Now in its 21st year, San Francisco’s annual Indiefest hasn’t been the subject of past Berkeleyside coverage, but judging from the quality of this year’s offerings that’s been a serious oversight on my part. This year’s Festival kicks off on Wednesday, Jan. 30 and continues through Thursday, Feb. 14, with programming at the Mission District’s Roxie and Victoria Theaters.
You might not expect much from a film entitled The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then the Bigfoot (screening at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 31 at the Roxie), or you might expect something very different from what the film actually delivers. Far from being a campy cheese-fest or an arch assortment of pop culture references, writer-director Robert D. Krzykowski’s debut feature is played completely straight and is all the better for it.
Legendary character actor Sam Elliott headlines as Calvin Barr, a World War II veteran living in quiet retirement in New England circa 1990 (this is a guess; the film eschews all period detail and could be set at any time in the last two decades of the 20th century). Calvin has a secret which only he and the government know about: in the waning days of the War, he assassinated Der Führer.
Years later, the government needs Sam’s help once again. This time, Bigfoot is spreading a deadly disease throughout rural Canada, and Sam’s immunity to the bug — and experience as a professional gunman — make him the perfect guy to bring an end to the Sasquatchian terror.
This all sounds thoroughly ridiculous, but I promise that you’ll believe every minute of The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then the Bigfoot. Elliott is terrific as the sad-eyed, deeply private Calvin — regrets, he has a few — and his performance is matched by Larry Miller, cast here as little brother Ed. Add some gorgeous cinematography and a quality Joe Kraemer score, and you have an all-around winner.
I spent the late 1970s hanging around Los Angeles’ punk scene before moving to Oakland in 1981, so I was aware of — but didn’t participate in — the events documented in Stuart Swezey’s terrific documentary Desolation Center (screening 9:31 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 8). While I got to see German noise artists Einstürzende Neubauten drive a dead sheep into the audience at the On Broadway in 1984, I didn’t get to see them amplify the sound of desert rocks a few months prior.
Swezey was the man who made it all happen, putting on three shows in the Mojave Desert (and one in San Pedro Harbor) that anticipated Burning Man and other farflung festivals. Of course, he did it at a time when there was no internet and no cell phones, and he did it completely on his own — and without getting permission from the National Park Service. This incredible film is laden with astonishing archival footage that will have old punks weeping for their lost youth.
Making its world premiere at the Festival, Billboard is a pleasant if inconsequential comedy-drama headlined by Eric Roberts and Heather Matarazzo. Screening at 5 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 9 and again at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 14, it’s the story of an independent AM radio station trying to stay afloat in a world of cookie-cutter corporate broadcasting, and while losing a bit of steam during its final act is quite good fun.