Cinequest 20: Great Indie Films, Not In A Theatre Near You

San Jose, California is the self-proclaimed capitol of Silicon Valley, the world’s largest high-tech hub. Home to companies like Hewlett Packard, Yahoo!, Oracle, Apple, Ebay, Adobe and Google — just to name a few — this section of the San Francisco Bay Area is a leader in inovation. Most of the cutting edge technology you use in your home, office or anywhere else, is rooted in Silicon Valley.

In keeping with the valley’s tradition of always being one step ahead of the rest of the world, San Jose plays host to the Cinequest Film Festival each winter. Cinequest honors and exhibits films by “mavericks,” filmmakers who dare to break from tradition and do something different.

This year marked the festival’s twentieth anniversary, and its program featured over 200 screenings, including 76 U.S. or World premiers. Cinequest promised a unique experience, with films unlike those you’d find at your local multiplex — and they delivered.

Below you will find brief reviews of four films screened at this year’s festival. All four are completely unique — in style, subject and tone.

7 Days

Daniel Grou’s Les 7 Jours du talion (7 Days) premiered at this years Sundance Film festival to favorable reviews. This French-Canadian film tells the story of Dr. Bruno Hamel whose life has been torn apart by the brutal rape and murder of his 8-year-old daughter. As a means for coping, Bruno kidnaps his child’s murderer and locks him in a secluded cabin. For the next seven days, Bruno uses his experience as a surgeon to slice, dice and torture the man who killed his daughter…keeping him alive and conscious the entire time. Think Law Abiding Citizen meets Hostel, except in French and actually kind of good. The film’s graphic violence is actually dwarfed by the horrors conjured up by your imagination of what isn’t shown on screen. Genuine performances by the entire cast and a subplot involving the detective on the murder case elevate the film above genre trappings.

Cleanflix

Let’s say you want to watch a popular movie, but your religious beliefs prevent you from watching any films that feature foul language or any sexual content…bummer, right? Wrong! You can order edited DVDs of any movie…same great film, but with all the naughty bits cut out. This documentary explores the edited film industry, which is rooted in Salt Lake City, Utah and is heavily influenced by the beliefs of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. At first focusing on both the legal aspects of editing and reselling home video (pesky copyright laws) as well as the people involved, the film takes an unexpected but rewarding turn in the third act, shifting from a straight delivery of fact to a scathing indictment of the hypocrisy behind religious fundamentalism.

Friction

Director Cullen Hoback volunteers to teach at a summer performing arts camp. In return for teaching for free, Hoback is allowed to film his latest movie. He writes a script about characters based on the real staff and students of the camp and fabricated plot involving an affair between a married teacher and one of her students. As filming commences, the fiction in the script blends with reality…completely derailing Hoback’s film. What is eventually produced is Friction a film in which the intended narrative is seamlessly blended with an unintentional documentary, leaving audiences to wonder what is real and what is just a movie. Friction is the type of film Cinequest is made for: a cinematic experience so unique, there is nothing out there to compare it to. Friction was the best film I saw at the festival and the best I’ve seen all year. Keep an eye out for this one at festivals in your area or for a home video release in the future. It’s worth your time.

The Puck Hogs

The Puck Hogs are a men’s recreational hockey team who flat out suck. Desperately hanging on to the last tangible piece of their youth, the team prepares to compete in one last tournament. When a technical loop-hole in the tournament’s scoring system lands the misfits in the playoffs, The Puck Hogs are given a chance to finally prove themselves. Mockumentary styling allows the characters to speak directly to the audience, providing hilarious insight into the sophomoric mentalities of the films subjects. While offering little in the realm of artistic expression, The Puck Hogs is a pretty riotous way to spend 90 minutes.

The Cinequest festival truly is something special. It provides an opportunity to see films that often times wouldn’t otherwise be seen. Some of these films will fade away without garnering any more attention than that bestowed on it here, while others — with a little bit of luck — will move on to bigger venues and eventually to your local movie house.