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Indiefest Begins: 7 Movies to See at the Film Festival

San Francisco's 12th Independent Film Festival kicks off tonight at the Roxie with two screenings of Wah Do Dem, Ben Chace and Sam Fleischner's vérité-style account of a Brooklynite, played by newcomer Sean Bones, on a solo journey of self-discovery in Jamaica. The festival will continue through Thursday, Feb. 18, featuring a diverse collection of disturbing melodramas, locally based comedies and documentaries from abroad. For tickets, click here.

1. Easier with Practice

Where:
Roxie Theater, 3117 16th St., 415-863-1087
When: Feb. 13, 15
Why: Winner of the Grand Jury Prize at CineVegas 2009, Kyle Patrick Alvarez's absorbing drama convincingly illustrates how a chance encounter of the most intimate variety, even over the phone, can lead to fascination and something like love. The relationship that develops between young novelist Davy (Brian Geraghty, of The Hurt Locker) and his sultry mystery caller is fraught with complications and secrecy, but thanks to Alvarez, who based his screenplay on an autobiographical GQ article by Davy Rothbart, their story never hits a false note. The film understands and respects its characters, even when their better judgment escapes them.

2. The Art of the Steal
Where: Roxie Theater, 3117 16th St., 415-863-1087
When: Feb. 14, 18
Why: Don Argott (Rock School) asks us to consider the battle raging over the treasures of the Barnes Foundation, and it's an invitation well worth accepting. Founded in 1922 by millionaire art enthusiast Dr. Albert C. Barnes, the Foundation currently boasts a collection of Post-Impressionist and early Modern art worth roughly $25 billion. The only problem? Barnes, whose collection was scorned by the cultural elite of his day, left control of it to a small African-American college, on the condition that the paintings never be exploited for commercial gain. Now, the city of Philadelphia, for one, wants to make them a tourist attraction. Art of the Steal is a thoughtful meditation on public vs. private rights, and, thanks to Argott, fascinating entertainment.

3. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Undead
Where: Roxie Theater, 3117 16th St., 415-863-1087
When: Feb. 5, 9
Why: If nothing else, you have to love the title. But the premise of Jordan Galland's cheerfully black comedy, featuring Ralph Macchio, Devon Aoki, Jeremy Sisto and an original score by Sean Lennon, is equally intriguing: A crafty vampire attempts to lure the "real" Hamlet – his onetime apprentice, and a recovered vampire in his own right – out of hiding to settle a centuries-old score. Silly? Yes. Stupid? Possibly. Fun? For sure.

4. Beyond the Pole
Where: Roxie Theater, 3117 16th St., 415-863-1087
When: Feb. 5, 7
Why: Billed as the world's first global-warming comedy, David Williams' mockumentary finds two bumbling eco-warriors (British TV's Stephen Mangan, Rhys Thomas) attempting to become the first carbon-neutral, organic and strictly vegetarian duo to walk to the North Pole. That their endgame has nothing to do with saving the planet never occurs to them – blood, sweat and tears, shed in a hilarious series of misadventures, are their chief contribution to the cause.

5. Last Son
Where: Roxie Theater, 3117 16th St., 415-863-1087
When: Feb. 12, 13
Why: It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s… Superman, the subject of the new documentary from Brad Ricca, who looks behind the Man of Steel’s cape to reveal his origins and to shed light on the sad fate of his creators, who sold his rights to a publisher for $130 before getting laid off. Ricca’s passion project – he grew up in Cleveland idolizing Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, the local teenagers who created the first comic superhero – is somewhat dry but impressively detailed, understandably in awe of Superman’s rich history and his continued legacy.

6. Oh My God! It's Harrod Blank!
Where:
Roxie Theater, 3117 16th St., 415-863-1087
When: Feb. 7, 10
Why: “He is a great poet,” says a onetime admirer of Berkeley’s Harrod Blank, the aggressively quirky subject of David Silberberg’s new documentary. “Back when I got his first poem, I thought I really did love this guy. But that did change, of course, because I spent some time with him.” Not exactly a ringing endorsement, but it’s easy to see what she means. Blank is an artist – he decorates cars, turning them into mobile exhibits – a filmmaker, a poet and a full-time attention seeker given to hysterical outbursts. He’s also an original. You root for him, even if you’d prefer not to spend too much time in the same room with him. Silberberg lovingly captures his eccentricities in this obsessive chronicle, filmed over 16 eventful years.

7. Limbo Lounge
Where: Roxie Theater, 3117 16th St., 415-863-1087
When: Feb. 5, 10
Why: Set in San Francisco, Limbo Lounge follows the posthumous odyssey of Silas (Ronnie Marmo, of TV’s General Hospital), a recently deceased conman trying to earn a primo spot in the underworld. Assigned to corrupt the soul of an all too easily tempted copywriter (Robyn Cohen), he leads her down the primrose path, delighting in her every misstep. But he’s in for a comeuppance of sorts, and though writer-director Tom Pankratz’s latest seems to go soft in the end, it is competently crafted and pleasantly diverting.