced to Alasdair Fraser when her daughter took up the fiddle around 18 years ago. Apr. 25 Erica Marcus and Christiane Badgley Guangzhou Dream Factory (2016) 65 min Market stalls in Ghana are filled with Chinese goods, and it’s not uncommon to find Nigerian vendors in China. How accessible is the dream of getting rich doing business with China? The film illuminates the two sides of globalization, great wealth and immigrants who follow it from country to country. Erica Marcus has been a production manager on numerous films. In the mid-1990s she produced and directed a weekly prime-time program, “Film and Film People,” for Chinese television. Marcus produced and co-directed two docs related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, My Home, My Prison with Susana Blaustein Munoz (Sundance Film Festival, 1993) and Alive in Limbo with Hrabba Gunnarsdottir (2004). Journalist and documentary producer Christiane Badgley began her career in the Bay Area where she was a frequent collaborator of the late Marlon Riggs and completed his final film, Black Is, Black Ain’t. May 2 Chris Metzler, Jeff Springer, Quinn Costello Rodents of Unusual Size (2017) 70’ SNEAK PREVIEW The fragile wetlands of Louisiana are under attack by legions of 20-pound, semi-aquatic invasive rodents known as the nutria, which have greatly accelerated coastal erosion and made the bayou much more vulnerable to hurricanes. Keeping the giant swamp rats at bay are a group of colorful and offbeat residents, who are in the midst of defending their land, culture, and way of life. After graduating from USC with a degree in business and cinema, Chris Metzler did everything from ad agency work to coordinating post-production for awful U.S. movies seen on late-night Belgian TV. Metzler’s feature doc debut, Plagues & Pleasures on the Salton Sea, won more than 35 awards, was released theatrically, aired on Sundance Channel and was named one of Booklist’s Top 10 Environmental Films. Jeff Springer was born in an abandoned town in the California desert, raised in Hawaii and educated at USC’s film school. In Afghanistan, he edited an hour-long doc, In-Justice, about Afghan women in prison for “moral crimes.” Rural northern Idaho native Quinn Costello’s work has been shown on The Learning Channel, PBS, Sundance Channel and innumerable film festivals including Tribeca. He has edited the Emmy-award-winning PBS series The New Environmentalists for the past six years. May 9 Charlotte Lagarde and Carrie Lozano The Ballad of Fred Hersch (2016) 74 min Fred Hersch is a pianist and composer who pulls from varied traditions and genres to create free-flowing works, and who blazed trails in the jazz world when he came out as gay and HIV-positive in the 1990s. The film captures him in clubs and concert halls, and follows his painstaking creative process of turning a near-death experience—two months he spent in an AIDS-related coma in 2008—into a piece of multimedia jazz theater. The Ballad of Fred Hersch premiered at the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival and screened at the Mill Valley FF (among many others). Charlotte Lagarde directed three portraits of magnificent water women: Heart of the Sea (PBS Independent Lens Audience Award, Best Documentary at Ashland Independent Film Festival) was broadcast in over 30 countries, Zeuf (Sundance Channel) and Swell (CINE Golden Eagle Award). She is a Sundance and BAVC fellow and is on the steering committee of New Day Films. Carrie Lozano produced Sam Green’s The Weather Underground and Utopia in Four Movements, and produced and directed Reporter Zero (Student Academy Award for Best Documentary). She is a consultant for independent documentary makers, BAVC and U.C. Berkeley’s Investigative Reporting Program. She was executive producer of documentaries at Al Jazeera America and senior producer of the network’s Emmy and Peabody-winning series Fault Lines. Michael Fox is a San Francisco journalist and critic who has written about movies for more than 40 publications since 1987. He hosted KQED's "Independent View" and wrote the "Reel World" column in SF Weekly for a decade. Fox has sat on juries, moderated panels and contributed program notes for the San Francisco International, Mill Valley, United Nations Association and Cinequest film festivals. Fox is a member of the San Francisco Film Critics Circle.


  • Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at San Francisco State University
    835 Market Street, Sixth Floor, San Francisco, CA 94103
    Phone: (415) 817-4243 Website: