Beyond Local: SF Indie Fest Serves Film With a Purpose

Compared to our artistic and cultural rival to the south, San Francisco’s film scene is neither as glamorous nor lucrative as Hollywood. But when it comes to tact, tenacity and the unheard-of kind of obscurity that so many artistic folk crave, the SF Independent Film Fest delivers. Placing the spotlight on unique films and warmly luminous digs, the fest is worth the $13 entrance fee for quality entertainment with an educational edge. Happening now through Feb. 15, the 20th anniversary of the fest features 33 new feature films and 51 shorts, making for a kind of crash course in indie film. For amateurs and cinephiles alike, SF Indie Fest is sure to rouse and inspire.


If there is any reason to check out the fest, it’s to support the hard work and creative minds that are behind every piece of art shown. Refreshingly, SF Indie Fest is not filled with gorgeous actors and perfect scripts. The writing is often witty, charming and realistic. As an audience member, you get to participate in the process of the film in a way that’s inaccessible otherwise. You may talk with filmmakers and ask them what “that one thing meant in that one scene.” You may learn things like, “Short films live and die by the sound.” You may laugh when you’re not sure you’re supposed to. Guaranteed, however, you will leave pleased and invigorated, if not ready to start putting your own stamp on today’s art scene.


Genre bending is one of the premier characteristics of the fest, which takes its own unique stand toward the movie industry of today. Showcasing films with no stars and no marketing budgets means the fest must rely on a highly cultivated lineup of films to continue drawing audiences from year to year. And these films are more diverse than anything playing in an AMC near you. There is a good array of races and genders represented in the roles of most of the fest’s films, which works to provide an important counter-narrative to the issues Hollywood faces today.


When I went, on Feb. 2, the cold, damp streets at the intersection of 16th Street and Valencia were alive and exuberant. Bustling young bar-goers laughed loudly and exchanged stories. Latin street music filled the air. People popped in and out of run-down Mediterranean food places. The bright neon sign reading ROXIE lit up the night, providing a beacon of refuge from the excitement of the outside world.


Inside, an older gent with a beard twisting down to his chest served fresh popcorn and handed out programs. The film playing on the big screen, Sequence Break, works as a fantastic kind of case study for the representation of the fest as a whole. The film, occupying some genre between Sci-Fi and Horror, is best captured in the words of AMFM Magazine.


“A loner who restores arcade games finds the monotony of life broken when a gamer girl steps into his shop, the same day a mysterious arcade cabinet shows up,” Bears Fonte writes. “As his romance flourishes, so does his obsession with the game, creating a man/machine carnal contact of the Cronenbergian kind. The story of boy meets girl, boy ignores girl for arcade game, arcade game has sex with boy, arcade game has sex with girl, boy…. well, I don’t want to ruin it.”


Even the storylines themselves are the kind of thing you could never bank on succeeding in the box office. Take Sequence Break for example: how many people would line up to see a movie that vaguely channels 80s nostalgia via machine sex and what seem like bad trips? Quirky, artsy, whatever kind of patronizing term you want to call it, you can’t deny that SF Indie Fest has style.


Also, check out the upcoming parties involved in the fest, like Bad Art Gallery on Feb. 9 or Anti-Valentine’s Day Power Ballads Sing-Along on Feb. 14. Find the full calendar of films and events online at sfindie.


Featured Photo: The San Francisco Independent Film Fest runs through the 15th of February at ROXIE Theater. SFINDIE.COM


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