For many independent filmmakers, festivals such as SF Indiefest—aka the San Francisco Independent Film Festival–are the only way to bring their works before an audience. For filmgoers, SF Indiefest is the place to see original cinematic works created by directors who want to tell edgy stories which come from their hearts and souls. While some have bemoaned the death of cinema, the curators and filmmakers at SF Indiefest are keeping the craft of film alive.
The 19th Annual SF Indie Fest launches at the Mission’s Brava Theater on February 2 with a screening of Jeff Grace’s “Folk Hero and Funny Guy,” a delightful comedy/drama starring Alex Karpovsky and Wyatt Russell as best buds Paul and Jason. Paul is a stand-up comic who isn’t funny. Jason is a successful singer-songwriter in the James Taylor mode who wants to give his friend a break. Embarking on a tour of small clubs, Jason brings Paul along as his opening act. Their friendship is tested as Paul bombs again and again and ultimately is forced to face to do some serious soul-searching about his career choice.
Karpovsky is wonderful as a sad-faced clown who remains determined to succeed–even though he knows that deep down, he’s terrible at his craft. Paul’s stand-up scenes are hilariously cringe-inducing as he tries–and fails–to make his audience laugh. The actors play off each other beautifully as a seemingly-mismatched pair who share a deep connection only they can understand. Both of them have a lot of growing up to do. Auteur Grace finds the perfect balance between the story’s funny and serious moments. Audiences may find themselves not only laughing at Paul and Jason, but laughing with them.
The Brava screening will be followed by a party at the Mission Cultural Center For Latino Artswhich will include an open bar live music and art.
This year’s festival also pays tribute to San Francisco filmmaker Lise Swenson with the world premiere of her final film, “Saltwater.” Swenson, who lived in Potrero Hill and the Mission, passed away in 2016; she will be honored posthumously with Indie Fest’s Vanguard Award.
“Saltwater” was shot around the Salton Sea, a salt water lake near Palm Springs. It is here that San Francisco bride-to-be Jenny (Sally Clawson) travels in search of her grandmother’s wedding dress. Jenny reunites with Vera (Joan Marie Grant), her eccentric, mentally-ill aunt who is dying of pancreatic cancer. The visit turns into a life-changing event for Jenny, as she learns more about her family and the unusual community she finds in this strange and mysterious aplace.
“Saltwater” is a sad and thought-provoking story about people who’ve been trying to figure out where they belong in the world. Swenson’s camera expertly captures the haunting desolation of the Salton Sea area, which mirrors what the characters are feeling in their hearts. It’s a lovely mood piece, which may inspire viewers to question their own lives. “Saltwater”’s crew were students at City College of San Francisco, where Swenson was a professor.
The festival will also screen Swenson’s “Mission Movie”, an urban drama about San Francisco’s most diverse neighborhood. Shot in English and Spanish—with subtitles in both languages—“Mission Movie” tells five interconnecting stories and features cameos by some of the neighborhood’s well known activists and artists.
Other local filmmakers at SFIF include Richmond District resident Chris Brown, whose film “The Other Kids” follows six teens in their final days of high school. The film is an unscripted hybrid of fiction and non-fiction.
Zachary Shedd, who grew up in the Excelsior District, offers “Americana,” a drama filmed in San Francisco about a substance-abusing film editor who is trying to find out why his movie star sister was shot and killed outside a party for her new film.
Yony Leyser’s “Desire Will Set You Free” is this year’s Centerpiece film. Set in Berlin, “Desire” follows a young American writer who falls for a Russian hustler, who introduces the writer to Berlin’s Queer and underground scenes.
One of Indie Fest’s most memorable LGBT offerings is Michael Curtis Johnson’s “Hunky Dory.” Tomas Pais is sensational as Sidney, a would-be David Bowie who works as drag performer in a Los Angeles dive bar. This evocative, heartfelt story follows one week in Sidney’s aimless life. After his ex leaves their eleven year-old son on his doorstep and skips town, he’s suddenly forced to decide what he wants to be when he grows up:. Edouard Holdener steals many scenes as the wise beyond his years kid who accepts his erstwhile dad at face value.
As the story unfolds, Sidney sleeps with both men and women.. He identifies as neither gay nor bisexual, but rather goes with the flow. He’s a fascinating character who offers a profound look at the rapidly-evolving sexual and gender roles of the 21st Century. “Hunky Dory”– the film is named after Bowie’s 1971 album– stands as one of Indie Fest’s best offerings this year .
“We seek a diverse program in type of films,” Indie Fest founder Jeff Ross told SF Sounds. “We really like the film that doesn’t fit in a category. That’s what looks to me most like an Indie Fest film.”
Ross shared a little bit about how Indie Fest came to be. “The festival was started because I saw that there were a lot of small American independent movies that didn’t have any place to play in San Francisco,” he said. “At the time, the art house theaters were just playing films that already had distribution and there were tons of great movies that didn’t make that cut.”
When Indie Fest began, it was a one-man show, Ross said. “I did everything except design the program guide, including picking the films,” he recalled. “Now I curate the curators. I recruit film pros who I think have the aesthetic that IndieFest is trying to shoot for, and they select the films. The team this year is five people who make sure we have a diverse selection of films.”
Indie Fest is more that just a celebration of cinema. There are parties and all kinds of wildly-fun events, like “Princess Bride” bingo, an anti-Valentine’s Day aing-a-long, and, in the grand tradition of “Rocky Horror,” an interactive staging of “The Big Lebowski,”, performed while the movie plays on screen, which also includes a “Lebowski”-themed costume contest.
There’s also “Super Bowl LI: Men in Tights.” Grab your beers and watch America’s favorite sporting event on the big screen with irreverent commentary and outrageous commercials—it’s an annual Indie Fest tradition.
The parties and special events will undoubtedly be great fun, but first and foremost, SF Indie Fest will remain a celebration of cinema. If you yearn for the days when maverick filmmakers pointed their cameras at a diverse cross-section of humanity, this film festival may be exactly what you’ve been waiting for.
SFIF screenings take place at the
Roxie Theater, Brava Theater, Alamo Drafthouse Cinema and 518 Galley
A full schedule of screenings and events, plus ticket info, can be seen at: sfindie.com/festivals/sf-indiefest/