It’s hard to believe that it’s already that time of year, but the Independent Film Festival Boston (henceforth referred to as IFFBoston), the city’s largest gathering of the cinephiles, is upon us. This year’s line-up is one of the best in recent memory, as it’s positively chock-full of amazing and interesting titles, which will show from April 25 to May 2 at a variety of theaters across the city.
Below is a full recap of recommended titles, spanning the entire week of the festival. Be sure to check out Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 of our week-long preview with embeds and enhanced media and information, and be sure to enjoy your festival!
Directed by comedian and Danvers native Bo Burnham, this year’s opening night film, about a middle schooler (Elsie Fisher) navigating the rocky waters of self-image and confidence in our increasingly social media-stacked world, is shaping up to be a can’t-miss-screening. We had the chance to see this film at SXSW (though time constraints prevented us from reviewing at the time), and the exaggerated levels of hype surrounding it — about Burnham’s understated direction, about Fisher’s fantastic performance — are mostly justified by the final product. Don’t go into this expecting a laugh riot, because Burnham’s not afraid to dig in deep to that real shit that makes middle school an utterly harrowing experience for most. It’s an incredible debut, and you better bet tickets are going fast, especially given that Burnham will be on hand for an introduction and a Q&A after the screening.
From our SXSW review: “One of the most dangerous things in the world is a group of bored white guys. You know the type: People convinced of their privilege and place in the world, looking to do something “memorable” in order fill the massive gaping holes at their core in order to be something other than the generic dumb fucks that they are. Normally this shit is contained to the frat house or and your garden-variety college campus, but occasionally it spills out into the world at large, which threatens the lives of other people, and Bart Layton’s new film, the Sundance hit American Animals is precisely about one of those times, a “true story” about four college-aged friends who, in 2004, attempted to pull off one of the most reckless and, frankly, ballsy art heists in American history.”
Directed by The Night Stalker director Megan Griffiths, Sadie is about its titular character — a lonely 13 year-old girl (Sophia Mitri Schloss) who rarely sees her beloved father due to his military service. Her mother (Melanie Lynskey), having moved on from that period in her life, has begun dating a new man, and Sadie lashes out against him using the warlike lessons that her father taught her. We heard great things about this at SXSW, especially with regards to Schloss’ performance, and we’re excited to see what sort of things Griffiths brings to the table when given a story and a stable of actors like this. It’s going to be an interesting contrast with Leave No Trace later in the week, for sure. We’ve realized, however, that single parents, it seems, dominate the early part of the line-up for whatever reason. Make of that what you will.
We’ve heard so much about director Josephine Decker’s puzzle of a wonder since it premiered at Sundance, and we’re absolutely stoked that it’s showing at IFFBoston given that our next chance to see it wouldn’t come until July. Madeline’s Madeline tells a story of a troubled young girl named, duh, Madeline (Helena Howard), whose mother (Miranda July) believes that she might be getting in a little too deep on a theater production directed by an oddly exploitative director (Molly Parker). Is it meta? You bet your ass it’s meta! It’s a metaphor for the filmmaking process, and boy howdy do we need more of those. Anyways, this film got the kind of raves from the sorts of stuffy critics who normally scare off certain audiences, but the cultural touchstones that certain people compared it to — Lynch, Sleep No More, dance — have us deeply intrigued.
From our Sundance review: “Leave No Trace is a gorgeously shot and deeply felt depiction of the end of adolescence, and it’s reminiscent of other hyped Sundance films along similar thematic lines that failed to live up to their pedigree — namely Beasts of the Southern Wild and presumably Captain Fantastic (which I have never seen, but read a great deal about the reaction to). It’s another reminder that [Debra] Granik is one of the best directors currently working in the American Indie scene, and that her work deserves your undivided attention.”
This documentary by Sara Driver (perhaps best known for her work with Jim Jarmusch and Kathleen Brennan) chronicles the teenage years of a pre-fame Jean-Michel Basquiat, back when he was tagging walls as a part of the graffiti collective SAMO. It’s an interesting companion to two prior films: Julian Schnabel’s Basquiat and Tamra Davis’ The Radiant Child, but it’s interesting to see a filmmaker of Driver’s talents focusing deeply on such an influential period in the artist’s life. We can’t wait to see more.
Boston-born director Andrew Bujalski, often dubbed the “Godfather of Mumblecore,” is back at this year’s festival with his latest film, a comedy with an acerbic satirical edge about the ladies of a Hooters-like restaurant rising up over their asshole oppressors on the night of a big mixed martial arts fight. Nary a discouraging word has been uttered by the reviewing press, with praise being heaped upon Bujalski’s brilliant direction and capitalist critique, and the performances of those in his ensemble: Specifically, that of Regina Hall, who is apparently fantastic in this film. We’re very excited to see this one.
This much-buzzed about documentary sheds light on what should have been a joyous event: Three long-lost triplets being reunited at 19 after being separated and given up for adoption after birth. But even as the Brothers celebrate and become celebrities in their own right, some dark secrets about why they were split up fester beneath the bubbly surface. Directed by longtime TV documentarian Tim Wardle (making his theatrical debut), this film’s central mystery (and it’s ultimate explanation) will baffle you and its skill will amaze. Check it out before all your friends can spoil it for you.
Local filmmaker (and former Blood for Blood bassist) Ian McFarland turned to Kickstarter a few years back in order to finance his latest project, a documentary about two hardcore legends who deserved a larger spotlight. Roger Miret and Vinnie Stigma have been friends for 30 years, and bandmates for nearly as long, forming the creative nucleus of the band Agnostic Front. They’ve seen some tough times — health issues, creative conflicts, and even a prison sentence — but the two have stuck it out through thick and thin. Obviously this material is close to McFarland’s heart, and we’re fascinated to see how his passion for its subject matter has informed his approach.
From our SXSW ’18 review: “[A Prayer Before Dawn] is a wonder of a film, a redemption song without its protagonist actually being redeemed, a sparse and sad document of prison life that doesn’t feel out of step with other films in its genre (Midnight Express, for one), and an anti-cathartic horror show designed to frustrate the casual viewer and complicate its messaging. As such, it is perhaps the most thematically and texturally realistic prison film made in recent years, captured on location at real Thai prisons (full of the grit and grime within) with an ensemble that, aside from Cole, is comprised of non-actors, and [Jean-Stéphane] Sauvaire, long a ‘doc-style’ filmmaker, is able to bring poetry to this chaos.”
Documentarian Jeremiah Zagar (In a Dream) makes the jump to narrative features with this adaptation of Justin Torres’ 2011 semi-autobiographical novel. We the Animals is a coming-of-age tale for three brothers, struggling with their identities and weathering the love of their unstable parents (Raúl Castillo and Sheila Vand). As the oldest children start to transform into younger versions of their parents, the youngest (Evan Rosado) retreats into a fantasy world. We’ve heard nothing but lovely things about this film after its premiere at Sundance, and Zagar is sure to bring an interesting perspective to Torres’ story.
We were excited to see Paul Schrader’s new film at SXSW, but timing, scheduling and a little snow prevented us from checking out the Taxi Driver scribe and Mishima director’s latest, which features Ethan Hawke as a pastor going through a long and terrible dark night of the soul after his wife’s passing. He encounters a pregnant woman (Amanda Seyfried) and her volatile environmentalist husband, and soon finds himself in over his head. It’s a crie de coeur from American cinema’s most unique figures, and it sounds, by all accounts, incredible. Schrader himself will be in attendance, though you might not want to piss him off with your dumb questions. And for the love of god, don’t pitch him your screenplay.
From our Sundance review: “Perhaps the most buzzed-about film of the early part of the festival, Blindspotting fucking annihilated when it played opening night, and was just as swell when I saw it a day later. This movie is pretty much what I hoped Bodied would be in style and tone, as it has a lot in common with Joseph Kahn’s festival circuit hit — it’s got a tremendous visual flair and a dark-as-fuck sense of humor — but improves a shitload on the central conceit and adds a fucking awesome sense of setting on top of everything.” Also, Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal will be on hand for a Q&A after the screening, so please save your Hamilton questions until the end.
From our SXSW ’17 review: “So it’s 1991, Terminator 2 just hit the drive-in, school’s out, and it’s unusually hot on the Cape. Out-of-town yuppies have descended on the coast, and make life hell for the townies who have the gall to keep on living in their town when it’s cold out. Daniel (Timothée Chalamet), a weirdo loser, doesn’t fit into either group and doesn’t want to, and he finds himself perpetually alone. Well, that is until one day, when town rebel, pot dealer and living myth Hunter Strawberry (Alex Roe) walks into the convenience store he works at and asks the kid to hide an ounce of weed before a cop busts him. He does so, and the two of them become fast friends and, eventually, business partners. There’s only one thing that could tear these two friends apart: Hunter’s sister, McKayla (Maika Monroe), who Daniel is desperately in love with, and who Hunter doesn’t talk to anymore. Of course, mo’ money, mo’ problems, and as their business grows, so does Daniel’s ambition, and they begin down a tragic path that just so happens to coincide with Hurricane Bob…”
We really didn’t care for this Brett Haley-directed dramedy when we saw it at Sundance, but we’d be wrong not to include it in our preview. Hearts Beat Loud is about a father (Nick Offerman), adrift after the passing of his wife and his daughter (Kiersey Clemons) potentially fleeing the coop for the greener pastures of college, who decides to record one of his family jam sessions and is stunned to find out that the song has become a big hit on the Spotifys. Honestly, though, we might just be bitter losers, so you might enjoy this a lot more than we did — it feels like it could please a lot of crowds who are just looking for a few good laughs shared among a fun cast. Just don’t blame us if you find it to be some pretty egregious garbage: we tried to warn you.
It’s been a good long while since we’ve seen Napoleon Dynamite star Jon Heder in anything of note, but Kendall Goldberg’s feature-length adaptation of her short film looks to offer him something worth his time. Heder plays the titular character, a devoted manager of a small-town bowling alley who finds out that the owner of the place (Jim O’Heir) is planning on selling it soon, and, of course, Jeff tries his best to prevent the sale from going through. We’re pretty interested in this, especially given how nobody seemed to understand how to use Heder outside of a handful of projects (Monster House being another), and we’d love to see him find a role worth his time.
After making a tremendous splash with last year’s Best Foreign Film Oscar winner A Fantastic Woman, Sebastián Lelio returns with his first English-language film, and boy, is it a doozy. Rachel Weisz plays an ex-Orthodox Jewish woman who comes back to her community in the wake of her father’s passing. It’s there that she rekindles a friendship with her childhood best friend (Rachel McAdams), and the two discover that their feelings might be just a little less than platonic. They embark on an affair, which challenges both women and will have catastrophic consequences if discovered by the community at large. It’s a hell of a cast, and Lelio is beyond a proven talent at this point. What else is there to say?
This is another film that we managed to miss at both Sundance and SXSW that we were eagerly anticipating. Directed by the Zellner Brothers (Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter), this western comedy tells the story of Samuel Alabaster (Robert Pattinson) who’s looking to marry his fiancee Penelope (Mia Wasikowska), and has gone out on a journey in order to get a preacher to do so. When he returns, he’s informed that she’s been kidnapped, and begins to slowly become unglued. It’s a broad but deadpan comedy — so close to a parody but never falling totally into that category — that’s liable to entertain nearly anybody, so we highly recommend you check it out.
This year’s closing night film is going to be that one summer documentary release that everybody goes to. You know the type: Amy, the Fahrenheit 9/11, Searching for Sugar Man. This, however, focuses on a beloved icon of American entertainment whose innate goodness could make the Grinch’s heart grow back to its normal size. Yes, that’s right: This documentary is about Mr. Fred Rogers, who dedicated his adult life to encouraging and educating children through his PBS television program. This film from Morgan Neville, the director of 20 Feet from Stardom, will most likely make you cry if you were lucky enough to grow up with Mr. Rogers, and by all accounts, it does a brilliant job making you know why you’re doing so. See it so you can be inspired to do good things, too.
INDEPENDENT FILM FESTIVAL BOSTON 2018 :: Wednesday, April 25 through Wednesday, May 2 at various area theaters :: various times, all ages, $12 to $20 :: Official website :: Featured image via IFFBoston