SF IndieFest Comes to the East Bay: Films, Parties and Beyond

Preview by Gar Smith
Wednesday January 28, 2015 - 09:51:00 PM

It's time load up on popcorn, pour some White Russians and get ready for the 17th installment of San Francisco's Independent Film Festival, a 15-day romp of screenings and frivolity that will occupy three venues on both sides of the Bay from February 5-19.

SF IndieFest began in 1998 as a four-day event with only 20 films scheduled. But when 3,000 people showed up, SFIF founder Jeff Ross realized he had filled a niche. "Here we are, 17 years later, with 65 films from around the world," Ross proudly notes. "But the goal is the same: provide our audiences with strong, innovative, challenging yet entertaining cinema. Oh, and parties. We like to throw parties."

SFIFF's Opening Night selection showcases Hits, a "dark comedy" from writer-director David Cross (Arrested Development's Tobias Fünke), which screens at the Brava Theater (2781 24th at York) at 7:30—followed by a party. 

The Other Barrio: Murder and Corruption in the Mission District 


The Centerpiece Film is The Other Barrio, set for a 7PM screening at the Brava on February 8. A film adaptation of a story by SF Poet Laureate Alejandro Murguia, Barrio was filmed in the City's Latino Mission District and depicts a neighborhood struggling with gentrification and evictions. A fatal hotel fire prompts a Latino housing inspector to uncover "a web of bribery, corruption and murder" that leads to "powerful real estate interests and City Hall." (Odds are, you won't see Mayor Ed Lee performing a cameo in this film.) After closing credits, another party! This time with drinks and music from Dr. Loco and The Other Barrio Band. 

The Kingdom of Women Turns Men into Servants 

IndeFest concludes with Riad Sattouff's Jacky in the Kingdom of Women, one of the weirdest films you'll ever see. (Word is, it won't be screened commercially anywhere else in the US.) This was the only film screened for Bay Area film critics. 

Jacky is a wacky French gender-farce set in the fictitious People's Democratic Republic of Bubunne, an insular nation where the women wear the pants—and the boots and guns—and villages of insecure girly-men tend to their every needs. mincing about covered in orange veils and full-body chadors. 

The Kingdom is ruled by a Supreme Leader who is about to transfer authority to her daughter, the Colonelle (Charlotte Gainsbourg) who must choose which young man will become her doting consort. Jacky (Vincent Lacoste), a village pretty-boy forced to suffer the unwanted sexual advances thrust upon him by Bubunne's lecherous young women, dreams of "going to the ball" and being chosen by the Colonelle. 

The gender-twisting premise pays off in a scene where Jacky tries to slip off to the ball disguised in an army uniform. As he tries to sneak out of his room, another member of the family reels back in shock and asks: "Why are you dressed as a woman?!" 

Imagine Cinderella as it might have been staged by the Charlie Hebdo crew. (In its attempt to satirize male-dominated Western societies, Jacky gratuitously equates the oppression of Bubunne's men with the treatment of women in strict Muslim societies—an unfortunate choice, especially in light of the recent murders in Paris.) 

Instead of worshiping ethereal gods or long-dead religious leaders, Bubunne's giggling gaggles believe in the power of the Holy Horses. Village ponies (aka "horsums") are treated with the reverence accorded to cows in the streets of India. 

The villagers are neither meat-eaters nor vegetarians. Instead, they subsist on a diet of state-supplied "mush" that gushes from large pipes. The housebound men required to properly mash the mush to satisfy the demands of the women who rule their lives. Vegetables are verboten, a fact that feeds a lucrative black market. Ironically, the cash the elites pay the vegetable smugglers winds up financing an insurgent force of manly rebels intent on toppling the Bubunne regime. 

It's all very arcane and silly. Right up to the final scene, which includes an X-rated "reveal" that takes gender-bending in a new direction. A happy ending? Well, not if one is to judge from the film's final word—uttered by a screaming orange-veiled villager. 


IndieFest East 

While you'll have to go to San Francisco to see all of the SFIF entries, there are 12 independent offerings that will be screened in the East Bay at Oakland's Humanist Hall (390 27th Street at Telegraph). They are: 

Black Mountain Side, a chilling, claustrophobic fright-romp set in a snowbound mountain cabin. 

East Side Sushi examines the life of a single mother whose family life raft is a simple sidewalk food cart. 

Free, a jarring and jubilant, fast-paced doc about a pack of Oakland teens who overcome poverty, sexual abuse and gang violence through the exercise of free-form street dance. 

F R E E - Official Trailer from Mill Valley Film Festival on Vimeo


Sex and Broadcasting tells the real-life story of WFMU, a hardscrabble "People's Radio Station" trying to survive in post-recession New Jersey. 

They Look Like People throws its protagonists into a dystopian world of shape-shifters. (This is the West Coast premiere for local filmmaker Perry Blackshear.) 

Violet is a tense and brutal Scandinavian film about the mid-teen tribe of BMX riders faced with the sudden-death of a young friend. 

The Voice of the Voiceless is a powerful, silent film that draws the audience into the world of Olga, a deaf teenager from Central America who finds herself in New York City, unexpectedly trapped inside the world of human trafficking. 

Young Bodies Heal Quickly sends two fugitive brothers on a roadtrip to escape the police only to wind up in the care of their estranged forest-dwelling father, who is still trying to escape his own demons—the memories of his service in Vietnam. 

Finally, IndieFest offers a collection of Film School Gems, an eclectic KQED-curated collection of shorts that run the gamut from comedies to thrillers to documentaries. 

Screenings in San Francisco 


Some of the highlights of the films showing only on screens across the Bay include: 

The Cult of JT LeRoy (the unmasking of a masterful Bay Area-based literary hoax); The Search for Weng Weng (a documentary about a 33-inch-tall Filipino actor who improbably became an action hero in a James-Bond-inspired film called For Your Height Only—which will also screen during IndieFest); I Am a Knife with Legs (a rock star pursued by an assassin hides out in LA to await his fate); and Beyond Clueless (a tour through the tribulations of teen-hood—in the form of a mad-cap mash-up of 200 classic coming-of-age films). 


And, of course, the Parties 

IndieFest is renowned for its traditional sideline events. The festivities kick off on February 1 with a mock-celebration of an actual kick-off—Superbowl: Men in Tights screens the classic football contest live at the Roxie (117 16th at Valencia) while a band of SF comics improvise "hilarious and probably inaccurate play-by-play" commentary. 

The February 5 Opening Night screening of Hits at the Brava Theater will be followed by musical offerings from the Conspiracy of Beards and The Jerk Church Tabernacle Choir. 

The annual Roller Disco Costume Party is set to roll on Friday, February 6. 

The 12th Annual Big Lebowski Party relocates to the refurbished Grand Theater (2665 Mission Street) on February 7. (What goes down at the BLP? Here are some clues: "Costume Contest, Beach Bonfire Trampoline, Volleyball Action, Mini-Bowling, Flying Carpets, Nihilists, White Russians and the Coen Brothers' classic film all night long.") 

The IndieFest Bad Art Gallery reinhabits the 518 Valencia Gallery beginning February 8. 

On February 14, the Anti-Valentines Day 80s Power Ballad Sing-a-Long—an antidote guaranteed to chase away the aroma of flowery tributes and the taste of chocolates. 

And, new this year: A Kickstarter Cage Match that pits local filmmakers against one another before a panel of pitiless judges in an attempt to win approval and financing for their independent film projects. ("Elevator pitch meets American Idol.") 

Just the Tickets 

Regular admission to screenings is $12. Opening night screening is $20 (includes after-party). The Centerpiece Film at the Brava is $12. Admission to all the parties is $10—except for the Power Ballad Sing-a-Long, which goes for $15. 

An IndiePass to all 12 East Bay screenings can be had for $60 ($25 if you are under 21). IndiePasses can be purchased through sfindie.com and at (415) 820-3907. SFIF recommends arriving 15 minutes early "to assure seating."