Avengers: Infinity War may be about to overtake cineplexes worldwide, but for movie lovers, the real action will be taking place at the Independent Film Festival Boston, the crown jewel of New England’s many film fests, which kicks off its 16th year on April 25. Through the superheroic efforts of executive director Brian Tamm, program director Nancy Campbell and associate director Judy Wong, IFFBoston will present more than 100 films over 8 days, spread across greater Boston’s independently owned and operated movie halls: Harvard Square’s Brattle Theatre, Brookline’s Coolidge Corner Theatre and Davis Square’s Somerville Theatre. The latter will host the lion’s share of the narrative and documentary features and shorts from the U.S. and across the world.
It’s not just the films that make this festival something to celebrate, however. Tamm, Campbell and Wong—along with their amazing army of volunteers—have fostered a strong sense of community. Not only does IFFBoston connect audiences with visiting filmmakers and participants of many of the movies being screened, but the festival also encourages audience members to interact with each other, something that’s reflected in this year’s theme: “Find your crowd.”
If the past 15 years are any indication, those crowds will be thick, so be sure to arrive early for each of the films in the lineup, beginning on April 25 with the New England premiere of Bo Burnham’s comedy Eighth Grade (7:30 pm, Somerville Theatre). The Hamilton native’s directorial debut focuses on a 13-year-old (Elsie Fisher, who voiced Agnes in the first two Despicable Me movies) who is attempting to survive her final week of middle school. Burnham and Fisher will introduce the film and answer questions at the conclusion of the festival’s opening night selection.
On April 26, director Stephen Maing will attend the local premiere of Crime + Punishment (7 pm, Brattle Theatre), a documentary about a group of whistleblowers within the NYPD who expose the truth about illegal quota practices. Also that night, IFFBoston favorite Melanie Lynskey (who appeared in a whopping three films at last year’s festival) plays the mother of a 13-year-old girl in the East Coast premiere of Megan Griffiths’ Sadie (7:15 pm, Somerville). That drama focuses on a teen (Sophia Mitri Schloss) who attempts to push her mom’s new boyfriend (John Gallagher Jr.) out of the picture. A more delicate family drama brews in the Boston premiere of Silas Howard’s A Kid Like Jake (7:30 pm, Somerville), which tells the story of a Brooklyn couple (Claire Danes and Jim Parsons) and their 4-year-old son (Leo James Davis) who shows more interest in fairy tale princesses than toy cars. Oscar winner Octavia Spencer and Holyoke native Ann Dowd also star.
On April 27, Cambridge native and festival alum Debra Granik (winner of IFFBoston’s Audience Award and Special Jury Prize for 2010’s Winter’s Bone) returns home to present and discuss her new drama, Leave No Trace (7 pm, Brattle), in which she trains her camera on the small mistake that forever changes the lives of the trailer park existence of a man (Ben Foster) and his—yes—13-year-old daughter (Thomasin McKenzie). On that same night, the centerpiece documentary spotlight shines on the East Coast premiere of Dan Habib’s Intelligent Lives (7:30 pm, Somerville), which tells the stories of three young adults with intellectual disabilities. Habib will attend, along with Kingston-based producers Marianne Leone Cooper and Chris Cooper, the Oscar-winning actor who doubles as the film’s narrator.
April 28 begins with the second annual Student Shorts Showcase (1 pm, Somerville), which screens short films selected by and representing local colleges. Later that day, Support the Girls (7 pm, Brattle), the newest comedy from festival veteran and former Bostonian Andrew Bujalski (writer/director of 2013’s Computer Chess and 2015’s Results) presents one long, strange day at a “sports bar with curves,” starring Regina Hall and Haley Lu Richardson. That day also includes the East Coast premiere of the Boston-made documentary Dawnland (7:30 pm, Somerville), which tells a story of stolen children and cultural survival inside the first truth and reconciliation commission for Native Americans, highlighted by a Q&A with directors Adam Mazo and Ben Pender-Cudlip and a live performance by composer Jennifer Kreisberg.
On April 29, MassArt’s Chico Colvard (winner of IFFBoston’s Best Documentary Audience Award for 2010’s Family Affair) and producer Madison O’Leary present Black Memorabilia (2:15 pm, Somerville), which opens a dialogue about racism in America by examining the material culture of certain artifacts. Also on that day, local directors Ann S. Kim and Priya Giri Desai discuss Lovesick (2:45 pm, Somerville), their compassionate portrait of Dr. Suniti Solomon, who works as a matchmaker for HIV-positive patients in India, where AIDS is discussed in hushed tones. In the evening, Paul Schrader holds a Q&A after a screening of his First Reformed (6 pm, Somerville), which focuses on a pastor (Ethan Hawke), his pregnant wife (Amanda Seyfried) and their soul-shaking encounter with an unstable environmental activist. The centerpiece narrative spotlight that evening is on another New England premiere with Carlos Lopez Estrada’s Blindspotting (7:30 pm, Somerville), a timely and entertaining look at race and class in the gentrifying Oakland, starring longtime friends and co-writers Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal, who will both be on hand.
Another IFFBoston veteran returns on April 30 as Lauren Greenfield (director of 2012’s closing night film, The Queen of Versailles) presents her new documentary, Generation Wealth (7 pm, Brattle). At the same time, the New England premiere of Hearts Beat Loud (7 pm, Somerville) will likely make some noise in Davis Square as Nick Offerman and Kiersey Clemons play a father and daughter that team up as an unlikely songwriting duo in the latest drama from director Brett Haley, whose The Hero was a standout at last year’s fest.
On May 1, IFFBoston moves across the river for its penultimate night of screenings in Coolidge Corner. First is Disobedience (7 pm), a drama from Oscar-winning director Sebastian Lelio that stars Rachel McAdams and Rachel Weisz as childhood friends involved in a forbidden relationship. But the romance doesn’t end there as Damsel (9:30) tells the period tale of a pioneer (Robert Pattinson) and his treacherous journey across the American frontier to marry the love of his life (Mia Wasikowska). David & Nathan Zellner—who made a splash at the festival with 2012’s Kid-Thing and 2014’s Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter—write and direct.
And for those treasure hunters in the audience, the closing night selection, Won’t You Be My Neighbor? (7:30 pm, Coolidge Corner), promises to be a real gem. Directed by Morgan Neville (Oscar winner for 20 Feet from Stardom), this emotional portrait of late children’s TV host Fred Rogers challenges us to confront whether we’ve lived up to the ideal he set for us—or forgotten the simple pleasures of putting on our sweaters and lacing up our shoes. So settle in with your neighbors and discover the answer with your IFFBoston crowd. ◆
Independent Film Festival Boston runs April 25-May 2 at the Somerville Theatre in Davis Square, the Brattle Theatre in Harvard Square and the Coolidge Corner Theatre in Brookline. For complete details, visit iffboston.org.