The 14th annual Independent Film Festival Boston—which began earlier this week and runs through next Wednesday—is the only cinema event in this city that legitimately overwhelms you with options. This year the festival boasts more than 25 narrative features, almost 40 nonfiction features, and about 50 short films, with the screenings spread out across four different locations (the Brattle Theatre, the Somerville Theatre, the Coolidge Corner Theatre, and UMass Boston). A number of those screenings will be accompanied by question-and-answer sessions populated by cast members, directors, producers, editors, or other crew. A selection of panels will take other stages simultaneously, on topics like “Acting and Casting in Boston” and “Diversity and Inclusion in the Golden Age of Docs.” And after all that are the after-parties. Every year this festival has a tagline, seen on the posters, programs, and bumper videos. In 2016, it’s “Make it yours”—and you’ll have to. Even if the MBTA ran perfectly, you’d only be able to catch a fraction of this lineup.
Therefore any suggestions I make about a “running theme” would only be indicative of the small percentage of films I’ve already seen. In last week’s issue we lauded the punk-club-under-siege horror movie Green Room—a movie I first saw at a screening hosted by IFFBoston!—for its dedication to regional and formal specificity. And the movies you see at the festival are all marked by the same characteristic, despite the fact that they’re born of various different markets. Some are well-budgeted films with notable actors; others are local productions that were scripted and shot on spare change. Some are well-distributed documentaries on nationally recognized subjects; others are shot on streets you’ve never heard of. But almost every film represents what we’ve come to call a “deep dive.” One profiles anthropologists dedicated to studying the effects of climate change on coastal lifestyles [The Anthropologist]. Another dramatizes the conflicts that ensue when a sought-after Brooklyn storefront space comes up for lease [Little Men]. A local entry documents the struggles of recently released ex-convicts in Lowell and Lawrence as they spiral in and out of their own respective substance addictions [Beyond the Wall]. Spend enough time skipping between theaters this week and you’ll leave knowing significantly more about a few topics that you’re probably already thinking about.
We’ve spent the past week previewing a handful of fest films, so our previews as an incomplete guide to the offerings. We’ll be at IFFB this whole week, too, and will be filing reports to digboston.com along the way. Of the films we’ve seen thus far, two standouts best exemplify the programming’s dedication to unique works of storytelling—both are nonfiction features characterized by outlandish, Strangelove-ian twists of fate. One of them has a real-life car chase leading to a mild-mannered disagreement. The other one has the line “We’re executing the McDonald’s plan” delivered in a gravely serious tone of voice. Neither film is particularly revolutionary in an aesthetic sense. But since real life is weirder than fiction, they’re blessed with comic scenarios that even the most eccentric screenwriter wouldn’t generate.
On that note, let’s talk about Anthony Weiner. You may remember him as “Carlos Danger.” That was the name he used in chat rooms dedicated to digital hookups. He was a Democratic congressman in New York—he was and still is married to Huma Abedin, who currently serves as the vice chairwoman of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign—and he resigned after getting caught up in a sexting scandal. Then he attempted a comeback by running for mayor of New York City in 2013. Along the way, he made two mistakes. The first mistake was not knowing that additional photographs from his online life would inevitably leak out. The second mistake was allowing a documentary crew full access to his life for the entirety of the campaign. Co-director Josh Kriegman—the politician’s former chief-of-staff—will present the resulting film at IFFBoston. Obviously, it’s called Weiner.
Like a dick pic from an unwanted suitor, it’s a discomforting experience. The mayoral campaign begins in earnest, with Weiner’s opponents drawing indignant boos whenever they stoop to talking about his past woes. But then there’s new controversies to contend with—more nude photographs, alongside sexually-explicit text conversations—all leaked to a press that’s starving for more scandal. Filmmakers Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg get up in Weiner’s face whenever his offices and vans empty out, asking him deliberately reactionary questions (“Did you ever think it would be this bad?”) designed to provoke intensely pained reactions (they push him so far that he questions the integrity of their so-called “fly-on-the-wall” filmmaking approach, and rightfully so). Weiner’s only public response is to let things hang even lower. He doubles down on his campaigning persona, leading ethnic celebrations and gay pride parades; cut to: a young man energetically chanting “Weiner!” while he repeatedly points to his penis. It’s a real-world election comedy, with cosmically ordained coincidences that’d make a screenwriter dream (the digitally philandering Weiner had his wedding overseen by none other than Bill Clinton.) Musically backed montages and clips of unrelentingly vicious political commentary bake it all into a form that’s both poppy and caustic, like The Candidate with an uglier star (then Weiner compares himself to Bulworth, to clinch the connection). The climax features an ostensibly serious political figure being chased through a fast food restaurant by a part-time adult-film actress he’d scorned via telephone. They say that politics have gotten too silly to satirize. Here’s the proof.
Weiner isn’t the only nonfiction film at IFFB that manages to match the absurdity of the daily news. In Tickled, a New Zealand-based culture journalist (co-director David Farrier) finds a competitive tickling league online (attached videos typically feature teenage boys in athletic gear gang-tickling a strapped-down peer) and decides to make it his next subject. He’s quickly resisted by the weirdly faceless producer of the videos (Jane O’Brien Media), who responds with goofily homophobic rants (“little gay kiwis”) and surprisingly well-advised legal threats (they sound like wealth). Farrier’s ensuing investigation dictates the form of the movie, with first-person aesthetics (voiceover, direct address, and documentations of his various communications with the involved ticklers) taking us along for the trip (which brings him to our country, and also to numerous courtrooms). What Farrier discovers is a nationwide conspiracy of Pynchonian proportions. It’s as labyrinthian as the author’s Lot 49, with the truth hidden behind high-value business contracts and real estate ownership papers—a silly little thing with a harrowing aftertaste. And it’s all orchestrated by a sadistic rich white person who has Wall Street connections, because real life can be more symbolic than fiction, too. As with Weiner, you could skip the movie, research the adjacent legal cases, and obtain all the same information that’s provided onscreen. But then you’d only have the misery—you’d miss out on the fun of discovering it.
INDEPENDENT FILM FESTIVAL BOSTON 2016. 4.2 —5.4. AT THE SOMERVILLE THEATRE, BRATTLE THEATRE, COOLIDGE CORNER THEATRE, AND UMASS BOSTON. TICKETS TO INDIVIDUAL FILMS ARE $11—20, DEPENDING ON SEATING AND SCREENING. FOR BADGES, MEMBERSHIPS, SCHEDULE, AND TICKETS, VISIT IFFBOSTON.COM
WEINER SCREENS ON MON 5.2. SOMERVILLE THEATRE, SCREEN 5. 7PM. RATED R. OPENS AT THE KENDALL SQUARE CINEMA ON 5. 27. CO-DIRECTOR JOSH KRIEGMAN IS EXPECTED TO ATTEND.
TICKLED ALSO SCREENS ON MON 5.2. SOMERVILLE THEATRE, SCREEN 4. 7:15PM. NOT RATED.