Time flies when you’re seeing movies. I would’ve sworn the 2015 Independent Film Festival Boston wrapped just a couple weeks ago, yet here we go with the 2016 edition of the gleaming gem of New England – dare I say, American – film festivals.
At last year’s event, the IFFB’s prescience was present as ever, as the festival screened movies that picked up speed, traction and plenty more fans as the year went on: The End of the Tour, Results, The Tribe, The Look of Silence… some of my personal favorite films of 2015. This is a perennial skill of the IFFB programming staff – nailing down screenings you’ll wish you’d seen before everyone else. Isn’t sharing a discovery one of the great thrills of being a movie enthusiast?
With anticipation building, please enjoy my annual list of the movies to watch (and watch for) at the IFFB. I’ll start with Opening Night, close with Closing Night, and fill in the middle with a tasty cinematic jam. See you there. (Get the entire IFFB online schedule here.)
:: Wednesday, April 27, 7:30pm
Somerville Theatre, Opening Night selection
:: The Hollars
John Krasinski’s 2nd feature – the first was his adaptation of David Foster Wallace’s Brief Interviews with Hideous Men – is one of family humor, angst and pain, with an exciting who’s who of extremely busy acting talent including lead Anna Kendrick, Richard Jenkins, Margo Martindale and Randall Park (President Kim!) (Personal note: I’m looking forward to old-time locals calling this one “The Hollahhs.”)
:: Thursday, April 28, 7:30pm
If the name J.G. Ballard rings a bell, you’re either a fan of bizarre, underground novels or you have excellent recall from the credits of David Cronenberg’s Crash, an adaptation of Ballard’s 1973 book. Here’s another take on Ballard, based on his novel about a condo tower-gone-crazy in the swinging 70s. The star is Tom Hiddleston and the director is Ben Wheatley, the guy behind the excellent crime-drama Down Terrace, Grand Jury Prize winner at the 2010 IFFB.
:: Thursday, 7pm
:: Life, Animated
Why would a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist become immersed in the world of animated Disney movies? In the case of writer Ron Suskind, it’s a means to share emotion with his autistic son, who memorized Disney films and uses them as a means to communicate. This documentary from Roger Ross Williams illustrates the power of film, art, music and narrative as essential to life. Winner of the U.S. Documentary Sundance Directing award, and offered as a free festival event.
:: Thursday, 10pm
:: This end-of-the-world feature from first-timer Claire Carré has already grabbed various accolades, including a special commendation from the Boston Science Fiction Film Festival. Jason Ritter stars among a group of people who’ve survived a global epidemic, but have no ability to recall previous memories or build new ones. (The official film summary includes the words ‘retrograde’ and ‘anterograde’ so I assume smart people will like this movie.)
:: Friday, April 29, 7:15pm
It’s not going to be an easy screening, but I can’t imagine a more important one. Documentary filmmaker Kim A. Snyder, who’s looked at difficult subjects in the past including debilitating illness and racism, spends time with families who suffered immeasurable pain in Newtown, Connecticut following their children’s much-publicized – and disgustingly politicized – deaths. How does a community respond to any of it? To all of it? (Personal note: If you believe gun ownership should have minimal rules and zero parameters, try this movie.)
:: Friday, 10pm
:: Under the Shadow
As if Tehran weren’t terrifying enough during the Iran-Iraq War, writer-director Babak Anvari adds a paranormal element. While a woman and daughter hole up in their apartment during the last days of the war in 1988, a young neighbor warns that “jinn” have slipped into the building – evil spirits bent on taking over the living.
:: Saturday, April 30, 2pm
:: Best and Most Beautiful Things
If you think the coming-of-age genre has no gas left in the tank, check out this documentary about a blind girl on the cusp of adulthood, ready to sow her oats and let her freak flag fly. This feature will have two simultaneous screenings at the IFFB: one will be “normal”, the other will allow sighted viewers to experience a movie as the blind do, with visual descriptions included in the soundtrack and blindfolds available for willing participants. This one’s screening three times at HotDocs this same week, so catch it while it’s, uh, hot.
:: Saturday, 5pm
:: Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World
How can you not rush to an advance Werner Herzog screening? The living legend follows up his documentaries Encounters at the End of the World (an IFFB 2008 feature) and The Cave of Forgotten Dreams with another curious setting: the planet’s digital environment, and how it’s affected (or sometimes overwhelmed) every heart and soul on earth.
:: Saturday, 7:30pm
:: Tony Robbins: I Am Not Your Guru
Speaking of A-list documentary filmmakers, this latest feature from Joe Berlinger spotlights the famed motivational speaker and life coach, and has been selected as the IFFB’s Documentary Spotlight Centerpiece film. Berlinger captures Robbins’ approach and dedication for the (sometimes fervent) attendees at his annual “Date with Destiny” conference, and looks at his fans and followers, as well.
This is the 3rd Berlinger film at the IFFB, following Metallica: Some Kind of Monster (my favorite music doc of all time) and Crude.
:: Saturday, 7:45pm
:: Free in Deed
If you opt for the fictional side of the IFFB’s Centerpiece selections, here’s the Narrative Spotlight choice from writer-director Jake Mahaffy, a film that would actually make a lively double-feature with I Am Not Your Guru. In this case, the man on the stage is “storefront” preacher Abe Wilkins (David Harewood), a Pentecostal minister who attempts to use prayer to heal a sick child – and perhaps cure his own ills in the process. Winner of the Venice Horizons Award for Best Film at the 2015 Venice Film Festival.
:: Sunday, May 1, 12:30pm
Alice Winocour, co-writer of the Oscar-nominated Mustang, directs this thriller about an ex-solider suffering from post-traumatic stress (Matthias Schoenaerts, Rust and Bone) whose paranoia is pushed to the limits during an assignment to protect the family of a wealthy Lebanese businessman.
:: Sunday, 2:30pm
:: East of Salinas
PBS documentary veteran Jackie Mow and co-director Laura Pacheco chronicle the modern migrant story through the eyes of Jose Ansaldo, a bright 3rd grader from Mexico, and his teacher, Oscar Ramos. Mow and Pacheco’s documentary examines what choices a young boy – not born in the U.S. and the son of two farm workers – may have in America.
:: Sunday, 8pm
:: Rainbow Time
Writer-director Linas Phillips must have a thing for the often-tenuous connections between brothers: last year, he co-starred with Jay Duplass in Manson Family Vacation and now he helms his own feature about the behaviors of a mentally challenged adult (Phillips) who’s introduced to his brother’s (Timm Sharp) new girlfriend (Melanie Lynskey, fantastic this season in Togetherness).
:: Sunday, 8:15pm
:: collective: unconscious
Okay, it’s an independent film festival, let’s get really independent: Five filmmakers go as far out as their colleagues’ inner brains will take them, as each adapts another’s actual dreams into five “episodes.” Described as “unnervingly funny” and “beautifully dystopian” when the movie screened at this year’s South by Southwest festival.
:: Monday, May 2, 7pm
:: High On Crack Street: Lost of Lives in Lowell
Teaming up with DocYard, the IFFB presents a special 20th anniversary screening of this rough-and-tumble story of addiction, whose real people and settings became the inspiration for David O. Russell’s The Fighter (the documentary is actually referenced in the movie). For non-locals, this is an essential and sobering part of our growing inventory of drug addiction docs – for locals, it’s simply essential viewing.
:: Monday, 9:30pm
:: The Lost Arcade
The IFFB wraps up a nearly all-documentary Monday night with this look at the culture within what is arguably the most famous game arcade in New York City history. Known as the Chinatown Fair (and, lovingly, The Last Arcade in Chinatown), the Mott Street locale has endured for more than 70 years, reflecting changes and trends that transcend far more than just arcade games. Quarters up, who’s got next?
:: Tuesday, May 3, 7pm
Coolidge Corner Theatre
:: Little Men
The first half of a double-feature at Brookline’s beloved Coolidge Corner Theatre is this drama from Ira Sachs, about the relationship between two families in Brooklyn: one, a clan of displaced Manhattanites, the other, a young man and single working-class mother who runs a dress shop downstairs. When the newer residents decide to raise the woman’s rent, tensions mount – all while the families’ two teenaged boys become fast friends with artistic dreams.
:: Tuesday, 9:45pm
Coolidge Corner Theatre
:: Don’t Think Twice
Mike Birbiglia returns to the IFFB (following Sleepwalk with Me in 2012) with this fictional story about the members of a long-standing improve comedy troupe, and the ebbs, flows, and vicissitudes they enjoy and endure. Personally, I look forward to Birbiglia directing a film not about performing comedy…
:: Wednesday, May 4, 7:30pm
Coolidge Corner Theatre, Closing Night selection
:: The Intervention
I’ve been excited about this feature from Clea DuVall since seeing the cast list: Melanie Lynskey, Natasha Lyonne, Cobie Smulders, and Jason Ritter, to name a few. A group of friends hang out at a summer house in Savannah, planning to implement the titular event – attempting to convince one couple that their relationship is completely kaput. False starts and plenty of booze make for other plans…