Sunday, July 6, 2014

2014 San Francisco Independent Film Festival

The 2014 San Francisco Independent Film Festival (IndieFest) was their Sweet 16.  The festival ran from February 6 to 20.  The opening night film was at the Brava Theater.  The rest of the festival was held at the Roxie.  Actually IndieFest held 8 days of film screenings at the New Parkway in Oakland but all the films I attended were at the Brava or Roxie.

As I mentioned in another post, the Most British Film Festival coincided with IndieFest this year.  I saw 16 films at IndieFest and 12 at the Mostly British.  I don't know if that means I would have seen 28 films at IndieFest if there had been no scheduling conflicts but I would definitely have seen more than 16.  Among the films I missed which I regret were Aldo, Almost Human & Rezeta.

The Congress starring Robin Wright; with Harvey Keitel, John Hamm & Paul Giamatti; directed by Ari Folman; (2013) - Official Website
Doomsdays starring Justin Rice & Leo Fitzpatrick; directed by Eddie Mullins; (2013) - Official Website
Karaoke Girl starring Sa Sittijun; directed by Visra Vichit Vadakan; Thai with subtitles; (2013) - Official Website
Let's Ruin It With Babies starring Kestrin Pantera & Eva Kim; directed by Kestrin Pantera; (2013) - Official Website
Delivery starring Laurel Vail & Danny Barclay; directed by Brian Netto; (2013) - Official Website
You Make Me Feel So Young starring Justine Eister, Zach Weintraub & Kymberly Walden; directed by Zach Weintraub; (2013) - Official Facebook
Grigris starring Souleymane Démé; directed by Mahat-Saleh Haroun; French & Arabic with subtitles; (2013) 
Bluebird starring Amy Morton, John Slattery & Louisa Krause; directed by Lance Edmands; (2013) - Official Website
Hank: 5 Years from the Brink; documentary; directed by Joe Berlinger; (2013)
Teenage; documentary; directed by Matt Wolf; (2013) - Official Website
Bounty Killer starring Christian Pitre; directed by Henry Saine; (2013) - Official Facebook
You'll Be a Man starring Aurelio Cohen & Jules Sagot; directed Benoit Cohen; French with subtitles; (2013) - Official Facebook
The Love Songs of Tiedan starring  Feng Si, Ye Lan, Feng Yun & Li Yuqin; directed by Hao Jie; Mandarin with subtitles; (2012) 
Blue Ruin starring Macon Blair; directed by Jeremy Saulnier; (2013) - Official Website
There is Light starring Maya Koizumi; directed by Yukihiro Toda; Japanese with subtitles; (2013)
Proxy starring Joe Swanberg, Kristina Klebe, Alexa Havins & Alexia Rasmussen; directed by Zach Parker; (2013) - Official Website

A central plot point in Let's Ruin It With Babies was the (RV)IP.  That's a combination of RV and VIP.  The characters in the film tricked out an RV, drove it across the country and stopped at various cities to host pop-up parties.  As I exited the Roxie Theater, the (RV)IP was parked directly in front of the building.  The (RV)IP predates Let's Ruin It With Babies.

Grigris (also spelled GriGris) was Chad's submission for the Best Foreign Language Film at this year's Oscar.  It was not nominated.

There weren't as many short films preceding the main features as in years past.  I only recall seeing one short film.

Here, There; directed by Ichiro Tani; 5 minutes; (2013)

A short film titled Beasts in the Real World was on the program to precede the opening night film but it did not screen.

I thought it was an extremely strong lineup of films at IndieFest this year.  I watched a relatively modest 16 films this year so perhaps I was lucky and caught the cream of the crop.


My favorite film from the festival was Delivery.  I thought the concept was clever.  Delivery is set up as though the audience is watching a faux, unaired reality television series about a couple having their first child. Rachel &  Kyle Massy (Laurel Vail & Danny Barclay) are the expectant parents who literally experience the pregnancy from hell.  Set over several months, the film within a film captures strange and frightening events occurring to Rachael.  It has the look of Satanic possession a la Rosemary's Baby but the film goes into a different direction.  Instead, the viewer is left to decide whether the happenings are paranormal or psychological.  Delivery played it right down the middle to the very last scene which is as shocking & disturbing as anything I've seen on a movie screen in a long time.

Just the fact that Delivery was able to creep me out earns it high praise from me.  I think the fact that the film leaves open the possibility that Rachel is responsible for these strange incidents made the film more disquieting.  I notice the film is now titled Delivery: The Beast Within which is a clever title; is the beast within Rachel's womb or her mind?


The prolific Joe Swanberg's participation in a project typically signals an interesting film.  By IMDB's count, Swanberg has acted in 46 films and television episodes since 2003 and directed 27 during that same period.  Speaking of which, the Roxie is screening Swanberg's latest directorial effort, Happy Christmas, from August 1 to 7.  Happy Christmas premiered at Sundance in January.

Proxy was directed by Zach Parker and Swanberg was one of the lead actors.  It's a twisted film that is a guilty pleasure.  Esther (Alexia Rasmussen) is a very pregnant woman who is attacked on the street in a particularly violent manner.  As result of the attack, Esther miscarries (nice dead fetus scene).  She begins attending a support group and meets  Esther meets and befriends Melanie (Alexa Havins), a woman whose son was killed by a drunk driver.

Later, Esther sees Melanie in a department store.  As she watches, Melanie becomes hysterical and claims that her son has been kidnapped from the store.  While the security guards search for him, Esther witness Melanie go to her car and get her toddler son.  She returns to the store and "finds" her lost child.

Esther has her own secret.  Her attacker is actually Anika (Kristina Klebe), her lesbian lover who has a temper and done time in prison. When Esther invites Melanie, she makes a pass at her which Melanie declines.  Then Esther states she knows the truth about what happened at the department store.  This enrages Melanie who slaps Esther and tells her never to contact her again.

Clearly unstable (like everyone else is in the film), Esther tracks down Melanie at her house.  She observes Melanie, her husband Patrick (Swanberg) and their young son.  She breaks into the house while the three are at home and drowns the boy in the bathtub.  When Melanie discovers what Esther has done, Esther states that now they can be together...just before Patrick shoots her dead with a shotgun.  Having not heard the entire conversation and having no clue about his wife's activities, Patrick assumes that Esther was just a crazy woman; an assumption which is furthered bolstered when the police inform him about the attack which killed her unborn child.

Esther's death puts everyone on edge.  Anika wants revenge, Patrick regret not torturing Esther and Melanie is concerned that her relationship with Esther and ergo her support group lies will come to light.  Without giving away the ending, some people die and some don't.  Actually, the screen fades to black without revealing who (if any) survives.

What I enjoyed most about Proxy is that everyone is a sociopath although I will say that Patrick is the most well adjusted...until his son is murdered by a home intruder.  As I mentioned, Proxy is a guilty pleasure.  It doesn't really say much about a society that could produce these four people.  Parker frames the four as horrible people so there is little chance the audience will sympathize with them.  Instead, it is like watching monsters attack each other with innocent bystanders getting hurt.  The performance are very good although Klebe had difficulty at times expressing Anika's anti-social rage.


More of a straight-up revenge genre film is Blue Ruin.  Dwight (Macon Blair) is a homeless vagrant when the film starts.  We learn that Dwights's parents were murdered several years ago by Wade Cleland who is being released from prison after being convicted for that crime.  Dwight follows Cleland from prison as his family has rented a limousine to celebrate.  He sneaks in by the back door of a roadside bar where the Clelands are celebrating.  He confronts Wade in the men's room and stabs him to death.  Dropping his car keys during the struggle, Dwight is forced to flee in the limousine.

He visits his sister and confesses the crime.  His sister was unaware of murder which indicates the Clelands have not reported the murder to the police and will instead seek revenge.  Concerned for his sister and her family's safety, Dwight lies in wait at her house while she has taken her family out of town.  When the Clelands arrive, he is able to knock one unconscious and kidnap him in the trunk of the limo but not before getting shot by a crossbow in his leg.

Later, Dwight learns from the captured Cleland that Wade Cleland did not murder his father.  In fact, it was Wade's father who was the murderer; his motive being that Dwight's father was having an affair with his wife.  The captured Cleland is able get Dwight's gun and is about to shoot him before Dwight's survivalist friend from high school shoots him dead.

Hoping the feud is over since the body count is two dead on both sides, Dwight reluctantly prepares for a final showdown when the Clelands indicate they have no intention of ending the feud.

Macon Blair delivers a strong performance as Dwight, a man whose life has been ruined twice by murders - first his parents murder sent him into a tailspin and his revenge killing has put his life in jeopardy.  Eve Plumb (Jan from The Brady Bunch) shows up as the matriarch of the Cleland family (the one who affair started the feud).  Dark, humorless and taut, Blue Ruin is a gritty revenge tale.


I was also intrigued with the Japanese film There is Light.  It's a provocative film about a young woman who turns to prostitution to make some money.  Not just any kind of prostitution but she works for an agency that specializes in providing services to handicap individuals.  The film uses handicap non-actors for the roles of the clients.  Far from appealing to those who want to see the grotesque or kinky, There is Light shows a range of personalities which Saori (Maya Koizumi) encounters.  This may sound like The Sessions but it has a darker tone.  Saori has her own secrets and in some ways, she is more emotionally damaged than her clients.  The film is weighed down by Koizumi's lackluster performance and at times, the director seems to have lost control over the non-actors but the semi-documentary feel of much of the film compensates.  There is Light is not a great film but it portends bigger and better films in director Yukihiro Toda's future.


The Congress has an impeccable pedigree.  It premiered at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival and was directed by Ari Folman who also helmed the much acclaimed Waltz with Bashir.  Robin Wright plays Robin Wright, not necessarily herself although there was a scene with large posters of Robin Wright from The Princess Bride and other Robin Wright films.  It's more like the real Robin Wright in an alternate reality.  It's a reality where Wright is offered a large amount of money to sell her digital image in perpetuity.  The condition is that Wright cannot act again.  Wright reluctantly accepts the offer.

The film jumps 20 years in the future where Wright or her digital image is again on the cutting edge of technology which has advanced far enough that people can "become" an digital image and Miramount Studios (portmanteau of Miramax & Paramount) want to work a deal with Wright for people to "become" her.

Before this can happen, Wright is seemingly executed but only to wake up in an animated world.  This is where the film excels.  The literally animated Robin Wright wanders around this animated world consisting of famous people and various animation styles.  The film is visually stunning but difficult to follow the plot.  At this point, I gave up on trying to absorb "the message" of the film and decided to simply enjoy the images.

Harvey Keitel plays Wright's agent and has an impressive monologue.  I recognized Sami Gayle from Detachment (Cinequest 2012) as Wright's daughter.


Doomsdays - a story about a pair of misfits (later joined by a teenage boy & a young woman for awhile) who break into houses while the owners are out and squat/vandalize the homes.  They are bullshit anarchists whose behavior justifies their slacker attitudes and anger management issues.

While watching Doomsdays, I was reminded of the French film Going Places (1974) which I saw at last year's Sacramento French Film Festival.  During the Q&A after the film, the filmmakers mentioned their film was inspired by Going Places.  At the time I saw the film, Doomsdays seemed more meritorious.  Five months later, it doesn't stick in my memory.  Oppositely, some of the scenes from Going Places have remained in my memory after more than a year.

Karaoke Girl - an interesting semi-documentary film about an bar girl in Bangkok whose memories, dreams and fantasies form the basis of the film.  Episodic and skimpy on plot, the film is lightweight but enjoyable fare.

Let's Ruin It With Babies - real life married couple Kestrin Pantera & Jonathan Grubb play Channing & Chaz, a married couple whose shared dream is to start RVIP, a party bus/karaoke hybrid (just like the real life couple).  Chaz wants kids and is unable to go on the road with Channing because he has accepted a full-time job.  She must rely on herself and some flighty friends to tour the country with RVIP and generate some publicity.  This results in some predictable but enjoyable scenes in what is, for most of its time, a road trip movie.  Kestrin Pantera's winning performance lifts this film into tolerable territory but Patrick Daniel as a dishonest mechanic is most memorable.

You Make Me Feel So Young - a mumblecore film about a couple who move to a small town for the boyfriend's job (running a arthouse movie theater!) and how the girlfriend's isolation gives her time to observe the deterioration of her relationship with the man.  I enjoyed this film more than I thought I would.  If I'm not careful, I'm going to become a fan of mumblecore...if they still call it that.  Justine Eister is quietly effective in the lead role.

Grigris is the name of the title character (Souleymane Démé), a man with a paralyzed leg who makes his living on gratuities from dancing.  When his step-father falls ill, Grigris must make more money than he can on the dance floor.  He hooks up with a local gangster who smuggles gasoline.  Grigris runs afoul with he skims the money and takes his girl, a prostitute.  The two are on the run from the gangster and hide out in a small town before a surprise ending.  The plot meanders a little but the performances by Démé & Anaïs Monory as the prostitute are impressive given they are not professional actors.

Bluebird - a school bus driver is distracted and misses a boy sleeping on the bus at the end of the route.  The boy freezes to death in Maine during winter.  The affected parties behave differently - the driver, her husband, her daughter, the boy's mother & the boy's grandmother.  The realities of modern small-town lives are examined through the husband's lumberjack job and the town's reaction to the death.  Bluebird is a festival film in the sense that it is too measured and observed to get a distribution but is also the type of film which makes me glad I have so many festival options available to me.

Hank: 5 Years from the Brink - a documentary about Bush's Treasury Secretary during the financial crisis of 2008.  I didn't learn much which was news to me.

Teenage - a disjointed documentary about the role and behavior of teenagers from the early part of the century with celebrity voice over narration.  I couldn't discern much of theme and the visual were not consistent with the narration.  It left me bored.

Bounty Killer - a late addition to the schedule.  It wasn't nearly gritty or gratuitous enough for my taste.  It was very stylized but the cast lacked the acting skills and the film had a plot which felt padded.  I will admit the final shoot out in a office environment with gangsters dressed as businessmen was inspired.  Kristanna Loken has a memorable supporting role.  It was a midnight movie screening which I wish I had rather gone to sleep.

You'll Be a Man - a young man is hired to be the nanny for an overly protected, shy, young boy.  The two form a quick friendship with the man frequently behaving more immaturely than the boy.  The father thinks the relationship is unhealthy, fires the nanny and the young man kidnaps the boy.  Full of cliches and plot holes, I couldn't get into this film.

The Love Songs of Tiedan - I couldn't follow the plot to this film.  As a boy, Tiedan had a crush on the beauty of the small rural town he lived in.  Now a grown man, the woman returns to town with her three  grown daughters.  Tiedan is a folk singer (Er-ren-tai) who seduces the daughters in successive order.  The plot jumped around and further complicating matters was the fact that the same actress was cast in multiple roles making distinguishing the character difficult.

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