SF IndieFest, as the San Francisco Independent Film Festival has been affectionately known from the day Jeff Ross conceived it 20 years ago, is a million miles from Hollywood.
It’s even further removed, if that’s possible, from an American independent cinema that long ago evolved from a bunch of pissed-off outsiders into a sedate, Sundance-sanctioned niche where respected character actors play the leads in small-scale adult dramas. (These worlds intersect at the Academy Awards, where a couple indies every year are embraced as underdog mascots. It’s become so routine that nobody even sees it anymore as proof of Hollywood’s abandonment of movies for adults.)
You’ll rarely recognize the director or the stars of a SF IndieFest film, which feeds into the festival’s ethos of discovery and experimentation. This year’s program, unspooling Feb. 1-15 primarily at the Roxie and Victoria, is something of an exception due to the array of familiar titles (Bubba Ho-Tep, Funny Ha Ha) revived from previous Indiefests.
But gravitate to the unknowns, for the festival’s true allure is entering the world of an iconoclast with a narrow but distinct view of the world. Writer/director/actor Adrian Murray, for example, who blurs the existential and practical lines between slacking and scamming in Withdrawn (Feb. 2 and 8). Or Australian writer-director-actress Hannah Barlow, who pushes even further into quasi-autobiography with her contemporary California road movie For Now. DIY filmmaking has come of age, and the results are pretty consistently exciting rather than pretty and polished.