A Lion in Winter

S.F.'s Indiefest fashions a quality program out of Sundance's rejects

A Lion in WinterThree years ago, the brand-new S.F. Independent Film Festival staked out a slot in early January, laying claim to the honorific title of First Bay Area Film Festival of the New Year. But when Sundance 2002 decided to begin a week earlier than usual to avoid the Salt Lake City Olympics, Indiefest pushed its opening a little later, to Jan. 31. "It helped us get better titles -- including a few premieres -- when they got passed over for Sundance," founder and director Jeff Ross reports. Lest you presume that Redford's rejects are the dregs, remember that out of hundreds of applicants only 16 features are accepted into the dramatic competition at Park City. "Just because it doesn't play there doesn't mean it's second-rate," Ross notes.

The fourth Indiefest kicks off with a trio of programs at the Castro, led by the local premiere of Marin filmmakers Calum Grant and Joshua Atesh Litle's Ever Since the World Ended. A pitch-black comedy about the making of a documentary 12 years after a plague nearly wipes out the Bay Area, World ends with a screening of the doc to the survivors at the Castro. "So our audience will be watching the audience watch the documentary in the same theater," Ross explains, laying out the dadaist scenario.

The Indiefest guest list includes Penelope Spheeris (bringing her Ozzfest portrait, We Sold Our Souls for Rock and Roll) and Canadian cult heroine Sarah Polley (The Sweet Hereafter), showing I Shout Love, a half-hour film she wrote and directed. They'll be paying their own way, though, since Indiefest's corporate underwriters took a powder along with the economy. "We had contracts for seven big-name sponsors on the table in the summertime, and they were dealing with the recession," Ross recalls. "They said, "We'll take care of this next quarter,' and next quarter never came." The upshot is that Indiefest is solely dependent on box office receipts. "The way it's looking, I'll be volunteering my services this year," Ross says wryly. "But we're opening at the Castro -- what festival director wouldn't be excited about that?" Chip in at the annual Indiefest benefit/launch party Friday, Jan. 11, at Studio Z, where 10 bucks gets you live music, short films, circus acts, and a first gander at the fest program. For more info, visit www.sfindie.com or dial 820-3907.

Hope FloatsAs long as we're talking film festivals, I've got a few New Year's wishes I'd like to share. First, can we be more selective in the future about the use of the term? Call your one-day program of similarly themed movies a hullabaloo, hoedown, shindig, or barnstorming tour, but not a film festival. I understand the need for a hook that grabs the atomized attention of newspaper editors and moviegoers, but it's past the point of parody. (The Silent Film Festival gets a lifetime exemption on merit, and because a few of its ardent supporters threatened me with bodily harm.)

Of greater import, I wish that all the warning signs emanating from the S.F. International Film Festival (and its parent organization, the S.F. Film Society) prove to be illusory when the 2002 program is announced in late March. Executive Director Roxanne Messina Captor now requires all employees to sign confidentiality agreements, our sources say, to thwart a repeat of last year's leak that Mel Gibson was being bandied about as an honoree. More worrisome is Mimi Brody's departure from the helm of the festival's juried documentary competition, the Golden Gate Awards -- and the downgrading of the formerly year-round post to a "coordinator" position that ends after the festival -- fueling concerns that the SFIFF's programming team will demote docs to second- or even third-class status. I resolve to be optimistic, at least for the first week of the year.

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