"Indie" has become one of the more nebulous terms in the cultural lexicon -- how independent is a movie released by a subsidiary of Disney? Fortunately, there's still plenty of authentic guerrilla filmmaking around, if the S.F. IndieFest is any indication. This year, the festival's second, the successes happily outweigh the stinkers, with at least one masterpiece that could dethrone Blair Witch in the millennial mind-fuck category.
Bruce Arnston cuts loose as artist/madman extraordinaire in Existo.
Generic graftings are common in the indie world, and Coke Sams' Existo is the hothouse transplant from hell. This gleeful musical satire of art, sex, and politics follows the title maniac (played by co-writer and composer Bruce Arnston) and his ragtag band of revolutionaries and their assaults on a world in which art is criminalized. Dirty ditties include "Just Do Me," "I'm a White-Bread Poodle," and the catchy "Fuckin' A" (whose lyrics Existo screams whilst bouncing up and down on a giant balloon). Screening Saturday, Jan. 8, at 10 p.m. and Wednesday, Jan. 12, at 5:15 p.m. at the Lumiere.
An indie star-in-the-making is 13-year-old Cameron Van Hoy in Pups. His performance as a murderous little psycho holding bank hostages makes Robert De Niro look like a dinner theater dropout. Van Hoy is well matched by Mischa Barton as the ultracool girlfriend who nonchalantly helps him control the prisoners, eat pizza, and get through an MTV interview (complete with Kurt Loder) during the crisis. Screening Thursday, Jan. 13, at 9:35 p.m. at the Lumiere, and Friday, Jan. 14 (closing night), at 9:30 p.m. at the Fine Arts Cinema.
Tops in docs is Reed Paget's Amerikan Passport. In this diary/travelogue, the engaging Paget tours the world's war zones on a shoestring. The director casually skewers U.S. foreign policy, finds the most striking image in a chaotic scene (a row of flattened bicycles at Tiananmen Square), and, refreshingly, cops to his own cooperation in a world America has made. Amerikan Passport screens Sunday, Jan. 9, at 7:35 p.m. at the Lumiere, and Wednesday, Jan. 12, at 7:30 p.m. at the Fine Arts Cinema.
The mind-fuck cited earlier is Gordon Erikson's Love Machine. One-woman morality brigade Becca Campbell locates five "respectable" people, including an NYU professor and a grants administrator, who have secret sex Web sites. She systematically -- and sadistically, it seems -- exposes them in a series of increasingly harrowing sequences. Campbell's obsession with exposing infidelities, closeted homosexuality, and all the secrets that keep relationships and people limping along leaves a trail of broken affairs, lost jobs, and trashed psyches. Is this vicious, hilarious film fiction, documentary, mockumentary, or some hybrid? Even when the final credits roll, you won't be sure. Screening Sunday, Jan. 9, at 5:30 p.m. and Thursday, Jan. 13, at 5:05 p.m. at the Lumiere.
The S.F. IndieFest runs January 6-14 at the Victoria Theater (2961 16th St. at Mission, S.F.), Lumiere Theater (1572 California at Polk, S.F.), and Fine Arts Cinema (2451 Shattuck at Haste, Berkeley). Tickets are $5.50-7.50, with packages available; call 421-TIXS for advance tickets or log on to www.sfindie.com.