SF Indiefest, From Day One

Eve O'Neill February 13, 2008

Everything seems to be business as usual for a typical early evening in the bowels of the Mission District. Traffic is slowly mitigating after the 5:30 swell, headlights coming on in the murky descent of carrot-colored light. A hundred kids in jeans on bikes, Kilowatt’s early crowd intermittently materializing at the door to smoke and hold court over the debris of 16th St.

The marquis over the Roxie provides enough squeamish fluorescent light to check out the movie posters for their upcoming offerings, to peruse the cheap glossy promo handouts littered amongst 326 discarded wads of pulverized gum, and the photocopied bits of homemade flyers huddled in the corners of the outdoor foyer.

The SF Chronicle’s Mick LaSalle recently wrote an article about the death of repertory movie going. And, yes, this is a festival, not repertory programming, but here we are, Monday night at the Roxie, San Francisco’s oldest continually operating cinema, and there are three films programmed for this evening. With the sun gone and soft Tejano music creeping out from the vegetable stand across the street, people trickle out of the 5 p.m. screening of “La Creme.” Others with accordioned playbills and paper schedules uncurled from back pockets are double checking listings, verifying show times and purchasing tickets for “The Road to Nod” at 7 p.m., a German film being billed as a “Film Noir Road Movie… a biblically-fuelled crime outing marked by stirring performances and breathtaking black and white cinematography.”

In spite of the impending blanket of financial and technical doom that seems to be constantly on the brink of smothering all of Independent Filmdom, it is events like Indiefest that serve as a satisfying reminder that truly great, independent film really isn’t going anywhere. It’s difficult, sure, but in spite of digital media, in spite of the new hurdles of exhibition and necessities of profit and a media-saturated movie going public, the passion to make and exhibit art still thrives.

After the opening night screening of “Shotgun Stories” at the Castro, someone asked director Jeff Nichols how long he had been working on his film.

“Well, I began writing around 2004. I got the idea from a story I had read in 2001. A while before that a professor of mine had showed me dailies of Michael Shannon at the Sundance lab and that was when I knew I wanted to write a part for him. That was in 1999.” I think I’ve been breathing for about ten years in a row, and that’s probably the extent of my significant long-term accomplishments.

Similarly, SF Indiefest founder Jeff Ross opened the festival expressing his reaction to the sudden barrage of journalistic fascination with the festival’s tenth year, a number that media wise somehow magically signified legitimacy or significance. When he started, no one really cared but he went through the trouble anyway. Independent film had always been important to him.

I slink up to the box office to get my tickets in order for the evening. After “The Road to Nod,” I’ll probably forgo Kilowatt to belly up over at Elixir (interestingly, right down the corner and SF oldest operating saloon) before I come back at 9:30 to catch “This World Of Ours,” which will form my evening into an exciting and stimulating nihilistic sandwich. Via press release:

“Ryo Nakajima’s debut feature was penned after emerging from a post-high school ‘shut-in’ period (apparently common in Japan), and his malaise translated into a powerful film about apathy, self-loathing and self-destruction — and yet its very existence is a hopeful gesture.”

I will be there on closing night to see Gus Van Sant’s “Paranoid Park” so I can compare and contrast notes on Japanese and American high school induced melancholy. Yes! Because that’s what independent expression is all about. There are only so many different types of movies that can be made, but there’s always a new perspective and someone with the will to express it.

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