Thursday, March 22, 2012

2012 SF Indiefest

The 2012 San Francisco Independent Film Festival (SF Indiefest) ran from February 9 to 23. I saw 17 features and one short film program. All the programs I saw were at the Roxie (or Little Roxie).

Skater 26; documentary; directed by Turner Van Ryn; (2012) - Official Facebook
Snowtown starring Daniel Henshall; directed by Justin Kurzel; (2011) - Official Website
Bullhead starring Matthias Schoenaerts; directed by Michael R. Roskam; Dutch & French with subtitles; (2011) - Official Website
Green starring Kate Lyn Sheil, Sophia Takal & Lawrence Michael Levine; directed by Takal; (2011) - Official Website
Mother Country starring Thomas Galasso; directed by Maria Breaux; (2011) - Official Website
The Disco Exorcist directed by Richard Griffin; (2011) - Official Website
Casserole Club starring Daniela Sea, Kevin Scott Richardson, Jane Wiedlin, Susan Traylor , Michael Maize; directed by Steve Balderson; (2012) - Official Website
The Color Wheel starring Carlen Altman & Alex Ross Perry; directed by Perry; (2011) - Official Website
I Like You directed by Jamie Heinrich; (2010) - Official Website
Girlfriend starring Evan Sneider & Shannon Woodward; directed by Justin Lerner; (2010) - Official Website
Sironia starring Wes Cunningham; directed by Brandon Dickerson; (2011) - Official Website
Still Life; German with subtitles; (2011)
Juko's Time Machine starring Nathan Cozzolino; directed by Kai Barry; (2011) - Official Website
Silver Tongues starring Lee Tergesen & Enid Graham; directed by Simon Arthur; (2011) - Official Website
Beside My Brother; German with subtitles; (2011)
Sahkanaga starring Trevor Neuhoff; directed by John Henry Summerour; (2011) - Official Website
Kill List starring Neil Maskell; directed by Ben Wheatley; (2011) Official Website

The short film program was called Beautiful Dreamers and consisted of:

Honkytonk Ben; documentary; directed by Ryan McKenna; (2011)
Dylan; documentary; directed by Ania Winiarska: (2011)
Boro in the Box; directed by Bertrand Mandico; French with subtitles; (2011)


I've been so busy since the festival wrapped on February 23 that I'm just now getting caught up. This year's Indiefest was a new experience for me. This was the first time, I just gave up on a festival. During the last seven days of the festival, I only saw six films. That compared to 12 programs at the festival during the seven days preceding the final seven. In other words, I saw 12 programs during the first week but only six films during the second week; I saw two films during the final four days. I skipped opening night so I'm calling the first week February 10 to 16 and the second week week February 17 to 23.

There were many reasons for this but this year the programming was not to my liking. After seeing the films that piqued my interest during the first week, I was not interested in taking chances with films whose synopses did not interest me. Additionally, with Cinequest starting five days after Indiefest closed, I was saving my energy. The fact that I saw 36 programs at Cinequest leads me to believe my lack of commitment was more about the programming than my energy levels.


My favorite film of the festival was Girlfriend - a low budget job about a man with Down Syndrome and his relationship with the object of his high school desires. Evan Sneider plays Evan, the lead character. Sneider has Down Syndrome which undoubtedly provided authenticity to his and his costars' performances.

Evan (the character) has recently come into some money as his mother is recently deceased. On his own for the first time, Even makes some questionable decisions regarding the money. He decides to give most of it to Candy (Shannon Woodward), a debt-laden single mother with a stalker ex-boyfriend. However in Evan's eyes Candy is his dream girl. Initially unaware of the source of the donation, Candy quickly becomes embarrassed when she learns of the source of her providence. In no position to return the money or decline Evan's subsequent cash presents, Candy reluctantly accepts the gifts. When she is still evicted from her rental unit, she has nowhere else to go but Evan's house which Evan interprets as confirming her status as his girlfriend.

Girlfriend treads dangerously close to a relationship many would see as exploitative, abnormal or abusive. Skirting the edge of common decency, Sneider and Woodward give remarkable performances as the couple. Ultimately, the relationship is consummated. Somehow director Justin Lerner makes the scene almost noble. Almost...Woodward's Candy is a desperate woman not above sleeping with her married landlord to get rent forgiveness and repaying Evan's initial gift by letting him watch her bathe. Only in this context can the film work. If Candy had been financially secure or more principled, the plot would have stalled. Instead, the audience is treated to a complex (if not inevitably painful) relationship between Evan and Candy. Candy isn't all bad. In fact, Evan mentions her simple acknowledgement of him during high school as the source of his feelings towards her. Candy is a woman in a tough situation (likely caused by her unwise decisions). Not cruel by nature, Candy has to survive for her son's sake and it leads to some ethically dubious choices. I really empathized with Evan. I don't have Down Syndrome but the isolating nature of it must be unbearable...especially if you are self-aware and functional like Evan. Although Evan Sneider had the flashier role, Woodward's performance as Candy is what makes the film special.

I can only imagine what the actual filming was like as Sneider's costars must have wondered where film Evan started and real Evan stopped. The strain of the situation seems to have enhanced Sneider's costars' performances.


I was also smitten with The Color Wheel. Perhaps the first mumblecore film I have embraced, The Color Wheel has a provocative ending which I won't reveal here. Like Girlfriend, it comes dangerously close to one of the universal taboos. Up until that point, which surprised me, the film followed to hapless siblings Colin & JR (director Alex Ross Perry & Carlen Altman, respectively) as they take a road trip to retrieve JR's belongings from her recently ex-boyfriend's apartment. Along the way they bicker incessantly. Humorous on film, their nonstop banter would be excruciating in real life. For most of the film, I found their verbal sparring amusing.

Towards the end of the film, they encounter some truly boorish behavior which leads to the final, shocking scene in the film. Without revealing that scene, the film is hard to describe because so much of my memory of the film is packed in that final few minutes. I had no idea what was coming.

What I can say is that Carlen Altman delivers an outstanding performance as JR - vulnerable, sexy & defensive. Altman (who cowrote the script with Perry) seems has the more meaty role. Perry's Colin is a schlub who doesn't seem to aspire to anything more. However, JR craves the approval of her professor/boyfriend, high school "friends" and even her brother. It's this search for validation which propels the film as the siblings pinball from one outrageous situation to another. Colin would have been fine staying at home but is coaxed into going with his sister whom he likes more than their constant bantering would indicate. Actually, their bantering has a certain playfulness to it which hints towards the affection they have for each other.

As I write this, I realize I would like to watch the film again to pick up on the foreshadowing of the final scene. I am in luck as the Roxie has booked The Color Wheel for June 1 to 7. Some (many?) in the audience may find the ending upsetting but afterwards, I thought of it as the only logical conclusion for these two siblings who have been ridiculed by the rest of characters in the film. The cinematography which was 16mm black & white was also noteworthy.


I also liked Casserole Club which, visually, was at the opposite end of the spectrum from The Color Wheel. Casserole Club is set in the late 1960s and full of the colors and fashions of the era. However, Casserole Club covers some of the same ground as The Color Wheel. Five suburban couples meet for dinner once a week. The wives have a casserole cookoff contest amongst themselves. After too much drink (and marijuana or was it pills?), they engage in some in wife swapping.

This unlocks some deep seated desires and subsequent recriminations. These couple had some serious issues - one is a cutter, one is closeted, one is willing to break up two marriages to be with her partner and one seems to be androgynous.

The resulting confusion drives the film to its conclusion. There is even a paradise lost moment when interlopers are invited into the tight knit circle thus unbalancing the social decahedron the couples have formed. What appeared to be a satire of the mod 1960s ends up being a dark commentary on the lives of suburbanites. Appropriately, the most well-adjusted couple is original swinging pair who open the Pandora's Box by introducing the other couples to their lifestyle.


Belgian Bullhead (which was nominated for an Academy Award this year), low budget Sahkanaga and the intriguing Silver Tongues deserve mention for entertaining/intriguing me.

Two German films bored me silly - Still Life about a father who seems to use the services of prostitutes as a surrogate for his daughter and Beside My Brother about two dysfunctional identical twins. Equally underwhelming was an American indie film titled I Like You whose specific plot points escape me a month later. A teenage slacker falls for a girl and I don't recall what keeps them apart. I remember being on the verge of walking out of the screening.

The Disco Exorcist is a faux 1970's exploitation film which got embarrassingly few laughs out of a story which featured disco dancing, porn and exorcisms. The Disco Exorcist didn't exactly bore me but left me wishing for more.

The opening night film, Skater 26, was more of glorified short film. I prefer Hell On Wheels which screened at the 2007 Docfest and covers much of the same ground. Skater 26 did feature the fabulously (stage)named Chantilly Mace.

Snowtown was a very powerful Australian film about a serial killer. I had a hard time understanding the dialog. I chalked it up to the actors thick Aussie accents but someone else suggested it was the sound system in the Little Roxie which only reinforces my contention that it is the worst screening room in the Bay Area.

I was passionately mild about the other features although I could probably be persuaded to upgrade Juko's Time Machine and Kill List to "I kind of liked it."

I was also unimpressed with the short program Beautiful Dreamers which can be summed up as:

Honkytonk Ben - a slightly interesting documentary about a guy who tricks outs pianos.
Dylan - an exploration into the life of an unremarkable Irish teenager.
Boro in the Box - an utterly incomprehensible bio-pic of Walerian Borowczyk; if you ask "Who's he?" you are in the same boat as me. I actually walked out on this film which is a rarity for me. I frequently consider walking out; I rarely do. The plot device they used was to introduce scenes in alphabetical order. I don't know how many letters are in the French alphabet but I walked out after "D" or "E."


That was the 2012 Indiefest - vaguely disappointing and subconsciously fatiguing. I saw 18 programs in 15 days; by the end I wondered if I was burning out on the film festival circuit. Not to my next post will show, Cinequest rejuvenated me.