Sunday, February 27, 2011

2011 San Francisco Independent Film Festival

I almost feel like a cheating spouse when it comes to Indiefest. The first festival I bought a pass to was Indiefest in 2003 or so. I have enjoyed many of the films there over the years. Like many marriages, perhaps I've become too complacent, too focused on the flaws and not appreciative enough, too curious if the grass is greener...

This year, I only saw six films at Indiefest; the least I've seen in a decade perhaps. I could protest that Indiefest conflicted with the Mostly British Film Festival, the San Francisco Silent Film Festival's Winter Event, the Super Bowl and my tickets to Clybourne Park at ACT. All that would be true but I still made a choice to largely spurn Indiefest and overall, I'm not regretful. Several of the Mostly British films, L'Argent at the Silent Film Festival and Clybourne Park were worthwhile. Also, I only watched one half of the Super Bowl

I would have only watched five program at Indiefest except I didn't have enough cash on me to buy a five film discount pass at the first screening so I paid full admission price and bought the discount card at the next screening. All screening were at the Roxie.

Nude Nuns With Big Guns; directed by Joseph Guzman; (2010) - Official Website
Food Stamped; documentary; (2010) - Official Website
The Sentimental Engine Slayer; (2010) - Official Website
The Trashmaster; (2010)

Nude Nuns With Big Guns was preceded by the short film Thy Kill Be Done (2010).

Food Stamped was preceded by the short film Inhuman Eating Machine.

I saw two short film programs.

The End of Love as We Know It consisted of:

First Kiss; (2010) - Official Website
Mr. X; Portuguese with subtitles; (2010)
Bathing and the Single Girl written, directed and starring Christine Elise McCarthy; (2010) - Official Website
A Face Fixed; (2011) - Official Website
The Tennessee Waltz; (2010)

Not Your Average Kids Show consisted of:

Birthday Circle; (2010)
Laugh and Die; (2010)
Indelible; (2010) - Official Website
De Lucha Boys; (2010) Official Website
Andy; Korean with subtitles; (2010)
Vento; Portuguese with subtitles; (2009) - Official Website
40 Years; (2010) - Official Website
Stranger Danger
Red Balloon; (2010) - Official Website


After seeing three films at Silent Film Winter Event at the Castro, I took the train back to get my car so I could drive to the midnight showing at the Roxie. Nude Nuns With Big Guns was an outstanding exploitation film by the director of Run! Bitch Run! which played at the 2009 Hole in the Head Film Festival.

As you can see, director Joseph Guzman isn't one for subtlety in his films or film titles. I guess to be accurate the title should have been Nude Nuns With Big Guns and Lesbian Tendencies Wreak Vengeance on Dirty Priests and a Motorcycle Gang. There is a strip club, multiple rapes, a large black character whose nickname is Kickstand and the obligatory severed penis scene thrown in there for good measure. Asun Ortega plays Sister Sarah who is beaten, raped and hooked on heroin within the first 10 minutes of the film. For the next 80 minutes, we discover she has no forgiveness in her, is a crack shot with a variety of firearms and has a particularly close relationship with another nun. I saw glimpses of Desperado, Taxi Driver and Bound in Nude Nuns.

Although ultimately derivative of several films and genres, Guzman goes about filming Nude Nun with a gusto. He plays it straight for most of the film but sometimes the situations are too preposterous to do anything but laugh. Grindhouse cinema is alive and well as long as Joseph Guzman continue making films.


Next was a documentary in the style of Super Size Me. In Food Stamped, Shira and Yoav Potash (filmmakers and married to each other) decide to live on the monetary equivalent of food stamps for one week. Inspired by a challenge that a handful of federal legislators accepted, the Potashes discover how difficult the task is. For one thing, Shira is nutritional educator. She insists that organic and nutritional foods be used as much as possible with the $50 they've allocated to feed themselves for one week. They also insist on hosting another couple over for dinner one night because afterall, poor people must have dinner parties as well.

Fortunately, Shira is quite adept in the kitchen and shows a natural talent for stretching her meager pantry. The menu for the aforementioned dinner party consists of frittata with sweet potato, kale & free sample cheese, Indian lentil soup, salad, baguette bread and fresh pears.

The film had a light touch to it. It was never too preachy. Much of the charm emanates from Shira and Yoav who are a little too stereotypical as Berkeley Jews but otherwise appear to be a delightful young couple. There were efforts to show external factors which push poor people to eat certain unhealthy foods. Ultimately, the story kept coming back to the Potashes' relentless struggle to quench their hunger and stay within their budget.

Prior to Food Stamped was a food documentary at the other end of the spectrum. Inhuman Eating Machine was the title of the film but also the name of Andrew Levy's blog. I'll quote from the blog to give an idea of what Levy does.

To complete a session, I must eat at least eight of a single food item at a minimum of eight establishments within a single day. (For the purposes of IEM, legal counsel has advised me to state that a “day” is defined as the period from when I wake in the morning until the time that I retire for the evening, not to exceed 24 hours.)

Maximum expenditure for each food item shall not exceed $10 per establishment.

Large nationwide chain restaurants will not be included in the sessions, but I may visit local and regional chains. (Exception: If conducting a special “traveling session” of IEM, I may consider eating at a larger chain if it is unavailable in the Bay Area.)

There you have it. Levy goes around eating eight items in a given day. Why eight? Because one item per hour is the equivalent of a standard work day. He is currently on BBQ Beef but past entries include pupusas, tortas, pizza, etc.

The production values and food budget are higher on Man vs. Food but I like Levy's $10 limit as well as his decidely ethnic choice in food items. It gives a certain working class feel to his gluttony. No Kobe beef burgers or lobster rolls for Mr. Levy. His haunts are tacquerias, taco trucks and greasy spoons (many in East Oakland no less).

The lengths and physical discomfort Levy goes through for his art has inspired me to become a patron. If Mr. Levy contacts me, I will sponsor one his IEM sessions. In fact, to allow Mr. Levy to see how the other half lives, I will sponsor him up to $15 per establishment.


The Sentimental Engine Slayer caught my attention because it was filmed in El Paso where I grew up. I know where the Mesa Inn is. The name was also intriguing.

The film itself was a mixed bag. The plot involved a young man with violent thoughts. Are they fantasies, hallucinations or reality? In the end, it turns out that the man has more to fear from society than society has to fear from him.

I won't bother recounting the plot because the film is a series of vignettes about some odd people. His grown sister has no problem crawling into his bed...because her boyfriend wets their bed! The man also likes to build minature model cars. Beyond that, he has a lot of weird encounters with whores, women in general and a Puerto Rican he and his sister pick up.

The Sentimental Engine Slayer is semi-autobiographical and the directorial debut of Omar Rodríguez-López who founded the band Mars Volta (which provided the soundtrack to the film). The film is intriguing for a first effort but ultimately too confusing to be satisfying. I look forward to the next effort by Rodríguez-López.


The Trashmaster is machinima. To quote from Wikipedia, " the use of real-time 3D computer graphics rendering engines to create a cinematic production. Most often, games are used to generate the computer animation."

In the case of Trashmaster, all the animation is provided from Grand Theft Auto IV which I have never played. The choice is inspired because the animation dovetails nicely with the plot about Niko, a garbageman turned vigilante who has a penchant for strip clubs. When a stripper turns up murdered, Niko looks for the killer and the cops start looking at Niko.

With its dark outlook, Trashmaster almost achieves greatness which is enhanced by the fact that we are seeing images from a video game. Niko is like Travis Bickle mixed with Charles Bronson from Death Wish. However, the film's reach exceeds its grasp. The voiceover narration sounded like the guy that does the Monster Truck commercials...Sunday! Sunday!! Sunday!!!. Certain action scenes went on for too long. The film wasn't about action scenes but about Niko's internal struggle. How can you show that from Grand Theft Auto IV? Director Mathieu Weschler came surprisingly close by mashing up scenes from GTA4 which I guess is as much a compliment to the gamemakers as the filmmaker. Highly evocative of several films, I haven't decided if my opinion of Trashmaster is "graded on the curve" because of the limitations imposed by the machinima. Sadly, Trashmaster will never get a wide release. In addition to the copyright issues with GTA, the film uses Rolling Stone and Elton John songs which I think were from GTA4.


That leaves the short film programs.

Actually, I forgot to mention Thy Kill Be Done which preceded Nude Nuns. It was a nunsploitation film that had the best one-liner I've heard in some time. As the avenging nuns kick ass on some street thugs, they call for reinforcements. The thug says over the phone, "It's a cloisterfuck down here!" Also, actor Kevin Kate had the best Irish brogue I've heard on a priest in many years. His monsignor was the type of priest who probably boxed, smoked cigarettes and drank whiskey but always had time to do the Lord's work. Thy Kill Be Done is worth a look for anyone not easily offended by the sight of nuns killing gangsters.

The End of Love as We Know It was about love stories with a cynical twist. The best was Bathing and the Single Girl, Christine Elise McCarthy's spoken word treatise on her misadventures in Cougartown. McCarthy is quite attractive and articulate so I doubt she really had any trouble attracting men but as she recounts her encounters with younger men (the age gap and period of celibacy keep getting larger as the monologue continues), I couldn't help but laugh. First Kiss was also amusing as it told the story of a man and a woman who get stuck on a roof and their less than magical first kiss.

The theme of Not Your Average Kids Show was children in dysfunctional even dangerous situations. My favorites included Birthday Circle which shows how the elderly can be treated and looked upon as children, Andy which depicted a Korean or Korean American boy's suspicious encounter in a shopping mall bathroom and Indelible which followed a young boy whose mother runs a motel where a motley assortment of tennants live.

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