2023 SF Indiefest – Ultraviolencia, Punk Rock Vegan Movie, shorts

2023 SF Indiefest logo

“For some reason, though, it’s the people who walk out of screenings that always stick in my mind. I’ve never left a film early before, partly because I’m so tight. Even if a film’s terrible, I’ll be damned if I don’t get my money’s worth. Maybe that’s why I’ve always been oddly fascinated by people who do get up and march angrily out of a theatre, and even taken special note of the exact point in the film where their will finally broke.”
– Ryan Lambie, Den of Geek, “When people walk out of cinema screenings” (20 October 2014)

I’ve walked out of films before. The very first time was when I was 14 and had had enough of the interminable slough that was Judge Dredd. Stallone and Rob Schneider had been captured by the hillbilly cyborg-cannibals and I was bored to death. I took my little brother to the next auditorium to watch The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers Movie, which wasn’t great, but at least it wasn’t dull like the film we just left.

There was once a time when my leaving a screening was so rare I could count all the times on one hand. As I became more and more of a shameless screen-hopper, I just stopped counting and figured life was too short to waste on a shitty film.

I’m trying to recall the last time I turned off a screener early. I actually applaud the late Roger Ebert for doing so, because I’m so knowledgeable about indie distribution that I still feel obligated to at least watch a screener to the end. As with years prior, SF Indiefest had a few entries that tested my resolve.


Courtesty of 2/4 Producciones

In this Columbian thriller, a self-important film editor works on, well, a thriller film intended to be a post-#MeToo take on the “kidnapped woman” sub-genre. As he works on it, our editor finds more than a little empathy with the kidnapper character. This, combined with his supposed perfectionism, result in him crossing the line and treating the film as wholly his own – with serious consequences for all involved.

At least, that’s what the film wants to be. It never goes far enough to be a real thriller (though its cinematography and sound work are wonderfully atmospheric), it doesn’t care enough about its women to be a true commentary on #MeToo, and the ending – subdued as it is – is so convoluted as to be satirical.

The germ of an idea is here and it’s very purrty to look at, but I found myself struggling to stay awake through it.

GRADE:                               D           

Punk Rock Vegan Movie (Centerpiece Film)

Moby, in one of the many skits that take up way too much of the running time. (Courtesy of Big Picture Media)

If I may backhand with faint praise: the best thing about Moby’s debut film is that Moby himself is the worst thing about it. The movie only benefits from him being off-camera, but sinks in quality whenever he appears to do one of his reject-SNL skits about the evils of meat-eating. And considering that Moby still hasn’t lived down the black eye his career suffered by harassing Natalie Portman, this movie doesn’t do enough to make up for it.

As the title suggests, the film is about punk rock vegans. Specifically, it’s about how vegetarianism and veganism have supposedly been part of punk’s anti-establishment ethos since its inception. This is backed up with interviews with genre pioneers like Captain Sensible of The Damned, Nicky Garratt of the UK Subs, Steve Ignorant of Crass, and more. The first 2/3 of the film primarily consist of said pioneers explaining how the ethos directly led to the creation of movements like Straight Edge, and has them recalling the headaches of trying to find meals on tour when everyone thinks you’re some grass-munching hippie.

Had the film stuck to this oft-untold part of music history, it would be great. One-sided and biased, but great for what it is. But that’s not the film Moby wanted to make.

Should he ever read this review, he may be delighted to know that I watched the screener over a vegan breakfast of oatmeal dusted with cinnamon and nutmeg. Eating a healthy breakfast as SF’s own Dead Kennedys play is the best way to start a day. What made me nearly hurl was the proselytizing.

The first problem with the film’s portrayal of punk music (which I love) is that it consciously side-steps the racist movements (like neo-Nazi skinheads) that also spawned out of its anti-establishment roots. As much as this film pays homage to Black bands like Bad Brains, it refuses to confront the reality of racism shown by many punk fans (who still lean overwhelmingly white) the same way it refuses to give any time to the non-veggie punk pioneers. If you’re gonna say “this was there from the beginning”, you need to open up to as many people from that time as possible.

What’s worse, the final-third becomes a full on “meat is murder” propaganda piece that praises PETA (yes, that PETA) and gives free reign to crackpots like Kat von D. She actually says, “When I think of veganism, I think of science,” which is both hypocritical and hilarious coming from von D, an infamous anti-vaxxer and anti-Semite (she recently fired an employee who called her out on her anti-science bullshit). Hell, the film features an interview with Dave Navarro, who’s currently unable to tour because he’s been suffering from Long COVID since last December.

And that doesn’t even get into the shitty skits in which Eva Braun interviews Satan (Moby) in Hell to thank him for making humans eat meat to kill the world. I did not make up a single word of that sentence – this film is the vegan version of a Dinesh D’Souza flick.

Even without the revelation of the misogyny towards Portman, this film proves that Moby has become his own worst enemy. He had the opportunity to give a refreshing historical context to one of music’s most influential sub-genres, but he uses it act like he’s one of the goth kids from South Park, kvetching that meat-eaters “a bunch’a conformists” (yes, that term is used in the film). There actually is a great film here trying to burst out, but its writer-director killed it the way PETA kills thousands of animals each year.

GRADE:                                             C


Every year, I do a single day of binging lots of SF Indie shorts. Every year, I wind up changed for better and worse.

Curtain Call

Courtesy of Misty

Even wonder what All About Eve or Showgirls would look like if they were shot far too dark, shot far too close, and threw in a bit of murder? No? Too bad, that’s what we got.

An aspiring dancer and barista auditions for a role, but decides that a fellow auditioner is the enemy because of some toxically masculine advice. We never clearly see the choreo because the framing is stuck on her face; we never see if she’s auditioning as a dancer or actress because the audition seems to be for both, yet neither; and we understand what eventually makes her angry enough to be violent.

The film doesn’t seem to care, so neither did I. And again, the film was too damn dark.

GRADE:                                             D

From Dust

Ben Livingston and Helen Laser in From Dust.

On the surface, this film (shot in 1.33:1) seems like an updated version of Diversion, the 1980 British short that was adapted into Fatal Attraction. After all, it’s about a married university professor visiting the apartment of a student (Helen Laser) for a sexual tryst. But the film takes a detour into “supernatural thriller” territory that was actually foreshadowed pretty damn well.

It starts out making blunt commentary about patriarchal privilege, but it’s as if that bluntness was to get the talking points out of the way. They inform what happens in the latter-half, but so does ancient mythology.

The one real flaw is the make-up work done for the big supernatural reveal. Other than that, this isn’t a bad way to spend a few minutes of your time.

GRADE:                              B


Courtesy of Tasty Pictures

DH Lawrence quotes are narrated over this Ron Fricke-esque meditation piece about surfing and the ocean. That’s it. I’m not withholding any plot info, it’s just trying to be a tone poem.

It may have worked had the narrators been more appealing. And, as with Curtain Call, if it weren’t so damn dark.

GRADE:                              C

Dead Serious

Courtesy of Midnight Coffee Productions

This isn’t a short film, it’s the pilot for tv series. No, really. A bunch of co-eds leave a night of drinking (in the day) and are indifferent about their encounter with a zombie. They fail to kill him, so he infects more people and starts a (supposed) zombie apocalypse.

I can’t emphasize enough how painfully unfunny this was. Those are 30 minutes of my life I’ll never have back again. From the “student film” framing and editing to the non-exist acting to the insulting writing (a running “gag” is how a slim person receives fat-shaming insults by strangers). I’ve seen some poorly-made indie crap in my time, but this is After Last Season-level ineptitude.

Don’t worry about zombies: if you see this pilot, run the other way.

GRADE:                              F

Fight Like a Mother

Courtesy of Powerhouse Pictures

This was one of the best of things I saw for this year’s festival. A woman who boxes finds her recent in-ring loss compounded by the sudden realization that she’s pregnant. Fourteen months later and she finds that balancing boxing and a baby (and a fast food job) is a pain-in-the-ass.

That part would be obvious. What won me over was how for an athlete (ie. someone who’s body is crucial to their livelihood) post-partum physical changes affect you in ways not often covered in media. It also brings up the topic of abortion in a way that doesn’t demonize it or apotheosize it.

Although I’ve mixed feelings about the character’s final choice, I like that it was a woman who encourages it. The film almost feels like a rebuttal to the BBC’s recent infamous headline dripping with misogyny. It’s not a question of whether women can “have it all”, it’s that the world doesn’t want them to have anything – and that’s bullshit.

GRADE:                              A-

Hot Toddy

Voice acting (which I’ve done several times) isn’t nearly as easy as it seems. Watching and listening to Darlene Cooper, lead character of this crudely-animated short, reminded me of how grateful I was for Daria Morgendorfer’s famous monotone. Darlene goes for the same, but the actress doesn’t know (or wasn’t directed to find) the difference between “reserved” and “bored”.

This piece, which wouldn’t cut the mustard at Spike & Mike, is about Darlene being a fluff-news reporter covering a bat mitzvah. She wants to do serious reporting. Her BFF shows up at the bat mitzvah and someone dies. Darlene decides to investigate and report (at least, she would if the film ever tried to show how she approaches journalism).

This was only about ten-or-so minutes, but they stretched on forever with DOA jokes and bad animation. If you ever see it as an option, pass.

GRADE:                              F

Last Call

Ever wonder how a documentary can be brilliant in a mere three minutes? Watch this one.

It’s a eulogy for legendary SF gay bar The Stud, which eventually extends to El Rio and Auntie Charlie’s as well. Aside from the opening and closing audio of the eulogy, this film (actually shot on film) is a monochromatic silent piece about each bar’s final employees (all wearing masks) closing up their establishments for the final time.

The loss of crucial SF venues is something I’ve written about a lot lately, so this hit close to home – literally and figuratively. Not only that, but it’s a master class in subtle-yet-powerful film-making.

GRADE:                              A

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