Opening this year with the promise of being the most fully realized festival to date, the 5th annual Independent Film Festival of Boston screened more than 70 films in seven days, which allowed film buffs throughout New England to pour into select screens to watch, talk about, and explore the inner workings of independent film. Whether they only bought tickets for one film or an all-access chrome pass for the week, everyone was awarded the equal opportunity to rub elbows with filmmakers in a stress-free atmosphere with in-depth Q&A for a truly unique moviegoing experience.
Kicking off the week was the film Fay Grim, which screened at the Somerville Theatre along with the bulk of the other films. (The Coolidge and Brattle Theatres also showed films.) Director Hal Hartley’s sequel to his 1997 effort Henry Fool, the film starts as a deadpan comedy about small town ennui, and slowly shifts to an emotional international espionage thriller. Actor James Urbaniak closed the film with a half hour of open Q&A and from there escaped to the trendy Somerville bar Orleans, where he sucked down Harpoons and chatted it up with everyone, from Year of the Fish director David Kaplan to small-time schmucks like myself.
The filmmakers left themselves remarkably accessible each day, hanging out in the theatre lobbies waiting for someone, anyone, to approach them where they would humbly answer any questions not covered in post-screening discussions. Some even laughed at the premise of their own film, such as Cullen Hoback, the director of Monster Camp, a film about grown men and women living out their Dungeons & Dragons fantasies, though admittedly it might be hard not to laugh when you’re trying to be serious dressed as a Dungeon Lord. What’s most amazing about this festival is the inclusive aspect—it’s a time when makeshift warrior and CEO can coexist, filmmaker and fan can speak on the same level. Every social niche and minority will find itself represented in some way. The festival’s films cover topics from Hurricane Katrina to bestiality, Donkey Kong Champions to punk rock, and none are rendered taboo.
The idea of discovery keeps people interested in these films, and keeps them buying tickets. In a Hollywood society led by multimillion dollar marketing campaigns, star power, and CGI effects, it’s a breath of fresh air to approach a film with no expectations and walk away giddy with enjoyment.
The majority of the films were screened on Saturday and Sunday, each night capped by a party at a different Boston hot spot, including the Sunday night awards presentation at Ivy Restaurant that announced the Jury Awards and Dewar’s Collective Choice Award for a film that was made on an exceptionally low budget. Jury Awards were handed out to narrative features such as Day Night Day Night, and Monkey Warfare, while The King of Kong and Kamp Katrina represented the documentaries. The Dewar’s Award was given to the film Year of the Fish, a modern-day Cinderella story set in Chinatown using a rotoscoping technique resembling such Richard Linklater films as A Scanner Darkly and Waking Life. The Audience Award ballots were tallied at the end of the festival, which closed with the world premiere of Brooklyn Rules, and named Year of the Fish and Darius Goes West the winners.
Attending the Independent Film Festival of Boston was a way to reinstate what it is you love about film. With the summer blockbuster season approaching, many films will come and go with little to think about besides how many more movies about wizards, pirates, and superheroes they can make. So in closing, here are three films from this year’s festival that have remained in my mind every day since viewing them.
Time and Tide: A documentary seven years in the making, co-directors Josh Salzman and Julie Bayer travel on two extended trips to the islands of Tuvalu and film the inhabitants as they are slowly stripped away by rising sea levels and Western influences. With the funding coming out of the directors’ own pockets, they capture the fears, hopes, and disdain of a people facing the extinction of their own culture.
Quiet City: Made for next to nothing, with a plot that is next to nothing, Quiet City is as close to authentic human interaction as I have ever seen on film. Jamie is visiting New York from Atlanta and can’t seem to find her friend, but makes a new one in Charlie, and that’s about it. What is great about the film is how we view these characters on a very real level. As we watch Jamie and Charlie’s relationship play hit and miss, we squirm as some of their conversation and human quirks strike embarrassingly close to home.
Low and Behold: An intelligent and emotional film about the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina as experienced through Turner, a pie-faced suburbanite who moves in with his uncle to make some money as a claim adjuster off the alpha and omega of natural disasters. In a witty blend of narrative and documentary, Low and Behold manages to look at loss without pointing fingers.