Reefer Madness

Indulging our appreciation of the weird, with the founder of S.F. Indiefest

"I find starting new things more exciting than maintaining things that have been around for a while," confesses S.F. Indiefest founder Jeff Ross. His latest (ad)venture is "Beyond the Valley of the Indiefest," a hybrid horror, sci-fi, and documentary festival scheduled for the first weekend in October. "It'll be a combination of the mondo psychotronic titles that we show at our February festival and DocFest, which didn't happen this year," Ross explains. Feeding off the success/excess of the grisly fare that dominated the last Indiefest, "Beyond" will showcase midnight movie-style programs -- at all hours. Says Ross, "We're indulging our appreciation of the weird."

The big news, though, is that Ross is negotiating for a couple of screens at an established multiplex. Tired of hauling projectors and folding chairs to raw spaces like Studio Z or the former church at Post and Mason, the impresario declares, "We want to take it up another notch and make it more professional." Is he also envisioning Indiefest as a twice-a-year bash in the future? "I know there's a festival coming up in February, and after that I have no idea," Ross replies with a laugh. "I can't think more than six months ahead." Mebbe so, but he's already got a theme in mind for Indiefest '04: art-porn.

My DegenerationJon Moritsugu has been making no-budget neo-punk movies here since the late '80s, and after six features his following is still decidedly subterranean. His latest, Scumrock, was named best feature at both the Chicago and N.Y. Underground Film Festivals, which warmed Moritsugu's cockles -- up to a point. "I'm not one of those people who says, 'I'm in the underground and that's definitely my ambition,'" he remarks. "I'm trying to reach the largest audience possible."

But when his Mod Fuck Explosion was picked up a few years back, Moritsugu discovered that the indie dream of distribution was largely a myth. "I'd walk around the film world and people would go, 'Wow, you made it. You have people in L.A. working for you.'" Moritsugu snorts. "There's so much status attached to getting a distribution deal. You could have that status but make no money for the entire life of the movie, and I think that's bullshit." So he's self-distributing Scumrock -- talking to theaters in N.Y., L.A., and Portland, following runs in Vancouver and Seattle -- and keeping a whole lot more of the box office.

Here at home, though, the Roxie and the Red Vic declined to book Scumrock.

So the rock 'n' roll flick will have its Bay Area theatrical premiere at the Microcinema (operated by the aforementioned Jeff Ross) at Jezebel's, a bar on the edge of the Tenderloin. "It's like we're in Europe," Moritsugu enthuses. "In Berlin, all the theaters have bars. It's a pretty civilized way to watch a movie, I think." He pauses for a second, looking back over 15 years. "Some of my best screenings have been in bars," he muses, "and on sheets tacked to the wall." Scumrock screens next Wednesday-Saturday, July 16-19; admission is $5, all of which goes to the filmmaker.

Action JacksonAfter months of wrangling, the Lumiere Theatre closes on Monday, July 14, for a seismic upgrade and cosmetic work that should take about a month. It's optimal timing for the art house, since summer is the off-season for foreign films and indies. ... Piece of My Heart, the Janis Joplin biopic starring Renée Zellweger (yeesh), will shoot here (along with Texas and L.A.) at some yet-to-be-determined date. Scads of hippie extras will undoubtedly be needed for the requisite Haight-Ashbury scene circa 1967, the largest such call since Oliver Stone used slews of kids for The Doors in 1990. (In that one, I was a cop in a concert scene.) ... Double Dare, S.F. director Amanda Micheli's hotly anticipated portrait of movie stuntwomen (Reel World, June 19, 2002), will have its Bay Area premiere on the closing night of the Film Arts Festival in early November. Can't wait? The doc sneak previews on Wednesday, July 16, at 7:30 p.m. at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts -- with Micheli on hand -- as part of Film Arts' "True Stories" series. Call 978-ARTS for advance tickets. ... Three cheers for the all-American Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, which managed to work in a trio of dead-center product placements (beer, car, and lingerie maker) during the opening credits. Now that's entertainment!

 
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