With the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, just finishing up this past weekend, it’s now San Francisco’s turn to enjoy indie films.
Being independent in filmmaking is an attitude but linked to money (or lack of it). A label coined in the U.S. in the 1990s, ‘independent’ stands for immediacy and low budgets — which translates into smaller productions than a Hollywood film would have and often times is the result of the work of a small, semi-professional crew. They are films where the director’s creative control and vision prevails.
From February 5 to 19, the 17th edition of the SF IndieFest will showcase sixty-five independent film titles, five of which are Latino: three features made in the USA (two locally) one from Argentina, one from Spain, plus a short from Mexico, Juegos de la mente (Mind Games) by Hugo Félix Mercado.
Local Mission production The Other Barrio, centerpiece of this year’s SF IndieFest, is an excellent example of independent filmmaking — made as a collective community effort, with an ultra low budget and the urgency to communicate a heartfelt message.
For a complete list, schedule, and tickets visit sfindie.com.
From the Mission in San Francisco, comes this film con mucho corazón. The Other Barrio uses the elements of film noir —voice over, night scenes, witty dialogue, jazz music— as it addresses the issue of gentrification in the current context of economic boom and a merciless real estate market that is pushing working class people out of the city. It is based on a short story written by Alejandro Murguía, poet laureate of San Francisco, that revolves around a fire at a residential hotel that happened in San Francisco in 1975. The Other Barrio brings it up to date as housing inspector Bob Morales unravels a web of corruption and complots at City Hall involving the fire. The film is being released in a very timely manner, as several fires have happened in San Francisco as recent as last week. Emblematic settings like back alleys with their distinct murals, the defunct Esta Noche queer nightclub, the hangout bar Radio Habana Social Club or landmark Galeria de la Raza make of The Other Barrio an endearing film for locals, an ode to a barrio that claims its validity as it seems to be fading away. It was adapted and directed by Dante Betteo in his directorial debut, and includes the participation of a myriad of local luminaries.
From Oakland, California, comes the funny and endearing East Side Sushi directed by novel filmmaker Anthony Lucero. The film revolves around Juana Martinez, a single mother who works in her family’s fruit-vending cart. When she finds a new job at a Japanese restaurant she gets excited about learning how to prepare sushi rolls and begins experimenting with the recipes. Her family, from Mexico, has trouble accepting this foreign cuisine, while her Japanese peers have trouble accepting her as a woman chef, as it goes against their tradition. East Side Sushi is an honest film that shows how the most important thing to interest an audience is having a heartfelt story to tell. Lucero says that Oakland, where he grew up, is full of different cuisines from the immigrant communities, and that food is something that unites the great cultural diversity in the area. His collaboration in the shooting of the documentary Fruit of Labor by Pepe Urquijo in 2003, that follows a fruit cart in Oakland’s Fruitvale district, served him as inspiration for his film.
Daring, visually stunning, and with a great sense of camera placement and editing, The Voice of the Voiceless is based on a true story of a crime ring that was discovered in New York in 1997. Shot in a contrasty black and white with no dialogues, the film is told from the point of view of a young deaf-mute who arrives in New York from Central America—she is enslaved by a trafficking network that forces her to beg in the subway. First time director Maximón Monihan gives this harsh story a very original treatment—instead of going for a realistic tone, the film oozes a comical and bizarre air that lightens up an otherwise heavy content. As the advertising of the film reads: ‘Chaplin meets Eraserhead.’ Monihan is from Seattle, Washington, and holds a degree in Philosophy and Cultural Studies from the University of California, Santa Cruz. He lives in Brooklyn, and this is his first feature film.
Quiet and brief — it barely lasts an hour — the camera in No Land Without Evil scrutinizes with curious naivete the life of Ana as she transitions from girl to woman during her teenage years. Shot in the small town of Posadas, Misiones, Argentina, near the border with Paraguay, this contemplative film boasts great performances by Ana Luz Kallsten and Silvia Nudelman, who have the same name in reality as in fiction, denoting the naturalistic tone of the film, shot in Super 16mm with a camera that barely moves during the shooting. It is a very interesting first film by Belén Blanco who, as fellow Argentine filmmaker Lucrecia Martel, is filming in the provinces, far from the capital city of Buenos Aires, a cinema of slow development that uses a leisurely pace and long takes—a very elegant take towards the end of the film in which Ana shares with her friends, is nearly 10 minutes long.
From the land of legends and magic potions, Galicia, in northwestern of Spain, comes this beautifully animated film made with silicone puppets that tells the fantastic story of a convict who escapes from prison and tries to recover a hidden treasure in a remote village in the Camino de Santiago, a route for Christian pilgrims. He finds there will be a greater doom than the one he escaped from as several lost souls and the archpriest of Compostela will stand in his way. The Apostle showcases an intricate work of animation with some masterful lighting techniques, a great score co written by Philip Glass, the influential minimalist musician, and dialogues by Geraldine Chaplin, daughter of Charlie Chaplin, Paul Naschy, the legendary horror B-movie filmmaker, and actor Luis Tosar. It is Fernando Cortizo’s first feature, who claims to be influenced by gothic horror films made by the classic British production company Hammer.
(Iñaki Fdez. de Retana, originally published by remezcla.com)