Like any city with a vibrant social scene and interest in the Arts, San Francisco hosts its fair share of film festivals throughout the year in an attempt to keep up with Austin, Texas. The first to hit screens in 2011 is the SF Independent Film Fest running from Feb 3rd through the 17th at the Roxie Theater. This is the thirteenth SF IndieFest, and 35+ feature films (alongside fifty or so shorts) from around the world will be unspooling their wares before film lovers over the next two weeks.
Being a celebration of independent cinema many of the films may be unfamiliar, but a handful of the movies and filmmakers are festival favorites. Gregg Araki opened the fest with his latest film, Kaboom, and the closing night film is Alex de la Iglesia’s The Last Circus. Some of this years other highlights include Xavier Dolan’s Heartbeats, the ugly dog doc Worst In Show, the GTA IV machinima film The Trashmaster, and more. Check below for a look at some of the more anticipated titles and head over to SF Indie to see the full list of films.
The Aristocrat – Set in 1989, arguably the twilight of the classic traveling salesman, against the backdrop of the crumbling semi-conductor industry. Marc Ward, a traveling salesman with a talent for stained glass art, plans to leave his life on the road and use his savings to fund a year figuring out what to do next. But not before he spends a week training his replacement, a brash young kid named Eddie Kent. This classic tale of grifters will leave you wondering who’s schooling who in the business.
The Beast Pageant – The Beast Pageant is a fantastical, surrealist, musical-buddy-road movie. In the tradition of mavericks like Gilliam, Lynch and Maddin, the journey is anything but typical. Abe is a man in a post-industrial wasteland with a monotonous job kept company by his daydreams and a machine that fulfills all his needs. Things turn strange one day when a miniature parasitic singing cowboy twin bursts from his stomach and the two take to the woods, discovering a world of nude pie bakers, dancing trees, and his primal nature. Shot with a trash-picked Bolex on lovingly crafted sets and peppered with charming stop motion, Pageant is a strange voyage indeed.
The Drummond Will – This homage to the classic British comedies of the 40s and 50s follows estranged brothers Marcus, a straight-laced accountant, and Danny, a charismatic free spirit, as they reunite in rural England to attend their father’s funeral. They inherit their father’s decaying home and are surprised to discover a large sum of money. The brothers encounter the colorful local inhabitants Malcolm the Bastard, Dave the Hobo, the stately Colonel, the kindly uncle and the bumbling Constable Cubbins as the mystery of their father’s unlikely wealth unfolds, and the body count escalates.
Fuerteventura – On Fuerteventura, The Canary Islands, Jesper finds a resort where he can lick his wounds after a personal tragedy in Sweden. Initially, the carefree holiday life seems to be just what he needs, a refuge from angst where he can spend his time surfing and exploring the beautiful island, enjoying his solitude. Soon however, history catches up with Jesper and he falls into a state somewhere between dream and reality. In a blurry haze of alcohol, sex and hallucinations, someone from his past reappears, reminding him of the life he once knew.
Heartbeats – Les Amours imaginaires centres on two fast friends: Marie (Monia Chokri), a supremely confident and sexually aggressive combination of Bette Davis, Carmen Maura and Anna Karina; and the cherubic, acerbic Francis (Dolan), who has managed to manoeuvre through multiple affairs without ever getting too attached. Like the aristocrats of Dangerous Liaisons transported to contemporary Montreal, Marie and Francis spend their time being fabulous, condescending and bitchy. Then, at a dinner with friends, they spot curly-haired Nico (Niels Schneider), whom they simultaneously dismiss and obsess over. Soon, Francis sets up a meeting and the three become inseparable. But the more intimate they get, the more remote and unattainable Nico becomes, sending Francis and Marie’s comic obsession into overdrive.
A Horrible Way To Die – Garrett Turrell is an infamous serial murderer, just escaped from prison. Like an alcoholic called to the bottle, Garrett cannot resist the compulsion to kill and uses his newfound freedom to blaze a path toward his penpal admirers on the outside, leaving a grisly trail of corpses in his wake. Speaking of alcoholics, we meet Sarah in the midst of an AA meeting. Sarah is a new in town, and hoping to forget her troubled past. Seeking to meet new people, she takes a chance with Kevin, a fellow former addict. Awkwardly charming, Sarah and Kevin seem to fumble toward an unlikely romance while Sarah’s sketchy past threatens to derail all she’s hoped to escape.
Je T’aime I Love You Terminal – Ben, an ambivalent young musician, decides to finally take control of his life, move out of his parents’ house and marry his American girlfriend. On his way to reunite with her in New York, he meets the flirtatious, outrageous, and somewhat dysfunctional Emma. After missing their connecting flights to the United States, the two spend 24 hours together exploring life, love, relationships and Prague. Recalling Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise, this delightful, romantic, and honest film may change your mind about flying coach.
Kaboom – Smith has sexual fantasies about everything that moves, while trying to be a good boy. His best gal pal, Stella, is sleeping with the beautiful London. Like Smith, she also has the hots for Thor, a moronic surfer who’s learning to fellate himself. One day, Smith eats some potent pot cookies and everything falls apart. He witnesses the murder of a gorgeous girl he dreamed about a few nights earlier. He embarks on a sweeping investigation, tinged with juvenile paranoia, to solve the mystery. What if the fate of humanity depends on what Smith finds out?
The Last Circus – In 1937 Spain, a motley bunch of travelling circus performers is press-ganged into fighting the fascist enemy. On the barricades, a demented clown puts his machete-wielding talents to good use. He’s later thrown in prison, where he dies. Cut to 1973 when his son now dons the red nose and picks up the weapons. After signing on with a circus, he becomes the target of another clown-a violent drunk. Something has to give, especially since both of these ill-tempered jokesters are in love with the same woman: a beautiful young trapeze artist with a taste for S&M. Let the show begin…
A Little Help – In the whitewashed suburbs of Long Island, Laura Pehlke (Jenna Fischer) and Bob Pehlke (Chris O’Donnell) are trapped in a loveless marriage as they struggle with the pervasive tension in the summer following 9/11. When tragedy strikes, Laura finds herself entangled in a series of bizarre lies in order to take care of herself and her 12-year-old son. Featuring pitch-perfect performances and a soundtrack by Jakob Dylan, this compelling dark comedy is achingly sad, warmly touching and surprisingly funny.
Machete Maidens Unleashed – If there was ever such a thing as exploitation cinema nirvana, it probably came to realization during the 70s and early 80s in the Philippines. Documentarian Mark Hartley, already having documented the lesser respected genre offerings of his native Australia with Not Quite Hollywood, trains his eye to the northto a place where not only labor, but expertise, materials and even government assistance (thanks to dictator Ferdinand Marcos) came cheap and helped craft not only some of the most notorious examples of American cinema at the time (Mad Doctor of Blood Island, for example), but also the most lauded (Coppola’s Apocalypse Now is also a product of this system).
Machotaildrop – Billboards, airplane-towed banners and the videogame young Walter Rhum plays every day at the bakery/skate shop he works at trumpet the notion that the widely worshipped skateboard company Machotaildrop is, in a word, “glorious.” Walter wants nothing else in his boring suburban life than to earn a place among the top riders, like the haughty and heroic Blair Stanley. Dreams do come true, kidsafter he mails in his carefully assembled demo video, an elegantly handwritten invitation from the Baron himself arrives and Walter is soon whisked off to Machotaildrop’s hidden headquarters, an opulent chateau where Walter is feted as the next big thing in skating. But is this really a dream come true, or a nightmare about to unfold? What exactly motivates this charming yet perplexing Baron and his strange attendants? What are his plans vis-a-vis the Manwolfs, a pack of feral skater miscreants Walter discovers in an abandoned amusement park? Why is Walter’s idol, Blair Stanley, so foul-humoured all the time? And what is truly happening in the cavernous bowels of the Machotaildrop compound?
Nude Nuns With Big Guns – Nunsploitation. The fact that such a thing exists may surprise all but the most rabid film geeks. It exists. While maybe not as well-known as Blaxploitation, or women-in-prison films, it probably achieves the same amount of recognition as other sub-genres of exploitation cinema such as Naziploitation. In Nude Nuns With Big Guns, director Joseph Guzman pushes the already questionable boundaries of taste associated with the genre into a realm that god himself dare not tread. Sister Sarah, kidnapped by the ruthless motorcycle gang Los Muertos, is held captive as slave labor in their brothel, all the while drugged into submission. Following a brutal attack, Sr. Sarah manages to escape and exact revenge on all who have wronged her. In doing so, she discovers a conspiracy that leads right up to the hierarchy of the church. Guzman and company, having already proven themselves capable of recreating the look and feel of a classic grindhouse movie with their previous film Run Bitch Run!, hold nothing sacred here. The boobs and the blood fly early on and show no sign of abating as the ridiculous narrative hurtles forward. The title says it all: Nude Nuns With Big Guns. Don’t say you didn’t get what you came for.
Seed Of Chucky – And you prepared for when Chucky meets Peaches Christ? Peaches wants you to give a warm, San Francisco Valentine’s Day welcome to the Bride of Chucky herself, Jennifer Tilly, and the creator of the Child’s Play series, Don Mancini, with a special Seed Of Chucky film event that includes an on-stage conversation with these special guests! Musical numbers and a Killer Costume contest! The fun begins at 8pm, Feb 12 at the Victoria Theatre. Tickets are $20 ($17 if you register at www.peacheschrist.com).
Special Treatment – Isabelle Huppert as you’ve never seen her before? That’s certainly true, as in Special Treatment she plays Alice Bergerac, an upmarket prostitute with a speciality for dressing-up, a coolly detached take on life, and a penchant for acquiring antique collectables. But this is also possibly the closest Huppert has come to offering an overt commentary on her own career as actor: what does it mean to trade personas for a profession, and what happens when all the masks are off? Stylish but pithy, the elegantly shot Special Treatment is a rich, witty and sophisticated comedy with brains from veteran writer-director Jeanne Labrune.
The Trashmaster – Machinimas are films made using video game engines, and The Trashmaster is one of the finest and most ambitious in its class. Created entirely with images from the video game Grand Theft Auto IV, this cross between Dirty Harry, Taxi Driver and Seven follows a NYC garbage collector-turned-vigilante as he finds himself on the trail of a particularly twisted serial killer. This first feature by Mathieu Weschler is the fruit of hours and hours of solitary labour, proving once again that imagination, not money, is what counts.
We Are What We Are – Papa’s never brought anything but misery to his wife and three kids. His inability to pay off his debts has led to the loss of their stall at the local market, the family’s only source of revenue. When his two sons break the news to their mom, she explodes with anger. But on the part of her incompetent husband, it’s really nothing new. After all, the only thing the loser ever seems to do right is bringing prostitutes home. In that respect, things are the same as ever, despite the financial collapse hanging over the whole family’s heads. But further news, brought home by the youngest of the brood, proves that big changes are afoot. From here on, things will be very different. Because today, dad has died. It’s truly a catastrophe because for all his flaws, he’s the one who kept his kin alive. If he came home with hookers, it wasn’t to get his jollies but to feed his family. He was the backbone of a clan of cannibals that survives by devouring human flesh during exacting, esoteric rituals. Someone must now take his place as the master of ceremonies. The task falls to the first-born Alfredo, who’s less that enthusiastic about donning his dad’s mantle. He and his brother must scour the streets in search of a new victim, avoiding the corrupt cops investigating a series of sordid killings. Night is falling over Mexico, and the hunt is on.
Worst In Show – Award winning documentary filmmakers John Beck and Don R. Lewis are at it again as they cast their camera on the competitors in the annual “Worlds Ugliest Dog Contest” which takes place each summer in Petaluma, CA. Last years “Ugliest Dog Contest” featured a major upset as a rescue dog named Pabst upset Rascal, a crazy looking pooch that may very well hold the record for most ugly dog contests won ever. This year Pabst and Rascal are back for a rematch!