“The timing is pretty tight,” admits Nancy Campbell, program director for the Boston Independent Film Festival. With gunfire and restrictions starting to lift as the city takes tentative steps toward reopening, the region’s annual spring party for moviegoers is staying at home a bit longer. This year’s IFFBoston runs from Thursday May 6 through Sunday May 16 in your living room, featuring 26 feature films and 43 short films selected by Campbell and Executive Director Brian Tamm on their virtual tours to festivals around the world, as well as than the usual panel. discussions, Q&A for directors and a showcase of local student films, all online this year.
The IFFBoston home screens in Somerville, Brattle and Coolidge Corner cinemas are still closed – although the Coolidge begins a gradual reopening on May 13 – and Tamm says there has been a brief discussion about the postponement of ‘an in-person event later in the summer. âBut we tried this last year and it didn’t work that well,â he laughs bitterly.
Campbell’s typically excellent and eclectic lineup includes about half as many films as in previous years, as a virtual festival brings different demands than programming for multiple screens in multiple locations. âIt’s theoretically a screen in one place,â she explains. âWe want to make sure people don’t feel overwhelmed. Two or three films will be released each day 48 hours apart, with the eight short film programs available throughout the festival. âWe want people to be able to focus on the movies they see. Really take them. It’s like omakase where you are given small dishes instead of a buffet.
âWe don’t expect people to take the time they could spend at a festival in person,â Tamm says. But it was important to try and capture the vibe of the IFFBoston community by making home viewers feel like they’re watching all of the same movies at something around the same time. âWe wanted to be able to showcase the movies instead of throwing them in your lap and having you sort them. We think two movies a day during the week is a reasonable amount. I mean, not for a normal person, but for a movie buff, âhe laughs. “Saying it out loud, I realize that any normal person would think this is an insane amount of movies, but to us that sounds pretty reasonable.”
The festival kicks off Thursday night with an explosion of pure euphoria. “Summer of Soul” is Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson’s extraordinary documentary about the Harlem Cultural Festival, which took place over six sweaty Sundays in the summer of 1969. It is a powerful portrayal of a political and one of the most exciting concert films you’ll ever see, featuring cutting edge performances from Stevie Wonder, Sly and the Family Stone, The Staple Singers, BB King, Gladys Knight and the Pips, the Edwin Hawkins Gospel Choir and Nina Simone. I guess the best thing to do after an opening night is we all dance in our living rooms.
My favorite on this year’s list is writer-director Ana Katz’s elliptical quirk of âThe Dog Who Didn’t Want To Be Quiet,â a series of quick and often-daily snippets of the life of an ordinary Argentinian man during two decades. Like Richard Linklater’s “Boyhood” on a more compressed microscopic scale, the film flattens world-changing events by giving them the same importance as daily errands in a way that is confusing at first, but becomes cosmic in its depths. ramifications. It’s one of those movies where you spend most of the time wondering what’s going on, and then when it’s over you feel like you’ve caught a glimpse of the secrets of the universe.
âThere are a lot of movies out there about breed in particular – very directly – because I think it’s a topic that is on everyone’s mind right now,â Campbell said. âWho We Are: A Chronicle of Racism in Americaâ provides a very comprehensive look at how things have progressed and has a lot of custom elements that I think are engaging and important for people to discuss. Tamm’s documentary picks include “The Gig is Up,” about the invisible and generally underpaid workforce that works behind the Big Tech disruptions and “The Oxy Kingpins,” which contrasts Charlestown’s street dealers with criminals who legally work in pharmaceutical companies. âBoth films have some connection to Boston, so we’re showing a lot of sh — y behavior here,â he smiles.
Staying local, âLast Night in Rozzieâ is a moving melodrama written by Roslindale native Ryan McDonough in which the estranged Little Leaguers are reunited in tragedy 25 years later. ’90s idol Jeremy Sisto gives a surprisingly believable performance as a thick-necked city dweller who’s gone to seed, and what the film might lack in finesse it makes up for with its emotional authenticity. My more distant recommendations include the heartbreaking “Sabaya”, on the Yazidi raids to save ISIS sex slaves from a Kurdish rescue camp, and the Maltese fishing drama “Luzzu”, a return to the climax. Italian neorealism with non-professional actors discovered by the director during his research.
Your midnight movie itch may be scratched by âStrawberry Mansion,â the latest whimsical whatzit from directors Kentucker Audley and Albert Birney, of which âSylvioâ was my favorite IFFBoston 2017 movie. This one is a love story surreal with the same analog absurdism, a sort of “Inception” thrift store about an evil company selling ad space in your dreams. Or on the darker side, âWe All Go to the World’s Fair,â Jane Schoenbrun’s deeply disturbing character study of a teenage girl sliding down the burrow of an online urban legend involving self-harm and demonic possession. . Creepier than anything supernatural is the painful loneliness at the emotional heart of the film.
IFFBoston has been working on a “virtual lobby” for this year, where filmmakers and festival-goers can interact and hopefully simulate some of the common experience for which this event is so beloved. It’s something Tamm says has been a challenge for every film festival during the pandemic. âI know Wicked Queer did cool stuff, I know Roxbury did cool stuff, so we’re not making up the wheel here,â he concedes. âI think we all have a hard time finding a way to give people that connection that they can feel. I know the filmmakers feel disconnected from their audience and from each other, so we try to give everyone a way to have that experience and that camaraderie. It’s delicate. Hopefully we don’t have to find out any longer, and for the Fall Focus, we can start doing it all in person again, which we know how to do!
“I hope not to do it again,” laughs Campbell.
This year, the Boston Independent Film Festival runs from Thursday, May 6 through Sunday, May 16.