Declarations of independence

  • by David Lamble
  • Friday January 25, 2019
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Theo Cholbi in Dennis Cooper and Zac Farley's "Permanent Green Light." Photo: Altered Innocence
Theo Cholbi in Dennis Cooper and Zac Farley's "Permanent Green Light." Photo: Altered Innocence

The 2019 San Francisco Independent Film Festival (SF IndieFest) returns (Jan. 30-Feb. 14) with a bevy of challenging films that include two outstanding LGBTQ narratives, the French-boy love drama "Permanent Green Light" and the sunny romantic triangle "Daddy Issues." IndieFest plays the Roxie and Victoria (where noted) Theaters in San Francisco.

"Permanent Green Light" In this riveting, funny and perplexing queer feature, the American underground novelist/poet Dennis Cooper (with Zac Farley) brings us French adolescent boys who question everything they know about life, death and sex. Like Cooper's earlier work ("Frisk," "Closer"), it takes us right up to the edge as teenagers have philosophical conversations well beyond their years.

A calm but desperate young man decides to blow himself up as his friends watch from a physically but possibly not emotionally safe distance. Recalls Robert Bresson's 1977 morality play "The Devil Probably," where Antoine Monnier drifts through politics, religion and psychoanalysis, rejecting them all once he realizes the depth of his disgust for society. Beautifully photographed, with partial male nudity in sylvan settings, "PGL" is an excellent introduction to Cooper's work, with a sublime young cast. (2/3, 4)

Madison Lawlor in Amara Cashs Daddy Issues. Photo: Under 1 Roof Productions  

"Daddy Issues" Director Amara Cash offers a love-in-the-sun romantic triangle. Maya, a wannabe artist, has a crush on designer Jasmine, and discovers her secret income: playing sugar baby to a client with an age-play fetish. (2/9, 12)

"Little Woods" Two women endure the meltdown of the American economic and health care system in Nia DaCosta's taut, female-driven drama, a cross between "Frozen River" and "Winter's Bone." Starring Tessa Thompson and Lily James. (Victoria, 2/8)

"I Am Maris" Laura Vanzee Taylor's film shows how one woman overcomes anxiety-based mental problems through yoga. Plays with the short "Introducing the Super Stoked Surf Mamas of Pleasure Point." (2/8, 10)

"Donovan Reid" In this Petaluma-based drama, a young man who appears to have been abducted from his birth family at age 10 returns on the cusp of adulthood a decade later. Our view of what happened to Michael/Donovan (Weston Lee Ball) keeps shifting. A key clue might be the 1950 film noir classic "D.O.A.," in which Edmund O'Brien tries to figure out why he was given a slow-acting poison. This one possibly has too many tricks up its sleeve. Kudos to Ball, whose nervous, Montgomery Clift-like performance is the film's main asset. (2/2, 7)

"Cruel Hearts" Writer-director Paul Osbourne offers a darkly funny reboot of every paranoid beat in the noir playbook, refreshing old cliches about the cheating wife, the jealous husband and the lying creep who knows how to exploit people's weaknesses. Osbourne plays us like Tarantino circa "Pulp Fiction," pulling off surprises in timeless noir settings: the all-night coffee shop, the empty bar, and some dame's apartment. Terrific cast: guys with scary eyes, dames with loose habits. (2/10)

"Banana Season" Sanghoon Lee's odd-couple tale begins with a little person tumbling out of a tree as an old buddy, an Asian American mixed martial arts fighter, jogs by. Sharp dialogue, characters with scars and dead-end habits. (2/1, 3)

"The Area" In today's South Side Chicago, kids shoot baskets through milk cartons, chess is played outdoors, and the Norfolk Southern railroad company wants everybody to move on. David Schalliol's feisty doc brings new meaning to the phrase "the wrong side of the tracks." (2/10)

"This Taco Truck Kills Fascists" Rodrigo Dorfman's agit-prop film takes aim at Trump's immigrant-bashing mojo, using the growing network of taco-truck lunch wagons to mobilize his troops, kids and taco-lovers. Plays with the short "Jesse Lott: Art and Activism." (2/1, 2)

"The Man Who Killed Hitler and then the Bigfoot" Veteran character Sam Elliott is the perfect guy for the assignment in Robert Krzykowski's feature debut with a loony premise. (1/31)

"Billboard" An all-star indie-film cast heads up Zeke Zelker's droll satire about a struggling AM radio station whose new owner is trying to stay on the air with a crazy contest in which devoted listeners perch on one of the station's billboards. What's at stake: the last rock signal on the AM band. With John Robinson, Eric Roberts and Heather Matarazzo. (2/9, 14)

"Pet Names" In Carol Brandt's relationship drama, a grad school drop-out divides her time between looking after her sick mom and going on a camping trip with her ex. (2/2, 5)

"Guardian" O Canada! A salute to Canadian ecological safeguards in the Trump era. Courtney Quirin's doc traces the history of a program dating back to the early 1900s that assigns patrol persons to protect the nation's coastal waterways. (2/2, 4)

"Desolation Center" Stuart Swezey's doc is a tribute to punk and industrial music fans who flocked to the Mojave Desert before Burning Man. Contains vintage footage of great bands: Sonic Youth, Minutemen and Meat Puppets. (2/8)