IFFB reviews/overview thus far

The Independent Film Festival Boston is here. In it’s seventh year it has grown by leaps and bounds with many east coast premieres. This year it has attracted Tom Noonan as a member of it’s narrative jury and in-person appearances from Hal Holbrook, Brian Cox, Rian Johnson, Ondi Timoner, Kevin Corrigan and Robert Seigel among others. Somebody also said they saw Chris Cooper around.

The festival is an all-volunteer run non-profit. Films were shown from last Wednesday through this Tuesday at the Somerville Theater, Brattle Theater, Coolidge Corner Theater and the Institute of Contemporary Art.

I was clued in by an acquaintance that if you volunteer for two 4-5 hour shifts you get to see any and all films for free. I was in.

Monday: Picked up my spiffy red AA volunteer tee with a picture of an anatomically correct heart on it and my volunteer badge at the Somerville – I’m ready to go!

Wednesday: I was all ready and excited to see Rian Johnson’s The Brothers Bloom so I headed out in the rain to the Coolidge. Sadly at 6:30, when tickets went on sale, I discovered that it was, in fact, at the Somerville Theater. O well.

Thursday: I decided to actually focus on where the films were being shown and showed up at the Somerville Theater.

I caught Children of Invention, a film about a Chinese immigrant single mother and her two young children living in Quincy, MA. When the mother gets caught up in a ponzi scheme her children are left alone and must get by without her. This was the best film I’ve seen all year. I know all the tropes and devices used by “children in danger in a dangerous world” films and this one subverted most of them – it was refreshingly surprising and had one of those hopeful endings that moistens the eyes. The child actors are quite talented and it was a delight for Boston locals to catch all of the local in-jokes.

Next I saw The Missing Person, a contemporary detective noir starring Michael Shannon (as the Gumshoe) and Amy Ryan (as the Moll.) It’s hard to be a hard-boiled PI when you can’t smoke in cabs and you wake up in the morning and have to reach for your cell phone instead of the old rotary next to the bed. The film is quite stylized as an homage yet deals with some very specific 21st century American issues dealing with personal re-invention and facing a past trauma. It was a good film and quite nice to look at.

Friday began with me waiting in the wrong line at the Brattle to see Andrew Bujalski’s new one Beeswax. Not much new ground is broken by the notorious “Slackavettes” filmmaker though instead of observing the mundane slice of life of mid-20s upper middle class white america in New York it’s that of the late-20-something upper middle class white America in Austin. I found this film significantly less funny than his last feature Mutual Appreciation, but perhaps that’s only because older characters who tend to have more sophistication and life experience are more deft and less unsure about how to deal with life. Sadly I had to leave this film about 10 minutes before it ended to bike up to the Somerville to meet Julie, Maura, James and Lisa to see The Wrestler writer Robert Seigel’s Big Fan, a dark comedy about an obsessed and emotionally immature New York Giants fan from Staten Island. The film was a bit disappointing (as a Giants fan myself I was hoping for more in-jokes) but after the film Seigel and film co-star Kevin Corrigan took questions. It was the most amusing Q and A I’ve seen so far with Corrigan at first appearing very uncomfortable and fidgety but later giving us a 10 minute long anecdote about his childhood meeting with Robert De Niro. He’s a natural comedian.

Saturday I had my first volunteer shift: I guarded a closet and the filmmakers lounge, ripped tickets, scanned badges and counted and collected audience ballots. It was pretty enjoyable all around (though the sunny 80 degree weather outside made me curse fate a bit.) Afterwards I caught La Mission a film starring Benjamin Bratt (directed by his brother Peter) about a recovering alcoholic Chicano in San Francisco who has to deal with the fact that his teenage son is gay. The film was fine though it had far too many slow motion and swelling strings sequences for my taste. It was one of those by the book liberal issue Sundance films that folks seem to love but didn’t really do it for me.

Next I caught Ondi Timoner’s We Live in Public, a documentary about early internet innovator Josh Harris and, specifically, the way he used technology to investigate the idea of privacy in the lives of his artist friends and, most interestingly, that of him and his girlfriend. This film, 10 years in the making, is well in line with the investigation of deranged genius in Timoner’s previous film, Dig! Check out the website linked above and look at the videos section for a youtube of a crazed fan of pseudo.com attacking Harris at a screening at MOMA. I was really impressed by this film though it’s sad that Harris is such a megalomaniac and so attracted to publicity that he’d allow himself to essentially be exploited for Timoner’s doc about how we’re all willing to let the internet steal our privacy.

After that I pooped out on the midnight movie and went to bed. Review of Sunday soon to come.

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