‘Poundcake’. Credit: SF IndieFest

SF IndieFest is back for 2023, offering another amazing array of flickers both in-person and online from Thursday, Feb. 2, through Sunday, Feb. 12. This year’s menu is highlighted by a pair of films — one a comedy, the other a documentary — satirizing and sharply critiquing contemporary culture and modern media.

Poundcake is not going to be for everyone, but as long as you’re not offended by the concept — a maniac is murdering the defenseless white men of Brooklyn — it comes with my highest recommendation. Directed and written by Onur Tukel (who also appears onscreen in a significant role) the film examines the borough’s response to the crimes, focusing primarily on the online opinions expressed by a dozen or so New York City-based podcasters.

Sharply critical of media’s increasing tendency to turn stories into clickbait, Poundcake also provides incisive commentary on conspiracy theorizing, our raging free speech/hate speech battles, and even the one-drop rule. Tukel’s screenplay, as intelligent as it is hilarious, gleefully rips the bandages off the sorest spots of 21st century American society.

‘Stand By For Failure’. Credit: Negativland

Stand By For Failure tells the story of Contra Costa County’s greatest contribution to modern experimental music, Negativland. Founded in Concord in 1978, Negativland are sonic tricksters who parlayed their talents with tape decks and electronics into a 40-plus years long “career” of culture jamming, media criticism and copyright infringement.

Directed by Ryan Worsley, Stand By For Failure follows the group from its beginnings at the kitchen counter of founder David Will’s suburban home (where his mother made countless contributions to the band’s early works) to KPFA, where the band found an ally in Don Joyce, host of the station’s long-running ‘Over the Edge’ program. Negativland recorded, filmed, or video-taped almost everything they did, so there’s plenty of material for Worley to draw from: Her film is no dry series of interviews, but a lively parade of cut-up sequences suggesting the group were as influenced by William S. Burroughs as they were by musique concrète.

While Burroughs isn’t mentioned in the film, it’s hard to imagine Negativland existing without him (or, for that matter, the situationism of Guy Debord and company). There are, however, brief clips of Marshall McLuhan, whose groundbreaking media work in the 1950s and ’60s has proven deeply prophetic. Despite the death or retirement of some founder members, Negativland continues to deliver their message and subvert the medium.

Chop and Steele. Credit: SF IndieFest

Chop and Steele tells the story of Nick Prueher and Joe Pickett, the jolly pranksters responsible for creating the Found Footage Festival. Their festival celebrates the lowly instructional and educational VHS tapes that proliferated throughout the 1980s — but there’s more to Prueher and Pickett than old jazzercise videos, as Chop and Steele unequivocally proves. Their appearance on television’s America’s Got Talent must be seen to be believed.

Finally — and if you’re in the mood for something a little more traditional — there’s Sarah Carter’s In Her Name (in which a pair of estranged and very different sisters are reunited by their father’s illness) and the slightly too long but intriguing southern gothic, Attack of the Flies, which introduced me to talented new screen thespian Jet Jandreau, here cast as the put-upon spouse of a struggling Prohibition-era farmer.

Freelancer John Seal is Berkeleyside’s film critic. A movie connoisseur with a penchant for natty hats who lives in Oakland, John writes a weekly film recommendation column at Box...