Of all the film festivals held in Northern California, this is the one which I most eagerly anticipate. With so much competition in the Bay Area festival scene, especially from such giants as the SF International, the Mill Valley Film Festival, and the Asian-American Film Festival, one would think that yet another addition to an already long list wasn’t needed. Yet IndieFest founder Jeff Ross has managed to exploit what might just be the last remaining niche available to an SF Bay Area festival promoter, that of truly independent film. Ross’s festival is the SlamDance of San Francisco. His unique program is loaded with works that often cannot find homes elsewhere, because they are either too extreme, too strange, too intelligently unusual, or simply lack commercial appeal — and for the true underground/independent/midnight-movie aficionado, therein lies the festival’s charm. IndieFest not only offers what you can’t easily find elsewhere, but it showcases this creative rarity in high concentration.
This year’s program features a list of far-fetched, far-out, flipped-out, and even fine art offerings, which cover a soup-to-nuts continuum that showcases such wide-ranging topics as drug abuse, country music, prostitution, guns, revolution, poetry slamming, and the naturally, the Internet. Here’s a preview:
AMERICAN PASSPORT ^ * * * * ^ This unusual documentary was made by adrenaline junkie Reed Paget, who just happened to in place, camera in hand, when just about every major event of the last decade unfolded. Reed smuggled blood-soaked footage of Tiananmen Square out of China, filmed South African cops tear-gassing black protestors, bunkered down in a Jerusalem hotel as Iraqi missiles pelted the city, and wandered through the mine fields at ancient Cambodian temple Angkor Wat after being interrogated as a CIA spy. And all of this is just the beginning. Reed contrasts extremes of government and civil action with words from his aging grandfather, a former CIA spook who trained guerilla fighters, whose hawkish platitudes vividly resurrect cold war mentality for ironic counterpoint. While the film somewhat thematically meanders, it will leave you open-mouthed and wondering whether Reed is incredibly brave, lucky, or stupid, as he blithely wanders through some of the world’s scariest danger zones.
DILL SCALLION ^ * * * 1/2 ^ If this film were a little edgier and a little timelier, it could have been the “Spinal Tap” of country music. Although its mockumentary format has been done to death, its solid cast holds the film together with insightful and funny performances as a group of empty-headed, often greed-motivated would-be country music stars. The film is packed with cameos; logical appearances by country luminaries like Willie Nelson, and surreal ones like Henry “The Fonz” Winkler as Dill’s manager, or Robert “Hart to Hart” Wagner as a cowboy boot manufacturer. Notably, Sheryl Crow wrote the film’s wacky country songs, with lyrics that take country music’s cheating wife/dead dog/battered pickup truck aesthetics to hilarious extremes. There are few roll-in-the-aisle funny gags, but the film is packed with a million sly, tiny zingers that will make you grin. Country music fans will definitely get much more out of this film than the regular viewer.
DETENTION ^ * * * 1/2 ^ At first, this movie seems like its taking the same well-trodden path as such films at “The Principal.” You know new teacher arrives at run-down high school populated by aggressive, undisciplined youth, and he shows them a thing or two so that they finally learn some respect. But “Detention” takes a page from Roger Corman exploitation movies, and crosses that line in the sand to go where no high school film has gone before to enter a lurid, B-movie nether-zone involving kidnapping, electroshock behavior control, and a new, particularly painful form of torture that centers around playing Tony Basil’s “Mickey” over, and over, and over again.