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IFFBoston: Lucky 13

IFFBoston is more than just a spring festival.  For more than 13 years, it has grown into the best way to experience independent film in, around, and about Boston.

It starts with the main hosting venues.  The Somerville, Brattle, and Coolidge Corner Theatres are the premier independent cinemas in the area, each with their own niche of iconic offerings that make them destination moviehouses throughout the year.  These range from retrospective series at the Brattle, to the Science on Screen and Sounds of Silents events at the Coolidge, to live performances at Somerville.

Beyond the week of the Festival, IFFB hosts special screenings showcasing recent Festival favorites or new off-season Festival-worthy films. For example, in 2015, IFFB year-round fans had the chance to see a preview screening of Room, with an Academy-Award-winning performance from Brie Larson, before its widespread theatrical release.

Of course, there is also the flagship IFFB event, eight days of films and friends, panels and parties each spring.

Some newcomers will happen by a marquee or a queue, be intrigued, and see a show.  Others might arrive seeking out a particular film.  Those folks have a nice time, happy to be in an area where such artistic outlets exist.

Then there are those that indulge in a weekend or the whole week-plus-long event.  These folks gorge themselves on a half-dozen, dozen, or perhaps dozen-and-a-half narratives, documentaries, panels, and/or slates of shorts.  A fantastic cinematic splurge, but doing it only once misses out on the real strength of IFFBoston.

Like a great movie that you find more depth from with additional viewings, IFFBoston is best experienced over time.  Film fans that discover the festival mark their calendars for its return.  The growing crowd of familiar faces adds to the flavor of the event for returnees.  Because of its prestige in the region, IFFB is a magnet for artists and films with ties to Boston and, more broadly, New England.  Wherever their home, filmmakers that come once look forward to coming back.  This collective through-line allows the festival’s frequent flyers to see directors interpret new material, watch performers mining new characters, witness documentarians tackling a new subject, and relive their own nostalgic journeys through local and personal history.

Some of the more recent examples of these through-lines:

IFFB Opening Night veterans had the chance to see James Ponsoldt – the first two-time director of an IFFB opener – handle two different kinds of relationships.  First, the Miles Teller / Shailene Woodley led coming-of-age tale, The Spectacular Now (IFFB 2013) – also with Brie Larson.  Then, the Jason Segel / Jesse Eisenberg portrayal of the interaction between novelist David Foster Wallace and Rolling Stone reporter David Lipsky in The End of the Tour (IFFB 2015).

Joshua Oppenheimer’s devastatingly unforgettable, and Oscar-nominated, documentary The Act of Killing (IFFB 2013) explored the 1965 Indonesian genocide through unprecedentedly revealing interviews.  Release of this footage uncovered information that rippled through a family’s history, giving rise to a cinematic coda in IFFB 2015’s follow-up, The Look of Silence.

Actor/writer/producer Brit Marling is a multi-year IFFB veteran, with 2011’s Another Earth and 2013’s The East, that had a multi-film return in 2015 with appearances in both The Keeping Room and Posthumous.  The math geek in me wonders if this is an elaborate biennial Fibonacci sequence that will have her return again with a three-film effort in 2017 and five appearances at IFFB 2019.  But that’s probably just me.

Along with Marling’s IFFB debut in 2011, Mark Sandman, the late frontman of Boston-based international indie-rock legends, Morphine, had his story told in Cure for Pain: The Mark Sandman Story.  Four years later, 2015’s Morphine: Journey of Dreams took a fresh look at the band’s arc through the eyes of the surviving band members and their peers.

Long-time fans of Boston culture could continue the walk down memory lane with a trio of films in the recent past. 

2015’s I Am What I Play remembers the peak era of rock radio (‘60s-‘80s) through the eyes, ears, and anecdotes of four iconic DJs: Toronto’s Dave Marsden, New York’s Meg Griffin, Seattle’s Pat O’Day, and Boston’s own Charles Laquidara – who famously took over on WBCN for Peter Wolf when Wolf left to be the voice of The J. Geils Band. 

A more targeted timeframe was covered by 2014’s Life on the V: the Story of V66, which charted the meteoric rise and demise of the mid-‘80s Boston-area music video UHF channel, V66.  (For readers under 30, UHF channels were the ones on the second dial of TVs, back when TVs had dials.  For readers under 20, ask Siri what a “dial” is.)

Whenever he has a new film, local-kid-made-good Bobcat Goldthwait brings it to the IFFBoston audience. It’s hard to imagine that he could bring a more personal film than Call Me Lucky (IFFB 2015).  In the 1980s, Boston was a focal point for several aspects of the American zeitgeist.  Among them: music, ice cream, and comedy.  The prior several films bear witness to the important of music in the area.  Call Me Lucky explores the life of Barry Crimmins, perhaps the strongest driving force of the Boston comedy scene at the time.  Crimmins was a mentor and protector for many comedians that launched from Boston to broader national appeal, including Goldthwait himself (whose nickname is a kind of homage to Crimmins).  For all his influence on comedy, the circumstances of his life gave Crimmins’ public life a second act of real and lasting impact for society at large.  Somehow, Call Me Lucky is able to tell two otherwise distinct stories in the same film because they are two facets of the life of a single man and each might not happen without the other.  Yet without this film, it might be easy for some to forget that both of these very different stories involve the same impassioned individual, if they ever knew it at all.

IFFBoston is woven into the fabric of Boston.  If you haven’t been to the Festival, you should go for the experience.  If you have been before, you should go again to see the new threads that are added and become a part of the fabric of Boston yourself.

The 14th edition of the Independent Film Festival Boston runs from April 27 – May 4, 2016.  Details can be found at iffboston.org.

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