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The San Francisco 9th Annual Independent Film Festival

The World’s About to Get Brighter

January and February is typically a tough time for the ardent cinemaphile as multiplexes are crammed with typically heavy, dark Oscar frontrunners or garbage that didn’t make the cut last year (Code Name: The Cleaner anyone?). Fortunately, our good friends at IndieFest have assembled a broad and eclectic mélange of films.

Many of these films may never see the light of a multiplex and more than a handful of them are certainly worth the time and money. Listed below are few of the most notable "indies".

Writer/director Anna Biller has assembled a hilarious parody of 70s sexploitation films. Viva revolves around the radical transformation of the bored stiff housewife "Barbi" into the volatile, vampish sex-goddess, Viva. Biller clearly knows this genre QUITE well and it is reflected in every small detail of the film from vapid dialogue, shallow characters, ridiculous furnishings, and everything in between. Viva also does a wonderful job of underscoring just how bizarre and poorly dressed many were in the 70s.Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Stalking Santa
I remember vividly how devastated I was when I discovered Mom and Dad were Santa. It had been a rough year to begin with as I’d learned earlier in the year that the Easter Bunny was a crock as well! Thank god for people like "Dr." Lloyd Darrow (Chris Clark). Dr. Darrow is bound and determined to prove that Santa is no mere myth. A true "Santa-ologist", Dr. Darrow under the umbrella of his research firm, T.E.R.D. (Tangible Evidence Real Discoveries), is close to a smoking gun despite constant ridicule. This witty mockumentary elicits more than a few "ho, ho, ho’s"! Having William Shatner on board as a narrator adds some additional absurdity to the mix. Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Manhattan, Kansas
In a more serious vein, Manhattan, Kansas, is an all too real and authentic documentary. It focuses on the estranged relationship between director Tara Wray and her unstable mother. Wray turns the camera not only on her mother who she hasn’t had substantive contact with for six years but also makes herself vulnerable in the process of trying to gain some clarity on this formative relationship that was never quite what she wanted it to be. Manhattan, Kansas is one of the more powerful, authentic, and moving documentaries I’ve seen in quite some time. Wray has a lot of courage for opening herself up like she does. Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

What compels people to watch horror films? We’re not talking about mainstream, commercial fare like The Hills Have Eyes or The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but extreme, underground stuff like I Piss On Your Grave. Filmmaker and horror aficionado, JT Petty delves deep into the dark and disturbing world of extreme, hardcore horror and finds a few answers and perhaps even more questions in the process. One of the more disturbing discoveries is a filmmaker who releases the S&MAN horror films that involve the stalking and killing of a new woman with each episode. It becomes increasingly unclear if what the filmmaker is releasing is fiction or "snuff". This one isn’t for the faint of heart, but it’s a fascinating journey. Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

The Beach Party at the Threshold of Hell
Writer/director Kevin Wheatley contributes one of the more unique and eccentric flicks in this year’s festival with the post-apocalyptic, epic comedy The Beach Party at the Threshold of Hell. Incorporating various elements from Mad Max, Beach Blanket Bingo, The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai, and a litany of B-horror films, the end result is something arguably unique and entertaining at that! Set in "New America" circa 2097, the few remaining humans are crawling out of their subterranean bomb shelters to inherit what’s left of the earth. Tex Kennedy (yes…he’s a descendant) and his motley crew are bound and determined to unite this fractured nation and take on the spawn of Satan, a giant sea snake, an numerous other freaks along the way. Wheatley taps so many disparate genres, that as a viewer you’re guaranteed to enjoy at least some portion of the film, if not the entirety of it. Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

The San Francisco Independent Film Festival runs from Feb 8 - 20 at the Castro Theater, Roxie Cinema, the Victoria, and the California Theater