The Sleeping Negro. Credit: SF IndieFest Credit: SF Indiefest

It’s only February, but this year’s festival season has already arrived! First out of the gate is SF IndieFest’s annual Independent Film Festival, running virtually and in-person (at San Francisco’s Roxie Theater) from Thursday, Feb. 3 through Sunday, Feb. 13.

Topping my list of recommendations — and having already won or been nominated for a boatload of awards — writer-director Skinner Myer’s The Sleeping Negro is the closest thing this year’s festival has to a must-see feature. Prefaced by James Baldwin’s famous 1961 quote “To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time,” the film depicts the internal and external struggles of Man, an unnamed 35-year-old (played by Myers) coming to terms with life as a Black man in present-day America.

Compelled to commit fraud by his white boss, confronted by an old friend (now a Black Trump supporter who believes America is a “post-racial” society), and confounded by his white fiancée’s efforts to convince him she and her parents are good, liberal, non-racist Democrats, Man also finds his footsteps dogged by a troublesome doppelgänger who turns up at inopportune moments.

Featuring the welcome presence of cinema veteran Rae Dawn Chong — here playing a foreclosure victim — The Sleeping Negro has no time for happy endings or easy resolutions: By the time its story concludes, Myers’ Man is as confused, torn, and conflicted as he was when we first met him. The struggle, it seems, will continue — at least a little while longer.

Pari. Credit: SF IndieFest Credit: SF Indiefest

Pari is the story of an Iranian couple’s search for a missing son who doesn’t want to be found. In Greece on a two-year student visa, Babak has long since stopped communicating with his family; stepfather Faroukh (Shabhaz Noshir) considers him a lost cause and perhaps not worth the bother, while mother Pari (Melika Foroutan) is hellbent on finding her child — even if the search takes her to some of Athens’ least salubrious neighborhoods.

Written and directed by Siamak Etemadi, Pari is a showcase for Foroutan, spectacular as the desperate mother who sheds her fears – and eventually her chador — as she encounters anarchists, punk bands, and sex workers during her search for Babak. Pari offers powerful testimony to the sometimes fractured — but rarely broken — bond between parent and child.

All My Friends Hate Me. Credit: SF IndieFest Credit: SF Indiefest

All May Friends Hate Me is a discomfiting British comedy about on-the-cusp-of-middle-age Pete (Tom Stourton), a charity worker subjected to a nightmarish, paranoia-inducing birthday celebration arranged by some old chums who don’t seem to have matured much since their time at university. Unimpressed by their japes and jokes — most of them coming at his expense — Pete finds himself nervously looking over his shoulder in anticipation of the next unwelcome “surprise.” Undone somewhat by a rather flat conclusion, All My Friends Hate Me is a well-written critique of Britain’s still well-entrenched class system.

Cat Daddies. Credit: SF IndieFest Credit: SF Indiefest

If you’re in the mood for a documentary, consider Cat Daddies, a salute to men who have embraced their feline side. The cats are, of course, wonderful, and the stories — especially that of homeless New Yorker David and his companion Lucky — touching, uplifting and even inspiring.

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...