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SFFILM's Doc Stories Program is Announced—Nov 4–7 in-person & online


Four-Day Documentary Series Opens with Stanley Nelson’s ATTICA, and Features a Castro Screening of SUMMER OF SOUL with Director Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson in Attendance, plus Several West Coast Premieres Including THE FIRST WAVE, BURNING, and DIONNE WARWICK: DON’T MAKE ME OVER  

San Francisco, CA – SFFILM has announced the lineup of programs for the seventh annual Doc Stories film series, taking place November 4–7 at the Castro Theatre (429 Castro Street) and Vogue Theatre (3290 Sacramento Street), as well as an online program including live talks and streaming films. Doc Stories is a vital documentary showcase celebrating many of the year's most important nonfiction work and is a must-attend destination for filmmakers, industry, and AMPAS members. The 2021 program will be in-person and online and feature 17 films and four live-streamed talks. Strong visual styles permeate these works that present activists, health care workers, musicians, and refugees, among many others, who are bravely confronting a variety of circumstances with creative solutions. For this year’s in-person screenings, SFFILM is excited to welcome filmmaker guests who will illuminate their craft in post-film Q&As.  Director Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson said, “For me, bringing Summer of Soul to the Castro Theatre with SFFILM for an incredible screening is a perfect way to celebrate this film and this year.”

“We’ve been waiting for the day to welcome our SFFILM community back into theaters and it’s thrilling to do that with our beloved Doc Stories series,” said SFFILM Executive Director Anne Lai. "In bringing our Bay Area audiences together for a rich experience of films and conversations, we also aim to create the space for our industry and filmmakers to connect with each other during such a vibrant season of new films. In that same spirit, we continue to celebrate the 30th anniversary of our SFFILM Education program with a special online selection of films and filmmaker Q&As for Bay Area students and teachers." 

“This year’s program honors the resilience of the human spirit by filmmakers who treat these stories with care and respect, and present them with creativity and curiosity.” said SFFILM Director of Programming Jessie Fairbanks. “Documentary film connects us across time and space, and serves as a reminder of our many shared experiences as a community. Come out to the theater, or watch from home, but don’t miss these lovely and important films.”




In-person film programs are ticketed and all patrons will be required to show proof of vaccination before entering any in-person venues or events. Masks are required to be worn at all times. Most films will be available to stream online after their in-person screening. Films will have a limited streaming window—generally 24 hours. Tickets for online screenings are the same price as in-person screenings. Access to all films is restricted geographically, with streaming only available within the state of California. All live talks will take place on, and are available free of charge, worldwide.

Tickets for all film programs in-person and streaming are $13 for SFFILM members, $16 for general public. Tickets for live online talks and the community screening of Julia are free. Ticket 6-Packs for all regularly priced programs at 2021 Doc Stories only are $65 for SFFILM members, $80 for general public. An all-program Cinevisa is $250.  Box office now open online at

Doc Stories is presented by Showtime Documentary Films and patrons Katie Hall & Tom Knutsen. Major support is provided by National Geographic and HBO Documentary Films. Additional support is provided by Netflix, ESPN Films (30 for 30), Apple Original Films, New York Times, and Secret Sauce Media.

For complete program information, visit


Attica (Opening Night) 
Stanley Nelson, USA 2021, 116  min
From acclaimed director Stanley Nelson comes a suspenseful and meticulous reconstruction of the titular prison uprising using unearthed archival images. Cataloging the five-day Attica prison takeover of 1971 narrated primarily by inmates, reporters, and even National Guard officials who were there, this film is a dramatic retelling of the bloodiest prison rebellion in US history. Through the lens of an event five decades old, Nelson flexes his fine-honed skill as a master chronicler of events, institutions, and people central to Black history and life and offers an unequivocal reminder of the incremental nature of progress and offers hope that our better natures will prevail.
Director Stanley Nelson is expected to attend.
Thu ∙ Nov 4 ∙ 7:30 pm ∙ Castro

Lead Me Home
Pedro Kos, Jon Shenk, USA 2020, 39 min
Filmed over three years in three cities that face seemingly intractable circumstances involving large populations of unhoused people, this mid-length film uses evocative visuals and powerful individual stories to show that a problem with manifold causes needs manifold solutions. Focusing on the west coast–San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Seattle–filmmakers Kos and Shenk weave an unforgettable tapestry that challenges common stereotypes and paints an honest portrait of people trying to obtain and hold on to a solid footing in their lives.
Fri ∙ Nov 5 ∙ 5:30 pm ∙ Castro
Directors Pedro Kos and John Shenk are expected to attend.
Lead Me Home is available to stream Sat, Nov 6 at 12:00 am – Sat, Nov 6 at 11:59 pm PT 

Jessica Kingdon, USA/China 2021, 98 min
Wielding an inquisitive camera and crafting a kaleidoscope of vignettes, Jessica Kingdon’s debut feature film is a visceral exploration of contemporary China’s identity and the paradoxes of economic progress. Deftly observing factory workers create everything from binoculars to sex dolls, the film tracks the collective pursuit of professional success in a communist society. With pathos and humor, Kingdon captures the intense physical demands, aggressive corporate policies, and creative collaboration that fuel the ever-expanding labor force of the People’s Republic of China. The filmmaker leaves you to ponder the costs of commodification while also shining a light on the resiliency of the human spirit. 
Fri ∙ Nov 5 ∙ 8:00 pm ∙ Castro
Director Jessica Kingdon is expected to attend.
Ascension is available to stream Sat, Nov 6 at 12:00 am – Sat, Nov 6 at 11:59 pm PT 

New York Times Op-Docs
86 min
Op-Docs is the New York Times’ award-winning series of short-form documentaries by independent filmmakers. Always a Doc Stories highlight, this year’s selection includes work that showcases art from an inmate of Guantánamo Bay, profiles an unforgettable Black female basketball player, and animates a series of phone calls a young Asian American man makes to friends who signed his high school yearbook. The program features the following 2021 Op-Docs: 57 Days (Mario Lumbreras, Laura Brasero), H.A.G.S. (Sean Wang), JOBS FOR ALL!  (Maximilien Van Aertryck, Axel Danielson), Mission: Hebron (Rona Segal), The Queen of Basketball (Ben Proudfoot), and A Ship from Guantánamo (Dara Kell, Veena Rao).
Sat ∙ Nov 6 ∙ 11:30 am ∙ Castro
Director Sean Wang is expected to attend.
New York Times Op-Docs is available to stream ​​Sun, Nov 7 at 12:00 am – Sun, Nov 7 at 11:59 pm PT

Simple as Water
Megan Mylan, USA/Syria/Greece/Turkey/Germany, 98 min
The modern world has become all too familiar with images of refugees fleeing their homes, desensitized to the onslaught of harrowing images and heartbreaking stories. But what happens after these displaced individuals find sanctuary and slip from the headlines? Academy Award-winner Megan Mylan trains her lens on the everyday acts of courage and determination that drive her protagonists, featuring families in Turkey, Greece, the US, and Syria. From a soft-spoken Uber driver who sacrifices everything for his teenage brother to far-flung parents urged on by parental love, this timeless film explores ties that bind and the dreams that empower humans to overcome the unthinkable.
Sat ∙ Nov 6 ∙ 12:30 pm ∙ Vogue
Director Megan Mylan is expected to attend.
Simple as Water is available to stream Sun, Nov 7 at 12:00 am – Sun, Nov 7 at 11:59 pm PT

Parker Hill, Isabel Bethencourt, USA 2021, 83 min
Amid the breathtaking sunsets and wide-open spaces of a Texas summer, three bored teenage girls pass a summer of bonfire parties, booze and weed, and boys who don’t understand that no means no. Each of them shoulders traumas but reveals them in surprisingly blasé fashion to the camera. “There is no normal in teenage years,” as one of the girls comments, and the directors prove that point in poignant and disturbing fashion. These are kids—playing at being adults—in an environment bereft of adult guidance, and Bethencourt and Hill present them in all of their fraught and unforgettable distinctness.
Sat ∙ Nov 6 ∙ 3:00 pm ∙ Castro
Directors Isabel Bethencourt and Parker Hill are expected to attend.
Cusp is available to stream Sun, Nov 7 at 12:00 am – Sun, Nov 7 at 11:59 pm PT

The First Wave
Matthew Heineman, USA 2021, 93 min
From Oscar-nominated and Emmy Award-winning director Matthew Heineman comes a nuanced profile of humanity and inspiration. Profiling four frontline workers battling the COVID-19 pandemic during the first wave that ravaged NYC in the spring of 2020, this clear-eyed film documents the harrowing experience of health care workers, their remarkable dedication to those in need, and the journey of two patients who are taken to the brink by the novel coronavirus. The film draws its power from illuminating the raw emotions in those first few months and highlights stories of triumph and resiliency amidst a global crisis.
Sat ∙ Nov 6 ∙ 3:30 pm ∙ Vogue
Director Matthew Heineman is expected to attend.
The First Wave is available to stream Sun, Nov 7 at 12:00 am – Sun, Nov 7 at 11:59 pm PT

Summer of Soul (...Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised)
Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson, USA 2021, 117 min
Dust off your dancing shoes and join us for the most joyous documentary of 2021! It makes its Castro premiere with the film's magisterial director Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson in attendance. With extraordinary footage that was shot at the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival in Mount Morris Park placed alongside contemporary interviews of musicians and attendees, Summer of Soul offers a multitude of incandescent moments, including Mahalia Jackson sharing the stage with Mavis StaplesStevie Wonder playing drums, Sly and the Family Stone bringing down the house, and emcee Tony Lawrence's vibrant outfits threatening to steal the show.
Sat ∙ Nov 6 ∙ 8:00 pm ∙ Castro
Director Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson and moderator Ben Fong Torres are expected to attend.

Eva Orner, Australia 2021, 94 min
From executive producer Cate Blanchett, this powerful documentary profiles the ‘Black Summer’ of 2019–2020 when 59 million acres burned in Australia. Featuring shocking footage of pyro-convective infernos, the gallant efforts of volunteer and professional firefighters, and the inertia of politicians, director Eva Orner meticulously deconstructs the natural and bureaucratic environments that allow these annual tragedies to proliferate. While California audiences are no strangers to the ravages of fire (four million in 2020 alone), Burning offers us a rare glimpse into another country grappling with fake news, muzzled scientists, and grassroots efforts to combat climate change against the angry backdrop of a fiery haze.
Sun ∙ Nov 7 ∙ 1:00 pm ∙ Castro
Burning is available to stream Mon, Nov 8 at 12:00 am – Mon, Nov 8 at 11:59 pm PT

Jonas Poher Rasmussen, Denmark/France/Sweden/Norway 2020, 90 min
Winner of the 2021 Grand Jury Prize for World Documentary at Sundance, this moving animated portrait tells the story of Amin (not his real name), a refugee from Afghanistan, currently residing in Denmark. Fleeing multiple crises in their homeland and across several continents, Amin relates not only his family’s harrowing escape, but also coming to terms with being gay in a society that has no word for homosexual. In an innovative and revelatory stylistic choice, Rasmussen tells the story predominantly with animation, changing the visual style to reflect different moods as Amin reflects on both his past and the present.
Sun ∙ Nov 7 ∙ 4:30 pm ∙ Castro
Director Jonas Poher Rasmussen is expected to attend.
Flee is available to stream ​​Mon, Nov 8 at 12:01 am – Mon, Nov 8 at 11:59 pm PT

Dionne Warwick: Don’t Make Me Over
Dave Wooley, David Heilbroner, USA 2021, 95 min
An inspirational portrait of a living legend, this documentary begins with Warwick’s youth in New Jersey, recounts her first forays at the Apollo Theater, and details her tour in the south under Jim Crow laws, and depicts shopping for couture with Marlene Dietrich. This lovingly crafted film showcases Warwick’s refusal to conform, as it charts her efforts to support AIDS research, speak truth to power, and ascend the trends on Twitter. Featuring an all-star cast of commentators that includes: Gladys Knight, Elton John, Snoop Dogg, Quincy Jones, Alicia Keys, and Stevie Wonder, this delightful film is an ode to a music maven whose indelible mark on the world will affect generations to come.
Sun ∙ Nov 7 ∙ 8:00 pm ∙ Castro
Director Dave Wooley is  expected to attend.
Dionne Warwick: Don’t Make Me Over is available to stream Mon, Nov 8 at 12:00 am – Mon, Nov 8 at 11:59 pm PT


How Many Storytellers Does it Take?
Storytelling is not a singular artform when it comes to cinema. There are many people who shape a film, and their insight, approach, and skill set are as critical as those of a determined director. Their collaboration on the final product is key to a film’s success. Featuring documentary editors, cinematographers, and producers, this panel will explore the many different disciplines that shape stories and how these skills are often overlooked when considering the craft of documentary storytelling. Participants will also discuss collaboration techniques and strategies used when working on sensitive material.
Sat ∙ Nov 6 ∙ 12:00 pm ∙ Online

Storytelling in a Synthetic World
From A.I. and digitally altered subjects to restored archival footage and revelatory animation, documentary filmmakers now have a battery of creative tools at their disposal to augment stock footage, B-roll, and talking heads. These various approaches provide exciting pathways to storytelling as exemplified in Jonas Poher Rasmussen’s animated retelling of a refugee’s journey in Flee, or Stanley Nelson’s meticulous reconstruction of the titular prison uprising using unearthed archival images in Attica (2021), or the use of deepfake imagery to protect vulnerable subjects in David France’s Welcome to Chechnya (2020). While the use of altered content creates enormous opportunity, these methods also prompt questions around authenticity, power, and perception. As the lines between reality and fiction become increasingly blurred in our daily lives and in the media, this panel of award-winning filmmakers will discuss the opportunities and the ethics of working with synthetic content.
Sat ∙ Nov 6 ∙ 2:00 pm ∙ Online

Finding Home: Seeking Remedies for a National Crisis
Amid many national crises, the one of housing seems one of the most intractable–especially here in the Bay Area. However, there are ways forward for unhoused people seeking agency and a change of circumstances, and there are many local organizations doing revolutionary work in this regard. Joining us for this discussion about policy and practice around the topic will be representatives from Bay Area agencies working with the unhoused community, co-director of the mid-length documentary Lead Me Home Jon Shenk, and participants from the film and Bay Area Community programs.
Sun ∙ Nov 7 ∙ 1:30 pm ∙ Online

Searching for Truth: Authorship in Documentary Cinema
As the documentary film landscape strives to be more equitable and diverse, the question of authorship becomes increasingly relevant. Who is best suited to tell whose stories? Can an outsider adequately and accurately capture the truth of a community that is not their own? These are some of the questions that today’s emerging documentary filmmakers are grappling with in their own work. In Ascension, American filmmaker Jessica Kingdon explores the intricacies of consumerism in contemporary China, while veteran concert promoter/producer Dave Wooley chronicles the legendary career of Dionne Warwick and her dedication to activism in Dionne Warwick: Don’t Make Me Over, and Berkeley-based Maya Cueva brings us into the lives of three Latinx people in McAllen Texas, whose different beliefs come to a head at the last abortion clinic in the US/Mexico border in On the Divide (2021). These talented filmmakers will discuss their own approaches to authorship in pursuit of truthful and dynamic storytelling.
Sun ∙ Nov 7 ∙ 3:30 pm ∙ Online


Betsy West, Julie Cohen, USA 2021, 95 min
Think you know all there is to know about Julia Child? Think again. This sumptuously shot biography from the Oscar-nominated directors of RBG (2018) not only fills in many overlooked details of Child’s life, but also tenderly exposes the motivations of an intensely complicated woman who dared to share her passion for cooking with the world. Infused with infectious joy, that voice, and drool-inducing footage of buttery French food, Julia is a treasure trove of personal anecdotes, witty correspondence, and the very personal ingredients of a life lived to the brim.
Sat ∙ Nov 6 ∙ 6:30 pm ∙ Vogue

This is a community screening, offered free of charge. RSVP for tickets is required. Directors Betsy West and Julie Cohen are expected to attend.

Thursday, November 4 – Castro
7:30 pm – Attica (Opening Night)
Friday, November 5 – Castro
5:30 pm – Lead Me Home
8:00 pm – Ascension 
Saturday, November 6 – Castro
11:30 am – New York Times Op-Docs
3:00 pm – Cusp
8:00 pm – Summer of Soul (...Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised) (Centerpiece)

Saturday, November 6 – Vogue
12:30 pm – Simple as Water
3:30 pm – The First Wave 
6:30 pm – Julia (Community Screening)
Saturday, November 6 – Online
12:00 pm – How Many Storytellers Does it Take?
2:00 pm – Storytelling in a Synthetic World

Sunday, November 7 – Castro
1:00 pm – Burning
4:30 pm – Flee
8:00 pm – Dionne Warwick: Don't Make Me Over

Sunday, November 7 – Online
1:30 pm – Finding Home: Seeking Remedies for a National Crisis
3:30 pm – Searching for Truth: Authorship in Documentary Cinema

Most films will be available to stream online after their in-person screening. Films will have a limited streaming window—generally 24 hours. Tickets for online screenings are the same price as in-person screenings.

For general information visit
To request event access, interviews, or screeners, contact or

Hashtag: #SFFILM
Twitter: @SFFILM
Instagram: @sffilm




SFFILM Presents 

SFFILM produces a robust slate of public programs throughout the year, including red carpet premiere events, advance member screenings, and in-depth film series. With diverse offerings and a commitment to excellence in world cinema, SFFILM is the home of great film in the Bay Area all year long. For more information visit


SFFILM is a nonprofit organization with a mission to champion the world's finest films and filmmakers through programs anchored in and inspired by the spirit and values of the San Francisco Bay Area. Presenter of the San Francisco International Film Festival (April 21–May 1 2022), SFFILM is a year-round nonprofit organization delivering screenings and events to nearly 75,000 film lovers and media education programs to more than 12,000 students and teachers annually. In addition to its public programs, SFFILM supports the careers of independent filmmakers from the Bay Area and beyond with grants, residencies, and other creative development services. For more information visit






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