For those of us who can’t wait until April for another Independent Film Festival Boston, the third annual IFFBoston Fall Focus once again brings to the area a sampling of local premieres hand-picked by program director Nancy Campbell during her travels to film festivals all over the world. This year's mini-fest begins Sunday, Oct. 22 and runs through Thursday, Oct. 26 at The Brattle Theatre, showcasing seven characteristically eclectic features over four evenings. For those keeping count, that's two more movies than last year's five.
“Nonprofits have become like capitalists I guess, we just keep expanding,” laughs Independent Film Festival Boston’s executive director Brian Tamm over coffee on a crisp afternoon in a Somerville Dunkin’ Donuts. (Unfortunately, Campbell was unable to join us due to the flu. Luckily, anyone who’s been present for one of Tamm’s garrulous screening introductions knows he has no problem handling a microphone on his own. “But Nancy does all the work,” he reminded me several times.)
“We always look for a mix,” explains Tamm. Indeed, this year’s selection includes a sensitive coming-of-age story, a supernatural samurai saga, an international terrorism drama and even a semi-sequel to a Hollywood classic. “We definitely wanted to come up with a schedule where someone could see seven movies in one week, or if they came for one specific thing they’d be just as happy.”
Last year’s Fall Focus kicked off with a little movie called “Moonlight” that went on to win the Academy Award for Best Picture. This year, opening night (Sunday, Oct. 22) belongs to “Lady Bird.” The solo directorial debut of actress Greta Gerwig stars “Brooklyn’s” Saoirse Ronan in the semi-autobiographical tale of a precocious, artistically-minded teen aching to get out of suburban Sacramento. It’s a sort of homecoming, as Gerwig has been an IFFBoston staple for as long as she’s been onscreen. Her debut feature “LOL” played here in 2006, followed by her first lead performance in “Hannah Takes the Stairs” the following year.
“We’ve been playing her films for awhile now,” Tamm says, noting Gerwig’s collaborations with partner Noah Baumbach on festival favorites “Frances Ha” and "Mistress America." "She basically worked as a co-director on those, so it’s nice to see her fully on her own."
Those who follow such things tell me “Lady Bird” already has scored a ton of Oscar buzz for two-time nominee Ronan along with co-star Laurie Metcalf. In fact, if there’s anything tying together this lot of films it’s an abundance of robust roles for women, something that the executive director insists was entirely by accident. “We didn’t come out looking for a theme, but I think themes tend to emerge.”
“Inglourious Basterds” co-star Diane Kruger won Best Actress at this year’s Cannes Film Festival for Tuesday night’s “In the Fade,” in which she plays a woman seeking justice after her husband and son are killed in a neo-Nazi terrorist bombing. “Oh god, that movie gutted me,” gushes Tamm about the latest from German-Turkish filmmaker Fatih Akin. “Good gravy, I saw that movie and I was a mess.”
Campbell and Tamm are most excited about Wednesday’s “Thoroughbreds,” which the two have been talking up to me since Sundance back in January. (They tried to get it for April’s festival but the distributor opted to hold off for a fall release.) “It’s a creepy thriller about two girls in a boarding school,” he enthuses, “It’s got Anya Taylor-Joy, who was the witch in 'The Witch,' and Olivia Cooke who was the dying girl in 'Me and Earl and the Dying Girl.' I think some people are gonna love it and maybe some people are not, but I was grinning ear to ear the whole time. That’s definitely the kind of movie we want to share with people.”
Also on Wednesday is “Oslo, August 31st” director Joachim Trier’s “Thelma,” which sounds in synopsis something like a more austere, decidedly Norwegian take on “Carrie.” As this is a filmmaker Tamm and I agree we’re both “totally in the bag for,” he’s hesitant to divulge much of the plot. “It’s about this girl who grows up in a really oppressive house. But you’ll appreciate this, she falls in love in college and everything goes to s---. It’s your kind of movie,” he laughs, then elaborates upon how snugly “Thelma” fits programmed right after “Thoroughbreds.” “I like that we have the two films about young female friendships back-to-back. I think the movies speak to each other in some interesting ways.”
Of course it’s not all girl talk. Sunday night brings the insanely prolific Japanese wild man Takashi Miike’s 100th feature film, “Blade of the Immortal,” about a swordsman cursed to live forever, which probably still isn’t enough time to watch all of Miike’s movies. Tuesday features “Last Flag Flying,” director Richard Linklater’s “spiritual successor” to Hal Ashby’s legendary 1973 naval drama “The Last Detail,” which stars Bryan Cranston, Laurence Fishburne and Steve Carell in the roles once played so indelibly by Jack Nicholson, Otis Young and Randy Quaid. I’m as intrigued as one can possibly be while remaining skeptical that this is at all a good idea.
Finally, the closing night attraction is writer-director Martin McDonagh’s darkly comic, unfortunately titled “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.” Frances McDormand was the talk of the Venice and Toronto film festivals for her performance as the grieving mother of a murdered girl taking out her frustrations with the incompetent local police department via the title signage. Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell co-star as the officers earning her ire, and since McDonagh’s “In Bruges” was one of the most brilliant debuts of its decade I’ll happily follow him anywhere, even though he’s terrible with titles.
“'Three Billboards’ won the People’s Choice Award at Toronto, just like ‘La La Land’ did last year,” Tamm points out with a smirk, attempting to rekindle an ongoing argument of ours over my lack of patience for the hit musical. “But I assume you’ll like this one more than ‘La La Land.’ Because how could you not?”
Independent Film Festival Boston’s Fall Focus runs from Sunday, Oct. 22 through Thursday, Oct. 26 at The Brattle Theatre.