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IFFBoston 2014: Boxcars


IFFBoston 2015, the 13th edition, begins this coming week, running April 22-29.  Make the trip and I’ll see you there.

The Independent Film Festival Boston 2014 was memorable, but not for the usual reasons.

Sure, there were the wonderful documentaries you might expect to see elsewhere (The Case Against 8, Rich Hill) and those you may see nowhere else (The Search for General Tso, and the locally nostalgic Life on the V: The Story of V66) – at least outside of a festival.  The coming-of-age opener (Beneath the Harvest Sky) and the trippy closer (Michel Gondry’s Mood Indigo).  The narratives ranging from light-hearted to dark (A is for Alex, Palo Alto, Hellion, The Sacrament), or even both (The Double).  The noteworthy performances like Bill Hader’s delicate vulnerability in The Skeleton Twins (Kristin Wiig is also excellent) and Tom Hardy spending an entire movie behind the wheel as his life skids out of control via telephone in Locke.  Sprinkle in a few dozen shorts, a few parties, and some Q&A and it’s a festival.

Yet two things in particular made this edition of IFFB stand out.  They both took twelve years to happen.

The first is Richard Linklater’s Boyhood.

By shooting the film a little at a time over the course of twelve years, Linklater is able to convey the life of a boy aging from 6 to 18.  This is not a tale of car chases, love stories, or manipulatively scripted highs and lows.  The movie unfolds the way that all of our lives do: slowly, incrementally, with any day being the source of happiness or strife or even banality.  To his credit, Linklater makes sure to blend in the pop culture current in the year of shooting without any way to know what will be remembered and what will not.  Like the aging of the cast – whether growth spurts or nascent wrinkles – these touches unmistakably mark the passage of time.

Boyhood is not a day in the life.  It is a life in the life. 

I had a reaction to its ending that I don’t think I have had before – not after any of the thousands of movies I have seen through the years.  I felt… tranquil.  

The credits rolled and the curtain closed. The lights came up and people filed out.  I sat motionless in my seat.  I didn’t feel happy or sad… or excited or pensive.  I wasn’t trying to draw the last drop out of the experience like keeping one’s eyes closed at the end of a kiss or trying to stay asleep to hold on to a dream..  I have already done all of those. 

I just… sat.  I was where I needed to be.  I was serene.

Party to go to.  Notes to finish.  Even a bio-break after a three-hour movie.  None of those were compelling enough to break me out of my Zen-like calm and contentment.  All I wanted to do was… be.  When I eventually did get up, the feeling lingered and morphed into a kind of smile that one keeps to oneself.

Upon reflection, my explanation is this: I liked growing up.  From early memories of childhood, through the trials of being a pre-teen and teen, to the onset of adulthood and striking out into the world on my own.  Boyhood let me do that all over again in the span of 164 minutes.  In the same way that most of us occasionally wish that we could be kids again, I wish that I could see Boyhood again for the first time, if only to get that end-of-film feeling back.

The other twelve-year odyssey of note was the Festival itself.

2014 was the 12th running of IFFBoston, but right from the start, for regulars of the Festival, something was different.  To explain, let me take a step back.

Through the years, IFFB has been remarkable in a number of ways.  One of those is the predictability of the staff that put it on each year.  With very few changes, this essentially-the-same crew of about a half-dozen all-volunteer stalwarts work all year put together the best film festival in New England, year in and year out. 

As I have written before, some festivals hit a wall in the symbolic Year 10 and the shake-up either works or it doesn’t.  The economy cycles. Funding goes away.  Interest wanes, either from the staff or the filmgoers.

For example, Ashland IFF has had turnover through the years, including after 10, and has seemingly picked up without missing a beat.  On the other hand, the combination of one bump in transition, an economic downturn, and backers squeezed into impatience ultimately killed Newport IFF when it appeared to have rounded the corner back onto the right track.  Year 12 was the last for the NIFF in its original form, although the once-departed founders returned to take over and start again in a less ambitious form.

Still, IFFB kept plugging along with all those familiar faces.

Twelve years of stability, however, is a long time.  Especially so for people all still shy of the creeping consistency of PTA meetings and middle age.  In 2014, the change caught up all at once.  With family and careers happily in flux, half of what had become the core team were not available for the long hours of festival building. Those that remained were worn by the effort of all that picked up slack.

For the week of the festival itself, everyone was back in one form or another, but the usual happily-stressed vibe was more frayed than in years past.  Some of the joy was extinguished, seemingly replaced by just-hanging-on exhaustion.  Once word began to trickle out, the weariness was understandable.  As the week went on, whispered conversations of concern began to crop up.  Regular attendees enjoy the Festival, but they also care about the people that put it on.  It was becoming hard to see how the new state of affairs could continue without crushing some souls along the way.  Some wondered softly, would there still be a Festival next year?  Could there?  Should there?  Or was this the last go-round?

The pre-show of the Closing Night is generally a lot of fun.  The event is all but over, job well done, and people begin to cut loose and relax.  This night, however, was different.

The Festival Directors took the opportunity to share openly with the crowd about how difficult Year 12 had been, explaining some of the weariness, and even sadness, in the steps of the staff all week.  As the words began to catch in the throat and the eyes welled up, the audience rose and applauded and even cheered.  Suddenly, it was as if a veil had lifted, and an ember of the old joy at last began to glow.

After the show, that glow and the warmth of camaraderie ignited hopeful discussion of 2015 and the years to come.

There are many reasons to remember an event.  A rousing ovation of love and support at a time when it is sorely needed is one of the better ones.


I am happy to report that IFFBoston 2015, the 13th edition, begins this coming week, running April 22-29.  Make the trip and I’ll see you there.


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