Independent Film Festival Boston celebrates 10 years
Boston Film Festival hits the decade mark in spirited style
A little over a decade ago, two Boston movie fanatics named Jason Redmond and Adam Roffman ran into each other at the Sundance Film Festival and wondered why there was nothing remotely like that back home. Thanks to them, there now is. With its 10th edition, running from April 25 through May 2 at the Somerville, Brattle, and Coolidge Corner theaters, the Independent Film Festival Boston both hits an important milestone and stands alone as the local film lovers event that matters.
There are other festivals, but they are either unfiltered smorgasbords where filmmakers pay to enter (and quality control is therefore nil) or niche affairs catering to ethnicities and nationalities. IFFB is the only curated all-purpose festival, which means Roffman and the rest of the organizations brain trust (a hardy volunteer coterie of Boston-area film programmers) pick the best from Sundance, SXSW, and other festivals; seek out new discoveries; and fold in a generous helping of local voices and visions.
Boston is a city of filmmakers intelligent, committed, truly independent and more than ever the IFFB is their finest annual showcase (see story, Page N11). The star quality is on the rise as well, with appearances this year by Ira Glass of This American Life (he co-wrote the opening night film, Sleepwalk With Me), actress-director Julie Delpy (2 Days in New York), and directors Todd Solondz (Dark Horse), Guy Maddin (Keyhole), and Bobcat Goldthwait (God Bless America).
The IFFBs second decade can only promise bigger and better things more sponsors, we hope, and is it too much to ask that a Boston film festival take place in Boston rather than the surrounding neighborhoods? but for now its the best we have and its more than good enough.
(More information is at www.iffboston.org.)
SLEEPWALK WITH ME
The festivals opening-night film set its makers a challenge: How do you turn an off-Broadway one-man show into a comedy-drama taking place in the real world, with real characters? Shrewsburys own Mike Birbiglia, a comedian with a deadpan bedhead delivery, plays a man-child whos not sure whether to grow up and definitely not sure about marrying his longtime sweetheart (Lauren Ambrose). So he sleepwalks. A lot. Birbiglia settles comfortably into the directors chair, and the script was co-written by, among others, Ira Glass. Not surprisingly, the movie keeps its characters at droll arms length in ways that are alternately acute and obtuse. Most cheering is watching the main character slowly but resolutely find his voice as a stand-up comedian, a pleasing metaphor for Birbiglias own journey as a storyteller and a filmmaker. (April 25, 7:30 p.m., Somerville)
THE QUEEN OF VERSAILLES
The talk of this years Sundance comes to Boston as the festivals closing-night offering. Lauren Greenfields acridly observed documentary follows the ups and downs of David and Jackie Siegel as they try to build the largest residential home in America before the recession comes along to bite them on the tuchis. When the film opens, the Siegels are living a life of pornographic opulence, with seven children, countless lapdogs, and a life of excess that would turn Glenn Beck communist. Then the crunch comes; the scene where Jackie rents a car at the airport and asks where the driver is makes for uproarious parvenu comedy. But shes also an unexpectedly moving stand-in for the American consumer at his or her most psychologically desperate. Its a troubling, eye-opening movie that, unfortunately, ends before the story does. (May 2, 8 p.m., Coolidge Corner)
YOUR SISTERS SISTER
The low-budget, kitchen-sink genre known (uneasily) as mumblecore keeps morphing closer to the mainstream, and rarely as charmingly as in Lynn Sheltons comedy of kind hearts and bad bedroom manners. The performance by core veteran Mark Duplass, playing a good-hearted schmoe who loves one sister and drunkenly sleeps with the other, interlocks with the more polished approach of real actors Emily Blunt and Rosemarie DeWitt as the siblings. Youd think you would need an algorithm to put these three on the screen together, but Sister works beautifully as you are watching and only reveals its weak spots an unwillingness to explore emotional pain too deeply, a tendency to let characters off the hook in the name of forgiveness (earned or not) if you examine it later. If nothing else, its a quantum leap over Sheltons Humpday (2009) and marks her as a filmmaker to watch. (April 30, 7:30 p.m., Somerville)
2 DAYS IN NEW YORK
If Woody Allen was a woman and was French Im sure hes had dreams about this and if he loosened up his filmmaking until the comedy started bubbling out of every corner, he might come up with something like writer-director-star Julie Delpys loose-limbed, enjoyably silly sequel to 2 Days in Paris. Now relocated to Manhattan, Delpys Marion is living with her toddler, Lulu (Owen Shipman), and NPR reporter boyfriend Mingus (Chris Rock) when her family arrives from Paris for an extended stay. Dad (Albert Delpy, Julies own pere) is an old goat, sister Rose (Alexia Landeau, who co-wrote the script) is a tightly-wound nympho, and hanger-on Manu (Alexandre Nahon) is every Americans worst idea of a Frenchman, blowing joints in the elevator and borrowing Minguss toothbrush for unimaginable sexual activities. Its a fast-paced, hyper-talkative comedy of miscommunication, and without Rock as its anchor it might fly in 20 different directions. (April 28, 6:45 p.m., Brattle)
To appreciate the latest from Winnipegs gonzo writer-director Guy Maddin, it helps to have seen previous works such as 2003s The Saddest Music in the World. Like that film, Keyhole takes place in a psycho-Freudian update of early Hollywood cliches this time lifting off from a Petrified Forest-style hostage crisis involving a gangster (Jason Patric), his estranged wife (Isabella Rossellini), and assorted gunmen, ghosts, and French-speaking tootsies. The directors usual demonic control over his material has loosened, though, and we are left with a cluttered, overwrought meditation on family skeletons and residual guilt. Its the first Maddin film in which the subtext appears to have taken over, a useful experience for completists but a probable bafflement to newcomers. (April 29, 8:30 p.m., Somerville)
LOVE AND OTHER ANXIETIES
The debut documentary by Lyda Kuth, much-admired head of Cambridges LEF Foundation, is a bravely personal essay about empty-nest doubts. With Kuths daughter preparing for college, the filmmaker confronts a marriage she is no longer sure of by making a movie that does everything but confront that marriage. Love is extraordinarily touching in its very ordinariness, bearing witness to the genteel repressions of educated New Englanders, the ache we all have to keep love fresh, and the ways in which 21st-century 20-somethings avoid emotional entanglement, for better and for worse. The one person you sense Kuth most wants to hear from is the one who is not talking: her likable but extremely terse spouse. Self-absorbed yet surprisingly egoless, Love is rich in ways its maker may not have intended and ruffled by an anger that remains unspoken. (April 29, 3:15 p.m., Somerville)
BEWARE OF MR. BAKER
Every film festival has to have a documentary resurrecting an overlooked rock n roll icon, and this years IFFB entry is a hilarious, scabrous, informative wallow through the life of Ginger Baker, best known as the drummer for the 60s supergroup Cream, and still a wild man at 72. First-time director Jay Bulger interviews Baker in cantankerous baronial splendor at his South African hideaway (the title comes from the warning posted at the gate), using animations, concert footage, and various talking heads to create a portrait of a seriously antisocial (Eric Claptons words) talent who went the chemical distance and emerged gloriously unredeemed. (April 27, 9:15 p.m., Somerville)
There are movies that grab you by the throat and knee you in the groin. And there are movies that grab your throat, knee your groin, drive you to the hospital, help you fill out the police report, and ask you out to dinner, where you both laugh and cry over everything. This is that latter movie, an electrifying epic emotional thriller about an endangered child-protection unit in the Paris police department and the tight, tense bond among the detectives. People who have seen it have complained that its more about them than the at-risk kids. That might be true, but its as if the movies director, co-writer, and costar, Maïwenn, sensed that prolonged exposure to young suffering would be impossible to take and infused most scenes with some kind of levity. Maybe the adults in the cast were just easier to direct. They are certainly more eruptive. Each gets a monologue or aria that singes whoever is in its path. Its Law & Order: Vesuvius.
GREGORY CREWDSON: BRIEF ENCOUNTERS
What do we call Crewdson? Photographer doesnt seem quite right. He uses a camera to take his pictures, but he is no more a photographer than David Lynch or Tim Burton. Hes more a single-shot director. His unknowably grim wide-screen images have become iconic while Crewdson himself remains somewhat elusive. So one task Ben Shapiro sets for himself with this documentary is to better introduce Crewdson to us. It sketches his life and career, while watching him scout locations in Western Massachusetts. Its an enlightening peek behind the curtain, one that reinforces the mystery of Crewdsons pictures. Knowing how they are made doesnt make them any easier to apprehend.
This is Heidi Ewing and Rachel Gradys fourth documentary feature together; The Boys of Baraka, Jesus Camp, and 12th and Delaware are the first three. You can feel them gathering strength. The new movie observes the comprehensive decline of Detroit, which they capture with their characteristic impressionism that makes dreamy imagery indistinguishable from its nightmare counterpart. They are committed to that style, and rather than change it or use it to keep making polemical horror movies, they linger at a few pivotal events and follow a handful of local residents who express pride, shame, worry, bemusement, commitment, and dismay. This city is theirs. Ewing and Grady just have the good sense to create a complex space in which they can defend that city unto death.
AI WEIWEI: NEVER SORRY
Alison Klaymans levelheaded documentary profile is full of talking heads and interviews with the artist. Its the sort of piece you would find playing at the end of a museum show. Except for two things: First, Klayman is a smart journalist with an editors sensibility. The heads spout enlightenment, as opposed to the platitudes you tend to find in similar films. Everyone who speaks advances an argument or idea about Ai and the governments violent reaction to his art. Thats the second thing. Ai Weiwei is a great political artist. The film unpacks the folk hero-rock star-persecuted martyr status that can overshadow his ingenuity but never loses sight of the art.
With a monks calm, David Redmon and Ashley Sabins documentary immerses itself in and around Gouldsboro, Maine. Its a lobster village that is also home to a sardine cannery. The film is devoted to its last days (there once were as many as 75). The cannery closed in 2010. So the contemplative shots of fish being caught, fish bulleting out of chutes into vats of thousands of fish, fish being sliced and sawed at the cannery, achieve the power of visual eulogy. That lasts a few minutes. The film then watches as the cannerys new owner, Antonio Bussone, a Boston-based businessman, attempts to turn it into a lobster processing facility. He doesnt have an easy time. Redmon and Sabin approach both the people of Gouldsboro and Bussones determination to provide jobs, to win over lobstermen and a deeply skeptical town, to succeed with the same absorbing solemnity. The entire movie is an elegy.