Cinema-loving ladies and gents, the 2009 Independent Film Festival of Boston is upon us. Without fail, I start to get excited about this sucker from the moment the dates are announced, moreso as the full lineup is unveiled, and I don't lose that feeling until the final frames of the closing-night film. From this coming Wednesday evening, April 22nd, through Tuesday night the 28th, I'll forego the rock shows and switch into all-movie mode, and I absolutely cannot wait.
Each year the IFFB seems to get a little bit better, in a variety of ways (from the schedule to the guest list to the web site), and it's no different this time around. For this, the seventh edition, they've added the Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston as a new venue, and if you check out the interactive schedule, you'll notice a vast improvement in its features. Filters, sorting, pop-ups for film info and theater locations - everything is easy to find, and being able to print out your own customized schedule is hugely appreciated. Head on over and check it out.
For past fests I've done both a highlights post and a full film list here on the 'Nac, with official site links and trailers - sometimes before the IFFB site was ready - as a way to make myself research every film and ensure I didn't miss out on anything. This year, though, their spiffy online schedule has made it so easy that my own link-gathering was a little redundant. Instead, I'm just sticking with my own anticipated highlights. So here's a list of the films that jump out at me, a few for each day of the fest, which includes (of course) some music-related movies alongside those with intriguing premises from notable creators.
Before I get to that, some things you should know...
Some of the best films I've caught at past IFFB's are due to recommendations from Program Director Adam Roffman, who usually points out a couple "don't miss" flicks that I might otherwise overlook. This year, he's taking his recommendations to the IFFB Blog, so keep an eye out there. His first pick, "Birdwatchers", wasn't even on my radar until reading his words, and it's now going on my own schedule. His second and third selections are now up as well.
While I attempt to tackle the narrative and documentary features below, time prohibits me from digging into the short film selections. So make sure you check out this easy link to all six of the Short Film Programs that are offered throughout the week, and dive into all of their deets. The packaged short categories are: Animation, Documentaries, Comedy, Twisted, Global, and Dramatic. There's also a program for Boston University's Center for Digital Imaging Arts on Saturday afternoon.
Buy tickets to individual screenings here, or full festival passes here.
And now, my personal picks for the 2009 IFFBoston. It was not easy to trim this down, believe me, so be sure to go over the full schedule with a fine-tooth comb on your own so you don't miss something I happen to skip here...
Wednesday, April 22nd, 2009
The opening night film this year is from the man responsible for the brilliant "Brick", one of my favorites flicks of 2005. It took writer/director Rian Johnson three years to follow it up with "The Brothers Bloom", and he scored quite the killer cast: Rachel Weisz, Adrien Brody, Mark Ruffalo, "Babel"s Rinko Kikuchi, Robbie Coltrane, Maximilian Schell, and narrator Ricky Jay. Johnson will be in attendance to chat about the film, maybe the intervening years and, hopefully, what he's got ahead. After "Brick", he's got my loyalty for life. (Official site / IFFB page / Screening at the Somerville at 7:30pm on 4/22)
Thursday, April 23rd, 2009
I tried to limit myself to picking a max of three per night, but failed utterly. The lack of cloning technology will prevent me from seeing all these, but I can't resist recommending them...
The second night brings a couple of distinctly local-flavored films, including the premiere of Amy Grill's techno music documentary "Speaking In Code", which connects the dots from the birth of techno music 20 years ago through it's state today. Local places and faces play a prominent part, including Boston-based DJ (and Weekly Dig A&E editor) David Day. Amy will be in attendance for a post-screening Q&A, and it's a safe bet that David will be there, too. (Official site / IFFB page / Screening at the Somerville at 7pm on 4/23)
Shot in and around Boston, the drama "Children of Invention" makes its New England premiere on Thursday as well. Randolph, MA native Tze Chun wrote and directed this story of two children left to fend for themselves after the disappearance of their mother. It's already received critical acclaim after a strong Sundance showing, and will be screening twice during the IFFB. Tze Chun and producer Mynette Louie will be there both nights. (Official site / IFFB page / Screening at 7:15pm on 4/23 and 7:30pm on 4/24, both at the Somerville).
After nearly stealing 2007's "Into The Wild" with just a few scenes, veteran actor Hal Holbrook takes center stage in "That Evening Sun" as farmer Abner Meecham, returning to his homestead after an unwanted stay in a nursing facility. His return home is not an easy one, as he finds his farm leased to a contentious stranger by his son (the brilliant Walton Goggins, Shane from "The Shield"). While the film first screens on Thursday, Mr. Holbrook and co-star Barry Corbin will only be attending the Sunday screening with director Scott Teems (who will be at both). (Official site / IFFB page / Screening at 7:30pm on 4/23 and 3pm on 4/26, both at the Somerville )
I'm a sucker for a good detective story, and I'm also a sucker for anything with Amy Ryan ("The Wire", "Gone Baby Gone", "The Office") in it. Throw in fellow Academy Award nominee Michael Shannon ("Revolutionary Road") and I'm so very there. Noah Buschel's "The Missing Person" puts an old-school, hard-drinkin', chain-smokin' private dick up on a modern-day shadowing case, and I expect a few twists and a couple of turns. (Official site / IFFB page / Screening at 9:45pm at the Somerville Theatre on 4/23)
True-crime character-study "Bronson" points the camera at Tom Hardy's powerful portrayal of real-life UK prison inmate Michael Peterson, who famously changed his name to 'Charles Bronson'. This is another of IFFB program director Adam Roffman's personal recommendations, and sounds like the perfect late-night capper for the fest's second (or fourth) day. (Official site / IFFB page / Screening at 10pm on 4/23 and 9:45pm on 4/25, both in Somerville)
Friday, April 24th, 2009
Dubbed an "anti-rom-com", Mark Webb's directorial debut "500 Days Of Summer" stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt (one of my favorite actors, thanks to his work in both "Brick" and "The Lookout") and indie-darling Zooey Deschanel. As if that wasn't enough to get me there, the twotrailers give us a peek at a choreographed, outdoor dance number, shows She & Him singer Zooey with a microphone, and throws in my favorite Smiths song ever. Hello! (Official site / IFFB page / Screening at 7pm on 4/24 at the Somerville)
Bestor Cram's documentary "Johnny Cash At Folsom Prison" dives deep into the story surrounding Cash's legendary 1968 performance, interviewing his bandmates, inmates, and friends. Given the subject and the music he made, it won't surprise me if the film is great -- what's truly surprising is that it took this long for such a doc to get made. Director Cram will be attending the screening for a Cash-flavored Q&A. (Official site / IFFB page / Screening at 7:15pm on 4/24 at the Somerville)
Comedian Patton Oswalt takes center stage in Robert Siegel's "Big Fan" as an obsessive NY Giants fan whose encounter with one of their star players takes a distinctly nasty turn. If you're at all familiar with Kevin Corrigan or Michael Rappaport, you know they're perfectly cast as fellow football freaks. The film was nominated for this year's Grand Jury Prize at Sundance, and Oswalt just picked up the best actor award at CA's Method Fest. Writer/director Siegel (who also wrote "The Wrestler") and Kevin Corrigan will both be at the screening. (IFFB page / IMDB entry / Screening at 9:15pm on 4/24 at the Somerville)
It shouldn't be a shock that "Chip On My Shoulder", chronicling the 20-year history of Boston hardcore legends Slapshot, was one of the first of this year's films to sell right out of advance tickets. Their fans are legion, their influence on the local hardcore community can't be overstated, and most of the people involved in the doc's creation are from the area. This screening, marking the film's world premiere, promises to be one hell of a party. Directors Ian McFarland and Anthony Moreschi (themselves longtime local musicians) will of course be there, along with Slapshot themselves. (MySpace page / IFFB page / Screening at 7pm on 4/24 at the Brattle)
A small Canadian town, a fading shock-jock on the morning DJ shift, and... the walking dead? Perfect ingredients for a midnight screening, I'd say. Director Bruce McDonald's "Pontypool" promises suspense over gore, tension over torture, a zombie flick with brains. Mmmmm... brains. (Official site / IFFB page / Screening at midnight on 4/24 at the Brattle)
Saturday, April 25th, 2009
The name Dennis Lambert, the subject of son Jody Lambert's documentary "Of All The Things", might not be familiar to many, but the songs he wrote in the 70s probably are ("Baby Come Back", "Ain't No Woman [Like the One I Got]", "Rhinestone Cowboy"). More successful as a songwriter than a solo artist, his own 1972 album was ignored here, but unexpectedly became a massive hit in the Philippines. The doc chronicles Lambert's reluctant return to the spotlight as a Filipino promoter convinces him to visit for a tour, 30 years after the success he never got to experience. Jody Lambert will be at the screening to talk about his dad. (Official site / IFFB page / Screening at 5:15pm on 4/25 at the Somerville)
Adam Scott (who I'm totally digging in new TV comedy "Party Down") stars in writer/director Lee Toland Krieger's "The Vicious Kind", a tension-filled family drama that takes place over a New England Thanksgiving. Dark humor (much of which, I'd imagine, comes from the excellent J.K. Simmons, who plays the dad) and awkward moments should abound, particularly given the dramatic leanings of executive producer Neil LaBute. Krieger will be on hand for the screening. (IFFB page / IMDB entry / Screening at 6:45pm on 4/25 at the Somerville)
Ok, so if there was one documentary at this year's fest that was made just for me, it would be this one: "I Need That Record!", directed by 22 year-old Brendan Toller, takes a look at the decline (and as the subtitle says "Or Possible Survival") of the independent record store. I've spent a good chunk of my life (and my money) in these hangouts, worked at a few, and long-ago dreamed of someday opening one of my own. It's with equal parts nostalgia and selfishness that I hope for their success, and this film looks at the reasons behind their decline and the challenges they face. The many familiar talking heads (and one actual Talking Head) interviewed include Fugazi's Ian MacKaye, Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore, Minutemen/Stooges bassist Mike Watt, and even Newbury Comics' owner Mike Dreese, and a couple of CT-based stores are spotlighted. While director Toller isn't listed on the fest site as attending, he mentioned to me via email that he'd be there. It inspire (and unsettles?) me that someone who wasn't even born when I bought my first 7" has created a film about my favorite places. (Official site / IFFB page / Screening at 7pm on 4/25 at the Somerville)
A hometown hero is "The Lost Son Of Havana" in director Jonathan Hock's documentary about Boston Red Sox pitching great Luis "El Tiante" Tiant and his emotional return to his native Cuba, 46 years after having to choose baseball over his homeland following the Bay of Pigs invasion. Narrator Chris Cooper and producers Peter & Bobby Farrelly will join Hock at the screening, and if we're lucky, maybe we'll catch a glimpse of the man himself. (IFFB page / IMDB entry / Screening at 8pm on 4/25 at the Somerville)
When I first saw the description for "Grace", my reaction was equal parts revulsion and "Whoa, I need to see that!". Mission accomplished, synopsis. I'll keep my own summary to three words: Hungry. Zombie. Baby. Need more convincing? Well, a couple of audience members passed out at the Sundance screening. I'll be at the Brattle for the midnight creep-out, and so will director Paul Solet. It's a special sort of homecoming for former Emerson student Solet, who grew up near the theatre in Cambridge, and hopefully a packed and rowdy crowd will be on hand to welcome him and his, uh, undead baby, back to town. (IFFB page / IMDB listing / Screening at midnight on 4/25 at the Brattle)
Sunday, April 26th, 2009
As a relatively new dad who's spent time with his little guy at the Boston Children's Museum, I'm very much looking forward to Laura Longsworth's documentary "Luckey". The film doesn't just chronicle the creation of the wonderful three-story climbing structure in the museum's center, but tells the tale of designer and sculptor Tom Luckey, who suffered a tragic fall at home before his structure could be built, and who vows to finish it. It's a story of art, expression, perseverance, and most of all, family. Director Longsworth will be in attendance at this Sunday afternoon screening. (Official site / IFFB page / Screening at 2:45pm on 4/26 at the Somerville)
Alex Karpovksy's "Trust Us, This Is All Made Up" is a study of the art of improvisation between two seasoned Second City pros: TJ Jagodowski and David Pasquesi. The film documents the creation and performance of a special one-night show (but really, they're all one-night shows), and should appeal not just to those who want to examine the process and unique experience of comedic improv, but those who are just lookin' to laugh. Karpovsky will be in attendance, improvising answers during a post-screening Q&A. (Official site / IFFB page / Screening at 5:15pm on 4/26 at the Somerville)
As the tragedy of hurricane Katrina unfolded, one of my first and foremost thoughts was of all those domesticated animals left behind by the thousands of evacuees. I remember the first interview I saw with someone who was devastated because of the pet they were forced to abandon, and my heart sank. Then came footage of lonely pets perched on barely-visible rooftops. Geralyn Pezanoski's documentary "Mine" follows animal rescue workers as they dive in to save every creature they can, and the aftermath of finding either their original owners or happy new homes. Guaranteed to be an emotional rollercoaster ride for animal-lovers, but hopefully the joy outweighs the heartbreak. Director Perzanoski will be on hand at both screenings to discuss the film, which received the Audience Award for Best Documentary at this year's South by Southwest. (Official site / IFFB page / Screening at 1:45pm on 4/25 and at 5:30pm on 4/26, both at the Somerville)
In the presence of greatness: Brian Cox comes to Boston for "The Escapist", directed and co-written (specifically for Cox) by Rupert Wyatt. The cast is absolutely top-notch, as Cox is joined by Damian Lewis (who will always be "Band of Brothers" Major Winters to me), Joseph Fiennes, and Seu Jorge for this gritty prison-escape drama. If the fact that Mr. Cox will be in the room doesn't guarantee your attendance, then the trailer surely should. (Official site / IFFB page / Screening at 8:15pm on 4/26 at the Somerville)
Monday, April 27th, 2009
Monday night is ICA Night for IFFB09, as both screenings take place, for the first time in the fest's seven-year history, on the Boston waterfront at the Institute of Contemporary Arts/Boston.
First things get a little meta for a movie about the movies, or more specifically, a movie about those who write about the movies. Gerald Peary's documentary "For The Love Of Movies" is an unashamed ode to the professional film critic, an in-depth history of movie criticism that tackles the first 100 years of cinema-fueled opinion, and examines the impact of the internet now that every movie blogger's a critic. Director Gerald Peary will be on hand, and may or may not welcome your in-person criticisms. (Official site / IFFB page / Screening at 7pm on 4/27 at the ICA/Boston)
Thematically perfect for an ICA showing, director Doug Pray's "Art & Copy" takes a look at the place where culture and commerce collide: Modern day advertising. He profiles the creative minds behind some of the most ubiquitous ad campaigns of our time, and examines the often blurry line between business and art. The director will be in attendance for a post-film Q&A. (Official site / IFFB page / Screening at 9:15pm on 4/27 at the ICA/Boston)
Tuesday, April 28th, 2009
The film that brings the 7th edition of the Independent Film Festival of Boston to a close is directed by... Bobcat Goldthwait? I'll admit that I was clueless about the comedian's directorial work since 1991's "Shakes The Clown", but he's built up a healthy (mostly tv) resume since 2000. His latest film work is "World's Greatest Dad", starring Robin Williams, Daryl Sabara, and the damn-funny Morgan Murphy, and Goldthwait will be present on Tuesday night to take questions. And probably not do his amazing Bono impression. (IFFB page / IMDB entry / Screening at 8pm on 4/28 at the Coolidge)