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Thread: San Francisco Independent Film Festival 2019

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  1. #1
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    #LIKE (Sarah Pirozek 2018)

    SARAH PIROZEK: #LIKE (2018)


    SARAH RICH IN #LIKE

    Teen vendetta

    The peaceful upstate New York town of Woodstock in the summertime is the setting for #LIKE, a film that follows a teenage girl called Rosie, mourning the first anniversary of her younger sister Amelia's death. Rosie discovers that the mysterious man who may have sexploited and bullied her sister into committing suicide is back online trolling for new victims. After the local police refuse to help, she takes matters into her own hands. Her vindictive anger leads her to discover, as the blurb puts it, "a darker side she never knew she had as she takes justice into her own hands."

    Writer-director Sarah Pirozek declared on her Kickstarter page that she had "decided to make an unapologetically kickass feminist film." Working as a successful editor of TV commercials, Pirozek says she sought to create "powerful and positive images of women instead of the caricatures that populated the screens." She encountered a study showing that "84% of the directors working on TV shows were white men." So she decided "to make a commercial, genre, micro-budget thriller, with a nuanced female lead, telling an important story." "The film stars Marc Menchaca ('Ozark'/'Homeland'/'She's Lost Control')" she writes, "and introduces a stunning new talent, Sarah Rich, both of whom gave performances of a lifetime."

    Pirozek believes herself to have made a feminist film - elsewhere called a "noir feminist thriller" - but #LIKE reads more like a creepy revenge flick - one that moves at a snails's pace. It may qualify for some oddball midnight genre venues, but it's hardly what you'd call "commercial." Maybe feminism in its more guerrilla motivational moments does call for depiction of one-on-one revenge against men who have offended against womanhood. But two wrongs do not make a right. In realistic terms the "heroine" is simply guilty of a crime - kidnapping and tormenting a man.

    Rosie seems first misguided, then sick, and can't awaken our admiration for long. Sympathy, perhaps; but her victim evokes that feeling in equal measure: an unintended consequence of the plot is to awaken pity for the presumed malefactor. One reason for this is that his online bullying is an action hard to dramatize at best, and here it's never actually depicted. This is one of the major lacunae in the flimsy screenplay. Contrast Aneesh Chaganty's skillful plotting for last year's cyber investigation movie Searching, starring John Cho. Rosie might just as well have kidnapped some random dude off the tree lined streets.

    Acknowledged as micro-budget, the film makes good, economical use of available locations and people around Woodstock, New York, where it's set, but the key scenes take place in a basement. This is where Rosie (Rich) holds a man (Menchaca) prisoner for an unspecified length of time under implausible circumstances. He may be guilty of cyber-bullying (or taunting or provoking? it's somewhat unclear) a young teen girl, Rosie's sister, who apparently committed suicide. AT least Rosie believes this. But she broaches it with the man in curiously roundabout fashion.

    Rosie's action is sadistic and strange. It's difficult to understand what Pirozek is getting at. The movie is best as an expression of a young girl's rage. This seems an angry misandrist offshoot of the #MeToo movement, a negative one that may not win many new supporters. Does advocacy of the rights of women require hatred of men?

    #LIKE, 90 mins., was screened for this review as part of the 2019 SF Indiefest (30 Jan.-14 Feb. 2019). This appears to be the film's premiere.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 02-06-2019 at 10:57 AM.

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    THE AREA (David Schalliol 2018)

    DAVID SCHALLIOL: THE AREA (2018)



    Railroaded

    In Englewood, in Chicago's predominantly black South Side, the segment from 57th Street to 61st Street is slated for elimination by the Norfolk Southern Railway for "intermodal" spaces, expanding an already large shipping yard for increasing railway freight transport - which is a good thing if it lessens the more ecologically destructive use of trucks. Nobody ever explains quite what "intermodal" means to the scattered black inhabitants of Inglewood. But the company buys the houses at cheap rates, relocates the people, knocks down the houses, clears them all away. Visual sociologist David Shalliol covers this process in The Area, his debut documentary feature, a slow, incremental film that quietly focuses on a few people. It is a portrait of poverty and race in America, the African American survival sprit, and the sadness of giving up one's longtime home, over and over again. It's also a portrait of Englewood resident and citizen activist Deborah Payne, a woman of indomitable energy and courage. She knows she cannot stop this process of relocation, but what she can do is fight to see that no one's dignity is destroyed.

    This is also a portrait that shows both the strength of spirit and the economic, social, and political fragility of these same South Side residents. Deborah has a stroke and is in the hospital, but comes out and is as vigorous as ever. She is one of the last to leave. One woman complains that she was duped into not paying her mortgage for two months to enable the process to go through and then found that had damaged her of her credit for a new mortgage, so she had to become a renter. This is the fate of people who are powerless because they are poor and on top of that lack the education and knowledge to fight lawyers and bureaucratic complications. But having struggled all their lives they are also strong.

    We hear about how this had become a terrible neighborhood, and there are signs of blight and already many missing houses. But it still has a quiet suburban feel, with pockets of gentility and dignity. A couple of young guys hang out together who are survivors of gang banging and shootouts. One of them, Weezy, is paralyzed from the waist down from bullet wounds but later, he leads police on a high speed chase, driving with a stick. There's indomitability in that too. The cops take their phones out to snap photos, wondering. Weezy goes to jail for three years but is out in two, relocated, as feisty as ever, but wiser.

    Deborah gets a big place in an apartment building but says she asks herself if she is lonely. However she is active with a new group of "wonderful women" against sexual harassment and for breast cancer awareness, striving to stay healthy so it can "not be all about me."

    These are people and another is a man of a certain age who fought to keep his mother in her house till the end because, since she had dementia, he explains that such people's souls hang by a thread, and changing their surroundings severs that thread. He was able to keep her dignity for her till the end. And then, he could let the house go. These are lessons in what maters in life.

    A memorable scene is when winter comes and it snows after many of the houses have been torn down and carted away. Deborah walks around in a bright yellow winter coat talking and savoring the beauty, and sadness, of the transformed place which, garbed in snow, looks like country.

    There are also city board meetings, even one with a dead-eyed Rahm Emmanuel, Mayor of Chicago, where the meaningless declarations of various officials, coming after we have thoroughly absorbed the viewpoint and situation of the Engleside residents, come dripping in unintentional irony. The politicians' ill-formed sentences don't even make sense; they're just a ritual to plaster over the inevitable and the predetermined - when you are poor.

    The Area is a slow-building documentary that carries more emotional and intellectual weight that you realize at first. Toward the end especially there are long fades to black, appropriate because is this not the story of people and a place dying over and over but then slowly coming back? But the houses don't come back or the many contents lost with them, and over and over we see houses bulldozed and their residents watching and weeping.

    Shalliol is also an accomplished still photographer and the film is informed by his handsome still photographs of the beautiful, doomed old wood frame and brick buildings of "The Area." His film was the biproduct of docoral studies in sociology at the University of Chicago. For further details about him and the film see an article by Andrea Gromvall in Chicago Reader.

    David Schalliol slide show.

    The Area, 93 mins., debuted 6 April 2018 at Full Frame Documentary Film Festival, Durham, North Carolina. It was screened for this review as part of SF Indiefest, 30 Jan.-14 Feb. 2019.

    SF IndieFest: THE AREA: Upcoming Showtimes
    February 10 12:30 PM SF IndieFest at the Roxie


    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 02-04-2019 at 02:23 AM.

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    CRUEL HEARTS (Paul Osborne 2018)

    PAUL OSBORNE: CRUEL HEARTS (2018)


    ALEV AYDIN AND PATRICK DAY IN CRUEL HEARTS

    Mind games

    This cleverly plotted little potboiler isn't very convincing but it is ingenious enough to be fun to watch and build to a tense finale. The means are minimal but with the jump-cut scene shifting style and the very devious main character, there is plenty going on. Things aren't very interesting at first. Guy (Alev Aydin) sidles up to Burt Walker (Patrick Day), a low level crime boss, at Skinny's, the bar he owns and uses to launder money for the mob. He tells him he has slept with his wife, Teri ( Bonnie Root). It's not his fault, see; she put him up to it and he had no idea she was married. Burt is furious, but, humiliated, and troubled because Terry is his pride and joy, he does little to Guy, and later says nothing to Teri. Curiously, Guy keeps coming back. He's either crazy or something funny is going on. It's the latter.

    These scenes are photographed in an ugly, flat manner and the acting, particularly by the guy who plays Burt, doesn't seem very good. Things get better when Guy starts hanging out at an empty all-night diner and he and Grace (the excellent Melora Hardin) the older, but attractive waitress. get friendly and chatty. The action seems to take a break, but it's here that the story deepens and comes out with a big surprise revelation after Guy gets rid of Grace's annoying ex-, Stu (Jack Gogreve). It's then that we find out, sort of (if we can believe him) what Guy is actually all about. Later his clever but very dangerous game backfires this time in the midst of an elaborate series of ruses.

    Cruel Hearts is like a short story with a noirish mood. I thought of Tarantino because I kept wanting the dialogue to be as ornate and fun as his (it's not, despite the Pulp Fiction situations), and I thought of "The Sopranos" because this is a gangster story that is largely about domestic relations. The heart of Cruel Hearts is the marital relationship between Burt and Terry. It seems they really love each other, but he distrusts her and she feels abandoned by him. In other words, they could do better. They need something or someone to shake them up, and Guy could be just the thing. There are some breathless moments - but this movie is still at its best at its still points when Guy is flirting and gabbing with Grace in the empty diner, sipping coffee. It's here that Osborne shows his real talents, which are for writing dialogue and developing character.

    Cruel Hearts, 86 mins., written and directed by Osborne and his fourth feature, debuted 10 Nov. 2018 at Twin Cities Film Fest. It was screened for this review as part of the SF Indiefest (30 Jan.-14 Feb. 2019).
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 01-31-2019 at 01:46 AM.

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    DEGENERATES (Callum Crawford 2018)

    CALLUM CRAWFORD: DEGENERATES (2018)


    JAMES SANBROOK IN DEGENERATES

    A quiet gathering of eccentrics

    British writer/director/actor/producer Callum Crawford's debut feature is partly mundane, partly surreal, partly comical, and very English. It starts with the alliteratively-named young auteur's real-life situation: he couldn't sell his scripts and after five years of trying, set about to make his own film. Such is the case for Casey Vaughn (Crawford), a writer whose MSS. keep being returned to him, and he doesn't want to take pay for touching up somebody else's script. He's told by his sleazy agent Victor Moseley (Jamie Foreman) that true stories sell. So he recruits a handful of eccentric characters to go and find an actually missing teenage girl in the neighborhood who has disappeared on the way home from school. The plan is to turn what happens along the way into a script. He gathers a bit of information about the girl from going to her house and, on the spur of the moment, impersonating a police detective to the girl’s mother (Anna Acton). The lawbreaking, and the script-sculpting, begin.

    What's so English is the slow, calm manner in which this risky scene unfolds. As if to pause for breath, or let us better savor the moment, early passages of Degenerates in fact seem at times on the verge of of coming to a standstill. Whether this is evidence of trouble maintaining rhythm or absurdist playfulness, we don't know yet. If we stay tuned, the film offers quiet pleasures. These start with the "characters" Victor recruits to populate his script, aide him in his search for the girl, Jane. Maureen (the excellent Annette Badland) he spots delivering a blistering reproof to an impolite toff in line at a cafe waiting a bit too impatiently for his espresso. She turns out to be a pharmacist who moonlights as a black market drug dealer. Next, sitting in a car she's about to steal, he finds Naomi (Lauren Douglin), a petty thief with a violent streak. Last he recruits a classic English type, a pale blond fifteen-year-old called Peter (James Sanbrook), a real boy scout with a bike and large binoculars. Peter, an innocent who reveals no caution about wrongdoing, acts as the lookout and team "Mascot." Victor stages a comical information session for is little gang. Then they're on their way.

    Victor's notion is that these three helpers will provide "character" for his screenplay, and whatever happens will be its content. There is a convicted felon connected to the missing girl's family who becomes he prime suspect and whom they quickly track down and subdue. Mayhem ensues. It's obvious Victor, familiar with fiction and an experienced if not a successful screenwriter, possesses very little notion of the line between the real and the invented, or, more importantly, between the bold but acceptable and the totally illegal. Callum Crawford, on the other hand, seems to know quite well what he is doing, and his multiple-hyphenate performance shows a maximum of British sand-froid and drollery. Let's hope Degenerates will serve him as a good calling card toward future successes.

    Degenerates, 102 mins., had its US debut at the San Diego Film Festival 11 Oct. 2018. It was screened for this review as part of the San Francisco Independent Film Festival (SF Indiefest, 30 Jan.-14 Feb. 2019).

    SF IndieFest Showtime: February 7 - 7:00 PM at the Roxie
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 02-06-2019 at 10:33 AM.

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    DESOLATION CENTER (Stuart Swezey 2018)

    STUART SWEZEY: DESOLATION CENTER (2018)


    AUDIENCE FOR A DESOLATION CENTER EVENT

    A time of musical adventure

    The Reagan-Thatcher era of the early Eighties was a turn to to the right on both sides of the pond. But in the arts it was a time of vibrancy, experimentation, and opportunity, as I myself saw in my own career as a visual artist. It seemed like the worst time in society and politics, but the best time for art - and for me. This new documentary dramatically shows that was true for other people. Stuart Swezey, who was himself a prime organizer of pioneering punk rock desert events, has crafted a film rich in eye-popping archival footage. The punk and industrial music scene was at its peak. He and others enlivened it further by bussing adventurous young audiences, along with groups like Sonic Youth, Minutemen, Meat Puppets, Redd Kross, Einstürzende Neubauten, Mark Pauline's risk-taking Survival Research Laboratories, Savage Republic, Swans and others two hours out into the Mojave Desert to experience sound and happenings in an intimate, stark, awesome setting, without commercial distractions. Later Swezey went from sand to water and did a show of hard core Sen Pedro musicians The Minutemen, on a boat in the harbor of San Pedro. This was the hard core of what became big and commercial with events like Lollapalooza, Coachella, and Burning Man. Many of the concertgoers speak today about what were seminal and unforgettable experiences of their lives. This is an eye-opening and inspiring film.

    It's funny, but even if punk rock means little to you, it's impressive how much it meant to the people whose experience is chronicled in this film. It's about the audience almost more than the bands, though it becomes clear from the testimony that these treks out into the desert meant much to the musicians too. The desolate location seemed right. It was far-out, it was rad, It was a place to be free with like minded people - and nobody else. Audience members, 20-something Angelinos, had never even been to the Mojave desert. They did have experience of being frequently hassled in bars and clubs by L.A. cops, whose police chief then, Daryl Gates, was a real piece of work, who hated punk music, hated blacks (and the punk scene was very multi-racial), hated youth, hated their having fun. Downtown L.A., by the way, at that time was like one big slum, and urban desert, so the move to the natural desert was logical, and practical.

    The school buses that packed the audience out to the concerts were part of the mystique and the success. They were a solution about how to collect tickets in a venue with no walls or gates. The tickets - beautifully made ones, which contributed to the caché - were sold well in advance, and the audience members rode out to the desert on the buses, avoiding gate-crashers and contributing to the sense of togetherness.

    We hear from regulars of the L.A. punk rock scene who were at these concerts, who rode in the busses, couples still together, who say this was the coolest thing they ever did, and something that cemented their relationship. It feels like, counterintuitive for this kind of music scene though this may be, these were events were healthy, inspiring, life-affirming, and wonderful fun. We're also seeing footage and stills comparing the young punk fans with their present selves, and the comparison too is positive.

    After his success putting on the first desert concerts, Stuart Swezey quit his Los Angeles day job and went to Europe settling in Berlin. It was simpatico, and the punk music scene, rife with performance art, was exciting and inspiring, particularly a highly experimental group called Einstürzende Neubauten / Collapsing New Buildings. He brought this bigger band, with its industrial strength bricolaged noise to a new location, not too far from Coachella) alled Mecca. Werner Herzog'sFitzgeraldo was an inspiration, Swezey recounts. Einstürzende Neubauten brought in kindred groups to the concert, including Mark Pauline, of Survival Research Laboratories, with his thrilling and terrifying self-destructive machines - all to a location not disclosed to audience members ahead of time.

    There was more focus, less distraction, than in any other venue. Compare today's pampered, low-attention-span youth with their grafted-on smart phones.

    Musician Janet Housden declares now, "People in their twenties are sociopaths." They loved Mark Pauline trying to blow the side of a mountain away. That was then. They would not feel that way now. This is a statement about wild youth having its day. It's bracing, but cautionary to see footage of the "religious experience" that was the desert concert built around Einstürzende Neubauten and their American friends. The only trouble with this film is that after that explosive concert, the rest is a bit of a let-down. The only trouble with this film is that after that explosive concert, the rest may seem a bit of a let-down. Nonetheless the next featured story, of the Minutemen's San Pedro show in 1984, is significant: the Minutemen's Pedro show became their seminal album, Double Nichols on the Dime which put them on the map. Sonic Youth (discovered by Swezey in Berlin) were to come, and Gila Monster Jamboree in 1985, and concerts where people were allowed to come in their own cars, but given the final destination only along the way.

    Desolation Center, 94 mins., debuted in 16 Mar. 2018 at CPH:DOX in Denmark and has shown in a dozen other festivals in 2018 and early 2019 .Originally watched by me as part of SF Indiefest. Rewatched courtesy of MATSON FILMS. It is coming to the Bay Area to the Roxie Theater San Francisco and Rialto Elmwood Sept. 20, 2019 - with Q&A's and still showing at Arclight Cinemas in Los Angeles, with Q&A's recently. For other cities, venues, and times see their website <a href="https://www.desolationcenter.com/">Desolation Center</A>.

    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 09-20-2019 at 08:47 PM.

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