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The 8th Annual San Francisco Independent Film Festival

Where Have All the Indies Gone?

With the Sundance Film Festival having evolved into a venue for A-listers slumming it in smaller, "edgier" films, many true independent films have been squeezed out of this formerly independent film festival to festivals such as the Slamdance Film Festival (the redheaded stepchild of Sundance). Fortunately, the independent spirit is still alive and well in San Francisco as the 8th Annual San Francisco Independent Film Festival kicks off.

While independent doesn't necessarily always connote "better", the majority of the films at the very least explore material that is seldom seen at the multiplex. Some of the acting may not be stellar, some of the editing may be choppy, but unarguably all of the films and filmmakers represented deserve respect for their efforts.

Features

A/K/A Tommy Chong

This fascinating documentary examines the bizarre incident involving the arrest of Tommy Chong (of the "Cheech and Chong" films) for the manufacturing of bongs. Chong would ultimately serve nine months in prison for this heinous and vile act. Director Josh Gilbert paints an illuminating portrait of the counterculture comedian and does a fairly convincing job of skewering Attorney General John Ashcroft for his crusade against drug paraphernalia that somehow in some vague, cryptic, loosely connected way is helping to stop terrorism. I'm of the mind that Bin Laden might be a bit kinder and gentler if he had a few bong hits.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Fuck

In a similar vein, director Steve Anderson explores the origins, misconceptions, usages, and conflagrations that have grown around one of the world's favorite expletives. How is it that the FCC can allow Saving Private Ryan to be broadcast on network television unedited (the film is rife with "F" bombs), but an actor can't give someone the finger on "NYPD BLUE"? What the fuck? Beneath Anderson's tongue in cheek exploration are some pretty serious questions about our constitutional rights. In an era where something construed as "unpatriotic" can land you in the clink, uttering the word "Fuck" suddenly takes on a whole new meaning.
Rating: 3.75 out of 5 stars


Filmic Achievement

From the documentary to the mockumentary, Filmic Achievement was clearly inspired by Spinal Tap and Waiting for Guffman. Kevin Kerwin's mock is hysterical! Several inept and bizarre film students jockey for the illustrious "Filmic Achievement" award at the thinly veiled "UNY" film school. These underachieving hacks are guided by a blustering buffoon who has smoked too much celluloid and a self important new age freak who encourages the students to "fill the ego bowl" before they commence class. These self-absorbed and self-important filmies couldn't film their way out of a cardboard box, but it's great fun watching them try.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars


Sidekick

Far from underachieving, director Blake Van De Graaf spins an entertaining yarn about the oft maligned and oft overlooked sidekick. Certainly Spiderman, Batman, and every superhero worth his snuff has a quality sidekick who enables the hero to truly be heroic. Enter comic fanboy, Norman who unintentionally stumbles onto his slick colleague's secret telekinetic powers and begins a journey to explore the length of Victor Ventura's (aka-Victoryman) powers. But, what happens when a superhero has no interest in being heroic? Van De Graff puts an interesting and entertaining twist on the superhero genre that has become all too predictable.
Rating: 3.75 out of 5 stars

Pirates of the Great Salt Lake

Director E.R. Nelson's spoof of the "pirate" genre would seem to be a bit before its time as Hollywood has technically released only one pirate film in recent memory, Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl. However, with two Johnny Depp sequels queued up in the Hollywood pipeline, Nelson's Pirates of the Great Salt Lake perhaps couldn't have been timelier. Two twenty something losers cross paths and opt for a life of pillaging and plundering the Great Salt Lake. Fortunately, they don't have too much competition. Conveniently, a treasure map falls into their laps giving them reason to seek some booty (not that kind!). What unfolds is an absurd journey filled with ghosts, curses, and all manner of pirate fun.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Short, but Sweet

For those with more abbreviated attention spans, a few shorts are worth taking in:

Twitch

Leah Meyerhoff explores some interesting and complex territory in Twitch. A young woman burdened by her mother's crippling ailment begins to develop the hypochodriacal belief that she is contracting her mother's disease. Obsessive bathing does little to abate her fears as she is forced to deal with her issues. Twitch precedes screenings of the feature Year.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Panty Girls

A bizarre, feminist comedy involving a panty shop, a rivalry with some deadbeat perverts, and giant squid rounds out Panty Girls. One has to wonder if we're seeing the second coming of John Waters with Gregory Schaefer's latest. Panties, Perverts, and Cupcake may be the new power troika of film.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

The San Francisco Independent Film Festival runs from Feb.2-14 at the Castro Theater, Roxie Cinema, and the Women's Building in San Francisco, CA.