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PROJECT DESCRIPTION
 
Betty Reid Soskin is America's oldest park ranger, famous for tirelessly shedding light on the forgotten history of racial segregation in California. But there's a hidden side to Betty she rarely talks about. Back in the 1950s, Betty and her family were the first African-Americans to integrate an all-white town in the San Francisco Bay Area, and she a chronicled her experiences as a singer/songwriter, with a voice like Billie Holiday and the relevance of Nina Simone. But she turned her back on a potential career in music, and her songs haven't been heard for half a century. Now she teams up with younger musicians, singers and dancers in San Francisco and Oakland to explore new arrangements of her songs, sparking an autobiographical journey through the black experience in California by three generations of musicians.
 
Sign My Name to Freedom is a feature documentary about Betty, her lost music and her family's experiences confronting racial segregation in California's Bay Area. The majority of the film was shot over four years from 2016 through 2019, and the project is currently fundraising to edit the movie.
 
PROJECT STATUS
 
Director/Producer Bryan Gibel first heard about Betty like most people, through news coverage about her remarkable work as a National Park Ranger. After reading about her private life through her blog, he began working on a short film about her and her family in early 2016. It wasn't until several months later, after Betty and Bryan had developed a close friendship through countless hours of conversations, that she mentioned she had been a singer/songwriter and asked if he wanted to hear a few songs she had copied to an old cassette tape. Despite the hiss from the dubbed recording, the music Gibel heard that night was sophisticated, deeply personal and shockingly relevant to social issues we are still confronting as a nation. 
 
That moment launched a multi-year journey that saw Betty listen to many of her songs for the first time in decades after Gibel was able to recover music from old reel-to-reel tapes that hadn't seen the light of day in years. She would go on to explore those same songs and the social issues behind them with younger artists and musicians of color. Eventually, she would find the courage to confront some her deepest regrets and fears to sing publicly once again, performing a song she wrote during the height of the Civil Rights movement, backed up by a 200 person choir and a full symphony orchestra.
 
Through it all, Gibel was there to film Betty's journey with incredible intimacy and emotional honesty. After nearly four years of shooting, Gibel and his team have completed principal photography for the documentary. Now they are asking you to help jumpstart editing for the documentary by donating to the film. Donations can be made online through the film's fiscal sponsor, the International Documentary Association, and in many cases are tax deductible.
 
FUNDRAISING & BUDGET
 
To date, Gibel and his team have raised over $100,000 to shoot and produce the film through competitive grants and private donations from organizations like the Rosie the Riveter Trust, CalHumanities, the Bay Area Video Coalition and the Berkeley Film Foundation. Our current goal is to raise another $150,000 to edit the film. Those funds will be used to hire an Emmy-award-winning editor, increase the hours worked by the director and expand the post-production team. A portion of the funds may also be used to shoot additional interviews about Betty's music and dramatic portrayals of events in her past that are core to her most important songs.
 
For more information about the film, the budget or the timeline for post-production, please contact Bryan Gibel at [email protected]
 
 
CREATIVE TEAM
 
 
Bryan Gibel, Director/Producer/Co-Director of Photography
 
Bryan is a director, producer and cinematographer in Oakland, CA. Originally from New Mexico, he earned a master’s degree from the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism documentary film program in 2012, where he was awarded the Mark Felt Fellowship for Investigative Reporting. ‍‍‍While at Berkeley, he directed, shot and edited Chicago Confessional, a 26-minute documentary film about wrongful convictions and an inmate’s fight for a new trial after 30 years in prison. His hybrid short documentary, Sickness in the System, which depicts the COVID-19 outbreak in San Quentin Prison using actors, animation and archival footage, was picked up by Field of Vision for distribution and released in 2022. His half-hour dance film, Love, A State of Grace, which he co-directed with choreographer Joanna Haigood, will premiere at the San Francisco Dance Film Festival in October 2023. He was awarded a National Media-Maker Fellowship by the Bay Area Video Coalition in 2018. He speaks English, Spanish, & Portuguese. 
 
 
AK Sandhu, Co-Director/Producer/Co-Director of Photography
 
A.K. is a filmmaker who directs, produces, and now writes films about female protagonists, the immigrant experience, and new perspectives on history. Probing themes such as race, class, spirituality, and cross-cultural solidarity, she tells stories to bridge the gap between our perceived differences and cultivate a deeper understanding of human connections.

Her debut award-winning film, ALIVE IN BRONZE: Huey P. Newton (1942–1989) screened at festivals like Tribeca, PanAfrican, Mill Valley and beyond before being acquired by MTV Documentaries/Paramount+.

A.K. has been awarded the Emerging Artist Award in the State of California and was the winner of SeriesFest ‘Spotlight Your Town’ Pitch competition by NatGeo and Visible. She was selected as part of the inaugural cohorts for DOC NYC/VC’s Storytelling Incubator and for Re-Take Oakland film fellowship for emerging BIPOC filmmakers.

She is currently in development for a mix of documentary and narrative projects and a docu-series that reveals the neglected stories of women and children of the Black Panther Party and their ongoing work to redefine our cultural narrative through the arts. A.K. has earned degrees from Columbia University and U.C. Berkeley, and is an active member of A-Doc, Brown Girls Doc Mafia, CineFemme, D-Word and Collective of Documentary Women Cinematographers. She speaks English, Punjabi, and Hindi/Urdu.

 

Kevin Jones, Senior Editor

Kevin is an Emmy-award-winning editor whose cut over a dozen feature-length documentaries. His credits include Dave Chappelle Live in Real Life, which had its premiere as the closing night film of the 2021 Tribeca Film Festival. He also edited the Emmy-winning documentary A Lion in the House, which premiered at Sundance before airing nationally on PBS. His credits also include Burn, the audience award winner at the Tribeca Film Festival and New York Times Critic's Pick.

 
Elizabeth Ray, Assistant Editor
 
Elizabeth started out with an interest in traditional animation, attending the CSSSA program at CalArts when she was in middle school, as their youngest attendee to that point. She then explored 3D digital animation before settling on film editing. She has a BFA in Motion Pictures & Television from the Academy of Art University in San Francisco. Since 2011 she has worked as a freelance filmmaker on various short-form projects and web series, and one feature documentary.
 
 
Alyana Reid, Social Media Manager/Post-Production Assistant
 
Alyana is Betty Reid’s granddaughter. She graduated from UC Irvine where she studied Film. She currently works as a Quality Control Technician at Pixelogic Media where she oversees file delivery for Film & TV content. Prior to that she worked as a COVID-safety officer on film sets in Southern California and as a Crew Member at AMC Theaters.
 
 
Sara Lafleur-Vetter, Outreach Producer
 

Sara Lafleur-Vetter is a documentary filmmaker and a photographer with a passion for telling stories of the underdog and the underbelly of society. She believes in the power of film and photography to better the world. Lafleur is inspired by the #decolonizedocs movement and believes media makers have a duty to flip the script of structural inequality, racism, sexism, and heteronormativity.

Lafleur holds a Master’s in Journalism specializing in Documentary Film from the Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, where she was fortunate to study under the doc giants Jon Else and Orlando Bagwell. At present, Lafleur is working on a feature-length film about several Indigenous activists who were transformed by their experience at Standing Rock. The film has drawn support from IDA, IFP, and Berkeley Film Foundation. Lafleur was also a 2018 BAVC MediaMaker Fellow.

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