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IFFBoston 2011: Narrative Sampler

For a sampling of the narrative features not already mentioned, I offer the following:

While the premise of Another Earth suggests that it is a science-fiction film, it is really more of a character study with a sci-fi MacGuffin.  Lead actress/writer Brit Marling, as Rhoda, is in virtually every shot, and yet is silent for roughly the first twenty minutes.  Her ability to keep the audience engaged through facial expression and body language sets the tone for the gently unfolding plot.  Along with the occurrence of some regrettable events, the sudden discovery of a twin planet invites everyone to contemplate how their lives might have turned out differently.  As the approaching planet draws near, it becomes larger in the sky, a visual metaphor for the longing for second chances and the looming reality of the passage of time to change the path we’re on.

Most stories with a customized flaming-throwing muscle car either involve super-heroes or a battle-scarred post-apocalyptic landscape.  While Bellflower has such a car (Medusa, which was actually built by the filmmakers), it takes place in run-of-the-mill reality. What begins as a buddy-pic of two dudes who love to build destructive toys turns at a bar into a budding love story.  From that point on, it’s unclear which relationship is more combustible, or more dangerous.

In 2008, a short film called Sikumi won a Jury Prize at Sundance and its festival run included IFFBoston.  In 2011, the feature-length expansion of Sikumi returned as On the Ice.  Director Andrew Okpeaha MacLean’s gentle interweaving of native culture, frozen landscape and unfamiliar cast to tell this story provides the sensibility of a Tony Hillerman novel set in Alaska, as directed by Ballast’s Lance Hammer.  While the themes of this story – friendship, loyalty, guilt, and honor - could take place anywhere, this story could only be told here in the same way that Taxi Driver could only be set in New York.

Boston’s new-to-the-festival venue, the Stuart Street Playhouse, showcased a pair of films on Tuesday night: Terri and The Whistleblower.

Title character Terri (Jacob Wysocki) is a high school outcast who is drawn out of his insular existence by a caring but inappropriate vice-principal Mr. Fitzgerald (IFFB vet John C. Reilly), his false-bravado-puffed buddy Chad (Bridger Zadina), and the double-standard-victimized social pariah ironically named Heather (Olivia Crocicchia, also seen in AIFF’s Almost Kings).  Endearingly awkward and dark, this teen angst comedy chooses to explore what the protagonists can change in themselves, rather than demonize those outside of their control.

Watching The Whistleblower, it is hard to distinguish what it is fiction and what is fact. Based on the experiences of a real-world Nebraska police officer who spoke up to reveal a U.N. cover-up of human rights violations, this narrative by writer/director Larysa Kondracki plucks Kathy (IFFB vet Rachel Weisz) from a middle-American police force and drops her half a world away into a rat’s nest of deceit, corruption, and abuses of people, power, and trust – all under the guise of international aid.  Back in reality, this film raises questions about restructuring diplomatic immunity.  Among them, this: If something is illegal in both your home country and your stationed location, why can’t you be prosecuted?

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