Reel World

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Hereabouts, November has traditionally been independent filmmakers' time to enjoy the spotlight, thanks to the annual Film Arts Festival. But increasingly, January is shaping up as the month in which indies wrest the focus away from Hollywood's carnival of dreck. The brand-new IndieFest -- aka the San Francisco Independent Film Festival -- jump-starts the new year on Jan. 7 with a jampacked weekend of 18 films at the Roxie, including the home-grown features Caged, She's Vintage, and Which Way, Por Favor?

Local filmmakers queue up the following Friday, Jan. 15, at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts' "Open Day," a panoply of panels and Q&As that kicks off the sixth annual International Film Financing Conference (IFFCON). One highlight will be "Pitch Perfect: How to Sell Your Ideas," a rousing session in which attendees will describe their projects to industry execs in front of the entire crowd.

Capping the schedule, though of course it's a little ways out of town, is the Sundance Film Festival, the rude gorilla of American independent film. Robert Altman's Cookie's Fortune kicks off the Salt Lake City circus on Jan. 21. But the Bay Area is well-represented in the documentary competition by Barbara Sonneborn's Regret to Inform and Jon Else's Sing Faster: The Stagehands' Ring Cycle. Jessica Yu, the Los Altos Hills native now based in L.A. who won the 1997 Oscar for documentary short for Breathing Lessons: The Life and Work of Mark O'Brien, is also in the doc lineup with The Living Museum.

Morning Glory
Six years after its inception in Washington, D.C., and subsequent launches in Boston and Atlanta, the Key Sunday Cinema Club finally arrived in San Francisco in September. Sparked by the season-opening directorial debut of actress Joan Chen, Xiu Xiu, the subscription-style club sold out its preliminary slate at the Embarcadero Center Cinemas. The recipe is simple: Premiere high-profile art-house films like Elizabeth and Affliction a few weeks before their public openings, add literate analysis by UC Berkeley professors/authors Linda Williams and B. Ruby Rich, toss in the occasional guest -- like S.F. Film Festival mucky-muck Peter Scarlet -- and top with audience discussion. A mere $98 from your Christmas swag buys you entree to eight films beginning Feb. 7; call (888) 467-0404 to join the cast.

In the Shadow of the Stars
Reel World isn't above a little shameless self-promotion, so here's a plug for this columnist's UC Berkeley Extension course, "And Justice for All: Bay Area Documentary Filmmakers." A truly stellar array of award-winning local directors -- Les Blank, Allie Light and Irving Saraf, Jeffrey Friedman and Rob Epstein, Debbie Hoffmann, Jan Krawitz, and Sam Green -- screens work and chats it up in an intimate and casual setting. The class (which is held in San Francisco) runs eight weeks beginning Feb. 3. For more information, dial 252-5250.

By Michael Fox

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