Saturday, April 23, 2011
Insider Guide: IFF Boston 2011
In 8 short years, the Independent Film Festival of Boston has grown from cultish gathering, to cinematic powerhouse, attracting acclaimed films straight out of prestigious festivals like Sundance and SXSW. It's no coincidence that this festival has grown so quickly and has been embraced by the city. They are not the first film festival to try to make it in Boston, but they have succeeded where others have failed because they are impeccably run by people who sincerely love movies. The tiny staff manages to organize the massive week-long festival while holding down day-jobs and being completely non-profit. When you care, it shows. Hundreds of volunteers offer their time to make the festival run smoothly (I am lucky enough to have taken part last year and be welcomed aboard again this year), and area venues like the Somerville and Brattle theatres hand over their keys to IFFBoston for the week, something they do not have to do and illustrates how contagious the staff enthusiasm really is.
Last year I managed to see 8 films, many of which made my Top 10 list and went on to win major awards (Winter's Bone, Cyrus, Down Terrace). Many I didn't see also went on to do big things (Marwencol, I Am Love, The Killer Inside Me, Life During Wartime, Tiny Furniture). Part of the fun (and work) of attending a film festival is figuring out what films are actually worth your valuable time. With nearly 100 films playing, it becomes imperative to do a little research, lest you find yourself stuck in an unbearable dark room for 90 minutes and your wallet $10 lighter. Mercifully, I've done the lion's share of the research for you this year, so you simply have to heed my advice and enjoy the show. The following are the shows I intend to see, or would see if I wasn't volunteering.
4/27 Wednesday (Opening Night):
7:30pm Being Elmo: A Puppeteer's Journey
The story of Kevin Clash, the man behind Elmo. Who doesn't love Elmo. I would pay $10 to see an extended Sesame Street featuring only Elmo, so this is the next best thing. Don't bring children or they will probably be scarred for life to find out Elmo is really a hand and two sticks.
To be honest, I'm not super jazzed about any of the Thursday evening films. There's a documentary called Convento that caught my eye, mostly because it looks rife with steampunk. There's also a documentary about the seminal Minnesota rock outfit The Replacements, but I think I might save up my energy for the weekend push.
7:15pm The Trip
Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon play two traveling food critics and compete with each other about the level of their fame. I believe this was a miniseries in the UK and this film is the product of editing the episodes together. If the above Michael Caine-off is any indication, it looks like a lot of fun.
Wales' answer to Rushmore, complete with fantastic soundtrack, quirky characters, and awkward teenage love. Sign me up.
Billed as a blurring of reality and paranoid fantasy, the trailer makes it look like a low-budget Antichrist, which makes me glad it's playing during the day. I hope they dropped the genital mutilation.
2pm How To Die In Oregon
A calm and even-handed look at the topic of physician-assisted suicide. Hopefully the US is beyond the Dr. Kevorkian nonsense at this point and can actually handle this conversation. Won top Documentary Prize at Sundance.
A documentary about a master puppeteer attempting to create a complex work and shake the stereotypes surrounding puppets. Looks fascinating.
I have to work the rest of Saturday night, but I highly recommend checking out Page One: Inside the New York Times, a documentary about the newspaper and the dying art of journalism. Playing at 7:15pm.
12:15pm Make Believe
A documentary about six kids competing for the title of Teen World Champion at the World Magic Seminar in Las Vegas. Hopefully it does for magic what Spellbound and King of Kong did for similarly nerdy pursuits. Won Audience Award at several film festivals.
3:15pm Buck/2:45pm Bobby Fischer Against the World
My first real conundrum of the festival. Two interesting documentaries, playing at the same time. Do I chose Buck, the moving story of "horse whisperer" Buck Brannaman, determined to end the age-old practice of horse "breaking", or Bobby Fischer Against the World, that traces the life of Bobby Fischer and tries to understand his eccentricities and whether chess helped or exacerbated them. It's a toss-up, but I've heard great things about Buck, so it gets my vote. Plus, who doesn't want to be a cowboy?
5:30pm Project Nim
From the director of the fantastic Man on Wire, comes the story of Nim, the chimpanzee who was raised as a human and communicated through sign language and taught the world more about humanity than chimpanzees. Man on Wire was amazing, so I have high hopes.
7:30pm Another Earth/8pm Oliver Sherman
Conundrum #2. See Another Earth, the sci-fi Sundance winner about the discovery of another earth and its repercussions or Oliver Sherman, the tense drama of an army veteran seven years off the battlefield trying to pull his life together starring Donald Logue and Garret Dillahunt. Both look wonderful, but I can't resist smart, low-budget sci-fi (Moon, Primer, etc).
7pm El Bulli: Cooking in Progress
Another documentary, what do you know? This one goes behind the scenes of the world-famous restaurant and offers a glimpse into the magic of molecular gastronomy. Impossible to resist for scientists and foodies alike.
The description of this SXSW hit film is ingeniously vague. I sleuthed a little more and found a video of P. Diddy giving the director of this film $1000 for some bizarre reason. Further investigation uncovered a loose plot surrounding two friends who build elaborate weapons in preparation for the apocalypse, culminating in a fire-breathing named Medusa. Apparently Medusa herself will be on hand at the Somerville Theatre. I love a good apocalyptic romp and will be there to get my eyebrows singed.
5/3 Tuesday (Both showings at the Stuart Street Playhouse in downtown Boston)
John C. Reilly as a loveable fuck-up principal who teaches another loveable fuck-up the ways of the world? From the team behind Blue Valentine and Half Nelson? What God did I please?
9:30pm The Whistleblower
Billed as a political thriller, Rachel Weisz plays a police officer who risks her career to uncover a Bosnian human-trafficking scandal involving US Contractors and the UN. Monica Bellucci and David Strathairn also star. Terrible poster, but has some good buzz coming out of TIFF.
5/4 Wednesday (At the Coolidge Corner Theatre in Brookline)
8pm Conan O'Brien Can't Stop
This documentary follows Conan along on his Legally Prohibited From Being Funny on Television tour that occured in the wake of his NBC fallout and before his TBS resurrection. Conan's self-deprecating humor and resilience makes him impossible not to love, and even this 1 minute clip holds more wit and affability than the full sets of most comedians these days. Playing at his hometown theatre no less, I'm sure Conan's family will be there in droves, if not the wonder himself. Great way to close out the festival.