Because of what I do, I spend a lot of time at a lot of film festivals. But none makes me quite so happy as our own Independent Film Festival Boston (IFFBoston). From this coming Wednesday through the next, IFFBoston is offering 25 narrative features, 38 documentaries and 50-something shorts, along with panels and parties for their 14th annual celebration of all things cinematic.
“Make It Yours” is the theme of this year’s festival, and once again program director Nancy Campbell, executive director Brian Tamm and their all-volunteer staff have put together an impressively eclectic and wide-ranging selection from which any local movie buffs can find offerings they’ll want to make their theirs.
There’s an energy to this festival you just don’t find in other cities. There’s none of the industry posturing or velvet rope snobbery that so often plagues film events of this size and scope. IFFBoston has always been a scrappy, non-profit affair put on by and for passionate film fans in the community. Everybody’s welcome, and we’re all celebrating movies together.
Here are just a few of this year’s highlights:
Newton’s own John Krasinski directed Wednesday’s opening night feature, “The Hollars,” in which he also stars as an anxious father-to-be who returns to his hometown when Mom (character actress Margo Martindale) is diagnosed with a brain tumor. Last seen strutting around shirtless in January’s odious and opportunistic propaganda bomb “13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi,” the artist formerly known as Jim Halpert on “The Office” has a lot to atone for at the moment. Luckily Krasinski’s got a stacked supporting cast including Anna Kendrick, Richard Jenkins, Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Mary Kay Place. We found it in our hearts to forgive Ben Affleck for starring in terrible Michael Bay movies once he started directing good pictures himself, so here’s hoping another local boy makes good.
The weekend brings films running nonstop at the Brattle Theatre and the Somerville Theatre. One of the warmest you’ll find is “Morris From America,” starring another “Office” alum, Craig Robinson, as a sad-eyed single dad who brings his awkward teenage boy along to Heidelberg for a soccer-coaching gig. Written and directed with good humor and enormous sensitivity by Chad Hartigan (who scored IFFBoston’s Grand Jury Award in 2013 for “This Is Martin Bonner”), it’s a winning, fish-out-of-water crowd-pleaser about a father and son who also happen to be “the only two brothers in Germany.” Robinson is so wonderful that this year’s Sundance jury invented a special award just for him.
But if you’re looking for something more cosmic there’s always “Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World,” in which philosopher poet-slash-pranker Werner Herzog takes on the internet in his typically expansive, slightly goofy and occasionally transcendent fashion. Beginning with a reenactment of the sending of the very first email (which Herzog half-kiddingly scores with the same Wagner music cue his contemporary Terrence Malick used for the discovery of America in “The New World”) our deliciously deadpan narrator argues with scientists over everything from artificial intelligence to cyberbullying, pondering a rapidly evolving civilization in which “the monks are all tweeting.”
On Monday night at the Brattle there’s a special 20th anniversary screening of the landmark documentary “High on Crack Street: Lost Lives in Lowell.” Even if you weren’t emotionally scarred by its heavy rotation on HBO back in the day, you’ll probably recall the pivotal role this Dicky Eklund-fronted doc played in "The Fighter." (WBUR’s own Deb Becker will be moderating a panel discussion after the film.)
That same night, the festival closes out its tenure at the Somerville with “Weiner,” winner of the Documentary Grand Jury Prize at Sundance this year and one of the most cringe-inducingly hilarious portraits of any politician, ever. Disgraced former congressman Anthony Weiner granted his one-time chief of staff Josh Kriegman unprecedented access to his 2013 New York City mayoral campaign. The comeback bid was going along just great until the candidate once again got busted sharing pictures of his bathing suit area, this time under the glorious pseudonym Carlos Danger.
The tawdry tabloid tale — which plays out at times like a greatest hits montage of “New York Post” headline double entendres — in a slyly funny way gets at something serious about the megalomania and exhibitionism required to run for public office, especially in the information age. Eventually Kriegman asks his old boss something that’s been nagging everyone in the audience: “Why are you letting me film all this?” Weiner can’t come up with an answer, but his behavior is the only explanation we need.
For its final two days, the festival moves across the river to the Coolidge Corner Theatre in Brookline. Tuesday night brings IFFBoston alum Mike Birbiglia’s chronicle of the improv comedy scene, “Don’t Think Twice,” as well as writer-director Ira Sachs’s Sundance-feted jewel, “Little Men.”
Sachs, who helmed 2014’s marvelous “Love Is Strange,” is back with another humane comedy concerned with the toll gentrification is taking on his dear New York City. Greg Kinnear and Jennifer Ehle star as a couple inheriting a brownstone in an increasingly trendy Brooklyn neighborhood — too trendy, in fact, for the immigrant-run dress shop renting out the retail space downstairs. Without taking sides, the movie asks questions about our shared responsibility to our communities that resonate far beyond Sachs’s beloved Big Apple milieu, and could be applied to every Boston-area neighborhood that’s getting a little less funky these days.
Closing night brings the directorial debut of actress Clea DuVall, of “Girl, Interrupted” and “Argo” fame. Boasting a to-die-for cast, including Melanie Lynskey, Cobie Smulders, Natasha Lyonne and Alia Shawkat, “The Intervention” chronicles a boozy weekend in which these characters give up on being “fine” and “embrace the reality of fine-adjacent.” Adjacent to the film will be DuVall herself, and there’s a party at the sushi bar across the street afterward for members and badge-holders. Tell ‘em Carlos Danger sent you.