The Independent Film Festival Boston 2018 continues until Wednesday, May 2. A full list of films and programs scheduled for 4.27—and throughout the rest of the festival—can be found on their website.
Friday, April 27
“Shorts Hereford: Documentary,” program includes
DIANNA GOES TO THE FREE SPEECH RALLY , directed by Dan Albright
DIEGO , directed by Kristin Zimney and Annie Franks
ELECTION DAY 2016 , directed by Linda Moroney
FIGHT FOR THE FIRST , directed by Sharon Liese
FOOTPRINT , directed by Sara Newens
THE SECRET HISTORY OF MUSLIMS , directed by Joshua Seftel
Diego offers a personal angle on DACA—its title character is a senior at James Madison University and was once a recipient of the program’s benefits. But since the end of that program in September 2017, he’s been left in a state of constant uncertainty regarding his future. We hear this expressed not only by Diego himself, but also via heartfelt and candid testimony from other figures, including his girlfriend, a former immigration attorney, and his mother. Even still, Zimney and Franks’ short keeps its distance—only scratching the surface of a deeper narrative.
Continuing the political nature of the “Hereford” program, Election Day 2016 documents an infamous day by looking at it from a new location. On November 8, 2016, over 10,000 people added their “I Voted” sticker to the grave of Susan B. Anthony. With stand-up interviews, stills, and b-roll, the film’s approach is cookie-cutter. But it nonetheless serves as a worthwhile reminder of how long equality can take to be fully embraced by the nation at large.
It’s too often that cinematic profiles of journalists and journalism give off a sense of self-indulgence. Fight for the First takes a constitutional freedom that has become an unexpectedly divisive part of national politics in the past few years—the freedom of the press—and creates a narrative displaying the continued resilience of those in the field. And by documenting the historic Columbia Missourian and the students that make up its staff, it provides a hopeful glimpse into the kind of journalism that may endure in the era of “fake news.”
Footprint, a verite documentary that spends a single day at the 9/11 Memorial, says much while showing little. Visitors have their conversations caught on camera (unbeknownst to themselves) as they process the weight of the memorial in front of them. Some have a personal connection to the devastation of those attacks, while others are merely tourists drawn to the symbolic void that currently sits in the footprint of the twin towers. An ambient score is mixed with natural sound throughout, giving off a subtle sense of uneasiness, as if a warning were being echoed through history.
The Secret History of Muslims, in the final spot of this politically charged block, could not be programmed any better. The three-minute Secret quickly offers tidbits about Muslim history in the United States, using animation to illustrate its facts. Surprising point after surprising point culminates in a feel-good (if extremely abbreviated) conclusion—that America really is a nation of immigrants. This newsfeed-ready film could, and should, go viral. -Kori Feener
Somerville Theatre / 7PM. Program also screens on 4.29 at 12:30PM.
INTELLIGENT LIVES , directed by Dan Habib
It’s rare that a documentary communicates overwhelming empathy for its subjects while steadfastly maintaining a sense of journalistic integrity. Dan Habib’s Intelligent Lives, which profiles three individuals with intellectual disabilities, is such a film—a curious and compassionate nonfiction work that expresses its concepts and ideas merely by depicting observed behavior. It asserts the idea that “intelligence” is far more malleable in its definition than our current practices and quantifying techniques allow for and then uses three angles to assert that idea: personal anecdotal evidence, historical evidence, and the visual evidence revealed to us in Habib’s footage of his film’s three lead figures. Intelligent Lives captures the way its subjects communicate with the world—in addition to capturing their hopes, their dreams, and their ability to transcend their presumed limitations when given the chance or the means. And though Habib’s film discusses the background of topics like eugenics and disability discrimination, it’s not a particularly investigative work. Instead, it finds structure in its lead characters’ own pursuits, which cross between art, school, and the workforce (it’s also occasionally anchored by actor/producer/narrator Chris Cooper, who provides the aforementioned historical evidence and background information while also relating personal anecdotes about his son, Jesse Cooper, who developed cerebral palsy shortly after his birth). Intelligent Lives works to amplify the voices of those who are often ignored—a task it accomplishes with soul-baring honesty. -Greg Vellante
Somerville Theatre / 7:30PM / not rated.
“Shorts Mass Ave: Documentary”, program includes
FIGHT SCIENCE , directed by Theodore Collatos
JESSZILLA , directed by Emily Sheskin
KINDERCHOMPER , directed by Mike Scholtz
THEY COME HOME , directed by Rowena Potts
TOMNODDY , directed by Charles Poekel
The best part about Jesszilla, a profile of 10-year-old female boxer Jesselyn Silva, is the relationship she has with her father Pedro. Director Emily Sheskin interviews the two of them together in a crisp medium shot, allowing us to register their reactions to one another on a literally equal plane. And that interplay between father and daughter—regarding his fear of her future, and her youthful fearlessness—is the thematic core of this excellent narrative.
The first few minutes of Kinderchomper are terrifyingly bad, and that’s what makes it great. It starts with a campy promo video of main character Joe Klander’s alter-ego (the baby-eating Kinderchomper), then shifts into a fuller portrait of the man—a father, artist, and professional wrestler. Many short-form profile documentaries have come before this one (including within this program), and many have sported a look similar to it, too. But Kinderchomper prevails by linking its graphic sense of aesthetics to Joe’s own persona—bon appétit.
Rowena Potts’ deeply-moving They Come Home does it all, presenting a sympathetic character within a thoughtful structure marked by perfect pacing. The characters are David and Carlos, who own pigeons in Brooklyn, NY—and who, for the first time since they started working with the birds, have decided to enter a “pigeon show”. To a filmmaker, David and Carlos are dream subjects; appearing genuine and subtle without a hint of camera showmanship. Meanwhile, the narrative structure builds towards the pigeon-show they’ve been preparing for, while offering piecemeal background on David’s history and how he ended up working with birds.
All of the films in this short block feature charismatic characters offering something unique to the world. In the last film, what’s being offered is “bubble magic”—invented by the film’s subject, the professed “soap bubble pioneer” Tomnoddy. Tomnoddy seems to be a natural performer, and the film serves as much as both a chronicle of his chosen ‘form’, as well as a venue for more general reflections. Strong characters make short documentaries successful, and this shorts block is further proof. -Kori Feener
Somerville Theatre / 9:30PM. Program also screens on 4.30 at 7PM.
INDEPENDENT FILM FESTIVAL BOSTON 2018. 4.25–5.2. FOR INDIVIDUAL TICKETS, FESTIVAL BADGES, AND OTHER INFORMATION ABOUT THE FESTIVAL, SEE IFFBOSTON.ORG.