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IIFBoston 2017 Pre-fest: It Stays With You

The tag line for Independent Film Festival Boston 2017 is “It Stays With You”.  In my case, that is certainly true.  You’ll see what I mean in a bit.  First, some back story.

A year ago Sunday, I was in the latter stages of moving.  My then-landlord was… not the best at maintenance, to be charitable.  The house was near the beach, which meant you had to keep an eye on the wood weathering from the salt air.  The front door threshold had been in need of repair for a couple of years. 

On this particular Sunday, I was coming down the stairs with my hands full and only a dozen or so boxes left upstairs.  Almost done.  As I shifted my weight to my left foot on the threshold, the rotting wood at long last failed and sagged beneath me.  With no way to catch myself (hands full), my leg folded up like a carpenter’s ruler and I spilled out face first onto the front porch, half in and half out of the house.

While my girlfriend (Lisa) and our neighbor (Greg) rushed over from the basement and his yard, respectively, I rolled over and dragged my legs onto the porch.  My left leg showed a dramatic difference in height between my kneecap and my thigh.  I knew instantly that either my kneecap was seriously dislocated, or I had snapped my quad tendon, letting all that muscle meat roll up towards my hip, like a rubber band released at one end.  A quick flex of my foot ruled out dislocation, because I didn’t scream or black out when I did it.  OK.  So, “quad tendon” it is…

Fortunately, I was able to remind Lisa where she could find some crutches in the basement that we hadn’t moved yet, and I was able to get down the stairs from the porch to the driveway.  That was easy enough that I foolishly thought “I might be OK” and tried to put some weight on my injured leg.  Really, really bad idea.  Quite painfully bad, in fact.  Note to self: Don’t do that again.  The three of us managed to get me into the passenger seat of Lisa’s car and she drove me to Massachusetts General Hospital. 

After several hours in the emergency room, I was told what I already knew.  I had a ruptured quad tendon that would need reattachment surgery.  As they were explaining the options, I interjected “tomorrow”. “Are you sure?”  “What could I possibly have to do that is more important than re-connecting my leg?  I want you to fix it before it knows it’s broken.”  As luck would have it, the Chief of Ortho Trauma Surgery was on call the next morning.  This is the kind of guy that gets shipped to Haiti to deal with mass casualties after an earthquake.  One of the best of the best would be knitting my body back together.

As I lay there in the hospital bed Sunday night, awaiting early morning restoration of my ability to flex my leg on command, I thought: “IFFB opens in three days.  That’s a tight window.”  I kid you not.

“Let’s see… Surgery Monday.  Post-surgical observation for 24-hours.  Release Tuesday.  That should give me time to adjust to the crutches and be at IFFB for Wednesday night.  I’ll have to take the T (Boston’s subway) because I can’t drive (my car is standard, and I can’t work the clutch without a functioning left leg) unless I can get Lisa to drive me.” 

I was assuming that I could have my leg explode internally one day, have it opened up, stretched, drilled (tendon has to go into the kneecap), and stitched back together the next, and then go back to life on the third day as if nothing had happened.

I blame the morphine…

Surgery went well Monday and it looked as if I would be all set by Tuesday morning.  Somehow, after Tuesday rounds, a box didn’t get checked that said “release the Kraken” (me being the Kraken here), so the case manager thought it best to keep me another night to be safe.  We could check with the surgeons the next morning to verify that I was OK to go home.

My first thought? “Crap!  If I don’t get released until Wednesday, there’s no way that Lisa’s going to drive me straight from MGH to Opening Night!”  (Because, you see, she’s not insane.)

“Hey… are you sure I have to stay another night…?”  So, yes, I was – in the moment – prioritizing a successful surgical outcome behind the slimming chance of my getting to IFFBoston Opening Night.

Again, I’m assuming there was morphine involved.

Wednesday did bring departure, but it took until the afternoon just as rush hour was starting.  From the back seat of Lisa’s car (where I could keep my leg straight by sitting sideways) I offered: “I don’t suppose you’d drive me to Somerville for IFF…”  She shot me a look in the rear view.  “Yeah… probably best to just go home.”  Once home, I spent the next couple of days learning to navigate my house, dog, hygiene, nutrition, and sleep with only one leg and my hands full of crutches whenever I wasn’t seated.

By Saturday, Lisa took pity on me.  She drove me first to Somerville to pick up my badge, then to Brattle to see Ian Cheney’s latest doc, Bluespace.  I had seen his prior films The Greening of Southie (2008), The City Dark (2011), and The Search for General Tso (2014) all at IFFBoston in past years (I think I caught King Corn (2007) elsewhere), so I was happy to keep the set intact at least.

With the help of various friends, I was able to catch a handful of other films throughout the rest of the IFFB 2016, including:

  • High on Crack Street: Lost Lives in Lowell – a 20th anniversary screening of this chillingly raw documentary about lives swept up in the scourge of crack in the 1990s that has echoes in the opioid epidemic of current times.  The Q&A revelations of what happened after the filming stopped were expectedly sad, but unexpectedly joyous as well.
  • Mike Birbiglia’s Don’t Think Twice – a fictionalized look at the world of improv comedy portrayed by a cadre of comedic actors.
  • Closing Night’s The Intervention – Clea DuVall’s feature directorial debut, where an ensemble cast gathers for a weekend retreat to stage a relationship intervention for one of the couples in attendance.

I also got the experience of seeing the IFFB – and, in the following months, the world – through a different set of eyes.  I got to walk in someone else’s shoes while only using one leg.

I learned where all of the accessibility features (ramps, elevators, seating, …) are in the various theaters – and then on mass transit, office buildings, airplanes, and so on.  I found how considerate most people seem to be - offering a seat, a spare set of hands, a ride, or even just personal space – despite the blue-screen-assisted self-absorption characteristic of the times.  Where I used to favor aisle seats that left my right arm free to write without poking a neighbor, I now reflexively grab the seats across the aisle that let me stretch my left leg, which still doesn’t like being in one position for the length of a film.  The gentle easing into my new, if short-lived, state of life in friendly surroundings was quite helpful.

What was also telling was the absence of so much of what I look forward to at this time of year every year for the last decade or so.  The missing of it.  I didn’t get to walk from screening to screening.  I didn’t get to race by T or car from Somerville to Brattle and/or back.  I didn’t get to spend the six weeknights and every waking weekend hour awash in films and friends – and popcorn and frozen Kit Kats.  The drive to not miss out completely was compelling enough that, literally (literally literally, not figuratively "literally"), the first thing I did after the injury that was voluntary was go to IFFBoston.

All of this has stayed with me for the last year, as I have ached and healed and learned to walk again with still-diminishing limp.

As the clock ticks down to Opening Night of IFFBoston 2017, I can’t express any better than I have above what it will mean to me to walk – to make the pilgrimage - into the Somerville Theater tonight. 

On my own two feet.

Maybe I’ll see you there.

The 15th edition of the Independent Film Festival Boston runs from April 26 – May 3, 2017.  Details can be found at


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