Car of a different color: Harrod Blank's eccentric vehicle documentary "Automorphosis" offers SF Indiefest viewers a ride. (Photo courtesy SF Indiefest)

SF Indiefest 2009

Dennis Harvey February 5, 2009

With a roster that sprawls from horror to softcore to verite-style drama to animation and documentary, there’s one constant to the 11th edition of SF Indiefest: You won’t be bored.

While still mostly Amerindie in content, Indiefest ’09 opens with a U.K. feature (ever-unpredictable Shane Meadows’ latest grungy drama Somers Town), then detours into a mini-retrospective of Japanese "pink" (i.e., softcore) features from the last two decades. There are also efforts from Denmark (I’ll Come Running) and Italy (Waiting for the Sun). Plus a program of recent Nippon TV excerpts entitled Super Happy Fun Monkeybash!, which encompasses such merrily sadistic "reality" broadcast incomprehensibles (‘til you see ‘em) as male-female "pants-pulling matches," "condiment battles," champagne corks popped against genitals, human bowling balls, kitchenwear perpetually raining down on heads, and something called "No Reaction Pie Hell." Not to mention not-meant-for-US-eyes product plugs starring Britney, Arnold, Brad, Meg, Leonardo and so forth.

Closer to home, there’s plenty of exotica both fictive and not. On the narrative front, Rona Mark’s Strange Girls is a twisted tale of two identical twins (actual ones Angela and Jordana Berliner) who murderously finagle their way out of sanitarium lockup to jumpstart a very disturbed notion of sexualized, independent adulthood. Alex Karpovsky’s Woodpecker is a droll mockumentary about obsessed seekers of a possibly extinct bird not seen since 1944. It’s got a previously unknown Sufjan Stevens song on the soundtrack—which as far as I’m concerned is reason enough to storm the theatre.

Veteran cartoonist Bill Plympton’s new Idiots and Angels has been widely regarded as his best feature to date. Jon Bowden’s precise dysfunctional-family implosion The Full Picture finds a mother-from-hell (Gretchen Foster) arriving in SF to systematically destroy the relationships of her two grown-up "boys." (It also features an Iron & Wine track, which…well, see above.) Polygamy, alcoholism and suicide turn out to be among the wee secrets mum is keeping safe beneath her iron-butterfly wings.

Robert Byington’s RSO (Registered Sex Offender) is a mockumentary casting a sarcastically sympathetic eye on fictive pedophiles preying upon the barely-underage. It’s "sick," yet less misanthropist than Koen Mortier’s Ex-Drummer (a strained Belgian exercise in outre bad humor), and less dull than Aaron Lindenthaler’s endless conspiracy-theory tale TV Virus.

On the documentary feature tip, there’s Greg Kohs’ Song Sung Blue, an incredible True Life Story about the deep, mutually self-destructive wuv between a professional Neil Diamond impersonator and his equally fame-hungry wife. The phrase "train-wreck fascination" definitely applies.

Other docs of note include Kevin Chapados’ Abraham Obama, about street artist Ron English’s visual mashup of two iconic faces. There’s Harrod Blank’s delightful latest art-car doc Automorphosis, whose unique vehicles include famous "spoonbender" psychic Uri Geller’s—which is decorated with all the utensils he’s purportedly bent with his mind. Robyn Billey’s dying-entertainment-form portrait Circus Rosaire profiles a multigenerational family of animal trainers whose acts once entertained royalty, but which now struggles to keep themselves and their beasts afloat. (Cautionary note to you animal rights types: The Rosaires only take rescued animals raised in captivity who wouldn’t be able to survive in the wild; they decry circuses and zoos that treat their menageries badly.) I was dying to see "Let Them Know: The Story of Youth Brigade and BYO Records"—YB being a personal-fave punk band going on 30 years’ age—but it was unavailable for preview.

Of particular local interest is Harrison Montgomery, Daniel Davila’s earnest, restless, sometimes strained drama with Martin Landau as a Tenderloin sage. Then there’s Eddie Chung’s The Achievers: The Story of the Lebowski Fans, whose portrait of nationwide obsessives loving the commercially tanked 1998 Coen Brothers comedy will be manna to SF Indiefest loyalists who’ve enjoyed Big Lebowski bowling parties over the past six years.

Other intriguing titles include Susan Grey’s doc Killer Poet, about a real-life murderous fugitive from justice turned literary star, activist and church member; and Kyle Newman’s Fanboys, a long-delayed, studio-harried comedy about uber-dweebs storming Skywalker Ranch to view The Phantom Menace before the ticket-buying public. (Yeesh, what a letdown of a life-goal.)

SF Indiefest is not to be confused with Another Hole in the Head, its horror/fantasy edition later in the year. But you might be excused from feeling a little blurry on the matter, since Indiefest 2009 encompasses no less than three movies involving the undead. Reuniting many of the talents (including Ron Perlman and Larry Fessenden) involved in the 2006 global-warming supernatural thriller The Last Winter (which nobody loved but me), Glenn McQuaid’s I Sell the Dead is a Hammer-esque Victorian grand guignol about two graverobbers whose stolen corpses have a disturbing habit of re-animating. It’s a genial, good-looking horror comedy whose cinematography won a prize at Slamdance last month.

Marcel Sarmiento and Gadi Harel’s closing night film Deadgirl is a grotesque yet delicately rendered portrait of teenage necrophilia in which the mysterious "corpse" exercises plenty of vengeful control. Slick The Teeth of the Night a.k.a. Vampire Party is a crassly funny French-language feature in which a clutch of Parisian party whores get invited to a mythic annual party at an isolated mansion—only to discover they’re designated feedbags for immortal bloodsuckers. If you liked 2007 Hole Head opener Stag Knight (I sure did, despite wider disapproval that’s kept it virtually unreleased since), you’ll like this similar exercise in cartoonishly good-natured horror parody.

That’s not all the scariness Indiefest has to offer, either. Jake Barsha’s striking Eugene moves deftly from psychological portraiture of an extremely lonely man into more macabre territory.

Then there’s Christopher Denham’s major creepout Home Movie, starring erstwhile aspiring Hollywood A-lister Adrian Pasdar and TV soap veteran Cady McClain as a happily married couple unpleasantly surprised by the apparent psychopathy of their twin offspring (actual siblings Austin and Amber Joy Williams). While this "reality horror" mix of Omen and Blair Witch Project sometimes stretches credibility, it’s genuinely, cumulatively unsettling.