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The 2024 San Francisco Independent Film Festival is Here!

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The San Francisco Independent Film Festival (hereafter “SF IndieFest”) is back with its 26th edition. Running from February 8-18, 2024 principally at the Roxie Theater and online, this year’s edition features 55 short films and 35 feature films from 15 countries. SF IndieFest offerings may not be the cinematic version of Spring Surprise, but the best of them definitely can’t be called Hollywood Industrial Complex Entertainment Product (TM).  

When you go to an SF IndieFest-related party, remember to hoist a pint for festival programmer Chris Metzler. His 10 years of curating for SF IndieFest have yielded some unique cinematic gems. Here’s to more years of the same.

And now a taste of what to expect at this year’s SF IndieFest:

One of SF IndieFest’s Opening Night Films will appeal to fans of the Coen Brothers classic “Blood Simple,” East Bay filmmaker Shane Atkinson’s dark comic thriller “LaRoy” uses some familiar tropes. When simple hardware store owner Ray Jepsen discovers his beautiful wife Stacy-Lynn has been having an affair, he decides to off himself.  Getting mistaken for a low-rent hitman assigned to kill someone, Ray feels taking the job will help him regain both his self-respect and Stacy-Lynn.  But as things go badly wrong, maybe he should have just killed himself.

The other Opening Night Film happens to be a Sneak Peek.  Mar Novo’s Latino comedy “Sisters” concerns a trio of long-estranged Mexican-American sisters who reunite to complete their beloved grandmother’s pilgrimage through rural Mexico.  But good intentions go only so far when none of the sisters have any hiking experience or even good Wi-Fi reception.  Can the trio reach Talpa de Allende and find their miracles?


Sitting On Chrome,” the title of Shannon Morazov’s documentary short, also happens to be the name of an immersive art exhibition now showing at the SFMOMA through February 19, 2024.  This exhibit from artists Mario Ayala, rafa esparza, and Guadalupe Rosales captures the intersection between lowrider car culture and queer cruising.

 But the trio behind the “Sitting On Chrome” exhibit aren’t the only artist subjects to be seen in SF IndieFest 2024 films.  Malika Zouhali-Worrall’s documentary short “Art21: Tauba Auerbach” is a portrait of an artist who uses craft traditions as a key to understanding mathematical and scientific theories.  Nik Kleverov’s “Klever: Life Of A Soviet Nonconformist Artist” recounts the life of the titular artistic rebel, whose persistent persecution by the Soviet government led to his changing his art style from reactionary to abstract.  Andrea Yu-Chieh Chung’s “Shahzia Sikander: Melting Boundaries” follows the manuscript painter as she creates two sculptures for a public art commission in New York City.  Both of these sculptures try to reimagine the monument as providing collective visibility for the culturally erased feminine spirit.

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ISMAY, the aspiring singer-songwriter subject of Joel Fendelman’s documentary Finding Lucinda,” has decided to leave her isolated family farm to take a road trip across the Southern United States.  She plans to visit the people and places that shaped singer-songwriter Lucinda Williams’ early career.  Charlie Sexton, Mary Gauthier, and Buddy Miller are among the people ISMAY encounters.    

Another tale of leaving familiar rural areas for the great unknown can be found in Mariya Somova’s youth drama “I Want To Live On Mars.”  It’s the story of Pickles and Breezy, two unlikely friends stuck together in exurban Pennsylvania.  They decide to escape their devastated small town in search of “life on Mars.”

On the other hand, Mother the talking sentient kombucha scoby just wants to get to space.  This creature relies on cat coffin maker Darla Peterson to make this dream a reality.  As an incentive, Mother will give mind-blowing orgasms to Darla’s clients to help her pay off her $349,000.22 tax bill.  Those curious to see how things turn out need to make time for Susie Moon and Eric Laplante’s delightfully weird comedy “Darla In Space,” fresh from Slamdance. 

Darla In Space

Falling into the weird but true category is Judy Drosd and Joey Skaggs’ short documentary “Joey Skaggs: The Solomon Project.”  In 1995, the veteran prankster claimed he was Dr. Joseph Bonuso, Ph.D.  Allegedly, he had worked with over 150 computer scientists and attorneys who specialized in artificial technology to develop something that would radically reinvent the entire American judicial system.  What Skaggs developed will amuse those who haven’t drank deeply from the artificial intelligence hype well. 

A real-life rebel is the subject of Adriana Marchione and Kirk Goldberg’s documentary short “I Never Was A Hippie, I Just Looked Like One.”  The film’s subject is 85-year-old painter and San Francisco native Hank Sultan.  Drawing on his self-portraits, this admitted luddite artist reflects on his life with a mixture of wit and sarcasm.

Sharing Sultan’s and Skagg’s irreverent senses of humor are SF IndieFest’s two combinations of screenings and live action events.  The “Big Lebowski Shadow Cast” screening lets lucky viewers watch the Coen Brothers’ classic slacker noir play on the big 4-Star Theater screen while the noted “Rocky Horror Picture Show” troupe The Bawdy Caste performs the film live on stage.  On the other hand, Broke-Ass Stuart co-presents the “Fight Club 25th Anniversary Screening And The Influence of San Francisco’s Cacophony Society” program at the Roxie Theater.  Not only will attendees get to see the classic deranged David Fincher adaptation of Chuck Palahniuk’s titular novel,  but they can witness a pre-screening conversation between Broke-Ass Stuart himself and John Law, co-founder of both the Cacophony Society and Burning Man

How and why did the postwar cultural elite embrace the ideas of Modernism?  The answer can be found in Jason Cohn’s documentary feature “Modernism Inc.” which uses the life and career of iconic architect and designer Eliot Noyes to answer this question.  The architect prospered until the changes of the 1960s challenged the assumptions Noyes operated under.

You’ve often seen stories of teenagers trying to chase their dreams in a tough world.  But how many of those stories come from Kazakhstan?  That’s the country of origin for Abdel Yelyubayev’s “The Boyz.”  It concerns a group of teenagers facing such problems as family troubles and poverty, and their attempts to escape via such means as music or crime.                                                                                                                             

Markus Potter and Jack Dorfman’s “Stalking The Bogeyman” adapts the Outer Critics Circle Award-nominated off-Broadway play of the same name.  It’s the true story of investigative journalist David Holthouse’s plot to kill the man who sexually abused him when he was seven years old. 

Fight Club

The game seen in the beginning of Pijus Macluskis’ short “Naiku” seems semi-innocuous.  Ten hooligans recklessly drive around an abandoned industrial neighborhood in a jeep.  The hooligan sitting on the roof holds a kite.  The sight intrigues passerby Adomas sufficiently that he joins them.  That’s when he soon learns, this isn’t a game as much as a violent tournament.

 Two different sorts of “Conflict” take place in Sasha Dulerayn’s short of the same name.   One involves Magda, who seeks revenge against Stefan for publicly humiliating her younger sister.  The other involves Kremlin claims of a failed NATO assassination plot against Putin.  How do these two narratives intertwine?

Anton Wong’s animated short “Divergence Convergence” looks at the worldwide shock over the start of the war in Ukraine.  The war seemed to be a repudiation of basic human values and how people understood the world.

Narrative Centerpiece “The Feeling That The Time For Doing Something Has Passed” is written by, directed by, and stars Joanna Arnow as a 30-something who feels her life has become stagnant.  Whether it’s a low-level corporate job aimed at making her redundant or a casual BDSM relationship, she’s starting to wonder about her limits regarding relinquishing personal control.

Ruth Leitman’s Documentary Centerpiece “No One Asked You” is an incredibly timely road film.  It follows the cross-country efforts of “The Daily Show” co-creator Lizz Winstead and a team of activists over six years as they support abortion clinic staff and bust stigmas surrounding abortions.  Whether it’s rebuilding vandalized clinics or naming and shaming domestic terrorists, this band of comedians and pop culture icons do what they can to fight the GQP war on abortion.

An iPhone 13 Pro Max was the device Nicholas Anthony used to shoot his feature film “In The Meantime.”  It’s the story of aspiring writer Max, who’s painfully aware that she’s nearing 30 yet everyone except her is catching a break in life.  Is it possible that her mental state or even her sense of time is badly fracturing?

No One Asked You

Arjan Brentjes’ animated short “The Grand Book” is set in a 1920s-style dystopia.  Thanks to an omnipresent system of cameras and projection screens, anything that stands out on the street gets projected for all to see.  This includes the protagonist’s penchant for sleepwalking when she has nightmares.  But could her ability to dream also offer privacy and a place to imagine a different world?

A young girl gets deliberately miseducated by her criminal-minded foster mother in Kerry Muir’s experimental horror short “Madame.”  Get a better idea of the short’s feel by imagining touches of Grimm’s fairy tale, Borges, and even a Warhol version of a Bette Davis melodrama.

Bass legend Cleveland “Cleve” Eaton gets a surreal animated tribute in Kevin Webb’s short “The Odyssey Of Cleve & Mike.”  “Mike” happens to be Mike Watt.  

Meet Elsa Riveros, the subject of Victoria Barbarito’s documentary short “Lengua de Diamante (Diamond Tongue).”  Once a fierce 1980s rock singer who was known as Colombia’s First Lady Of Rock, she’s now trying to reinvent herself in northern Virginia as both a political painter and a mother to a son.

Takashi Yuki’s boxing drama “DitO” concerns an older man chasing his dreams.  That man is Eiji Kamiyama, a Japanese boxer who left his wife and daughter to go to the Philippines to make a professional comeback.  Years pass without Kamiyama achieving that dream.  Then one day Eiji’s daughter Momoko arrives with news that his wife has died.  What sort of relationship can father and daughter have given the passage of years?

The Problem Of The Hero

At the center of Shaun Dozier’s historical drama “The Problem Of The Hero” is an argument between two 20th century literary giants.  It’s March 1941 at New York City’s St. James Theatre.  Richard Wright and Paul Green are arguing over the ending for a play that will be debuting the next day.  While rehearsals for the play continue around the two writers, Orson Welles bears witness to the writers’ argument, which ranges over such subjects as race, politics, and personal story.  Whether Wright and Green will remain friends is uncertain.

One of SF IndieFest’s Closing Night Films is Marc Marriott’s “Tokyo Cowboy.”  Hideki’s company owns a money-losing Montana cattle ranch.  The brash businessman convinces his Tokyo-based bosses that he’s the man to turn the ranch into a profitable operation.  However, Hideki’s original plan, which depended on a Japanese Wagyu beef expert, falls through.  But his options for transforming the ranch into a money maker haven’t run out…    

For those who prefer to close out SF IndieFest on a weirder note, why not try Jessica Hausner’s “Club Zero?”  It’s the story of an international boarding school thrown into turmoil by new teacher Miss Novak (Mia Wasikowska) and her class on “conscious eating.”  At first, the new instructor’s lectures seem aboveboard with their focus on mindless consumption.  But then Miss Novak’s new lectures start sounding disordered and extreme…and the health of her students have started going downhill.  Concern that Miss Novak may be trying to start a cult may already be too late.  The teacher’s busily encouraging her students to work towards qualifying for “Club Zero.”

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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.