Running from February 7th to February 20th at the Castro (429 Castro), Roxie (3117 16th), and Victoria (2961 16th) cinemas, the affectionately-named SF Indiefest has grown considerably from its legendary roots, when founder Jeff Ross put on a four-day event in 1998 in order to present his friend Rand Alexander’s film Caged, high and dry without a distributor even after it played to acclaim at Slamdance.
As most film festivals tend to write about all of their offerings as better than sex (and this year SFIndie includes more than 80 films and videos), we’ve assembled a top-ten tipsheet, to help you narrow down your choices. But remember, only you know what YOU like, whether it’s the latest offering featuring cute young adolescents from Gus Van Sant or a documentary about two men attempting to row across the Atlantic.
1. Shotgun Stories, the Festival’s opening night film, concerns a feud between two Arkansas half-brothers after the death of their father. Revenge is definitely neither cold nor sweet. It’s director Jeff Nichol’s first feature, and produced by indie-director fave David Gordon Green. It has played in many other prestigious festivals including Berlin and Tribeca, and won the Fipresci Critic’s Prize for best first film at the Viennale.
2. Fans of bloody, funny horror-film director Stuart Gordon (Re-Animator, From Beyond) are already in line for Stuck, inspired by the true story of a woman who hit a homeless man with her car and left him dying in her windshield while she tried to figure out what to do. Starring Mena Suvari and Stephen Rea.
3. Fans of more heroic women-behind-the-wheel epics might prefer Alligator on the Zipper, a doc about seven women truckers, portrayed as heroic road warriors, independent yet prey to the dangers of the highway (an “alligator on the zipper” is a full-speed blowout, but rougher things lurk on the transcontinental).
4. And, continuing in the celebratory documentary vein, there’s Bomb It, tracking graffiti artists and writers around the world: dozens of stars, from the elder statesmen (Robbie Conal) to the newest, youngest, and hippest, across five continents, from SF to Africa, Lebanon, and Japan. Young, hip, and noisy.
5. Middle-aged, quiet, and compelling is Row Hard No Excuses, also a Slamdance fave and a prizewinner at the Jackson Hole Film Festival, from local filmmaker Luke Wolbach. It’s about two men that, at 51 and 41, are among the oldest competitors (and the sole Americans) attempting to row their way across the Atlantic in the world’s toughest rowing race. If you quit, you must burn your boat!
6. If spending 90 minutes alone with two middle-aged guys is not for you, One Night, a multi-character story featuring more than a dozen attractive actors (including Bill Sage, Christian Campbell, Melissa Leo, and a host of toothsome unknowns), taking place over one night in New York might be more your cup of tea. We’re trying not to reference Scorsese or use the word Altmanesque, but why not? And we’ll throw in E.M. Forster (“only connect”) for good measure.
7. From urban reality to urban hallucinations: the very low-budget horror film Popskull uses movie art and technology (i.e., special effects) to enter you into the psychedelic and seizure-inducing world of a frenetic young pill popper.
8. If you still wanna be scared, but in a supernatural way, AND see the original version long before Dreamworks releases the just-announced re-make, Paranormal Activity has been scaring people the way The Exorcist did a quarter of a century ago – i.e., you’ve been warned! A young couple set up a video camera to find out what’s been haunting the woman since childhood. What they see will give you bad dreams.
9. From the nasty to the sublime: The Pool, an unexpected first narrative feature by documentarian Chris Smith (American Movie), shown at Sundance, is a beautifully-filmed story set in India about an impoverished young hotel employee who becomes obsessed with a beautiful pool and garden hidden behind walls, and the family that arrives to live in its villa.
10. Join exhausted festival-goers at Paranoid Park, Gus Van Sant’s latest, in which a young skater who’s just trying to have fun has his life turned upside down when he’s involved in the accidental killing of a security guard. Van Sant will be in attendance, so you might have a chance to buttonhole him about Milk, which he’s currently filming in SF with Sean Penn as Harvey Milk and Josh Brolin as Dan White.
11. And just because we want to turn it up all the way to 11, we’ll throw in the revival of the charming Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation, a shot-for-shot remake of the 1981 Lucas-Spielberg epic, made by three young boys (starting when they were 12!) over the course of seven years. In true indie tradition, a Paramount movie is now in the works about the making of the film.