With all due respect to Marvel fans, Boston’s biggest film event of the year has nothing to do with Avengers: Endgame. The 17th annual Independent Film Festival Boston (IFFBoston) will bring more than 100 original films—and the superheroic talent behind them—to the city from April 24 to May 1, with events spread across Harvard Square’s Brattle Theatre, Brookline’s Coolidge Corner Theatre and Davis Square’s Somerville Theatre. With festival-favorite political documentaries and much-anticipated sophomore features from directors Jennifer Kent and Lulu Wang, this year’s slate demonstrates a continued commitment to quality and diversity from executive director Brian Tamm, program director Nancy Campbell and associate director Judy Wong.
While the weekend is sure to draw the biggest crowds, don’t overlook the powerhouse midweek offerings, beginning on April 24 with psychosocial stage adaptation Luce (7:30 pm, Somerville). The taut drama stars Naomi Watts and Tim Roth as parents reckoning with their perception of adopted son Luce (Kelvin Harrison Jr. of It Comes at Night), originally from war-torn Eritrea, after a devoted teacher (Octavia Spencer) discovers his alarming interest in political violence. The opening-night screening includes a Q&A with director Julius Onah (in a surprise turn from his last film, The Cloverfield Paradox).
The drama continues on April 25 with Them That Follow (7 pm, Somerville), the debut from Britt Poulton and Dan Madison Savage about the dark secrets of an Appalachian snake-handling church (yes, you read that correctly) that stars Olivia Colman (fresh off her awards tour for The Favourite) and Kaitlyn Dever (also in Olivia Wilde’s upcoming Booksmart). At the same time, the Boston premiere of documentary feature Running with Beto (7 pm, Brattle) from Massachusetts native David Modigliani is likely to fire up the audience in Harvard Square with a look into Beto O’Rourke’s ascension to political stardom during 2018’s midterm elections. The director, a Harvard graduate himself, will be in attendance. Wacky dark comedy The Death of Dick Long (9:30 pm, Brattle) will also feature a Q&A with director Daniel Scheinert (best known for the absurdist Swiss Army Man).
The evening of April 26 brings the first of two sophomore features from female directors with Jennifer Kent’s The Nightingale (7 pm, Brattle). This much-buzzed-about revenge flick from the writer/director of 2014’s breakout horror hit The Babadook follows a young Irish convict (Game of Thrones’ Aisling Franciosi) as she chases a British officer (The Hunger Games’ Sam Claflin) through the rugged Tasmanian wilderness, seeking justice for her family. Also showing that night is Lynn Shelton’s misadventure comedy Sword of Trust (8 pm, Somerville) about two women (Jillian Bell, Michaela Watkins) who attempt to unload an inherited Civil War sword onto a curmudgeonly pawnshop owner (Marc Maron, presumably playing himself).
April 27 promises a packed Saturday, beginning with the third annual Student Shorts Showcase (1 pm, Somerville), which screens short films selected by and representing local colleges. That afternoon, IFFBoston will show another midterm-focused documentary, Knock Down the House (4:30 pm, Somerville), which follows the grassroots campaigns of four women running for Congress in 2018—including now-superstar Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. The festival’s documentary centerpiece WBCN and the American Revolution (7:30 pm, Somerville), which chronicles how Boston’s underground rock radio galvanized social, political and cultural shifts across the late 1960s and early ’70s, will follow shortly after, and Boston-bred Bill Lichtenstein will chat post-screening. Also playing Saturday is Alex Ross Perry’s Her Smell (6:45 pm, Brattle), starring Elisabeth Moss as a vicious rocker chick, plus Peter Strickland’s comically horrifying In Fabric (9:45 pm, Brattle) with Games of Thrones’ Gwendoline Christie.
On April 28, Julie Smith Clem and Ken Druckerman’s It Started as a Joke (7:30 pm, Somerville) will dive into the decadelong run of the Eugene Mirman Comedy Festival, and Mirman will be in attendance for the screening. Later that evening comes the world premiere of Gutterbug (8:45 pm, Somerville), an Allston-set odyssey of homelessness and self-discovery from local newcomer Andrew Gibson. If none of Sunday’s screenings appeal to you, Monday, April 29 features the festival’s narrative centerpiece Official Secrets (7:30 pm, Somerville) from Eye in the Sky director Gavin Hood. Keira Knightley gives a rare 21st-century performance as real-life whistleblower Katharine Gun, who exposed an illegal NSA spy operation to manipulate the U.N. into sanctioning the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
On April 30, IFFBoston moves across the river (as is tradition) for its penultimate night of screenings in Coolidge Corner—and this year, they’re the most independent and eccentric feature films imaginable. First up, Michael Tyburski will attend the New England premiere of his The Sound of Silence (7 pm), a fascinating drama starring Peter Sarsgaard as a lonely “house tuner” who works on the sonic environment of homes. Shortly after comes dark comedy The Art of Self Defense (9:30 pm) with king of odd Jesse Eisenberg playing a paranoiac taken to martial arts to defend himself.
IFFBoston’s appropriately titled closing film The Farewell (7:30 pm, Coolidge Corner) is sure to be a treat. The Sundance darling from Lulu Wang, inspired by the writer/director’s own experiences, stars Crazy Rich Asians breakout Awkwafina as a Chinese-American woman staging a wedding to please her secretly dying grandmother. Wang will answer questions following the screening, greeting the audience and bidding farewell to another whirlwind year of independent cinema. ◆
Independent Film Festival Boston runs from April 24 to May 1 at Somerville Theatre in Davis Square, the Brattle Theatre in Harvard Square and Coolidge Corner Theatre in Brookline. For complete details, visit iffboston.org