These movies screened at the Independent Film Festival Boston 2018, which ran from April 25—May 2.
BLACK MEMORABILIA , directed by Chico Colvard
Chico Colvard’s Black Memorabilia succinctly documents the consistent, worldwide demand for antiquities displaying anti-black caricatures, holding them up as tangible examples of racism in contemporary life and culture. In visual terms, it bears some resemblance to the final sequence of Spike Lee’s Bamboozled , where a stomach-churning montage of racist stereotypes and objects similarly drives the message home. But Colvard’s film doesn’t have the same direct punch as Lee’s. Instead, the documentary examines topics closely related to the initial production and continued distribution of these objects; studying the sociopolitical implications of racist toys manufactured in China, the high profits that come with selling these “controversial” antiques, and what it means to reappropriate harmful stereotypes into ostensibly provocative art. Those segments are each announced by intertitles—“Manufacture,” “Consume,” and “Reclaim”—designed in the style of old silent movies. But the documentary’s soundscape expresses itself as eloquently as its visuals. Through audio clips, Colvard considers the degrading images of black people in culture within the context of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, by studying media including local news reports and right-wing radio. Some connections may appear a little tenuous at first glance, yet the filmmaker’s bigger picture comes into focus eventually: No one can banish these racist images from our lives, but it’s up to us to make sense of them and the discrimination they propagate—an integral step in assessing the widespread damage created by the colonialism that fostered their existence in the first place. -Monica Castillo
PHANTOM COWBOYS , directed by Daniel Patrick Carbone
We’ve certainly heard a fair amount about “small-town America” in the past year, especially whenever we’ve been unfortunate enough to glance at cable news. So it’s apt that Daniel Patrick Carbone’s film Phantom Cowboys, which first began production in 2010, sees completion and exhibition now—the documentary follows three boys as they grow up in small towns in California, Florida, and West Virginia. The film cuts between footage of them as teenagers, fresh-faced and tentative, and footage of them as young adults, where their hopeful tentativeness has turned into a more hardened acceptance. These cuts are undeniably moving—faces and lives seem to crystallize between frames, traced in light––but you also cannot shake the sense that what’s moving about the film is somewhat incidental to its subjects. It wants so badly to achieve poeticism and to be empathetic, to an extent that often seems forced. Aesthetically, it pulls out all the stops: rousing string music, slow-motion body movement, and landscape shots of high grass and roaring flames, approximating a kind of Malickian beauty. But it never lingers over the implications of that which it documents. One of the boys, who is black, ends up caught in the prison system—and later, we learn that one of his friends has been shot and killed; yet the film mostly resists engaging with, or even detailing, the larger ramifications of those events. The most telling moment in that regard occurs when the West Virginian boy’s girlfriend asks him if he’s seen “the news about Rodney King”—he curtly responds, “Yeah, I’ve heard of it,” then asks to change the channel. Like the clouds of dust and smoke so often documented by the film, Phantom Cowboys gives a glimpse of substantive insight, then evaporates before your eyes. -Hannah Kinney-Kobre
For more information on the film, see phantomcowboys.com.
THE POWER OF GLOVE , directed by Andrew Austin, Paula Kosowski, and Adam Ward
This ode to the notorious failure of the Nintendo Power Glove plays well for devotees of video game history, but it’s also informative for those who missed the ’80s (or for those who saw The Wizard  and want to know more about its most infamous prop). The Power Glove, made for the original NES console, was a game controller that responded to the player’s movements—in theory, if a user playing Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! threw a punch with a Power Glove, the character in the game would throw the same punch. But as The Power of Glove shows, the device was rushed into production with disastrous results—and those punches didn’t land very often. The flawed and finicky product quickly became the butt of countless jokes, a reputation that lasts to this very day. But in that infamy, the Power Glove has grown a cult following comprising obsessives, curiosity seekers, and even creative remixers—some of whom have hacked the glove’s properties to make art, homemade virtual-reality experiences, and music. The Power of Glove celebrates that scrappy kind of gamer culture—the kind that spawned the glove’s creation and then kept it alive: Oddball subjects are interviewed throughout the film, from the device’s original developers to a fan who never leaves his home without his own. Between these various testimonials, The Power of Glove employs a synth-heavy soundtrack and 8-bit animated effects (aesthetics that would feel at home in an arcade), while also including archival footage of old advertisements and home-video recordings of behind-the-scenes drama (they play like easter eggs dropped into the film’s structure). And so the overall spirit is not one of sadness or defeat, but of playfulness—a quality far too absent from contemporary gamer culture. -Monica Castillo
For more information on this film, see thepowerofglove.com.
THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO ANDRÈ , directed by Kate Novack
Incidents recorded from the life of Vogue contributing editor Andrè Leon Talley during late 2016 and early 2017: tersely advising groundskeepers as they remove a tree from his property in North Carolina; rightfully obsessing over the implications of Donald Trump’s campaign while socializing in New York; having an outdoor lunch with Isabella Rossellini (and her pet pigs); live-blogging the inauguration alongside Maureen Dowd. In between these scenes, director Kate Novack’s nonfiction film employs the usual biodoc format; the film begins with glowing testimonies from Talley’s contemporaries and friends (Tom Ford, Marc Jacobs, Anna Wintour), then moves through biographical details in hurried subsegments (periods like “Paris, 1984” and “New York, 1990” are introduced and dismissed within minutes), all while occasionally cutting back to the day-to-day observations of Talley himself (as detailed above). Whatever momentum the film does find comes not from the filmmaking but from its subject. And though Talley’s imposing stature draws first notice—he stands 6’6” and describes himself as a “manatee”—it’s his voice, cadence, and wit that really carry the movie. He’s a born charismatic, the real deal, a true fucking star. For the best explanation of his nature, I’ll defer to another of his self-descriptions: “You can be an aristocrat without having been born to an aristocratic family”. As likely goes without saying, Talley is exceptionally measured with his language—but he can’t slow down the film’s overrushed rhythm, it rarely has the editorial patience necessary to go beyond a dropped name. So Talley does cite his influences (Fairchild’s The Fashionable Savages and filmmaker Luchino Visconti among them) and waxes nostalgic about the legendary institutions he worked for (Interview magazine under Warhol and the Met’s Costume Institute under his mentor Diana Vreeland), but his comments rarely extend beyond a few sentences on any given subject. Only at the end of the film is he allowed to hold court for a few uninterrupted minutes—when he speaks about the racism he encountered throughout his career. His monologue is sharp, thoughtful, and eloquent; worth the break in the film’s pace, to say the very least. And it’s easy to understand why the filmmakers chose this moment as the one where he should be given the time and space needed to elaborate thoroughly. Yet one wishes they had extended the same courtesy to even the most frivolous subjects raised throughout the film. The history of Talley’s life is sensational—but to hear him orate, sublime. -Jake Mulligan
Scheduled for theatrical release in Boston on June 1. Rated PG-13.
RODENTS OF UNUSUAL SIZE , directed by Quinn Costello, Chris Metzler, and Jeff Springer
Rodents of Unusual Size studies the nutria, a heavyset rodent species that has taken over the swamps of Louisiana—but that’s just the starting point. This remarkable film quickly expands to consider major issues facing the southern United States today, primarily those related to changes in climate and industry. But it does keep some level of topic-specific focus: all characters seen in the film are somehow affected by the presence of the nutria (which are semiaquatic and beaver-like), which gives the audience an understanding of the scope of the problem. The main character is Thomas Gonzales, one of the last people living on the gulf post-Katrina (the edit periodically swings back to his perspective), but his narrative is mixed in with those of other figures, include a man living on a golf course (he regularly feeds the nutria), a nutria hunter (who nonetheless keeps one as a pet), and an eco-conscious fashion designer (who makes use of their hides). Meanwhile, historical representations of the nutria are staged in beautiful ways—either in the style of an archival video clip playing on an old television dressed with a pelt on top, or via picture frames of famous actresses wearing nutria hides. With footage both fascinating and educational (at least partly), Rodents brings attention to a region finding its own creative avenues for dealing with a changing world. -Kori Feener
For more information on this film, see rodentsofunusualsize.tv.
THE INDEPENDENT FILM FESTIVAL BOSTON 2018 CONCLUDED EARLIER THIS WEEK. HOWEVER, THE ORGANIZATION DOES HOLD INDIVIDUAL SCREENINGS YEAR-ROUND—FOR MEMBERSHIP DETAILS AND OTHER INFORMATION, SEE IFFBOSTON.ORG.