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SF’s 25th IndieFest Kicks Off with Weird and Wonderful Films

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Time to pop champagne corks and light up humongous spliffs, San Francisco!  The San Francisco Independent Film Festival (hereafter “SF IndieFest”) returns with its 25th festival of weird, odd, and wonderful films for S.F. filmgoers’ delectation.  From February 2-12, 2023, 95 independent short and feature films from around the Bay and even from around the world will be presented before viewers’ amazed eyes.  In-person attendees can enjoy screenings at the Roxie Theater from February 2-9.  Online viewers have a little extra time to enjoy SF IndieFest as the festival runs from February 2-12.  This year’s program features polyamorous puppets, urban pheasants, an apartheid-era multiracial band, a housekeeper raised by Iranian gypsies, and more!

You can’t say the 25th SF IndieFest starts off boring.  Opening Night Film honors go to Chicory Wees’ documentary “c – The Insider Odyssey Of The Jim Rose Circus Sideshow.”  See what happens when a Seattle dive bar sideshow act goes from relative obscurity to international infamy during a relentless world tour.  On one hand, the regularly sold-out shows entertain eager audiences with horror and humor.  On the other hand, will behind-the-scenes infighting and Rose’s own maniacal behavior cause the troupe to spectacularly implode?  

Circus Of The Scars

In Lauren Greenhall’s erotic psychological thriller “Perfectly Good Moment,” Ruby and David’s eight year on-and-off relationship appears to be on again when she returns into his life.  But the sketchier aspects of their relationship soon erase the initial bliss of reunion.  Is David too controlling?  Is Ruby’s demure behavior hiding something far darker?  And is there anything healthy about a relationship that began when she was 19 and he was 34?

Polyamory may cause the prurient to screech “ick.” But Emily Elizabeth Morus-Jones’ puppet animation short “Diomysus” tests whether that negative reaction is so universal.  Actual members of the polyamory community talk about their experiences via mouse puppets.   Hopefully, this tactic will get viewers to view such relationships far more fairly. 

A special sidebar to this year’s SF IndieFest is “Iranian Women Revolt.”  It’s a quartet of films about the generation of women who grew up in the years after the 1979 Iranian Revolution.  In Faeze Azizkhani’s “The Locust,” penniless scriptwriter Hanieh regrets letting someone else produce her semi-autobiographical script when the actors start judging her as a bastard and a loser.   For the female endurance swimmer in Sahar Mosayebi’s “Orca,” the sport is a means of surviving the political and religious hurdles of everyday life.  The hard-working lead character of Mahnaz Mohammadi’s “Son-Mother” gets a marriage proposal that offers her much-desired financial security…but at the cost of tearing her family apart.  Finally, “Titi,” the titular heroine of Ida Panahandeh’s film, is an eccentric hospital housekeeper who was raised by Iranian gypsies and possesses supernatural powers.  When Titi uses her special abilities to save the life of a theoretical physicist, that act starts a life-changing odyssey.

Sophie Gailbert’s Tribeca Film Festival award-winner “Cherry” dramatizes the tug of war between motherhood and unfulfilled dreams.  The title character is a 25-year-old woman who discovers she’s ten weeks pregnant.  She’s also someone who works at a costume shop, is part of a rollerblading team, has a semi-serious boyfriend, and still lives with her parents.  Obviously, she has some big decisions to make, but at least she’s not living in a GQP-controlled theocracy where her ability to make these critical life choices have been taken away from her.


Jih-E Peng’s abstract documentary short “May We Know Our Own Strength” takes its title from artist Amanda Phingbodhipakklya’s installation of the same name, a piece inspired by the Atlanta spa shootings.  Peng’s film examines the trauma of sexual assault within AAPI communities and a healing process dependent on community and sharing.

Naomi Garcia Pasmanick’s short documentary “Swap Film Co.: Behind The Shutter” offers a look at Emmanuel Blackwell III’s Swap Film Co.  It’s more than just a small film processing business; it’s also a nexus for a supportive community of individualistic San Francisco photographers.

Did you know Chicano soul music collectors are a thing?  Jesus Cruz’ documentary short “Souleros” introduces viewers to a Northern California group of Mexican American soul record collectors dedicated to preserving the musical legacies of lesser known soul artists.

Yehuda Sharim’s documentary short “The Eye Begins In The Hand” may initially begin with a look at the art of forgotten Chicanx artist Ruben A. Sanchez.  But it expands its scope to consider rural Californian campesino histories as well as the terrible choice poorer cultural workers must make between paying rent and pursuing their creative endeavors.

SF IndieFest Centerpiece Film honors go to Rick Charnoski’s drama “Warm Blood.”  The film’s set in 1980s Modesto, California.  Teenage runaway Red returns home to search the streets of the town’s underbelly for her missing father.  Meanwhile, the chemically toxic river polluting Modesto helps add to the general sense of doom and impending disaster.  Incidentally, Red’s nihilistic musings come from a teenage runaway’s real-life diary.

Warm Blood

Mirissa Neff’s documentary feature “This Is National Wake” recounts the story of the 1970s South African rock band which got shut down by the country’s apartheid government.  That’s because the band was founded by a pair of Black brothers from Soweto and a white Johannesburg guitarist.  Fortunately, the group’s performances were recorded on Super 8.

Ryan Worsley’s documentary feature “Stand By For Failure” introduces viewers to the history of Negativland.  This plunderphonics media group takes sounds that they like (e.g. toilets flushing or intercepted cell phone conversation) and turns them into provocative audio works challenging listeners’ understanding of the world.  Unfortunately, one notorious project involving Casey Kasem radio outtakes would lead to the group getting sued by the members of a certain rock band fronted by Bono… 

In Craig Trow’s comedy short “The Manager Position,” Phillip (Jackie Hoffman, “Only Murders In The Building”) has been unable to tell his wife he lost his job five months ago and he hasn’t been successful in finding new employment.  In a moment of desperation, he commandeers the now vacant manager’s desk at his former employer’s office.  But that act unexpectedly opens up new opportunities, as he’s not the only one suffering employment and financial hardship.

What do you do when COVID forces your school to close and remote learning is not a practical option?  In Jordan Matthew Horowitz’ documentary short “Lalito 10,” the viewer finds one Guatemalan teacher’s answer: build a classroom on wheels and bring education directly to his students.

Did you know that pheasants have become the unofficial city birds of Detroit?  Diane Cheklich’s short documentary “Pheasants Of Detroit” tells how ring-necked pheasants thriving in the city’s open spaces have become the human residents’ neighbors and even artists’ muses.

What do you get when you mix an 1870s set Western with parallel worlds?  One answer is Geoff Marslett and Howe Gelb’s animated feature “Quantum Cowboys.”  The Western part of the film is straightforward: drifters Frank and Bruno help Linde recover her stolen land and then search for an elusive frontier musician.  Now toss into this story applications of such quantum physics theories as Schrodinger’s Paradox of Quantum Superposition and Feynman’s Posterior And Anterior Time Wave Theory.  No guarantees on when the viewer’s head will stop spinning.

Chop And Steele

If you’ve ever enjoyed attending the Found Footage Festival, you can thank Wisconsin friends and pranksters Joe Pickett and Nick Prueher.  They founded a festival which turned discarded VHS crap into twisted entertainment.  But as Berndt Mader and Ben Steinbauer’s documentary feature “Chop And Steele” shows, the pair of friends decided to go further with their pranking.  They began posing for regional morning shows as the titular strongmen duo, displaying such feats of strength as wicker basket stomping and bareback stick snapping.  But when a highly unamused media conglomerate decides to sue them, do the two men grow up and get real jobs…or go for a really elaborate prank?  

Dishad Husain’s comic feature debut “Banglatown” gets its title from the name for the heart of London’s Bangladeshi community.  Struggling actor and single dad Rush just wants to keep a roof over his son’s head.  But maybe it wasn’t a good idea to put his acting skills at the service of the local gang to accomplish this goal.  Now that Detective Mirza and the cops are closing in, can Rush find a way to avoid doing jail time?

What happens when you share the name of the world’s most famous alpha male spy?  In Matthew Bauer’s light-hearted documentary “The Other Fellow,” James Bond’s 60th year on international movie screens seems the perfect opportunity for Bauer to travel around the world and see the impact of this screen icon on the real-life men also named James Bond.  The men profiled include a gay New York theatre director and an African-American murder suspect.  And you thought real-life Clark Kents getting hit with Superman jokes was bad…

Rough Edges

Lauren Veen and Ephi Stempler’s documentary short “The Girl That Got Away” takes as its central subject a 64 year old S.F. actor who’s HIV+.  They’ve finally accepted they’re female.  But will they continue to play a cis male both on- and offscreen?

In Ken Kwek’s drama “#LookAtMe,” brothers Sean’s and Ricky’s lives are changed after they witness a religious event capped by an outrageously homophobic sermon.  YouTuber Sean’s video lampooning the minister giving the bigoted sermon earns him prison time for violating Singapore’s really strict laws regarding public expression of sexual matters.  Meanwhile, Ricky becomes an LGBT activist.  But can they make it out alive from the middle of this culture war?

Unlikely to be shown on the Discovery Channel any time soon is Ivete Raquel Lucas and Patrick Xavier Bresnan’s documentary feature “Naked Gardens.”  An unusual American community offers both non-conformist values and a cheap place to live.  But the large nudist gathering coming to the community creates challenges for both community residents and the community as a whole.

Charles Lyons’ locally-based drama “Rough Edges” examines a relationship between a San Francisco technical writer and a San Jose artist.  They hook up at a BDSM club and go from a one-night stand to something more serious.  But how long can they get off on exploring each other’s kinks without showing their emotional vulnerability?  If you catch this film live, there’s an after-party at Cat Club.

Mary Sette’s animated short “Hot Toddy” mixes together ex-BFF teen girls, blood (only some of it from their periods), whodunnits, and the riot grrl music of Slutever. 

Therapy Dogs

Closing out SF IndieFest is Ethan Eng’s synapse-frying “Therapy Dogs.”   Eng and buddy Justin Morrice are Canadian students making a video documentary about their last year in high school.  However, the duo’s version of “living life to the fullest” and “embracing challenges” definitely leans far away from uplifting pablum.  Whether the film resembles a high school comedy directed by Gaspar Noe, the viewer must see for themselves.

While “Therapy Dogs” may mark the end of the SF IndieFest screenings, the real end of this year’s festival is the return of the “Anti-Valentine’s Day ‘80s Power Ballad Sing-A-Long Show!”  This SF IndieFest mainstay understandably got put on hold the last couple of years because of the pandemic.  This year, come back and sing along to the musical genre made for blasting away heartbreak, loneliness, and sickly romantic sentiment: 1980s power ballads.  Get set to rock out to Journey, Guns ‘n’ Roses, Warrant, and more!

Whether you check out one of the SF IndieFest films or events mentioned in the overview or try something that hasn’t been mentioned, rest assured your cinematic experience will definitely not be duplicated at a bland and safe multiplex cinema.

(For further information about the films mentioned above, other films not mentioned, and ordering of advance tickets, go here.)



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Peter Wong

Peter Wong

I've been reviewing films for quite a few years now, principally for the online publication Beyond Chron. My search for unique cinematic experiences and genre dips have taken me everywhere from old S.F. Chinatown movie theaters showing first-run Jackie Chan movies to the chilly slopes of Park City. Movies having cat pron instantly ping my radar.