Independent Film Festival Boston is celebrating its 15th annual edition from April 26 through May 3 and, true to its name, continues to bypass the city’s multiplexes in favor of Greater Boston’s treasure trove of independently owned and operated movie halls: Harvard Square’s 64-year-old Brattle Theatre, Brookline’s 84-year-old Coolidge Corner Theatre and Davis Square’s Somerville Theatre, an Art Deco palace that celebrated its centennial in 2014. All three of these venues are sustained by the local movie-loving community—and community is what this festival fosters, bringing audiences and filmmakers together for screenings of more than 100 films that represent the best of current American and international cinema, with equal emphasis on narrative and documentary films, from features to shorts.
One member of that movie-loving community is Will Lautzenheiser, a 42-year-old Reading native who studied film production at Boston University before becoming a teacher. Back in 2011, Will left Boston to impart his knowledge and love of movies to students at Montana State University. While he was preparing for his move, Will began experiencing a cramp in his leg, but he didn’t think much of it at the time. However, after his second day of teaching, the pain became excruciating. By that night, he was suffering from what he describes as “total organ failure” brought on by toxic shock syndrome, the byproduct of a group A strep infection. In order to save Will’s life, doctors decided to amputate much of his four limbs.
IFFBoston’s opening night film, Stumped, is 38-year-old director and Brookline native Robin Berghaus’ stirring documentary feature that chronicles Will’s devastating ordeal and the unexpected form of therapy he pursues: performing stand-up comedy at ImprovBoston. The show must go on, indeed. Meanwhile, a world-famous team of doctors at Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital—including Simon Talbot, Matthew Carty and Bohdan Pomahac—decides that Will is a candidate for an experimental double-arm transplant. Despite great risks, Will sees an opportunity to not only regain his independence, but to help further the progress of science. During a four-year period, we watch him navigate his relationship with partner Angel Gonzalez both pre- and post-operation in a film that greatly expands on Berghaus’ 10-minute documentary short (also called Stumped) that played to great acclaim at IFFBoston back in 2014. This inspirational feature version promises to do the same at its New England premiere on April 26 at the Somerville Theatre, where Berghaus is slated to be joined by Will and Angel, as well as members of the surgical team. An opening night party for festival passholders will follow at Orleans, just outside of Davis Square.
Another stand-up comedian, Demetri Martin, makes his feature writing/directing debut with the comic drama Dean, a heartfelt tale about a father (Kevin Kline) and a son (Martin) who are coping with the loss of their wife and mother. Martin will be present for a Q&A after the April 30 screening in Somerville. Stand-up also figures into the plot of the festival’s Centerpiece Narrative Spotlight, The Hero. Screening in Somerville on April 28, the film stars Sam Elliott, who charms as an aging, ailing actor in search of his last great role while falling into a relationship with a younger comedian half his age (Laura Prepon).
Other festival highlights include Centerpiece Documentary Spotlight The B-Side: Elsa Dorfman’s Portrait Photography, which has local documentary legend Errol Morris turning his camera on the celebrated Cambridge photographer; Sundance favorite Columbus, a romantic drama starring Star Trek’s John Cho as a Korean-born man who finds himself in Columbus, Indiana, when his father falls into a coma; SXSW standout La Barracuda, a dramatic thriller with JoBeth Williams set in rural Texas; Gook, a drama about two Korean American brothers forced to defend their store during the LA riots that greeted the Rodney King verdict; and Landline, another Sundance favorite from Gillian Robespierre, director of 2014’s popular IFFBoston entry Obvious Child. That comedy’s star, Milton’s Jenny Slate, returns in this 1995-set comic drama about a family united by secrets and lies.
The festival comes to a close with one more Sundance favorite, the comedy Band Aid. Zoe Lister-Jones and Adam Pally play a battling couple whose therapist suggests a rather unconventional way to work through their marital difficulties, using their shared love of song and a musical assist by a neighbor played by Fred Armisen. Lister-Jones will be on hand to answer questions about her debut as a writer/director when the film screens on the festival’s final day at the Coolidge Corner Theatre.
Independent Film Festival Boston
April 26–May 3 at the Somerville Theatre, the Brattle Theatre, the Coolidge Corner Theatre and UMass Boston. For a complete schedule and information on tickets, festival passes, memberships, panel discussions, parties and events, visit iffboston.org.