DER-SVA Film Pitch

In 2016, DER initiated the DER-SVA Pitch Session at the American Anthropological Association meetings. The Pitch Session, coordinated in conjunction with the Society for Visual Anthropology, is an opportunity to leverage our strong ties to both the academic community and the independent documentary world. Anthropologists increasingly are bringing cameras to the field and making feature documentaries. Many hope to reach audiences outside of academia and tell in-depth stories of contemporary migration, immigration, local efforts of cultural preservation, and cultural identities.

2019 Session

Alice Apley (Moderator/ Pitch Organizer), Executive Director, Documentary Educational Resources, Co-Director Remembering John Marshall, (2006)

Sarah Elder (Pitch Organizer), Award-winning filmmaker, Uksuum Cauyai: Drums of Winter (1985) – selection National Film Registry (2006), SVA Film Festival Juror, Professor of Documentary Film at SUNY Buffalo, NY.


Patrice Ramsay (Juror) Coordinator, Independent Production for British Columbia’s public broadcasting network, Knowledge NetworkKnowledge Network is committed to working in partnership with independent producers from all over the world.  As a member of the Knowledge programming team, Ramsey brings film commissions such as Emergency Room: Life and Death at VGH, Shut Up and Say Something, This Mountain Life, and Haida Modern. She holds a degree in Business Administration and has received The Osgoode Certificate in Entertainment Law from York University.

Shannon Walsh (Juror) Filmmaker and interdisciplinary theorist interested in the social construction of power largely focused on South Africa. Walsh has written and directed four award-winning feature documentaries, as well as multiple shorts and 360 VR projects. Her work has been theatrically released in Canada, the UK and South Africa, and broadcast on Al-Jazeera, CBC, Discovery channel, Netflix and other stations internationally. Her work has screened in over 60 film festivals such as Hot Docs, Visions du Réel, La Rochelle, RIDM, Full Frame, Rome, and Beijing, as well as in museums including the Pompidou Centre, Paris. She is an Assoc. Professor in the Department of Theatre and Film at the University of British Columbia. She holds a PhD in anthropology and education from McGill University.

Dr. Walsh co-edited the book Ties that Bind: Race and the Politics of Friendship in South Africa (Wits University Press, 2016) with historian Jon Soske.

Raúl O. Paz-Pastrana, is a Mexican immigrant filmmaker, cinematographer, and multimedia creator. His work intersects contemporary art, political documentary, and visual ethnography to explore themes of belonging and alienation in immigrant communities. His feature-length film “Border South” follows the migrant routes from southern Mexico to the U.S.-Mexico border. The result is a close-up, nuanced, and highly original view of the migrant experience, one fraught with risk and danger but also comradery, ingenuity, and humor. Border South had its world premiere at the 2019 Sheffield Doc/Fest in the U.K. Paz-Pastrana is a Princess Grace Awards Special Project Grantee, a Tribeca Film Institute All Access grant recipient, a 2018 IFP Filmmaker Labs fellow, a 2018-20 Firelight Media Documentary Lab Fellow, a 2020 New America National Fellow, and a 2018-19 Ford Foundation, JustFilms grantee.


Co-producers: Sarah Marie Wiebe & Max Ritts
Synopsis: The Story of Wānanalua is a short film that follows an ensuing legal battle between Native Hawaiian cultural practitioners and the federal government around the sea burial of stranded whales in defiance of the Marine Mammal Protection Act.  Through this conflict, the film explores Indigenous systems of multispecies care on the one hand and the use of whale strandings as regulatory devices for pacifying demands for Indigenous sovereignty.

Producer and Director: Alejandro Palacios,, Associate Producer: Julie Mitchell
Synopsis: Dos Rivers is a bilingual (English/Spanish) documentary film that explores one rural California town’s attempt to integrate two distinct ethnic and linguistic groups through an artistic practice.  This project follows photographers of the Latino Photography Project in West Marin as they become versed in advanced photography skills.  With photography as their medium, the women in this project carve a path in a community that years ago was foreign to most immigrant farmworkers.

Producer/Director: Heangjin Park
Synopsis: Chejian: Living and Working between Vehicles, a documentary film about the homecoming trip of kimchi factory workers in China, interrogates the mobility of commodities and factory workers. Shot in the factory, the workers’ hometown, and on the bus trip between the two, the film contrasts the rhythms of life and work in both places. The film examines workers’ reflections on their work, lives, and dreams and aims to critically contemplate the nature of their mobility, particularly the exceptional mobility that workers enjoy during the holiday season when they travel the long distance home.

Producer: Coralynn V. Davis, Director: Carlos Gómez, In Collaboration with: M.S. Suman
Synopsis: Sama in the Forest uses a participatory format to explore the ways that women’s “folk” stories are harnessed for critical engagement with gender norms and for creating new visions for womanhood in Mithila, India. The film centers on the tale of a young girl, Sama Chakeva, who is cursed by her father, the Lord Krishna, for having inappropriate relations with a boy. The film documents a project whereby local residents create a dramatization of the story through which they explore individually and collectively what the story teaches them about gender norms and other cultural values and practices.

Director & Producer: Manman Yang
Synopsis:  By portraying four distinct Chinese LGBT people’s life stories, the documentary Some Body to Love presents the survival status of the young LGBT generation in mainland China. From multiple perspectives, the film explores the right to love and to be loved in the current political and cultural environment of Chinese  society. It looks at the challenges of fighting for this right, and the impressive individuality and courage shown. This is a film about yearning for love where only the heart can overcome all prejudice.

Producer/Director: Christian Hammons
Director/Cinematographer: Eric Coombs Esmail
SynopsisAmerican Refuge is a documentary feature about homelessness in an unexpected place – the forests of the American West.  The film focuses on the residents of a small, mountain town in Colorado who must come to terms with the strangers seeking refuge in the forest around their community.  When a forest fire is accidentally started by two homeless men, the residents begin to see the strangers as a threat, and the pastor of a local church must resolve the crisis before someone gets hurt.

2017 Session


Alice Apley (Moderator/ Pitch Organizer), Executive Director, Documentary Educational Resources, Co-Director Remembering John Marshall, (2006)

Sarah Elder (Pitch Organizer), Award-winning filmmaker, Uksuum Cauyai: Drums of Winter (1985) – selection National Film Registry (2006), SVA Film Festival Juror, Professor of Documentary Film at SUNY Buffalo, NY.

Ilisa (Lisa) Barbash, Co-director and Producer Sweetgrass (2009), In and Out of Africa (1992). Barbash wrote “Where the Roads All End: Photography and Anthropology in the Kalahari” (2017), co-wrote “Cross-cultural Filmmaking: A Handbook for Making Documentary and Ethnographic Films and Video” (1997) and co-edited “The Cinema of Robert Gardner” (2007). Curator of Visual Anthropology at Harvard University’s Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology.

Andrea Meditch, Executive Producer, Man on Wire (2008), Encounters at the End of the World (2007), Producer, Grizzly Man (2005) among others. President, Back Allie Entertainment. Developer, Discovery Films and Discovery Channel. PhD in Linguistic and Cultural Anthropology, University of Texas.

David Weinstein, Senior Program Officer, Division of Public Programs, National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH).  He manages grants for films, radio programs, museum exhibits, digital projects, and public engagement. David holds a Ph.D. in American studies from the University of Maryland College Park.  He is the author of The Forgotten Network: DuMont and the Birth of American Television (2004) and The Eddie Cantor Story: A Jewish Life in Performance and Politics (2017).


Director / Producer: Jarrod Cann, Co-Producer / Advisor: Dr. Stefan Fiol

Synopsis: LET THE GODS DANCE is a feature-length ethnographic film that follows the life and resilience of a Dalit drummer named Sohan Lal and his family who belong to a marginalized caste of hereditary musicians living in the farmlands of the Himalayan mountains in Uttarakhand, India. Like many drummers from his community, it is Sohan’s duty to invoke ritual possession and dance the village gods, yet he is still seen by most as polluted and untouchable. This film depicts how he and his children endure and resist the narrative that has been placed upon their caste-community for hundreds of years.

Producer: Anna Hedlund,
Directors: Anna Hedlund and Lesedi Rudolph

Synopsis – The documentary explores life in a Hutu rebel camp in the eastern Congo inhabited by the fighters and families of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR). The film explores the worldview and propaganda spread by FDLR leaders, some of whom played a role in the Rwandan genocide in 1994. The film focuses not only on the soldiers experiences of violence, but also their families, all of whom are taught that there was no genocide in Rwanda, uncovering an unexpected truth in the propaganda that they are merely innocent victims of history caught in the middle of a war that was not their doing.

Director & DP: Emily Hong, Producer: Maggie Lemere, Impact Producer: Myanmar-Tsa Ji

Synopsis: Above and Below the Ground tells the story of daring indigenous women activists and rock musicians who come together in the ongoing struggle against the Myitsone Dam and for environmental self-determination across their native Kachinland. Through investigation, protest, prayer, and music, they test the boundaries of tentative democratic reform in Northern Myanmar, and work to create a future in which native peoples have the right to care for and protect their own lands and natural resources.

Director: Veronika Kusumaryati

Synopsis: Set against the turbulent sociopolitical atmosphere of West Papua, the film is a feature-length documentary portraying the lived experience of young Papuans in dealing with their violent past and present, in their struggle with their Melanesian identity, and in their fear and hope of their future under foreign forces’ occupation.

Director, Leila Qashu

Synopsis: This film documents Ateetee, a sung Arsi Oromo women’s indigenous dispute resolution process in Ethiopia through the rituals and conversations with the women who practice Ateetee. Arsi women use Ateetee for several purposes, but principally as prayers for rain and prayers for dispute resolution in the case of gender abuse

Director: Gwyneth Talley, co-director: Gabriella Garcia-Pardo.

Synopsis: Binat al-Baroud (or Gunpowder Women) is an observational documentary focusing on the Moroccan women who compete in the traditional, male-dominated equestrian practice known as tbourida. Until now, men wearing traditional clothes, armed with gunpowder rifles, charged their horses about 300 meters before simultaneously firing their rifles in the air. Since 2004, women have become increasingly involved in tbourida performances, participating along with men, and also forming their own groups. The film follows the team captain, Amal Ahamri, one of the first women to start riding in this sport, as she balances work, motherhood, and her passion for horses, and the contradictions that arise within her.

2016 Session


Alice Apley, Executive Director, Documentary Educational Resources (DER)
Sarah Elder, Director, DRUMS OF WINTER; Prof. Doc. Film, SUNY Buffalo
Seth Kramer, Director, THE ANTHROPOLOGIST, Ironbound Films
Camilla Nielsson, Filmmaker/Anthropologist, Director, DEMOCRATS



Writer/Director/Producer/Editor – Isabella Alexander

Synopsis – This character-driven documentary follows the journeys of Phino, Yasmineno, and a boy called Bambino. It invites audiences inside a hidden refugee crisis unfolding on the other side of Europe’s borders. Morocco is the primary crossing point for all Africans fleeing war and poverty in their home countries, but for the past decade, Europe has been working against international human rights conventions to mold Morocco into the final destination for all African migrations north. Brutally beaten back by guards at every attempted crossing, hundreds of thousands who have burned their pasts in hopes of a better future now find themselves trapped only miles from their dream.

An ethnographic film about radicalization, contagion, and healing with Danish Muslims at the Grimhøj-mosque
Directed by: Christian Suhr
Produced by: Persona Film / Eye & Mind

Synopsis: Between 2009-2012 I studied and filmed the healing practices of Muslims in my hometown Aarhus, Denmark, not knowing that only few years later the community would be described by politicians at the highest level of government as “a plague over Denmark,” “a dark Islamic force,” “a violence- and death glorifying cult,” “who preaches messages about hatred,” and who “spreads messages which aim at undermining our democracy.” This film is about the spread of hatred and fear; about conversations that should be possible, but seem increasingly impossible; and about how Feisal, Abu Bilal, and Abu Hassan—three of my closest informants—manoeuvred through the last seven years of escalating religious and political turmoil.

Director/Producer: Nicole Miyahara

Synopsis: The Making of a King explores the relatively unknown subculture of drag kings in Los Angeles during the height of drag queen popularity. Although drag queens are widely known and largely accepted, drag kings are also artists who question gender and notions of societal norms with their performances. They are fighting for equal pay and showtime within their own drag community.

Director: Tami Blumenfield

Synopsis: In southwest China’s Na villages, families that once stayed together in matrilineal, multigenerational households are now splintering into multiple smaller family units. Many family members spend time working outside these villages, a phenomenon that creates numerous tensions and challenges for the younger generations as they strive to find their own path. Badzu Village explores how members of one family are navigating this shifting terrain, drawing on close relationships between the anthropologist-filmmaker and several generations of women in the family to offer a deeply personal window into their lives.

Director: Francesco Dragone, Produced by Awen Films in collaboration with Kriolscope

Synopsis: Migranti is an ethnographic documentary examining complex issues of race, class and belonging in the context of migration in and from Cabo Verde. By following the stories of three migrants, Evandro a Cape Verdean fisherman who migrates from Fogo Island to Santiago Island, Mamadou, a Senegalese who settles in Cabo Verde working as a tailor and Alcindo, a native from Praia, the capital city of Santiago Island who migrates to the US in search of better life conditions, this documentary attempts to analyze their crisscrossing migratory routes.

Producer/Director: Darcie DeAngelo

Synopsis: This project portrays the story of explosive detection rats and their handlers learning to de- mine. It takes place in Cambodia, a country contaminated with millions of landmines and follows an underfunded NGO, APOPO, that implements rats as new biological technologies for landmine detection. The videos reveal the process of learning a new technology when the technology in question is an unpredictable and, sometimes unwilling, animal. The project’s significance lies in its story of co-species learning and friendships when stakes are fatally high.