Returning in its 16th year, ‘SF DocFest’ is around the corner

The Roxie Theater at 3117 16th St. Photo by Laura Waxmann

From activism to the environment, from spirituality to Rock’n’Roll, this year’s repertoire of real life stories told in 55 features and 55 short films screening at the SF Documentary Film Festival is sure to pique a range of interests.

On Wednesday morning, the festival’s organizers gave a sneak peek of some of the featured material at a press conference held inside of the Roxie’s screening room at 3117 16th St.

SF DocFest founder Jeff Ross told attendees that this year’s event was possibly the “largest program of films that our organization has ever presented at one time.”

Now in its 16th year, SF DocFest will run for a total of 16 days beginning on May 31, and will be split between three different theaters: The Vogue Theater, the Mission’s Alamo Drafthouse and of course, the Roxie Theater.

Ross started the festival in 2001 as an offshoot of the SF Indie Fest, which he launched in 1998.

“I noticed that our documentary screenings were very popular, and so we decided that a weekend of all documentaries would possibly do well – and it did,” said Ross.

Aligning with the independent, alternative spirit of its inception, this year’s SF DocFest will kick off on a musical note next Wednesday with a screening of Turn it Around: The Story of East Bay Punk at the Alamo Drafthouse.

The film by director Corbett Redford chronicles the Bay Area’s punk music scene with stories and visuals collected from more than three decades. Members of the punk rock band Green Day, one of the bands credited with reviving mainstream interest in the genre, are the executive producers to the documentary and will attend the screening on opening night.

Another documentary that delves into the intersection of music and culture is Sonic Oddities, a two-hour trek into the unusual archives of more than 50,000 films curated by local legend Stephen Parr of Oddball Films at 257 Capp St.


“If you aren’t familiar with Oddball Films – they are an archive vault of some of the weirdest found footage of historical films around,” said Chris Metzler, one of DocFest’s programmers.

Following a short documentary by local filmmaker Joshua Moore profiling Parr, Sonic Oddities will screen at the Roxie Theater on June 13. Parr himself will be in attendance, along with local electronic musician Bran(…)pos, who will be live-mixing a live score with sound elements of the film at the theater.

Given the political climate, activism was a recurring theme in this year’s festival submissions, said its organizers.

One documentary is a four-minute short inspired by a Mission resident’s activism called Arrested Again, by local filmmaker Dan Goldes.

The film offers a short but insightful look into the non-violent resistance of Greenpeace activist Karen Topakian, who has been arrested more than 30 times in a span of three decades for her acts of civil disobedience.

Each year, up-and-coming filmmakers are recognized for their work with SF DocFest’s Vanguard Award, and this year’s honoree is Mission resident Jamie Meltzer, a local filmmaker and associate professor for Stanford University’s Art and History Department.

Meltzer’s newest film, True Conviction, will screen at the Roxie Theater on June 3, followed by a Q&A with Meltzer. The documentary follows three Dallas, Texas-based exonerated prisoners on a mission to free other wrongfully convicted felons over the course of five years.

“It’s a sad film – very much a reflection of the criminal justice system and its deep flaws and structural racism,” said Metzler, who was present at Wednesday’s press conference. “All the problems in the criminal justice system come out organically through this story.”

A distinguished filmmaker, Meltzer said this year’s participation in the SF DocFest will be his first.

“For me, [the festival] is about connecting with my local community. There are so many great filmmakers in the Bay Area but we all tend to sort of work on our own and then emerge when we have something to show,” he said. “It’s a moment to celebrate that community.”
The 16th SF Documentary Film Festival will take place on May 31 through June 15 at the Roxie Theater, the Vogue Theater, and the Alamo Drafthouse. More information plus tickets, vouchers and passes to all screenings are available here.

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