From Australian serial killers to flighty Spanish ghosts, IndieFest 2012 explores the darker side of life (and the lighter side of the afterlife)
Of course, there's more to horror than guts and torture; if you need a reminder as to why, check out the festival's pair of home-is-where-the-creepy-is films from Austria, Beside My Brother and Still Life. Beside My Brother's set-up — an emotionally disturbed father pretends his twin sons are the same person, and forces them to live as such, a practice they maintain into adulthood — is more promising than its payoff. Remember how in Dead Ringers (1988), the doppelganger bros were gynecologists? Here, they're painters, and pretty bland ones at that. Far more harrowing is Still Life, about the irrevocable damage wrought by a father's single, horrible revelation. First-time feature director Sebastian Meise manages to distill the complete crumbling of a seemingly normal-ish family into a slender, wrenching 77 minutes.
Speaking of harrowing, there's nothing scarier in all of IndieFest than the early scenes of documentary Last Days Here, made by Don Argott and Demian Fenton (directors of 2009's excellent The Art of the Steal). The film alights upon Bobby Liebling, dubbed the "godfather of doom" for his forty-plus year stint fronting legendary band Pentagram, as a fiftysomething crack addict living in his parents' basement. Last Days Here is both heartfelt and gloves-off; it's also blessed with having one of the most unbelievable comeback stories at its core (not a spoiler if you keep abreast of Bay Area concerts; Pentagram's played here several times in recent years). It, like many of the films discussed here, has a distributor and will be coming around after IndieFest, but I implore you not to sleep on this one — even if you don't love heavy metal, but especially if you do.
Less successful but no less intriguing is Atlanta oddity Snow On Tha Bluff, which is somewhere between an old-school ethnographic film — like, Robert Flaherty old — and self-aware product of the YouTube generation. The opening and closing scenes are obviously staged, as a drug dealer named Curtis Snow steals a video camera and decides he'll make an autobiographical movie from the footage he collects. What's between those bookends is what appears to be an authentic record of life in Snow's crime-infested neighborhood, complete with drive-by shootings, home invasions, run-ins with the police, copious drug use, etc. Why any of the involved would allow their faces to be shown on camera while, say, firing a non-street legal weapon into a rival's home is the film's biggest mystery; its biggest accomplishment is obscuring the obvious lines of demarcation between what's real and what's not.
To end your IndieFest experience on a slightly uplifted note, you will have to die — or at least be cool with hanging out with the ghosts in Finisterrae, the first feature from Catalan artist Sergio Caballaro.
Expressing themselves via droll, post-production "dialogue" (in Russian, subtitled in English), the newly-deceased, sheet-wearing duo decides they would like to live again. A-journeying they go, following the wind and encountering an array of strange characters, including enough taxidermied animals to make Chuck Testa's head spin. Finisterrae starts slow but builds to glorious, gorgeously filmed and supremely weird heights. Hippies beware.
SAN FRANCISCO INDEPENDENT FILM FESTIVAL
Feb. 9-23, most films $11
3117 16th St., SF