SF IndieFest, San Francisco’s local independent film festival and “alternative to the multiplex” has gone virtual.
Founded by Jeff Ross — known for his 25-year career producing events from nightclub shows to art openings, live music, performing arts and more — this year’s festival, with 38 features and 42 shorts, runs Feb. 4-21.
Ross created SF IndieFest in 1998 to provide an option other than big-budget blockbusters. Ross and his team take around a year to curate a lineup of “offbeat, quirky and sort of strange” films, he says.
“We’re local Bay Area people and we’re doing this for local Bay Area filmgoers,” says Ross. “I like to think that we have an idea of what people might want to see when they’re taking a break from whatever’s on HBO Max today.”
Among this year’s unorthodox offerings is the premiere of “Keeping Company,” a comedy thriller written by Devin Das and Josh Wallace, who also directed, about two brash insurance salesmen (played by Das and Ahmed Bharoocha) who get trapped in the basement of a client.
The filmmakers found that the insurance industry was a good topic around which to explore and demonstrate the horrors of capitalism, exploitation and the concept of the survival of the fittest.
“It allows for these characters to be like snake oil salesmen who are just out for themselves and looking to make a sale. Insurance is kind of a fun way to show that,” says Das. “But it’s also the fact that we could play with life insurance — trying to sell life insurance, trying to scare people into it, trying to exploit people in that way.”
“Keeping Company” gives a fresh take on horror, sprinkled with ominous insurance mottos like “Your life is our life” and featuring a stoic Norman Bates-like character Lucas (played by Jacob Grodnik) who has a domineering grandmother (Suzanne Savoy).
Das and Bharoocha’s chemistry is evident from the moment they begin pitching to unsuspecting homeowners.
“You don’t need accidental death insurance,” Das says, laughing. “Yet we force it upon people through the economic systems that we have. And it’s also meant to represent not just insurance, but just sort of the overall system that we have.”
Another notable film in the lineup is “Small Time,” written and directed by Niav Conty. Winner of the audience award at Cinequest, it’s an empathetic, and sometimes darkly humorous, story about a young girl in rural America whose life is touched by the opioid crisis and war on terror. It stars 12-year-old Audrey Grace Marshall, who’s in HBO Max’s “The Flight Attendant.”
On a more local front, the festival also includes “Girl in Golden Gate Park,” a noir drama directed by Nob Hill resident JP Allen starring Erin Mei-Ling Stuart from the Mission District and Allison Ewing from San Mateo. The film follows the adventures of a woman who comes up with a plan to stay in The City after she’s ousted from her apartment and is living in her car near Golden Gate Park.
Meanwhile, the 63-minute documentary “Playing for Keeps,” about the science and health benefits of playing, features San Francisco roller skating icon David Miles Jr., founder of the Church of 8 Wheels, and Isabella Miller, program director at the Berkeley Film Foundation. The film, directed by the late James Redford, aims to show how staying playful is a powerful part of a happy life.
IF YOU WATCH
23rd San Francisco Independent Film Festival
When: Feb. 4-21
Tickets: $10 (individual screenings) to $135 (all access pass)