Pass the Remote: An eclectic array at SF Indie film fest  

El Sobrante filmmaker Alex Zajicek's sly "Sorry, We're Dead," starring Sarah Lee, was filmed throughout the Bay Area. (Courtesy SF IndieFest)

With the flashy Sundance Film Festival come and gone, Bay Area cinephiles can shift attention to a homegrown indie showcase. Cinematic ingenuity and low-budget industriousness abound in the 26th San Francisco Independent Film Festival from Feb. 8-18. This year’s slate contains 35 features and 55 shorts screening at the Roxie and the 4 Star theaters, with many films also streaming.  

For the full lineup, visit In-person tickets are $5-$17, and passes are $90-$200. Online screenings, also starting Feb. 8, cost $10. 

The festival opens Feb. 8 at the Roxie with two films: Mar Novo’s “Sisters,” a Mexico-set drama anchored around a life-changing pilgrimage by three Mexican-American sisters (6:30 p.m.), followed by the Texan noir “LaRoy” (8:45 p.m.).  

The in-person closing night feature at the Roxie on Feb. 15 is Marc Marriott’s quirky and heartwarming “Tokyo Cowboy” (6:30 p.m.). It’s about a Japanese businessman (Arata Iura) seeking to slice out profits from a Montana cattle ranch. Things don’t go as planned. The second closing feature is “Club Zero” (9 p.m.) starring Mia Wasikowska as a “conscious eating” teacher who goes off the rails.  

Special events include a 25th anniversary screening of David Fincher’s iconic Brad Pitt-Edward Norton acting slugfest “Fight Club” (8:30 p.m. Feb. 9, Roxie) with author Chuck Palahniuk attending, the annual Anti-Valentine Day ‘80s Power Ballad Sing-a-long (9:15 p.m. Feb. 14, Roxie) and the “Big Lebowski Shadow Cast Show “(7:30 p.m. Feb. 17, 4 Star).  

“The Feeling That the Time for Doing Something Has Passed” finds dour Ann (Joanna Arnow, who also directed, wrote and edited the film) dabbling with sadomasochism with an older man, played by Scott Cohen. (Courtesy Magnolia Pictures)

Pass the Remote wants to score a ticket to “Fight Club,” but while we wait for the ticket to process, we’re recommending these movies:  

It’s a chunky mouthful of a title—“The Feeling That the Time for Doing Something Has Passed”—but it perfectly captures what director, screenwriter, star, and editor (talk about a multi-tasker!) Joanna Arnow’s boldly sexual and sardonic feature accomplishes. Arnow shows the naked truth of the life of dour Ann, a Brooklynite stuck in a depressive dead-end job and a not entirely fulfilling sadomasochistic relationship with an older, disinterested man (Scott Cohen) who has a problem listening to her. Adding to her existential gridlocks is a dysfunctional family. 

Constantly seeking out thrills, with nothing happening, Ann sees change when a new, giving lover (Babak Tafti) enters her life, leading to the uplift of a smile—sort of.  Arnow’s portrait of an unhappy, frustrated-by-design person is more exciting than its synopsis foretells, as it refuses to turn Ann into something she could never be. The movie’s such a well-done character study and Arnow is so convincing in the role, it makes you want to put all of Arnow’s future work on an insta-watch list. (6:45 p.m. Feb. 10, Roxie; not available to stream) 

El Sobrante filmmaker and Richmond native Alex Zajicek’s sly “Sorry, We’re Dead” also does a facile job of getting into the mindset of its protagonist, bored and stuck filmmaker Lana Jing (Sarah Lee). Lana’s numbing job at a lecture hall, though, becomes interesting (and problematic) for the wrong reasons when one special tape gets destroyed. Zajicek takes full advantage of what the Bay Area has to offer (Bay Bridge traffic makes an appearance) with portions of “Sorry, We’re Dead”— which features a true-blue Bay Area crew—set and shot in San Francisco, Oakland, Hercules, El Sobrante, Crockett and Port Costa. (9 p.m. Feb. 10, Roxie; streaming) 

Writer-director Shane Atkinson’s neo-noir “LaRoy” tosses into a Texas pressure cooker all the sin-soaked genre ingredients —lust, murder, avarice, a poor schlub (played so well by John “Past Lives” Magaro) and an inept private investigator (played to the hilt by Steve Zahn) and then puts them all out on a perfectly set table with the confidence and rapier-wit style lacking in so many noir entrees. True to its spiritual kin (“Blood Simple” springs to mind), it pivots on the cheating ways of a spouse —in this case, a former Texas beauty queen (Megan Stevenson, hilarious in every scene).

The two-timing leads her suicidal, hardware store co-owning husband (Magaro) onto the dangerous course of a hitman (Dylan Baker) and smack into a convoluted murder-for-hire hornet’s nest. “LaRoy” isn’t a genre game-changer, but it doesn’t need to be. It has a great cast and writing as sharp as the blade hidden behind some fiend’s back. (8:45 p.m. Feb. 8, the Roxie, also online) 

“Darla in Space” takes a kooky premise and runs with it. (Courtesy SF IndieFest)

An alien, kombucha-chugging organism named Mother becomes a hot commodity in a hotel room where customers are provided with the most tremendous orgasms. They’re so curl-your-toes potent, repeat customers line up in Eric Laplante and Susie Moon’s resolutely weird “Darla in Space.” What sounds like an extra awful “Saturday Night Live” skit turns into a hilarious kooky comedy that takes a slap at capitalism.

Funny from the start, “Darla” finds poor entrepreneur Darla (Alex E. Harris) saddled with a $349,000.22 tax bill due to her mother’s (Constance Shulman) tinkering. Darla’s little business Kitty Kasket LLC. is heading for bankruptcy unless she quickly comes up with the money. Through a set of bizarre circumstances, Darla encounters Mother and they’re off on their own business venture. “Darla in Space” is indeed scrappy, but its radical storyline, effusive spirit, and congenial nature win you over as it journeys to uncharted territory. It’s a gas. (2 p.m. Feb. 11, Roxie; also online) 

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