It’s springtime in Boston, and with the change in weather comes the season’s best tradition, the annual run of Boston’s top film festival, Independent Film Festival Boston (now in its 16th year). If you’ve visited Davis Square recently, you’ve likely seen festival banners hanging above the streets, each starring animal emissaries ranging from penguins to cats: “Find your crowd,” they read, a clever theme as sure to tickle those who have attended the festival in years past as those who haven’t, and if you haven’t, you should. The country is littered with standout film festivals, but IFFBoston is the only one we can claim direct kinship with; Boston has a superb movie going scene, so it follows that we should also have an equally superb festival to complement it.
And to celebrate the movies themselves, of course, gathered from festivals held within and outside the U.S., a’la Sundance, TIFF, and SXSW. As is always the case with IFFBoston, the schedule is too stacked for anybody to see everything they’re aching to see. The trick is to find the films that speak to you – in other words, to find your crowd, whether at the Somerville Theatre, the Brattle Theatre, or the Coolidge Corner Theatre. (Head over to iffboston.org to take a look at what’s playing and where, and to buy tickets.) And if you need help deciding, here are six movies of varied makes and models to consider for your own viewing slate:
Crime + Punishment
We’ve no shortage of documentaries exposing police brutality, but Stephen Maing’s may be the most ambitious of them all. To make Crime + Punishment, Maing worked with officers in the New York City Police Department fighting illegal policing quotas (and other discriminatory activities) endorsed by the NYPD hierarchy. The result of their efforts is a film as scholarly as it is fiery.
Don’t Leave Home
Inspired by Ireland’s “Vanishing Triangle,” a rash of disappearances in the mid 1990s involving young women, Michael Tully’s Don’t Leave Home follows an American artist (Anna Margaret Hollyman) who flies to Ireland to create a piece for a priest (Lalor Roddy) in self-imposed exile. Horror is built on bad choices and traveling abroad to meet a stranger in the middle of nowhere without telling anyone is among the worst, but it makes for a deliciously eerie movie.
We the Animals
Based on Justin Torres’ novel of the same name, Jeremiah Zagar’s screen adaptation of We the Animals blends Beasts of the Southern Wild with the movies of David Gordon Green (and a little Moonlight on the side). Three boys live in a rural upstate New York town with their father (Raúl Castillo) and mother (Sheila Vand). The youngest, Jonah (Evan Rosado), captures their rough upbringing, and his budding sexuality, with harsh chicken scratch drawings in his diary, occasionally brought to life via animation. A small, challenging film with a dreamlike rhythm all its own.
On Chesil Beach
There’s no such thing as too much Saoirse Ronan, recently nominated for her stellar work in Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird. On Chesil Beach, adapted from Ian McEwan’s Booker Prize nominated novella (who also wrote the movie’s screenplay), sees her in a classic mode, playing Florence, newly wed to Edward (Billy Howle); they’re two lovers of wholly different backgrounds, experiencing performance anxiety on their wedding night as the film flashes back to their past, from the time they met to present day. On Chesil Beach is ostensibly a romance, but it’s focused on hesitation and aching for an intimacy neither character can realize. Ronan and Howle make this worth watching all on their own.
Boom for Real
A short (70 minutes) profile of the New York City neo-expressionist prodigy Jean-Michel Basquiat, known primarily for scribbling elliptical images and cryptic messages all along Manhattan’s Lower East Side in the 1970s and 1980s somehow doesn’t feel like enough for a talent who died far too young. But despite its trim length, Sara Driver’s Boom for Real: The Late Teenage Years of Jean-Michel Basquiat effectively sculpts a flesh and blood person out of the near-mythical accounts of Basquiat’s character offered by his friends and acquaintances.
White Tide: The Legend of Culebra
How the Coen Brothers or Carl Hiaasen haven’t gotten their hands on the story of Rodney Hyden and his ill-fated quest for millions of dollars’ worth of cocaine buried beneath the sands of Puerto Rico is a mystery, but Theo Love’s documentary cum reenactment of Hyden’s story suffices in the meantime. A film that’s literally stranger than fiction.