18 Movies to Watch: The 2017 Independent Film Festival Boston

By at April 27, 2017 | 1:03 am | Print

Anyone who’s ever attended a film festival creates their viewing wish list. That’s the selection of movies they would see if only a rift in the time-space continuum could let them be at any location at all times. But that doesn’t work.

Soon, it’s time to start budgeting time and tastes, and turn that wish list into a schedule (blah). That’s not as fun, so I’ll stick to my wish list for the 15th Independent Film Festival Boston, the long-standing advocate of independent filmmaking, and reigning champion of film festivals anywhere in New England. Check out my favorites below, and if you like what you see, you’ll be closer to knowing exactly what you’d like to see.

And if you want to gauge whether I’ve been on the mark the past few years – or missed it – here are my IFFB previews for last year’s festival, 2015, and 2014. Even if you retroactively don’t agree with my choices, you have to be impressed by the films the IFFB has brought to our appreciative indie audience over the years.

Note: Since I’m posting late on April 26, it’s worth noting that tonight’s first film was a rarity for any festival Opening Night selection: a documentary, directed by a woman. (The Closing Night feature is also helmed by a woman, you’ll need to keep reading.) The movie is Stumped, about film teacher’s Will Lautzenheiser’s struggle with multiple amputations after contracting a vicious bacterial infection. Director Robin Berghaus — who’s helmed about 100 shorts — started by chronicling Will’s Boston-based rehab, and just kept going. Like Will.

On to the rest of the fest:

:: Thursday, April 27, 7:00pm
Somerville Theatre, Screen 2
:: Furusato
The title of this documentary refers to the Japanese idea of “hometown,” the first place that people experience as children, and the last place they’ll see before leaving the earth. For the subjects in Furusato, that place is the rural area near the doomed Fukushima Daiishi power plant, a place that was a coastal treasure for centuries. German director Thorsten Trimpop is scheduled to attend the screening.
Get tickets to Furusato

:: Thursday, April 27, 9:45pm
Somerville Theatre, Screen 5
:: The Crest
Director Mark Covino made one of my favorite films of 2013, the dynamic music/family documentary A Band Called Death, and his latest looks likes another beauty about bloodlines. Two cousins, separated by geography and unaware of each other’s existence, find they are actual royalty, descendants of the last king of the Blasket Islands off Ireland. They meet, discover their familial destiny and, of course, surf. Covino is scheduled to attend.

The Crest is sold out. Look for potential rush tickets 10 minutes before the screening.

:: Friday, April 28, 7:00pm
Brattle Theatre
:: Cassette: A Documentary Mixtape
The IFFB has always been a loving home to music documentaries – and I have a particular affinity for those that dabble (or sometimes wade) in nostalgia. That’s why I take personal, tongue-in-cheek offense to director Zack Taylor’s assessment that the cassette is, as his film’s promotion puts it, “music’s worst format.” (Clearly, he needs to revisit the 8-track tape). Actually, the film’s a love note to ingenuity and the beauty of the DIY playlist. Taylor is expected to be in attendance.

Get tickets to Cassette

:: Friday, April 28, 8:00pm
Somerville Theatre, Screen 1
:: The Hero
Director Brett Haley returns to the IFFB after bringing the sweet I’ll See You In My Dreams here two years ago, with another story about the joys and consequences of getting older. In this character study, Sam Elliott plays a once-iconic actor trying to tie up loose ends and cement his legacy – and if you’ve forgotten how great Elliott is, I urge you to witness him steal a scene or two from Lily Tomlin in Grandma. The Hero co-stars Nick Offerman, Laura Prepon, and Krysten Ritter. Haley is scheduled to attend.
Get tickets to The Hero

:: Friday, April 28, 9:30pm
Somerville Theatre, Screen 5
:: Tormenting the Hen
Writer-director-cinematographer Theodore Collatos shot this tale of paranoia and a lack of social graces in just six days. As Collatos describes, Tormenting the Hen is “inspired by an experience I had in rural Massachusetts, and the early chamber dramas of Polanski, Weir, and Bergman.” This is the film’s world premiere, and Collatos is expected to attend. Ask him about his tips for quick indie shooting, which he detailed for Filmmaker Magazine.
Get tickets to Tormenting the Hen

:: Saturday, April 29, 3:30pm
Somerville Theatre, Screen 1
:: Intent to Destroy
Acclaimed documentary filmmaker Joe Berlinger has tackled big stories before — he and his late partner, Bruce Sinofsky, investigated the infamous “West Memphis Three” in their trio of Paradise Lost films, advocating nearly two decades for the accused’s innocence — but the history of the Armenian genocide during WWI is about as overwhelming and long-term as a documentary gets. A couple of people have already left comments on the IFFB site to thank Berlinger for bringing to light a point in time that has been denied across the decades – and that can seem unacceptably timely.
Get tickets to Intent to Destroy

Swim Team Movie Poster:: Saturday, April 29, 6:30pm
Somerville Theatre, Screen 2
:: Swim Team
Ever heard of the Jersey Hammerheads? Well, you will if director Lara Stolman has her say. In her debut feature-length documentary, Stolman and co-producer Ann Collins tell of this start-up competitive swimming squad made up of kids from across the autism spectrum, athletes otherwise ignored by their community. Swim Team has been an official selection of more than two dozen U.S. festivals, winning a couple prizes along the way.
Get tickets to Swim Team

:: Saturday, April 29, 7:30pm
Brattle Theatre
:: The B-Side: Elsa Dorfman’s Portrait Photography
This is one of my most anticipated features of the festival: Cambridge, MA documentary legend Errol Morris’s film about Cambridge photographer Dorfman’s love affair and work with the large-format Polaroid camera. Morris puts aside his searing interviews — and technologically hypnotic “Interrotron” camera — to enjoy Dorfman’s work, featuring Dylan and Ginsburg, among others. (This may be the most Boston and most Jewish documentary combined, ever.)
The B-Side is currently sold out. Rush tickets may be available 10 minutes before the screening.

:: Saturday, April 29, 9:15pm
Somerville Theatre, Screen 2
:: Youthmin
One of the only festival titles with multiple screenings (the afternoon showing is already sold out), is the movie you’ve been waiting for: a mockumentary comedy about Bible Camp. Youthmin is the tale of two pastors: a man desperate for his young congregants’ approval, and a pregnant newcomer who wins the kids over. This is the film’s world premiere, with directors Jeffrey Ryan and Arielle Cimino scheduled to attend.

Get tickets for Youthmin

:: Sunday, April 30, 12:45pm
Somerville Theatre, Screen 2
:: One October
The “October” in the title of this one-hour documentary is back in 2008. The nation is about to elect Barack Obama, the U.S. economy is stumbling around like a drunk hedge fund manager, and a midwestern radio host named Clay Pigeon (uh huh) is asking the people of New York City about their lives, their city, their world. It’s perhaps a little naïve to say it was a “simpler” time – that may be a little revisionist on my part – but it certainly was the beginning of a more divisive era.
Get tickets for One October

:: Sunday, April 30, 3:00pm
Somerville Theatre, Screen 5
:: Dara Ju
Director Anthony Onah merges two grandly American issues – the corruption of money and the experience of immigrants, in this story of a young Nigerian-American Wall Streeter whose insider trading affects his life and his relationships. This is the East Coast premiere of Dara Ju, with Onah scheduled to appear.
Get tickets for Dara Ju

Abacus Movie Poster:: Sunday, April 30, 3:30pm
Brattle Theatre
:: Abacus: Small Enough to Jail
The latest documentary from the great Steve James (Hoop Dreams, Life Itself) shows the flip side to the banking crisis of 2008: Instead of focusing on mega-institutions that were “too big to fail,” James looks at the small family-run Abacus Federal Savings Bank, a respected NYC Chinatown lender that, after reporting a single, crooked employee, became a target of the DA.
Get tickets for Abacus: Small Enough to Jail

:: Sunday, April 30, 7:30pm
Somerville Theatre, Screen 1
:: Dean
One of the more widely visible films of this year’s IFFB, Dean is the directorial debut of Demetri Martin, a comedian who’s been surprisingly appealing as an actor (and not just slight and quirky) in Taking Woodstock and In A World… Here, he’s the title character, forced to connect with his father (Kevin Kline) after his mother’s passing. I’m curious to see if Martin’s on-screen likability and smart stand-up can translate into a filmmaking style all his own.
Get tickets for Dean

:: Sunday, April 30, 8:45pm
Brattle Theatre
:: The Little Hours
It’s cuckoo time at the old convent, in writer-director Jeff Baena’s blasphemous, filthy follow-up to the grief-weekend dramedy Joshy. Three nuns – Alison Brie, Aubrey Plaza, and Kate Micucci for god’s sake – are thrown for a loop when a swarthy new servant (Dave Franco) is brought on, and introduced as a deaf-mute to avoid the ladies’ temptations. John C. Reilly and Fred Armisen co-star.

As of Saturday morning, The Little Hours is sold out. Rush tickets may be available at the Brattle box office.

:: Monday, May 1, 7:00pm
Brattle Theatre
:: Menashe
One of the only movies to be performed in Yiddish in the last 70 years, Menashe is the story of a NYC Hasidic man who’s forced to prove himself as a capable parent following the death of his wife – or give his son up to a family with a mother figure, as required by their culture. This is the first narrative feature from documentary filmmaker Joshua Weinstein, and stars Menashe Lustig, acting out a story based primarily on his own experiences. Both director and star are expected to attend.
Get tickets for Menashe

:: Tuesday, May 2, 7:00pm
Coolidge Corner Theatre
:: Trip to Spain
I’d love for director Michael Winterbottom and stars Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon to make one of these travelogue comedies every year. No matter, Spain is the third excursion for these two pals, playing fictional, well-traveled, moderately famous, wise-ass versions of themselves. They drive, they eat, they complain, they mock one another. Let the Michael Caine impressions commence.
Get tickets for Trip to Spain

:: Tuesday, May 2, 9:30pm
Coolidge Corner Theatre
:: Landline
If you’ve seen Obvious Child – and you should – you know the depth and sorrow and sweetness that director Gillian Robespierre and actor Jenny Slate can bring to the scene. They’ve teamed up again here, in this story about two sisters (Slate and Abby Quinn) who attempt to suss out whether their dad (John Turturro) is cheating on mom (Edie Falco), with family secrets and problems at a premium.
Get tickets for Landline

:: Wednesday, May 3, 7:30pm
Coolidge Corner Theatre
:: Band Aid
Zoe Lister-Jones takes the helm for the first time in this anti-romantic comedy about a couple (she and Adam Pally) who refuse to face breaking up – Lister-Jones has done the breakup thing on film more than a couple times – so try to solve their problems by forming their own band. Hey, it worked for Fleetwood Mac. (Okay, sort of.) Fred Armisen co-stars. Lister-Jones is scheduled to appear with moderator Meredith Goldstein from the Boston Globe.
Get tickets for Band Aid

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