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‘Leda and the Swan’ adaptation is a captivating fever dream at SF film festival

‘Leda’ is a must-see film, but much other fantastic cinema is on offer at this year’s Another Hole in the Head festival.

It’s December, which means that — in addition to those other big celebrations that take place at the end of each year — it’s once again time for SF IndieFest’s Another Hole in the Head festival, happening now through Dec. 15. Now in its eighteenth season, AHITH has curated a collection of the best (and, let’s be honest, occasionally not the best) of recent fantastic cinema for our early winter enjoyment. As usual, I’ll concentrate on the good stuff!

If, like me, you prefer your horror served with a dash of the art-house, you’ll appreciate director Samuel Tressler IV’s Leda. Based on the Greek myth of Leda and the Swan — rarely depicted on film, though I recall a brief visual reference to it in Terry Gilliam’s The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988) — Tressler avoids the elements of the myth that 21st century audiences would find most disturbing (rape, inter-species sex) without sapping the disturbing power at the heart of the tale.

Filmed without dialogue and (almost) entirely in black and white, Tressler’s film is a captivating fever dream that uses music, sound effects, and startling imagery to weave its magical spell. Awarded the Audience Choice Award at this year’s Festival of Cinema NYC, Leda is screening in both 3D and 2D (flat) formats — but however you choose to watch it, it’s a must see.

Set and shot in Lake Tahoe, the light-hearted, Christmas-themed Red Snow is Leda’s tonal opposite. Writer-director Sean Michael Lynch’s story revolves around novelist Olivia Romo (San Jose native Dennice Cisneros, who has the biggest and most expressive eyes this side of Joan Blondell) as she tries to complete her latest vampire epic during the festive season. Her working vacation is interrupted by the unexpected arrival of a wounded bat, a vampire-hunter posing as a private investigator (Australian actor Vernon Wells, not the baseball player), and — naturally — some vampires.

The wounded bat transforms into handsome vampire Luke (Nico Bellamy), who Olivia nurses back to health on a diet of pig’s blood acquired from the local butcher. In gratitude, the canny Luke plies his savior with first-hand vampire lore and tales of misunderstood bloodsuckers hunted down by the same wicked mortals who drove unicorns and candy elves to extinction. Grateful for the helpful insight, Olivia nonetheless remains wary: Is Luke merely being helpful or does he have ulterior motives? A delightful horror comedy, Red Snow is also a terrific showcase for Cisneros, who seems destined for greater things.

Human Resources. Credit: SF IndieFest

Human Resources offers 70 minutes of awesome buildup followed by 20 minutes of slightly disappointing denouement, but it’s still worth a look. Screen newcomer Hugh McCrae Jr. is perfectly cast as Sam Calhoun, a newly hired Brookes Hardware employee trying to solve the mystery that lurks within the company’s personnel files. He’s ably supported by Anthony Candell as HR director Gene Knibbs, a hail-fellow-well-met sort who knows more than he’s telling about the store’s disturbingly high employee turnover rate.

Dawn Breaks Behind the Eyes. Credit: SF Indiefest

Finally, the spectacular to look at (and wonderfully titled) Dawn Breaks Behind the Eyes provides a heady psychedelic meditation on beginnings, endings and eternity. A highly stylized tribute to ‘70s cinema, the film features a Goblin-adjacent score while its story echoes the themes of 1972’s once-seen-never-forgotten chiller Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things. If that sounds enticing, you won’t want to miss it.

John Seal has lived in Oakland since 1981 and has been writing for Berkeleyside since 2009. He spends his spare time watching and reading about movies.



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