SF Indiefest

INDIEFEST '09 Recap

2009

As the San Francisco Independent Film Festival drew to a close yesterday, it bowed out with a final night time showing of Deadgirl, a controversial picture that challenges the audience's idea of sex and the coming-of-age. It's a nice bookmark to its opening night film, Somers Town, which is also about two teenage boys and a girl, but is at the opposite end of the spectrum. In between, we have films that are either full of life or apologetically cynical, completing a journey from the sweet to the depraved.

Here's a recap of the interesting independent films we had the chance to see.

Feb
23
2009
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INDIEFEST '09 REVIEW: "Deadgirl"

deadgirl

Frightening. That’s the best way to describe Deadgirl, an impressive effort by co-directors Marcel Sarmiento and Gadi Harel based on an ingenious script by Trent Haaga that takes an uncomfortably harsh look at gender-sexual dominance. It’s frightening on multiple levels. It's a perennially f--ked up movie.

Yes, it’s another zombie film, but like Let the Right One In’s treatment of vampires, Deadgirl lets the horror emerge not from the ghastly ghoulies but from the dark impulses developed by the uncertainty of growing up. The premise alone is pure brilliance, but where the film takes its teenage characters to is a real revelation of both talent and the male psyche.

Feb
20
2009
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INDIEFEST '09 REVIEW: "I Sell the Dead"

isellthedead

When I first heard that there is a movie called I Sell the Dead, I’d assumed it to be a metaphorical title. Perhaps it’s a psychological thriller about a dying man bargaining his last days; could be a sensitive drama about an EMT’s career guilt; or maybe it’s an allegorical fantasy that examines the link between modern consumerism and the death of the American dream!

But no, it’s just a movie about two guys who sell zombies to mad scientists. Feh.

Feb
18
2009
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INDIEFEST '09 REVIEW: "Skills Like This"

skillslikethis

What if you discover that you were born to steal?

That’s the central premise of Skills Like This, a post-collegiate comedy about finding your place in the world—even if it is criminal. Monty Miranda’s debut film sets itself apart from other noted independent comedies by dropping the indie-cute hip and distances itself from other similar slacker-flicks by infusing a high level of fast-paced rock-and-roll energy. A previous rougher version of the film won the Audience Award at SXSW in 2007, so there's little surprise that its final version is the coolest, funniest movie I saw at this year’s Indiefest.

Feb
17
2009
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INDIEFEST '09 REVIEW: "The 27 Club"

27club

Kurt Cobain. Janis Joplin. Jimi Hendrix. Jim Morrison. Just a select few of the famous musicians who’ve joined The 27 Club. It’s an elusive league, but the only requirement for membership is to die at the age of twenty-seven. Rock stars only, of course.

It’s a club that many musicians often dream of joining, or at least joke about (somehow, this is considered a coveted position). Of course, no one would really commit suicide just because of a number, would they? That in itself is a fascinating mindset to explore, but that’s not what The 27 Club focuses on. The film’s protagonist is the band member left behind, the one who doesn’t become a legendary martyr of rock n’ roll. For the sake of analogy and analogy alone, think of it as the Dave Grohl story immediately following Cobain’s death.

Feb
14
2009
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INDIEFEST '09 INTERVIEW: "The Achievers" Director Eddie Chung

achievers

It's not easy being a spokesperson for a fringe group. While it may not have been his intention, Eddie Chung somewhat inadvertently became one, when he decided to tell the story of the Achievers—a community of hardcore Big Lebowski fans who gather each year to celebrate the Coen Brothers' cult hit—and show the world they exist. It started with a trip to one Festival to get a glimpse of the fandom and evolved into a five-year account.

We caught up with the director of the doc, Eddie Chung, to ask him a few quick questions.

Feb
13
2009
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INDIEFEST '09 REVIEW: "Eugene"

eugene

“You just seem really shy, and sensitive. Have you had a lot of experience with women?”

Eugene is a dark portrait of a man so lonely and miserable that it’s almost hard to believe it’s as watchable as it is. Captivating in a way that reminds you of a natural disaster, Eugene is powered by morbid curiosity, just like its titular main character. Plagued by a sad life, Eugene tries to kill himself more than once in the movie, only to back out at the very last second. Why? He doesn’t have anything to live for—but he’s scared. He can’t rest with the idea of a terrible world that would keep going and not remember he was ever there, even if staying means more pain. Not too far removed from those of us who are too invested in Eugene’s story to turn away before a point of satisfaction, even if we know exactly how his story would eventually crash.

Feb
13
2009
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INDIEFEST '09 REVIEW: "The Achievers: The Story of the Lebowski Fans"

achievers

The San Francisco Independent Film Festival has been running a Big Lebowski party in conjunction with the film festival for six years now (since 2003). It rocks—though it is not the first. Lebowski Fests exist in various cities, all trying to top each other in how big they can go, inviting Big Lebowski fans from all over the country. One of the entries at this year’s Indiefest is The Achievers, a documentary that sheds some light on not just the history of Lebowski Fest, but also the whole unexpected cult phenomenon that rose out of Coen Brothers’ failed Fargo follow-up.

Feb
09
2009
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INDIEFEST '09 REVIEW: "Somers Town"

somerstown

Somers Town is director Shane Meadows’ follow-up to his acclaimed 2007 film This is England (I considered it one of the year’s best), reuniting him with This is England’s young star Thomas Turgoose. The pairing feels so right once it becomes clear that Somers Town is a spiritual sequel, dealing with similar themes of immigration and multiculturalism in modern-day England.

Feb
09
2009
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Fanboys Review

It’s only just that the anticipation for a movie about anticipating Star Wars is almost as highly anticipated by Star Wars fans.

After years of reshoots, a studio wanting changes, and a passionate grassroots effort by fans to keep the original version of the film intact, Fanboys is finally released. Does it live up to the hype? Let’s just say that it’s at least way more satisfying than The Phantom Menace—which is the holy grail in the film’s crusade.

It’s Halloween 1998 and Episode I doesn’t come out for another six months. For a group of Star Wars geeks in Ohio, they see nothing better in their future. The problem is that one of them, the cancer-ridden Linus (Chris Marquette), won’t live to see the release date. So the gang—composed of awkward nerd Windows (Jay Baruchel), hot geek Zoe (Kristen Bell) and Rush-obsessed man-child Hutch (Dan Fogler)—load up a van one weekend to drive all the way to the Bay Area, the site of George Lucas’ Skywalker Ranch. The plan? Break in and steal a rough cut of the film. Along the way, they meet wacky characters, fight a war against Trekkies and revive Linus’ lost friendship with Eric (Sam Huntington), the responsible—but miserable—member of the crew who had traded in his Stormtrooper costume for a suit-and-tie at his dad’s used car lot.

The cancer plot, the cause of all the controversy surrounding the film’s production (The Weinstein Company tried to remove it from the film and the real fanboys revolted), is handled in a remarkably befitting manner. It’s not dwelled on too much for it to hamper the lighthearted tone of the movie, yet it’s not easily dismissed either. It’s effective because it grounds a distant topic like death with such a tangible regret like Star Wars. Not many of us can empathize with having cancer or fully grasp what it’s like to die, but we can all relate to the fear of not being able to live to see something you look forward to more than anything else. So what if for these geeks, that thing is just a movie? Does it really matter what that thing is? Fanboys would lose a big chunk of its heart and sense of camaraderie if it didn’t have this side to it.

The best thing about Fanboys—and for what it strives to be, there is no higher compliment—is that it’s 100% pure Star Wars love. Often times, with these specific topic comedies, the idiosyncrasy of the premise gets dropped in favor of broader jokes (typically of the gas and genitalia variety). Fanboys manages to maintain a constant reference to Star Wars no matter what the situation is, which is rather impressive. It takes familiar episodes of road trip comedies and gives each of them a Star Wars spin. Even the obligatory “peyote in the desert” moment becomes just another opening for Ewok and Sith gags.

No, a keen knowledge of Star Wars trivia isn’t required to find the movie funny, but it does help. While Fanboys inserts moments that are funny in its execution, there’s always a little bone thrown at the true fanboys. It’s comical in itself that George Lucas would force his security guards to dress like androids, but it’s even funnier if you know they’re from THX-1138—and one of them played by Darth Maul himself! Yes, the measure even extends to the burst of cameos involved. Much more enjoyable if you know their repertoire.

It’s a movie made lovingly for Star Wars fanboys and a worthy representation of what’s so great about being a fanboy, without resorting to any self-congratulating or lecturing. Early in the movie, before their rekindling, Linus and Eric fall into their old routine of debating the moral acceptability of Luke kissing Leia. After a heated shouting match, Eric whines, “Come on, man, who cares about this shit?” Pretending to be above the petty fanaticism, though he himself couldn’t help it. “I do!” Linus asserts, pointing to the Star Wars t-shirt he’s wearing; dejected that Eric had to even ask. They part ways, ending on that note.

What else is there to say? That’s how it is when you become a fan of something. Maybe it doesn’t make sense to anyone else, but it doesn’t have to. It’s such a compliment that there’s a movie that understands this feeling and puts it out there. Geek culture doesn’t need to be put on a pedestal—it already wears its merits on its sleeve. It's all about the celebration of it.

Feb
06
2009
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