DocLands: That’s A Wrap!

Anote’s Ark, DocLands Opening Night – Photo credit: Tommy Lau

The second edition of the DocLands Documentary Film Festival was a great success, featuring 43 feature length and short films over four days, including 8 premieres from eleven countries.

“It’s clear from the response to our second edition of DocLands that our community embraces documentary films. The diversity of programming offered festival-goers some of the best domestic and international documentaries available. This year’s surprise ending to DocPitch, a forum that brings together philanthropic organizations, funders, distributors, fellow filmmakers, and the general public, demonstrates that support for documentary filmmaking can come from anywhere. Audience response to DocLands is affirmation that we are doing our job and serving our community and mission in new and innovative ways,” said Mark Fishkin, Executive Director/Founder, California Film Institute, which brings the 41st annual Mill Valley Film Festival to Marin County this October. “Documentary films inspire, educate, and illuminate.”

“Non-fiction filmmakers lead the charge for truth, change, discovery, and delight, by using their storytelling superpowers. Emotions are evoked through stories more than anything else — and when the stories are well told, emotions are intensified and they have the ability to carry immense power for change,” said Joni Cooper, DocLands Director of Programming. “This year a completely diverse slate of insightful documentaries that may indeed change lives, reminded me of why we created DocLands.”

DocLands kicked off with visiting filmmakers meeting and mingling with festival programmers and supporters at a welcome reception hosted by Il Davide before heading over to a packed screening of Matthieu Rytz’s profound feature Anote’s Ark, preceded by local filmmaker Maya Craig’s eye-opening short film Water Town. Director of Programming Joni Cooper and CFI Executive Director and Founder Mark Fishkin extended a warm greeting to the audience, highlighting the impact and fundamental importance of documentary film.

DocLands Opening Night Reception – Photo credit: Tommy Lau

It was the Festival’s honor to host former president of Kiribati and subject of Anote’s Ark, Anote Tong, for an onstage conversation following the documentary about his struggle to find haven for his soon-to-be submersed nation. The compassionate audience rose to their feet for a standing ovation as Rytz, Tong, and Fishkin ascended the stage. Tong bookended the discussion with blessings in the tradition of the Kiribati people and spoke compellingly about his personal obsession to communicate his message: “Climate change is about people…we must understand that it’s about our future as a species. It’s about each one of us making a decision about our human values.”

Audiences applauded the screening and the poignant Q&A before heading over to convene, converse, eat, and drink at the San Rafael Elks Lodge for the DocLands Opening Night Party.

DocLands Honors Louie Psihoyos, The Game Changers – Photo credit: Tommy Lau

The first ever DocLands Honors Award was presented on Day Two, celebrating the documentaries and preservation work of Academy Award-winning filmmaker Louie Psihoyos (The Cove, Racing Extinction, The Game Changers). Psihoyos was presented with a Beth Woolley Monod handcrafted glass award by Director of Programming Joni Cooper prior to screening his new film The Game Changers. Following the screening, Psihoyos and Cooper engaged in a free-wheeling and openly candid conversation with the audience, discussing his films and the journey that lead him to film MMA fighter James Wilks’ story and become an advocate for plant-based eating: “We can save not only animal life, but human life as well.” Afterwards, Seager Gray Gallery hosted a packed reception to cap off the evening. For more information on Psihoyos’ foundation, visit the Oceanic Preservation Society at

DocLands’ DocPitch, winner James Labrecht – Photo credit: Tommy Lau

The unique DocLands program DocPitch works to connect filmmakers and their ideas to distributors, organizations, philanthropists, fellow filmmakers–and future audiences. A jury selected five film projects currently in development through an open call that brought in 102 projects. These five pitching teams presented their projects on stage to an audience, accompanied by a trailer and audience Q&A. Following the presentations, the audience voted and filmmakers Jim LeBrecht and Nicole Newnham won the cash award of $10,000 provided by an anonymous donor for their documentary Crip Camp, the story of Camp Jened, a place where kids with disabilities in the 1970’s could find a sense of community. The excitement and emotion on stage was palpable when it was announced that the original prize had suddenly shot up to $25,000 thanks to the same donor who felt the filmmakers deserved a prize more in line with the quality of their projects. LeBrecht and Newnham then paid it forward and shared $5000 of their prize with fellow pitchers, Sara Lafleur-Vetter and Romin Lee Johnson with their project The Sacred & the Snake! In addition, each pitching team received $1000 from an additional anonymous donor who wished to recognize the amount of work that goes into putting a winning pitch together. For more information on all five projects visit

16 Bars, DocLands Closing Night – Photo credit: Tommy Lau

The ballots were tallied at the end of the Festival and Sam Bathrick’s fantastic film 16 Bars was determined as the winner of our Audience Award. DocLands’ Closing Night was a truly inspirational occasion, with the sold-out screening bringing audiences to tears, sighs, and, eventually, their feet, for an extended standing ovation that left filmmakers and subjects speechless. A heartfelt and sincere conversation ensued about the issues raised in the film regarding prison reform, cycles of incarceration and addiction, America’s broken criminal justice system, and the deeply personal story of Teddy Kane, in attendance with his mother Loretta Simmons-Jackson for the premiere. Kane performed a moving original poem and Speech Thomas of hip hop activist group Arrested Develoment led the crowd in song, bringing the audience to their feet again to dance and sing along to a rousing rendition of People Everyday. The Closing Night Party at Art Works Downtown saw guests, CFI members, and Festival supporters mingling with filmmakers and subjects, enjoying delicious food and drink from Delicious Catering, Fiorello’s Artisan Gelato, and Lagunitas Brewing Company, and coming together with ideas and resources to enact real change in the lives of the people and issues being discovered in many DocLands films – exactly what DocLands is all about. For more information on Speech’s foundation and support for the men in the film and others like them visit

Dir. of Programming Joni Cooper & dir. Rocky Walls, Finding Hygge – Photo credit: Tommy Lau


Filmmakers at the Smith Rafael Film Center and CinéArts Sequoia engaged with audiences after multiple screenings, including Molly Stuart with Objector, Cam Christiansen with Wall, Rocky Walls with Finding Hygge, Nova Ami and Velcrow Ripper with their film Metamorphosis and their Metamorphosis Journey Workshop, directors Zachary Fink and Alyssa Fedele with The Rescue List, Sian Taylor Gowan with Surviving International Boulevard, Stacey Tenenbaum and the Shoeshine Guild with Shiners, filmmakers Chris Jordan and Victoria Sloan Jordan with Albatross, Tessa Moran and Ben Crosbie with The Guardians and directors Pablo Bryant and Harleen Singh and subjects Dwayne ‘Mr. Fish’ Booth, Eileen Kaur Alden and Keith Knight from the political cartoon double feature Drawn Together: Comics, Diversity and Stereotypes and Mr. Fish: Cartooning From the Deep End.

Pick of the Litter – Photo credit: Allison Levenson

DocLands Director of Programming Joni Cooper greeted Christine Benninger, CEO/President of Guide Dogs For The Blind, and Don Hardy & Dana Nachman, directors and producers of Pick Of The Litter on the red carpet for the cutest puppy press line to ever precede a film at CFI. If you were lucky enough to see Soufra at DocLands, hopefully you got your hands on the accompanying cookbook – they were a hot commodity with the film’s audience. A very appreciative audience kept Saving Brinton‘s subject Michael Zahs and Director of Photography John Richard engaged in conversation well after their screening and Q&A.

Festival stages were packed with shoeshiners (and friends) in attendance with director Stacey Tenenbaum for the screenings of her film Shiners. The career shoeshiners of The Shoeshine Guild discussed their business model, their mission to assist and employ recovering alcoholics and swapped stories of their first shine: “like sliding through the world”. The World Premiere of Olompali: A Hippie Odyssey had filmmakers Maura McCoy and Gregg Gibbs greeting the sold out crowd and sharing stories from the 1960s, including impromptu reunions with members of the Chosen Family from Olompali Ranch.

Filmmakers Velcrow Ripper and Nova Ami discussed their visually stunning, transformative, pragmatic, and ultimately hopeful climate change film Metamorphosis, coincidentally conceived around the same time as their son, Phoenix. Filmmakers Connie Field and Gregory Scharpen discussed their film Have You Heard From Johannesburg: Oliver Tambo, the latest in their epic seven-part series about local and international efforts to end Apartheid in South Africa, and a key figure of that history whose fundamental role in the rebellion should never be forgotten.

Thanks to everyone who came out to DocLands 2018 – we can’t wait to see you all again next year!