The studios postponed the vast majority of their 2020 releases to 2021 in order to maximize box office revenue, and in so doing largely abandoned this year’s Oscar statuettes to the independents. There are many ways to define “independent,” of course, and in normal times very few of them translate to movies with unhurried narratives and without matinee idols—like First Cow and Nomadland—on the dais reaping the big end-of-ceremony awards. So let’s celebrate the independents.
Now in its 23rd edition, SF Indiefest started before the digital revolution removed the barriers to feature filmmaking. In those days, there were far more weirder, grittier films and far fewer sophisticated, polished films. The festival’s current programmers are gatekeepers in the best sense, in that they’re acutely sensitive to the soul-deadening effects of the gentrification of indie film. In other words, SF Indiefest retains its edge.
Take Girl in Golden Gate Park, S.F. writer-director JP Allen’s scintillating puzzle film and one of three world premieres in the festival. Two Asian American women (Kim Jiang Dubaniewicz and Erin Mae-Ling Stuart) with trust issues cross paths in and around the titular urban refuge, where the scenery (and Daniel Teixeira-Gomes’ lush cinematography) provides camouflage and cover. Allen makes enigmas wrapped in mysteries, with every frame a clue and a handful (don’t blink!) providing answers. The title is both.
Allen, like every other Indiefest filmmaker, anticipates audiences experiencing his film on the big screen not too far down the road. I’ll wait til then to say more about Girl in Golden Gate Park, but don’t deny yourself the movie’s pleasures now.
L.A. multi-hyphenate Jennifer Sharp delivers a delicious takedown of Hollywood and some unexpected south-of-the-border social commentary with Una Great Movie, a seriocomic riff on the conflict between authentic and commercial storytelling. A Black screenwriter trying to break into the business is overwhelmed by conflicting advice on how to “improve” her screenplay in order to sell it.