Monday, February 28, 2011

Movie Musings: Highlights from the San Francisco IndieFest

This was my second year attending the San Francisco Independent Film Festival or SF IndieFest. I saved my money and bought a festival pass even though I'm still unemployed. My goal was to double the number of films I saw last year (total of eight). I succeeded. About halfway through the festival it looked like I might actually reach 20 films but that didn't happen.

The Stats:
Total number of films watched = 16, plus 1 shorts program.
Total number of days = 15.
Total number of parties attended= 0.
Total number of music gigs attended = 0.

I would have attended more parties but the scheduling was out of whack for me and I had to put my dog down during the second week so I decided to focus on watching the films.

Most of the films I saw were very good and two of them were great. I took extensive notes on everything I saw, including the shorts. The cool thing about the IndieFest is you get to see films that are never distributed and you'll never hear about otherwise. Many times the directors and producers are on hand for a question and answer session and because most people don't ask many questions they end up answering at least one of mine.

I'm not going to write extensively about all sixteen films. Instead, I'll write about my top five favorites then about films that I found to be notable.


No. 5 - The Sentimental Engine Slayer
(Dir. Omar Rodriguez-Lopez) (Mexico/United States)
Trailer (

"It's I Ching as in iPod."

Director Omar Rodriguez-Lopez is multi-talented and amazing. He wrote, acted as the main character, directed, scored, and produced this very interesting film. Funny, gritty, and sometimes harrowing, I really enjoyed it. The film is about Barlam, an awkward, withdrawn young man in his early 20s with a penchant for model cougars (the cars, not women). He's carrying on a borderline incestuous relationship with his addict sister and seems to be searching for some kind of grounding in his life. Family friend and boss, Oscar, and his sister's live-in boyfriend, Zack, attempt to provide him with some direction and focus (getting him laid) as they keep telling him to lighten up. The film is not chronologically told, in fact, some scenes loop back on and repeat themselves and there are many fantasy sequences as Barlam switches back and forth between psychopathic rage and helpless doormat. The film had a disjointed storyline but I didn't find it difficult to follow after a while and rather enjoyed trying to figure out what was real and what wasn't.

The music was wonderful (by Omar's own band, The Mars Volta, among others), and the editing was superb. I loved Nomar Rizo as Oscar and Kim Stodel as Zack. Both had the best lines in the film though Barlam's poetic comments in Spanish were lovely.

No. 4 - The Drummond Will
(Dir. Alan Butterworth) (United Kingdom)
Trailer (

"This isn't Cluedo, Danny!"

This was a funny film. Very dry, very British. I overhead someone say as I was leaving the theater that the film owes a lot to Monty Python. There did seem to be a sort of exasperated John Cleese vibe going on as the situation grew worse and worse. Let me backup. Two estranged brothers attend their estranged father's funeral in a small village. The older one, Marcus, is an uptight corporate sell-out; the younger, Danny, is an eternal optimist with no job and no responsibility. They inherit their father's cottage and thinking it's worthless crap find out there's a large bag of money. Their father's "friends" attempt to take the money for themselves and our two bickering brothers do their best to manage the situation as the body count goes up.

I loved this film's gorgeous black and white photography. The cast was small but very good and though our two lead actors are virtual unknowns they did a great job together.

No. 3 - Kaboom
Opening Night Film - (Dir. Gregg Araki) (United States/France)
Trailer (

"That whole stoner thing was just a cover up."

Our young hero, Smith, is attending college pursing a film studies major. Smith is smart, horny, a little unsure of himself, and has stated that his own sexuality is "undeclared" since he likes both guys and girls. When he thinks he witnesses a fellow student's murder while whacked out on some "cookies" at a party, everyone understandably thinks he was having a bad dream or trip. The mystery moves into conspiracy theory mode and takes off running from there. There's a witch thrown in for good measure and some weird guys in animal masks wandering around.

So yeah, this was a kick in the pants. Very funny and silly with some fantastic lines, this film features a cast of beautiful young gay and bi people having a whole lot of sex. Did I mention there's a lot of nudity too? The girls were great especially London, Smith's current fuck buddy, and Smith's best friend, Stella. I think they had the best lines. I loved the way it was shot with super saturated colors, especially the blues. It enhanced the film's gleeful hedonism.

Director Gregg Araki was on hand and very charming. This is his tenth film with his most famous one being Mysterious Skin. Many members of the audience asked him about his past works. I'm going to have to check out his other films now.

No. 2 - The Last Circus
Closing Night Film - (Dir. Alex De La Iglesia) (Spain)
Trailer (

Sergio: Why do you want to be a clown?
Javier: Why are you?
Sergio: Because if I weren't a clown, I'd be a murderer.
Javier: Me too.

First the story: Two men (Sergio and Javier) are fighting over a lushly gorgeous woman (Natalia). That the two men are clowns and Natalia is an acrobat makes the situation even more...strange. The circus itself is full of animals (many of them human), bizarre characters, and great costumes. Also, the film starts out during the Spanish Civil War in 1937 but the main part of the story picks up in 1973. Okay, enough of that.

I loved, LOVED this film and it is my second favorite of the festival. Full of graphic violence and beautiful images, this film might be described as hellish poetry. Our two anti-heroes, with one just barely functioning as the antagonist, both personify the iconic murderous, psychopathic clown with some nifty facial mutilations thrown in for good measure. Magnificently shot and scored along with great sound effects and sets used to enhance the circus atmosphere and the intense violence. The opening title sequence with its ominous percussive pounding and fascinating images was a work of art in itself. Our two lead actors are not handsome men but their faces, particularly their eyes, are expressive even with mutilations. This film is not politically correct, especially with its scenes of abuse and rough sex, and you can't call its humor black more like a nightmare laced with anarchic hysterics. A mad, arresting vision.

No. 1 - The Aristocrat
(Dir. Gregory Croteau)
Trailer (

Marc: Are you at all interested in getting by in this business?
Eddie: Yes!
Marc: Then listen!
Eddie: Because you say so much?

This was a great film, the best of the festival. Marc, a traveling salesman, is training his replacement, the young, brash Eddie, so he can spend a year trying to figure out what he wants to do next. I won't say much more than that because this film is best viewed cold, ice cold if you can manage it. There's this wonderful pleasure in approaching it this way. The feeling that you have found something that's a secret, something you found on your own.

The actors were great. The guy who played Marc had only been acting for three months in his own little one man show. The guy who played Eddie had a little more experience. The dialogue is fascinating because I got the sense they were talking about different things at times, that there were things happening in the undercurrent I didn't understand.

I asked the director after the screening when it was going to come out on DVD. He said he wasn't sure if they were going to release it once they were done with the film festival circuit. I hope they do. It's worth buying and pondering over.

By the way, the director is seeking funding for his short film Remember Your Death. They're seeking $10,000 by March 11th and are well on their way to their goal. I've made a donation myself already and if you're interested in checking it out, see this link here (


As with last year's festival, I saw films that I didn't like as much but were very interesting in other ways. Here's the list:

(Dirs. Corey Abrams, Alex Craig) (Canada)
Trailer (

Young kid Walter Rhum dreams of becoming a pro skate boarder with Machotaildrop, a skateboard company. He's delighted when his video submission is accepted and he's summoned to Machtaildrop where he becomes a spokesperson for the company. Along the way he meets Blair Stanley, a boarder on his way out; the Baron, his boss; Dr. Manfred, who likes to experiment; Sophie, the beautiful librarian, and many fetching costumes. Walter is riding high until things take a dark turn when he finds out what happens to boarders when they can't skate anymore.

Apparently a cult film among skaters, this screening had a sell out crowd of lots of young people with their boards in tow. The story and the film overall was just okay though 18-year old Anthony Amedori as Walter did a great job carrying the film. The best things about it were the skating stunts and the marvelous look and feel of it. The sets (particularly the mansion and its amusement park elements), the highly saturated colors, strange props, weird costumes, odd characters, and quirky music gave the film a kind of carnival, surreal feeling. Very interesting.

R U There
(Dir. David Verbeek) (Taiwan/Netherlands)
Trailer (

A young professional gamer, Jitze, is in Taipei for a gaming competition along with his team. He is focused, disciplined, and aloof. While out for a walk near his hotel he witnesses a fatal accident involving a scooter. The experience shakes him to his core though he won't talk about it with anyone. The subsequent stress affects his shoulder and his ability to focus, causing problems with his gaming. He meets Min Min after seeing her around the hotel, a betelnut girl, sometime masseuse, and possible prostitute, and asks her for a massage. She complies and leaves him her card. Jitze, intrigued by Min Min, goes to her workplace to see her. She mentions when she wants to relax she goes to Second Life. The rest of the film are his attempts to get closer to her in real life and in Second Life.

I liked this film overall but the pacing was uneven: it started off slow, got very interesting, and then the ending was a head scratcher. Still, I liked this movie for its incredible visuals. The scenery and the streets were gorgeous, both of our lead actors were beautiful, and the Second Life and video game sequences were spectacular.

The Trashmaster
Dir. Mathieu Weschler)
Trailer ( (France)

A machinema is a film made entirely with video game engines, in this case Grand Theft Auto IV, but with a completely new storyline, voice actors, and editing. A NYC trash collector moonlights as a vigilante, killing robbers, murders, rapists, and other scum until he appears to meet his match with a particularly twisted serial killer.

Obviously labor intensive and ambitious, I really enjoyed it. Standout sequences include the many shootouts, the chase through the subway tunnels, and, of course, the car chase sequences. The director also made great use of the soundtrack. I've seen similar efforts on Youtube but those are just 2-3 minutes, maybe 10 minutes long. Not a perfect movie, it did seem to drag in a couple of parts, but well worth watching. I was fascinated.

Mr. X
(Dir. Goncalo Galvao Teles) (Portugal)
(Short film = 22 minutes)

This was GORGEOUS! A garbage collector with an unrequited love for a waitress helps an old man standing in front of the trash holding an old camera that no longer works. The garbage collector walks the old man home. While at his apartment, the old man shows him one of his films then gives the camera to the garbage collector. The camera turns out to be magical, capable of creating changes in real life by just saying "lights!" "Wardrobe!" "Take 2!" (for a kiss with the waitress). The scene where he says "Set!" and watches his crummy apartment turn into a completely different room, even the walls change themselves into a different color, is wonderful. This was a magical film and the music was so beautiful I wish I could get a copy of the soundtrack.

Bathing and The Single Girl
(Dir. Christine Elise McCarthy) (United States)
(Short film = 10:52 minutes)
Trailer (

This film is a monologue of a woman in her forties trying to hook up with younger men and she centers her musings around her attempts to get said young men in the bathtub with her. Ms. McCarthy wrote, performed, and directed this gem of a short. Hilarious with gorgeous cinematography of her glamorously dressed up and delivering her monologue in the tub, in a satiny pink robe, while doing stand up dressed like Betty Page, and just looking fabulous all the way around. Her musings were insightful and so goddamn funny that I couldn't stop laughing. A real pleasure.

Overall, it was definitely worth my time to cram as many films into these 15 days as possible though next year I'll completely clear my calendar and try to up my numbers to over 20. There were lots of films I liked just fine but not enough to make it onto this list, and there were about three that I didn't like much at all. With that kind of ratio I'd say I got my money's worth.

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