SF IndieFest's reel news
by Erin Blackwell
In the old days, so they tell me, you used to leave Reality behind when you walked through the gilded portals of the local movie theater to indulge in silvery visions of strange people and other worlds. When the movie was over, you'd return to Reality. Things don't feel so clear-cut at the moment. Personally, I'm in a movie I'd like to get up and walk out of, but apparently this is really happening. So you might as well double-down and go see a movie inside a movie, preferably one that blurs the lines between fake and factual. Lucky for you, it's the beginning of February, and the SF IndieFest is again in residence at the Roxie, Alamo Drafthouse, Brava, and 518 Gallery, Feb. 2-16.
Independent films offer alternative visions to the dominant Hollywood version of Americans' place in a world of the unlivable chaos of rival factions. When it's not championing the use of violence for its own sake, Hollywood is ever more desperately clinging to feel-good tropes that were artificial when first adopted 100 years ago, and now are obscene in their disconnect. Independent films provide fresh, provocative glimpses of realities beyond the reach of the world's greatest propaganda machine.
Desire Will Set You Free comes at the ideal moment to revivify a queer movement understandably annoyed by the ascendance of a Republican regime bent on denying the realities of human erotic expression. The original German title, Lust Macht Frei, is a joke on the hideous Hitlerian motto Arbeit Macht Frei, or Work Liberates, sadistically hung over the heads of those entering a concentration camp. Director Yony Leyser, of Israeli and Palestinian descent, stars as an expat American wide-eyed in a pansexual hedonist's Berlin, referencing the heyday of the Weimar Republic.
Leyser's onscreen lover is a Russian hustler. What could be timelier during the current Trump-Putin bromance than a look at how much closer Russians are to Europeans than we are? But you needn't fixate on geopolitical realities when watching all genders variously sucking tongue and other body parts in a Wonderland dotted with past and current queer icons like Nina Hagen, Rosa von Praunheim, Peaches, Rummelsnuff, and Blixa Bargeld. Desire repositions Berlin as the queer capital of the world, reinstating it as the go-to sanctuary city for anyone nauseated by the wehrmacht (war-making) patriarchal paradigm. (Roxie, 1/12, 13)
Dark Seduction was just another black-and-white hardboiled La La Land hommage triggered by Humphrey Bogart's Phillip Marlowe, except it focused on a quest for some deadpan lesbian vampires. After preliminary shooting in 1984, life got in the way and director Greg Travis abandoned the negative, work print, and soundtrack, to pursue other projects. In a heroic feat of reclamation, Travis came to the retrospective rescue of his own unfinished film, overcoming time-based technological obstacles to finally bring his 16mm vision to an audience. Thirty years ago, Hollywood was a very different place. (Roxie, 2/3)
Papagajka, a debut feature by Emma Rozanski set in Sarajevo, lends the formal dignity of theatrical abstraction to the lonely life of a security guard whose reality gets an overhaul by a mysterious stranger. (Roxie, 2/4, 6) Ticket to the Circus , directed by Barbara Troy, is touted as "a younger and gayer Thelma and Louise," a timely concept. (Roxie, 2/4, 5) Fear Itself , that thing FDR told Americans was the only thing to fear, mashes up clips from horror films spanning decades and international boundaries, to locate the essence of dread. (Roxie, 2/10, Alamo 2/14) 2001: While Kubrick Was in Space is a road movie from Argentina inspired by the country's financial meltdown. (Roxie 2/11, Alamo 2/12)
Because this is Indie Fest, film blurs into fact with a number of zany events like the Anti-Valentine's Day Power Ballad Sing-a-long (Roxie, 2/14), The Big Lebowski Live Onstage (Brava, 2/10), Mad Max: Silent Fury with live soundtrack (Roxie, 2/16), the irrepressibly live-commented Super Bowl LI: Men in Tights (Roxie, 2/5), and Princess Bride Bingo , with drinks, bingo cards and fabulous prizes (Roxie, 2/11). The Bad Art Gallery will again be up and running, complete with catalogue notes, libations, and mood music (518 Valencia St., 2/4). On a more reverent note, a hosted reception (2/9 only) posthumously honors local filmmaker Lise Swenson, followed by her last film, Saltwater. (Roxie, 2/9, 11)