Tuesday, February 23, 2010

2010 San Francisco Independent Film Festival

The 2010 San Francisco Independent Film Festival (IndieFest) wrapped on February 18. I was able to catch 26 of the 36 programs. All programs were screened at the Roxie Theater. The programs I watched were:

Feature Programs

Access Denied; compilation of public access videos; (2009)
A+D; (2009) - Official Website
The Art of the Steal; documentary; (2009) - Official Website
At the Foot of a Tree; (2009) - Official Website
Beyond the Pole; (2009) - Official Website
The Blood of Rebirth directed by Toshiaki Toyoda; Japanese with subtitles; (2009) - Official Website
Cigarette Girl; (2009) - Official Website
City Island starring Andy Garcia and Julianna Marguiles; (2009) - Official Website
Easier with Practice; (2009) - Official Website
Godspeed; (2009) - Official Website
Harmony and Me; (2009) - Official Website
Last Son; documentary; (2009) - Official Website
Less Adolescent; (2009) - Official Website
Limbo Lounge; (2010) - Official Website
My Movie Girl; (2009) - Official Website
Point Traverse; (2009) - Official Website
René; Czech with subtitles; documentary; (2009) - Official Website
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Undead; (2009) - Official Website
Wah Do Dem; (2009) - Official Website
Zooey & Adam; (2009) - Official Website

Short Programs

An Animated World
Backwards; (2009)
Light Headed; (2009)
Unbelievable 4; (2009)
Down to the Bone; (2009)
Manifestations; (2009)
Fuzzy Insides; (2009)
'nstaCharge; (2009)
The Falcon; (2009)
Lev; (2009)
Dave Talks About Stuff And Things; (2009)
Pause Replay; (2009)
The Stressful Adventures of Boxhead & Roundhead - Brothers In Arms; (2009)
Roue; (2009)
Entering the Mind Through the Mouth; (2009)
So Then, Don't Wait; (2009)

Games of Telephone
True Beauty This Night; (2009)
Sapsucker; (2009)
Christmas Night with Fritz Dubert; (2009)
The One Last Time; (2009)
Felicita; (2009)
Nice Shootin' Cowboy; (2009)

Life Nor-Cal Style
Drugs; (2009)
Second Nature; (2009)
El Milagro de Stockton; (2009)
New American Soldier; (2009)
A Sentence Apart; (2009)

You're Not The Only, Lonely
Bean; (2009)
Weight; (2009)
Me, You, A Bag, & Bamboo; (2009)
Backyard; (2009)
Penance; (2009)
Lollipop Man; (2009)

None of the Above
Medicine Man; (2009)
Emotion Malfunction; (2009)
Life On Earth; (2009)
The Gynecologist; (2009)
Il Vincitore (The Winner); (2009)

The End Is Not The End
Adrift; (2009)
The Last Page; (2009)
In Space; (2009)
Dreamland; (2009)
Tungijuq; (2009)
Rufus; (2009)


My general thoughts about the festival...

The programming was quite strong this year. I can only think of one film that I will actively discourage people from viewing. That's Access Denied which isn't a feature film but rather a compilation of public access videos. Thankfully, there was a technical glitch that reduced the screening time from 90 minutes to closer to an hour. Out of that hour, there was perhaps 10 minutes of footage that were entertaining.

There seemed to be more short films this year. There were six programs of short films. I feel the quality of the short films was down from previous years. Also, very film of the feature films were preceded by a short film. There was only one feature paired with a short film and I missed that program. Given how short some of the features were (several were between 70 and 80 minutes), I wished they would have cut one of the short programs and screened the short before the shorter features.

I saw a fight for the first time at Indiefest. After the screening of Cigarette Girl on Valentine's Day, a couple (man & woman) became involved with a verbal and ultimately physical confrontation with another man. The woman was providing running commentary during the film in a loud manner when the man told her to "Shut the fuck up." She complied for the remainder of the film but as the credits were rolling, she confronted the man that admonished her. Eventually, a shoving and wrestling match ensued between the man and the woman's boyfriend. All three were ejected from the theater.

A few minutes later, I was standing outside the Roxie waiting for the next show and the woman again confronted the man on sidewalk. Contact was made and eventually the boyfriend got into it again and all three were scuffling on the sidewalk. They were broken apart and the police came. No arrests were made.


As for the films, there were several standouts.

My favorite was Zooey and Adam, a Canadian drama about the after effects of rape. Zooey & Adam are a married couple trying to have a baby. While camping, Zooey is raped by a group of men while Adam is beaten and restrained. Later, Zooey discovers that she is pregnant. Rather than struggle with the difficult question of parentage, Zooey decides to believe the baby is Adam's and ask him to do the same. After some argument, he agrees but it is a decision he will come to regret. The movie spans approximately 6 years from the time Zooey and Adam are trying to conceive to the time their son (Carl) is 5 years old. During those years, Adam has difficulties fully accepting Adam as his own son. As a result, he & Zooey split up. I won't reveal the ending since the film has been distributed in Canada and may be distributed in the US. I will say that the film has less to do with the act of rape and focuses on the lingering trauma caused by the rape (particularly on the man). I don't recall the performance of either lead actor to be strong but combination of their performances and the plot create a powerful film.

A half step behind Zooey and Adam was Easier with Practice. The difficult to categorize film kept my interest throughout. The basic plot involves two brothers traveling around New Mexico on a low budget book tour. Older brother Davy (Brian Geraghty) has published a set of short stories. His younger brother Sean is along for the ride. Davy hopes the book tour will lead to some bonding between him and his brother; Sean doesn't seem to have any goals for the trip except to pick up women despite having a rather attractive girlfriend back home.

One night in the motel, Davy receives a call from Nicole, a forward women with a very sexy voice. Davy and Nicole engage in a weeks long phone sex relationship. Nicole never gives Davy her phone number because her boyfriend Aaron is the jealous type. Davy patiently awaits each phone call while trying to keep his "relationship" with Nicole a secret from his brother. As the calls progress, Davy and Nicole form an intense emotional bond. When the book tour ends, Davy & Sean return to their normal lives; Davy is a temp office worker. Davy rekindles a relationship with Sarah (a previous one-night stand). Although Sarah is anxious to advance the relationship, Davy can't quite free himself from the fantasy and specter of Nicole. Eventually Davy and Nicole meet in a most memorable fashion.

The heart of Easier with Practice lays with Geraghty's portrayal of the emotionally timid Davy and his inability to form meaningful relationships. The film handled the material with liberal doses of humor but it was utlimately painful to see Davy waste his opportunity with Sarah and meet Nicole.

I enjoyed the stylish Blood of Rebirth from Japanese director Toshiaki Toyoda. I've seen two films from Toyoda at previous Indiefest - the dysfunctional family drama Hanging Garden (2005) and the brassy jailbreak film 9 Souls (2003). Having enjoyed both films, I was looking forward to Blood of Rebirth.

The plot is a little thin - "in a time when gods and demons ruled the earth," a traveling masseur finds himself entangled with a warlord (most likely suffering from gonorrhea). He is killed by the warlord but returns to "life" in his pre-death form. With the help of one of the warlord's concubines, he is reanimated and confronts the warlord for a final duel (in a memorable and surreal finale).

That's not much to hang a film on but Toyoda has a few tricks up his sleeve. First he commissioned a driving, percussion heavy soundtrack that sounded a lot like Led Zeppelin. Next, he makes us of beautiful earth tones in his cinematography. Finally, he lets the story develop at leisurely pace with the seeming intent to show off his directorial flourishes and give the lead actors free reign. The end effect is quite stylish and eminently entertaining. Clearly Toyoda is a film director of the highest degree.

Finally Point Traverse was a minimalist film about two friends in their early 20's. The more grounded one if Adwin, the manager of fast food restaurant. Cael is a drifter, roaming from town to town, looking for something he can't quite define and engaging in petty crimes along the way. Their lives converge and diverge as we see them interact with other people. Did I mention that Adwin was likely a serial killer? Actually, that wasn't major plot point of the film. In fact, there wasn't any major plot points. They went through life with a vague sense of ennui and resignation. A summary of the film can't adequately express the existential mood conveyed by the film. My favorite scene was when Adwin inched his hand closer to a circular blade saw (presumably to feel something). The entire audience (myself included) was squirming in their seats.


A few films surprised me at how much I enjoyed them. Limbo Lounge is a Twilight Zone inspired film about Silas, a con man that is killed in a car accident. Sent to limbo (nicely represented as an endless backup on the Bay Bridge), Silas is given the "opportunity" to work in hell and reap all the benefits. To earn this job, he must corrupt one innocent soul - an advertising executive (how realistic is that). Armed with an afterlife Blackberry, he sets about his task with efficiency and gusto. As the moment approaches he begins having second thoughts.

As I watching the film, I thought it was predictable but as it progressed, I became drawn into the story by the performances of the cast. I still predicted the ending but the performances by the three female leads lifted an otherwise mediocre film up a notch. The three lead actresses were Robyn Cohen, Tamara Braun and Stephanie Lemelin.

Limbo Lounge was also aided by it being filmed locally. It's always nice to see locations you are familiar with. My Movie Girl was also filmed in San Francisco. The film struck a delicate balancing act. Adam is a movie buff and pines away for his artist friend Kate. They shared one drunken night together. Kate has moved on but Adam can't accept it for what it was. Adam's idea of closure is to make film about the night. Ostensibly to come to terms with Kate, the line between reality and fantasy gets blurred in the film within the film. First Adam casts himself as Adam and Kate as Kate. When Kate refuses to portray the night as Adam remembers it, her role is recast. A succession of Kate look-alikes audition for the role.

Eventually Adam puts the film aside for a weekend to serve as the videographer for the wedding of a friend. While there, he spies Vivian (nice performance by Mackenzie Firgens). Reading into her actions and behavior what he wants, he engages in an intense (for him) sexual/emotional relationship with Vivian. Eventually, he discovers that Vivian isn't her real name and that she is largely unsympathetic (even mocking) of his relationship with Kate.

I won't continue the plot summary because the main problem with the film is that I felt the same as Vivian. Adam Bronstein's portrayal of Adam in My Movie Girl irritated me no end. Adam is a schmuck and he drones on and on about his night with Kate and how he wants a life like in the movies. I came to dislike Adam although I still laughed at times.

My ultimate verdict My Movie Girl is a flawed film but good for more than few laughs.

A+D is an emotionally raw film about the life of a romantic relationship between Alice and Dan. Much of the footage appears as though it were a mocumentary. The premise in the film is that Alice and Dan (more Alice) videotape each other at unguarded moments. The audience sees the relationship start, crescendo and ultimately break apart. While watching the film, I thought when Alice introduced the video diary concept, the relationship was doom. The idea has failure written all over it and it seemed more like something that a performance artist would do than a woman in a relationship. Actually, Alice may have been performance artist. With some time since I viewed the film, I've cooled on it slightly but still think the two leads (actually the only two actors) delivered fine performances that made the film better than it had any right to be. The two leads were Amber Sealey and Anton Saunders.


My favorite documentary was The Art of the Steal, a fascinating documentary about the Barnes Foundation. The Barnes Foundation is an art educational institution founded by Albert Barnes in the 1920s. Barnes (the man) accumulated an art collection of unfathomable proportions - 181 paintings by Renoir, 69 by Cézanne and 59 Matisse and many more. The current estimated value of his works are $25B.

Barnes left very specific instructions in the Foundation trust documents about how often the public could be allowed in to view the works and that the works were never to be lent out or toured. In the 1990's, a steady erosion (a conspiracy if you believe the film makers) of the Foundation's intent began which has culminated in the Barnes Foundation moving to a downtown Philadelphia location and operating as a traditonal art museum. This is exactly what Albert Barnes did not want to happen to his art.

I've left out many of the details but the combination of iconic art works (I recognized several and am far from a connoisseur of fine art), high society rivalries, greed and old-fashioned mystery make The Art of the Steal a very compelling documentary.

Not nearly as well made was Last Son, clearly a labor of love. Last Son tells the story of the men who created Superman. I'm not a comic book fan but was fascinated by how much of the Superman mythology was taken from the lives of Jerry Siegel (writer) and Jon Shuster (illustrator). Particularly intriguing was Siegel's life - murdered father and Jewish based name of Jor-El. Also, Shuster was an amateur bodybuilder and he borrowed images from that world to give Superman his physique, various poses and costume. For anyone that is mildly a fan of Superman, I think this film would be of great interest.

René is a Czech documentary that follows ~20 years in the life of a career petty criminal who has become a published author (and minor celebrity?) in his homeland. I could never feel empathy much less sympathy for the eponymous convict nor was I very surprised at how his life became a revolving door in and out of prison. However, the film has the benefit of 20 years of footage as you watch the relatively clean cut boy transform into a tattooed career criminal.


The short films were more hit or miss. I fell asleep for several of the film in An Animated World. Also, The One Last Time did not screen due to technical difficulties.

A grab bag of my favorites:

Unbelievable 4 - animated versions Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Rice save the world and rock out to Europe's The Final Countdown. The animator nicely captured Cheney's scowl and Bush's hangdog expression of confusion and/or contempt.

Backwards - an alien plot to takeover the world is foiled by a sexual encounter with transgender woman; story is told in reverse chronological order.

True Beauty This Night - a purse snatcher thinks he has found true love...with one of his victims.

Second Nature - an Ari Marcopoulos short about some guys skating down a steep hill at incredible speeds.

Lollipop Man - chilling story about an ominous crossing guard (dressed in a yellow rain slicker hence the title) who begins to observe more than just the traffic patterns on his route.

Penance - my favorite of the festival. This film cover a several week period where an ex-con who runs a landscaping business befriends a man with Asperger's Syndrome. Their relationship eventually bottoms out but not before someone gets a weedwacker to the mouth.

Me, You, A Bag, & Bamboo - a love story; I can't remember the details. The plot was nonsensical - a robot boy and adopted girl or something. The soundtrack was very memorable - Sexy Robot Man.

The Gynecologist - my second favorite short. A female gynecologist finds it strange that a man comes to her office for an examination and even more strange that her supervisors, the man's father and media insist she treat him like any other patient.

Medicine Man - a black kid from Harlem goes upstate looking for ancient Indian herbs to cure his father's paralysis.

The Last Page - a writer with a serious case of writer's block goes through serious hell to find his inspiration

In Quiet - a slowly paced Thai film about a young man who becomes a Buddhist monk after his grandmother dies.

1 comment:

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