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DocFilm joins the Alexander String Quartet in Poland

Krakow outdoor interview

This Spring the DocFilm Institute sent a small crew to Poland for two weeks to make a film about the Alexander String Quartet (ASQ), in residence at San Francisco State University. The team included Hannah Anderson (LCA Communications Photographer/Filmmaker), Warren Haack (Filmmaker & Cinema Facilities Manager) and myself (Associate Director of DocFilm). Going on a trip with someone is always an eye opening experience, and traveling with the ASQ provided many moments to learn about what it means to be a member in a touring ensemble. From Sandy the cellist needing to purchase an airline seat for his cello, to the process of picking the restaurant for the night, it was interesting (to say the least) to watch each of their peculiarities unfold. It became even more interesting to watch how each member of the group had come to accept one another’s quirks for the greater good of musicianship and sharing their music, with one another and others.

From the wonderful people we met, to the beautiful music performances we filmed and recorded, there were endless opportunities to learn about Poland. We witnessed its rich yet complicated history, and met fascinating people that inhabit its spaces. These moments served as inspiration each time we turned on the camera and sound recorder. Following ASQ throughout their tour, we stopped in Krakow, Rzsesow, Gdansk and Warsaw, with each city being host to the Beethoven Music Festival. These stops allowed us to cross through large parts of Poland. Each city offered its own unique texture and these landscapes play a role in the film we are creating.


We had many planning meetings with ASQ about what a two-week tour of this level normally entails. During these meetings, we got a faint glimpse into the dynamic life of a string quartet musician, and more importantly, how these four individuals interact with one another under these circumstances. This was a guiding question for us as we considered how to approach filming each day. What does it really mean to be a part of a string quartet?

While on tour with ASQ, the answer to this question became more layered and complex, and great substance for the film. Beginning with their relationships, it was an experience in itself to watch (and film) how they navigated around one another while on tour. There is a shorthand form of communication between the members, much like that between close siblings. It was obvious this shorthand was integral to accomplish what they do with one another as musicians and performers.

Cloth Hall Rehearsal

This visceral ability to communicate their ideas and music seems to come from their many years together and lends itself to their roles as educators. While on tour, ASQ conducted master classes at conservatories in Krakow and Gdansk. These classes illustrated how passionate they are about their music and the history from which it comes. Each member of the quartet has their own unique way of passing on lessons to young musicians but, at the same time, they seem to be speaking together with a unified voice.

Maybe that is the crux of what it takes to be a successful quartet: strong individuals that can come together and blend their voices to make beautiful music together.  We plan to unlock the mystery of these highly accomplished musicians through this film.  Currently in post-production, stay tuned for info on a screening this Fall.  Many thanks to the generous members of the ASQ, Zak, Fred, Paul and Sandy, for letting us into their world.

Veteran Documentary Corps: Limited Release

Finding a Safe Place

The Documentary Film Institute and Veteran Documentary Corps are excited to announce the limited release of filmmaker Ingrid Schulz’s new film, Finding a Safe Place. Ingrid was generous enough to share a few words on her new documentary:

“I am pleased to announce that the Veteran Documentary Corps is distributing the film “Finding A Safe Place,,” a film that relays the experiences of several veterans suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and promotes an awareness of the healing power of animal-assisted therapy.

The film focuses on three veterans, Tina, Dennis and Aaron: Tina suffered from a military sexual assault and experienced panic attacks, nightmares, and the fear of being followed. Dennis experienced hearing and balance loss resulting from a puzzling incident occurring during the Vietnam War. Aaron had difficulty adjusting to civilian life after his deployment in Kuwait.

Although interventions of psychotherapy and medicine can improve symptoms, in the long run, an alternate intervention – the adoption of service dogs, appears to provide the most sustained relief.”

~ Ingrid

DocFilm Forum: Documenting the War Experience

By Michael A. Behrens, Director DocFilm institute
November 4, 2012

DF Forum Poster

The next DocFilm Forum explores methods of documenting the war experience with two very special guests.  Join me for a conversation November 13 at 6:30 pm at SFSU’s Coppola Theater with Rory Fanning, author of the new book Worth Fighting for: An Army Ranger’s Journey Out of the Military and Across America and Daniel Bernardi, Interim Dean of the College of Liberal and Creative Arts at SFSU, Commander in the Naval Reserves and the Founder of Veteran Documentary Corps.  Both Rory and Daniel have unique methods for decoding their experiences as combat veterans in Iraq and Afghanistan. This is Rory’s first book documenting his walk across the US for the Pat Tillman Foundation after two deployments to Afghanistan with the 2nd Army Ranger Battalion. Bernardi’s goal is to record the stories of 100 veterans by the end of 2016 in order to help give voice to the veteran experience and help build bridges between civilians and service men and women.

 Rory Fanning                                    Daniel Bernardi           






As the US continues to engage in conflicts around the world it becomes increasingly important to discuss and dissect both the experiences of veterans and the methods they deploy to understand and tell their stories.  Fanning, who works for Haymarket Books in Chicago was recently quoted in an Op-Ed for TomDispatch, “Stop thanking me for my service, I’m tired of being blindly celebrated.” Civilians that do not understand the full implications of combat service often don’t know how to access and engage veterans and or how to process their experiences.  Many of us are guided by what we see on television and in the news and do not have a clear sense of what these conflicts mean to the men and women that serve on our behalf.  We fall victim to stereotypes and misleading information that further divides civilians and veterans.  There is a big and diverse group of veterans in the US, each with their own unique story and reality. Both Daniel and Rory work hard to understand their own experiences and rather than celebrate the veteran experience help others unravel and process their time in combat. Their approaches help veterans and civilians alike deconstruct and digest the veteran experience so both groups can understand and learn from the conflicts the US involves itself in and take steps toward healing.

DocFilm Forum celebrates story telling and works hard to explore new forms for documenting the diverse stories that contributes to the human experience and pushes and stretches our ideas of what a documentaries are. November 13, we will hear Rory read excerpts from his book and look at new work from Daniel’s ongoing documentary project with a QandA and reception to follow.  This is not a celebration or critique of the veteran experience but rather an exploration and ongoing discussion that helps bring civilians and veterans together in order to reveal the implications of sending men and women to war and welcoming them home again.

This event is free to the public. Please RSVP @

Buy Rory’s book here:


“You set out on foot to find things that can be found no other way: your country, yourself, your sense of direction in the most practical and metaphysical selves. In this book Rory Fanning, a young soldier back from the wars, shares the results of his odyssey with those of us who have not walked 3000 miles through wild places and rough weather. His encounters with Americans who might be described as ordinary but are often extraordinary and with himself and the places and their historical backstories make great reading (and maybe most of us are on some version of this quest, whether we know it or not).”
—Rebecca Solnit, author of Wanderlust: A History of Walking

“Rory Fanning’s odyssey is more than a walk across America. It is a gripping story of one young man’s intellectual journey from eager soldier to skeptical radical, a look at not only the physical immenseness of the country, its small towns, and highways, but into the enormity of its past, the hidden sins and unredeemed failings of the United States. The reader is there along with Rory, walking every step, as challenging and rewarding experience for us as it was for him.”
—Neil Steinberg, Chicago Sun-Times

“Fanning combines memoir, travelogue, political tract, and history lesson in this engaging account of his 3,000-mile solo walk from Virginia to California to raise money for the Pat Tillman Foundation….Fanning’s descriptions of the hardships and highlights of the trip comprise the bulk of the book, and he infuses his left-wing politics into a narrative peppered with historical tidbits, most of which describe less-than-honorable moments in American history, such as the terrorist actions of the Ku Klux Klan and the nation’s Indian removal policies. What stands out most, though, is the selflessness and generosity—which come in the form of stories, hospitality, and donations for the foundation—of the people Fanning encountered during his journey.”
Publishers Weekly

“Partly an evocation of ‘the bloody birth of the nation I now walked through’ and its often troubled history, part memoir of the author’s transformation from conservative Christian soldier to radical atheist and pacifist, part indictment of a foreign policy in which ‘Iraq felt like a bait-and-switch—and a betrayal.’ But mostly it’s about the people he met in the small towns he visited and the encouragement they gave him.”
Kirkus Reviews

“Rory Fanning’s transformation from soldier to peace pilgrim is a moving tale told with passion and eloquence. Long after the shooting stops, the soldiers who fight our wars are too often left to fight their personal battles alone. Fanning transforms his disillusionment with war and the military and strikes out for the country on a timeless journey of discovery. As he he traverses America on foot, he finds the radical heartbeat of a nation and builds bridges to people and places that have been left behind. This is a searing, honest, and ultimately hopeful tale of traveling a road from war to peace and justice.”
—David Goodman, co-author, Standing Up to the Madness

“I recommend [this] book enthusiastically…a tale told with wisdom, erudition, kindness, humor, humility, and generosity of which I think Tillman might have been proud.”
—David Swanson, author of Daybreak: Undoing the Imperial Presidency and Forming a More Perfect Union

“[Rory Fanning] walks coast to coast to serve a cause, to find himself, and to imagine a better America fit for all the good people he meets along the way and all the good soldiers lost. His hard journey changes him, and it may change you too.”
—Ann Jones, author of They Were Soldiers: How the Wounded Return from America’s Wars

Worth Fighting For takes us on a journey that will live inside you long after you finish the book. It is not only the physical journey that you make with Fanning as he walks across the country, but it’s the psychological, political and spiritual journey that you accompany him on as well, as he makes sense of his experience in the U.S. military through the lens of the incredible people and history he interacts with on his trek from the Atlantic to the Pacific. With each step and every page, we experience the evolving clarity of Fanning’s politics, worldview, and purpose in life.”
—Jen Marlowe, author, I Am Troy Davis and The Hour of Sunlight: One Palestinian’s Journey from Prisoner to Peacemaker

DocFilm Forum Video Series on Art and Politics with Author Ben Davis: Chapter I

By Michael A. Behrens, July 22, 2014

The Documentary Film institute launched its first DocFilm Forum in 2014 with a moderated discussion, book signing, and reception featuring art critic and author Ben Davis and new his book 9.5 Theses on Art and Class.  Annually, DocFilm Forum explores and highlights ideas, tools and methods that disrupt current practices in documentary film production, exhibition, craft and research and pushes the boundaries of how documentaries function in our various communities, cultures and economies.  As follow up, to this lively panel discussion, DFI is happy to announce the first of four video segments from the Ben Davis studio recording. Every two weeks DFI will launch the remaining segments on our blog.  For those of you that did not make the event at SFSU take this opportunity to join Michael A. Behrens (DocFilm Director), Ben Davis (Author & Art Critic), Eric Talbert (Executive Director, Emergency USA), Sanaz Mazinani (Visual Artist), and Jesse Moss (SFSU Faculty & Filmmaker) as they discuss the role of politics in art. Click here for a link to the video.

To buy Ben Davis’ book, 9.5 Theses on Art and Class, click here.

BenBen Davis is an art critic living in New York City. His writings have appeared in Adbusters, the Brooklyn Rail, Slate, the Village Voice, and many other publications. He is currently executive editor




JesseJesse Moss is a San Francisco based filmmaker. Previous films include Full Battle Ratte (Berlinale, SXSW Special Jury Prize, Film Forum NYC), Speedo (PBS/POV), and Con Man (HBO). He produced William Kunstler: Disturbing the Universe (Sundance, Arthouse Films, PBS/POV). He has been a fellow of the MacDowell Colony and the Sundance Institute Documentary Film





Eric Talbert serves as the Executive Director of EMERGENCY USA – Life Support for Civilian Victims of War and Poverty. EMERGENCY USA is the US branch of the international medical humanitarian aid organization EMERGENCY, which provides high-standard free-of-charge medical and surgical care in war-torn areas and promotes a culture of peace, solidarity and respect for human rights. Eric earned his degree in Psychology from the University of Nevada Las Vegas, where he recently received UNLV’s College of Liberal Arts Alumnus of the Year Award. He is a board member of the Development Executives Roundtable (DER), a Bay Area organization that provides excellent fundraising education in an informal, inclusive and supportive atmosphere that encourages learning and networking. Eric is honored to have received the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network – San Francisco/Bay Area (YNPNsfba) 2012 Young Executive Director of the Year Award.


Sanaz Mazinani is an internationally exhibiting artist based in San Francisco. Her projects have been exhibited in venues such as Museum Bärengasse, Zurich, Art & Architecture Library at Stanford University, University of Toronto Art Center, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco, Sarai, New Delhi, Center for Contemporary Photography, Toronto, and Emirates Financial Towers, Dubai. Mazinani’s catalogue “Unfolding Images” was released in 2012. She has received grants from the Canada Council for the Arts and San Francisco Arts Commission and was shortlisted for the 2013 Magic of Persia Contemporary Art Prize, granted the Kala Art Institute Fellowship, and was awarded the SFAC Art on Market Street public art installation for 2013. Her artwork has been written about in Border Crossings, Nuva Luz, NOW Magazine, San Francisco Chronicle, and Dide. Mazinani studied art at the Ontario College of Art & Design University (2003), and received her MFA at Stanford University (2011).


Moderator, Michael A. Behrens is an award winning artist, business consultant, and film producer with 20 years of experience. He is the Director of the Documentary Film Institute at San Francisco State University. In addition, he is on the Board of Directors for the Haight Ashbury Neighborhood Council, Emergency USA, Bona Fide Films and NarrativeTrack Inc. Michael holds a Master of Nonprofit Administration from the University of San Francisco.

archived blog from launch of DocFilm Forum:

blog post

Open Call: Tell your story of success and get paid!

The DocFilm Institute is looking for SFSU students to tell their stories.

June 12, 2014
June 13, 2014
SFSU Fine Arts Building Studio A

DocFilm - Open Call



Help SFSU by telling your story on video and get paid. The University is looking for SFSU students to tell their story and help with new freshman student retention. The final selection of students will receive a stipend for their participation in a video that will be
shown to incoming freshman online. Yes, there will be snacks!

Students from all levels and backgrounds are encouraged to participate. We are looking for SFSU students at all levels of education.

Please schedule a time during one of the above dates with Robert Barbarino at Slots from 9am-6pm will be filled on a first come first served basis. A select group of students will be called back and will receive a stipend for their time!

SF State’s 54th Film Finals

10307428_515928581845328_2461816773420201840_nA San Francisco State tradition for nearly half a century, Film Finals is the Cinema Department’s annual showcase of jury-selected films and the City’s premiere student cinema event. This year it is to be held for the first time ever at the renowned Sundance Kabuki Theater on Tuesday, May 20th at 7:00PM. The screening and awards presentation will be from 7-9:00PM, with a balcony ticket-only reception from 9-10:30PM. Buy your tickets today before it’s sold out here:

With the code redcarpet, students receive a $5 discount.

Before the Film Finals screening begins, a special ceremony will take place to award $5,000 in Cinema Department scholarships in addition to announcing this year’s nominations for three prestigious department-hosted awards.

Film Finals is a celebration of SFSU’s rich cinematic heritage, a heritage that has seen alumni earn Oscar nominations for fifteen consecutive years. It supports this emerging talent by providing a platform for their innovative work to be publicly shown and recognized, often for the very first time. The 54th Film Finals will bring together students, faculty, administrators, cinephiles, and members of the public in celebrating SFSU Cinema and the future of cinema!

For more information, visit our website

Donate today; we can’t do it without you!

zoe dunning

May 6, 2014
By Taylor LoNigro

On behalf of DocFilm and the entire VDC team, we want to thank you for attending the February 11 Veteran Documentary Corps premiere. The evening was a great success. Veterans and filmmakers alike had an amazing time.  Your support means a great deal to us all at VDC; we can’t fulfill our mission to tell veterans’ stories without you.

The VDC team has also released all the documentaries you enjoyed at the Castro Theatre on our website and on the Pentagon Channel.

As you all know, VDC currently depends on donations to tell each veteran’s story. A very generous donor has offered to match your gift, dollar for dollar, up to $10,000.  Gifts are 100% tax deductible. More than 90% of your contribution goes towards film production costs. With your help, we will reach our $10,000 goal.

A gift of $100, $$250, $500 or more will enable us to attain our 2014 goal of producing one story per month.  Our next subject is Katrina Rodriguez, a Native American serving in the United States Navy.  Katrina, is a mother of two children, and is deeply involved in her community of fellow veterans.  If you give at the $250 level or above over the next three weeks, we will send you a DVD copy of the February 11 event!

Again, we thank you for your support and look forward to seeing you at future events.

Please make a donation today by following the easy steps below.

By Check:

Make your check out to:  Documentary Film Institute and mail it to:

C/O of Documentary Film Institute
San Francisco State University
1600 Holloway Avenue FA 234
San Francisco, CA 94129

By Credit Card:

Visit this link: select the credit card option and then choose DocFilm in the scroll down menu under the Outreach + Special Initiatives section on the San Francisco State University donor page and Choose Veteran Documentary Corps.  If you have any trouble at all, please call 415.405.3753 for assistance.

Keep up to date on new films by connecting with us on Twitter, FacebookLinkedIn or on our blog.

57th Annual SF International Film Festival is here!

April 24, 2014
By: Taylor LoNigro

The San Francisco Film Society‘s 57th San Francisco International Film Festival has finally kicked off today and will run through May 8 screening over 150 films to thousands of people.


With 74 narrative features, 65 shorts, and 29 documentaries, an impressive total of 56 countries will be represented in  40 different languages. 

The festival opened tonight with Hossein Amini’s stylish, directorial debut “Two Faces of January,” special guests and a festive celebration with live entertainment, dancing, food and drinks.

Throughout the eclectic festival, the audience is and will be given the opportunity to delve deeper into the world of cinema through presentations and discussions held by festival guests.

Excitingly, we have two faculty members from SF State who will be presenting their films at the festival this year. The cinema department’s Ben Ridgway will be screening his film, “Cosmic Flower Unfolding,” on April 26 at 9:45PM and May 5 at 9:00PM at the Kabuki Theatre.

Jesse Moss, SF State cinema department lecturer, will also be presenting his film, “The Overnighters,” on April 28 at 6:30PM at the Kabuki Theatre.


Still from Moss’s “The Overnighters”

If you’re interested in attending any of the screenings during the next two weeks of the festival, check out the website here.

We are so proud of our faculty members representing amazing talent coming from our very own cinema department here at SF State. If you are attending the festival, we hope you have a great time!