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6th Annual SF IndieFest

Over the last couple of years, independent film has taken a leap into the public spotlight. The box office success of films like My Big Fat Greek Wedding and Bend It Like Beckham firmly established the economic viability of independent film, forcing studios to scour the festival circuit in search of the next surprise hit. These days, paying exorbitant sums of money for the distribution rights of movies such as Pieces of April ($4 million) and Garden State ($5 million), unheard of a decade ago, has become quite routine.

While the financial possibilities of independent film should excite aspiring filmmakers, it also threatens to bastardize independent film by adulterating the very thing that has differentiated it from its mainstream counterparts: independence. From the first edition of the festival to its fifth last year, the San Francisco Independent Film Festival, otherwise known as IndieFest, tripled its attending audience by satisfying the public's thirst for pictures that stretched the boundaries of what film covered. So with its own increasing popularity in addition to the economic explosion of indie films, will IndieFest be able to maintain its independent roots? Well, with Takashi Miike's (Audition Gozu), replete with a lactating hotelier and a drooling minotaur, and Whole, a documentary on individuals who long for amputation, the answer is clear. Now in its sixth year, this year's festival covers every genre from horror to romantic comedy, with a special emphasis on Japanese film. With something to appeal to every type of moviegoer, it seems inevitable that this showcase of independent film will continue to grow.

Opening Night - Break A Leg
Any movie that highlights the idiocy of Hollywood deserves a measure of commendation. John Cassini, too short and wrinkled by Hollywood's standards, plays Max Matteo, a struggling actor with the talent but not the good fortune to make it as an actor. Frustrated by his string of bad luck, he decides to take the initiative for getting a "break" into his own hands. The story itself is straightforward as we follow an actor willing to use any means necessary to achieve his goals. Break, like all good black comedies, somehow transforms what should be offensive and disgusting into lighthearted humor. Normally, no one cheers for violent psychotics, but when he's giving Hollywood their just desserts, an exception is made. Cleverly written, Break A Leg balances the elements of melodrama and inanity perfectly.

Closing Night - interMission
Somewhere below the cursing, police brutality, and sexual dysfunction lies a story about love in modern day Dublin. However, just because love is the central theme doesn't mean that this is Sleepless in Seattle with thick Irish accents. According to this film, love may be the most important part of one's life but that fact is more a curse than a blessing. People from the UK have developed such a flair for argot that even their mundane everyday conversations sound interesting. In fact, interMission's colorful dialogue makes it the rare film that would be nearly as enjoyable as a radio broadcast. And contrary to the popular belief of adoring women everywhere, Colin Ferrell is better playing a scumbag than a charmer.

The Duel Project - 2LDK v. Aragami
Everybody loves the idea of a mano a mano showdown, and the Duel Project is exactly that. Conceived over cocktails at a German film festival, directors Yukihiko Tsutsumi and Ryuhei Kitamura each contracted to create a film about two characters' battle to the death. Tsutsumi's 2LDK sets his showdown in a luxurious Tokyo apartment, where Nozomi, an anal-retentive girl from a small rural town, battles Lana, a worldly and materialistic big city girl, for a single lead in a film and the affections of the same man. Transforming various household wares into implements of death, their war continually escalates, each attack bloodier and more vicious than the last. Aragami follows a wounded samurai who takes refuge from a storm at a mysterious and secluded temple in the mountains of Japan. However, when the hospitable master of the house reveals that he may actually be Tengu, a demon rumored to have roamed the hills for centuries, cutting down all that have challenged him, the samurai realizes that he may have been saved only to present a challenge for the powerful beast. What follows is a beautifully captured, twenty-minute joust of swords that combines graceful acrobatics with ingenious lighting into a scene both exciting and artistic. I think it is clear which side I believe emerged victorious.

Echelon: The Secret Power
An informative, albeit, somewhat one-sided look into the awesome capabilities that governments have to monitor the activities of their own citizens. Using interception towers, communications involving the use of telephones, cellular phones and computers can all be recorded and sent to computers for processing. Echelon, the largest known network of interception towers, is controlled by the United States, Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand and Canada. This documentary provides a glimpse at the power that information holds in this technological age and the slew of illegal activities that it makes possible. For conspiracy theorists, this film will reinforce what they have known for years to be true. For those who think that the issue of personal privacy is overblown, this film will force a reconsideration of that position.

Perhaps amputation is simply a rare branch of cosmetic surgery. As preposterous as it sounds, watching Whole will lend some credence to that claim. This documentary peeks into the lives and minds of a small segment of the population with an unthinkable obsession: to become an amputee. Imagining individuals with this compulsion, one would think them to be psychotic, deranged souls, yet most have lived normal lives as inconspicuous as yours or mine. Their ability to speak about their condition so plainly and rationally catches you completely unprepared. Certainly, Whole proves that the world is large enough for any and all kinds.

Running on Karma
If ever a film exemplified the idea of two steps forward, one step back, Running is it. With its stylish shooting and graceful martial arts choreography, it quickly illustrates many of the best characteristics of Hong Kong cinema. Unfortunately, it also succumbs to the maudlin romantic interludes set to sentimental pop music that sometimes plague Asian films. This does not mean that this creative tale composed of equal parts Buddhist philosophy, romance and action isn't an enjoyable ride, because it is. However, in their effort to craft an ending that elevates the film's stature, directors Johnny To and Wai Ka Fai seem to have caught Matrix Sequel Syndrome, a rare affliction that causes filmmakers to mistake incoherence for profound insight.