For its 13th annual incarnation, the Independent Film Festival Boston (IFFB) rides in on April showers and the banner theme of “Gather Round” to kick off the weeklong fest (April 22-April 29) of films, events and parties.
The tagline's meant to underscore not only the concept of old fashion storytelling around the communal fire pit, but also the sense of community among filmmakers and filmgoers alike and the cross pollination of the two. Something the festival has had great success with in the past, bringing in such distinguished guests as Academy Award-winning actor Ben Kingsley and groundbreaking documentarian Albert Maysles. Local boy Casey Affleck has lent to the fest's cred too, serving as its creative adviser and the popular indie actress Lili Taylor, starring in the new TV series "American Crime," sits on the advisory board.
The festival has become something of Sundance East, with lines from the Somerville Theatre in Davis Square stemming around the block as eager moviegoers chase that elusive last ticket or hope to snag that prized center seating. But with sellout after sellout, the festival is still changing and growing.
"We want to be more," says executive director Brian Tamm, "we want to do more with the city of Somerville and the arts community. We want to be more of resource and community for filmmakers here in Boston and Massachusetts. We also want to expand more into Boston."
Tamm cites the UMass Boston "Works in Progress" program and award given to a promising documentary not yet completed. There are also select screenings, he says, at the Coolidge Corner Theatre, but Davis Square is the de facto hub of the fest with other regular screenings augmented at the Brattle Theatre in Harvard Square.
That's the future, for now IFFB has proven its mettle; for 13 years IFFB has operated on a wholly volunteer structure, but things have started to change. With the departure of longtime program director Adam Roffman (who remains on as a board member) last year, Tamm took on the newly created executive director role and longtime festival organizer, Nancy Campbell took over the reigns as program director. Part of the reason for the new structure, now capping its second festival, was to give prospective sponsors a conventional front door to gain traction with easily versus the "kibbutz" style, as Tamm jokingly calls the old "by committee" structure, that may have caused confusion with past potential investors and other backing organizations.
The all volunteer staffing structure remains and loyally so, but Tamm worries about its "sustainability" over time. Additional challenges stem from Park City, Utah, where the Sundance Film Festival recently reached an accord with the city to respect (avoid) Martin Luther King Day dates so that the city could reap the benefit of the tourist and skiing dollars that flow in over that long holiday weekend and the festival's week-plus run without overlap or cannibalization. The ripple effect means that downstream festivals like SXSW, Tribeca and IFFB may have to start adjusting dates outward during a very crowded festival season while delicately not trying to step on each other's toes. Here in Boston, IFFB already bumps up against the Boston International Film Festival (April 16-April 21) which takes place at the AMC Theatres, Boston Common locale.
IFFB 2015, like previous instantiations, will feature a broad array of genres and subject matter with more than 20 narrative features, over 40 documentaries and shorts packages that include animation, narrative and documentary programing. The opening night film, "The End of the Tour," starring Academy Award nominee Jesse Eisenberg and funny guy Jason Segel as the enigmatic author David Foster Wallace, has strong local and festival ties. Wallace attended Harvard and spent time in the Boston area, and the film's director, James Ponsoldt, who is slated to be in attendance (along with Segel) also brought in the opening night feature two years ago with the quirky romance, "The Spectacular Now."
Another return of sorts is "The Look of Silence," Joshua Oppenheimer's follow up to "The Act of Killing" which explores the living descendants of those slaughtered by the Indonesian militia. The late, great documentary filmmaker Albert Maysles ("Gimme Shelter" and "Grey Gardens") will be the subject of a panel honoring his life's work and his final film, "Iris" will play in the documentary rotation. Other intriguing non-narrative probes include "GTFO," a look at the misogynistic world of gaming, "Rolling Papers," a chronicle of the Denver Post appointing a marijuana editor to record the legalization of pot, "The Wolfpack," the study of a clutch boys raised on movies and isolated from the bustling city outside their walls, and "Stray Dog," a look at an idiosyncratic vet by Debora Granik who made "Winter's Bone," which brought Jennifer Lawrence to the world.
The local light shines on the iconic '90s band Morphine in "Journey of Dreams," Boston comedian Barry Crimmins and his dark secret gets profiled in Bobcat Goldthwait's "Call Me Lucky" and Lexington native and cineaste podcaster David Chen turns the camera on character actor Stephen Tobolowsky and his stories in "The Primary Instinct."
Other film locals with entries include former IFFB helmer Roffman (co-directing with Luke Poling) with "Spearhunter," a short about an Alabama native who considers himself the greatest hunter with a spear and Tim Jackson, also with a documentary short, "The American Gurner" about an outsider in a British gurnning contest where contestants try to make the ugliest face.
On the narrative side of the house, "Bob and the Trees," a western Mass. logger falls on dark times and dark deeds after his beloved cow is wounded, "Me and Earl and the Dying Girl" tells of a high-school student reuniting with a kindergarten classmate who has cancer and "Results," mumblecore stalwart Andrew Bujalski's latest staring Kevin Corrigan, Guy Pearce and Cobie Smulders. And for cult movie fanatics, do not despair, there is "Deathgasm" a film that needs no other description.
It's an impressive lineup, one that Tamm and Campbell have been toiling at ceaselessly. "We really want to be Boston's film festival," Tamm says with a twinge of hoarse sleep deprivation in his voice. "We're looking to build out the festival aspect, but Boston needs to foster film more. it's not represented as well as the legacy arts." Tamm points to the richness of the film community in Brooklyn and hopes something like that can happen here. For now he's focusing on IFFB 2015 and that sense of community. Beyond this year's fest, IFFB looks to plan co-presentations with the Boston Jewish Film Festival and the Roxbury Film Festival.
Tom Meek is a writer living in Cambridge. His reviews, essays, short stories and articles have appeared in The Boston Phoenix, Paste Magazine, The Rumpus, Thieves Jargon, Charleston City Paper and SLAB literary journal. Tom is also a member of the Boston Society of Film Critics and rides his bike everywhere. You can follow Tom on Twitter @TBMeek3 and read more at TBMeek3.wordpress.com.