Focus on Film: Sacramento Spirit

By Steven Libowitz   |   November 5, 2020
Nicholas Coles’ award-winning short documentary The House is Innocent is the subject for this week’s SBIFF Film Talk

Who knowingly purchases the former residence of a notorious serial killer? Meet Tom and Barbara, proud new owners of the most infamous house in Sacramento. The middle-aged couple purchased the residence where Dorothea Puente ran a boarding house where she murdered elderly and mentally disabled guests before cashing their Social Security checks in the 1980s. More than nine were confirmed, with another six suspected. Newspapers dubbed Puente, who was sentenced to two life terms, the “Death House Landlady.” 

But that doesn’t seem to faze Tom and Barbara, who endeavor to renovate the crumbling house, and eventually realize that it was going to take a whole lot more than paint to change the community’s minds about their new home. Nicholas Coles’ award-winning short documentary The House is Innocent is the subject for this week’s SBIFF Film Talk, which offers screening links to watch the movies before hosting a virtual conversation with the filmmaker. Coles, who operates out of Los Angeles as a writer and producer who has worked in a variety of roles on numerous independent films, including Room and The Lord of War, will connect with Zoom viewers at 6 pm on Thursday, October 29. Visit to register. 

SBIFF’s Cinema Society Sizzling 

The film fest’s popular preview programming – in which audiences get to watch a film generally well in advance of its release followed by an in-depth interview with the director and, often, actors, producers, and writers – has had its in-person offerings upended by the pandemic. But the events have continued, albeit with both screenings and conversations taking place online. Recently, SBIFF began making a few of those interviews available for general viewing in cases where the films are already available for streaming. 

The most recent entry is also the most timely: All In: The Fight for Democracy, the Liz Garbus and Lisa Cortés doc made in anticipation of the 2020 presidential election, as it examines the often overlooked issue of voter suppression in the United States. The film interweaves personal experiences with current activism and historical insight to expose a problem that has corrupted American democracy from the very beginning, dating back to at least the Civil War. The documentary offers an insider’s look into laws and barriers to voting that most people don’t even know is a threat to their basic rights as citizens of the United States – although if they’ve been keeping up with recent news, they’re probably aware that the Supreme Court just dealt Wisconsin voters another blow on Monday, hours before Amy Coney Barrett was sworn in to replace Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the high court. 

All In: The Fight for Democracy, which called “valuable public service wrapped in an educational, informative and engaging documentary,” can be viewed on Amazon Prime. Visit to watch SBIFF Executive Director Roger Durling’s chat with Garbus and Cortés that took place last Saturday.


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