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Movies

Independent Film Festival Boston celebrates 10 years

ILLUSTRATION BY RYAN HUDDLE/GLOBE STAFF

A little over a decade ago, two Boston movie fanatics named Jason Redmond and Adam Roffman ran into each other at the Sundance Film Festival and wondered why there was nothing remotely like that back home. Thanks to them, there now is. With its 10th edition, running from April 25 through May 2 at the Somerville, Brattle, and Coolidge Corner theaters, the Independent Film Festival Boston both hits an important milestone and stands alone as the local film lover’s event that matters.

There are other festivals, but they are either unfiltered smorgasbords where filmmakers pay to enter (and quality control is therefore nil) or niche affairs catering to ethnicities and nationalities. IFFB is the only curated all-purpose festival, which means Roffman and the rest of the organization’s brain trust (a hardy volunteer coterie of Boston-area film programmers) pick the best from Sundance, SXSW, and other festivals; seek out new discoveries; and fold in a generous helping of local voices and visions.

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Boston is a city of filmmakers — intelligent, committed, truly independent — and more than ever the IFFB is their finest annual showcase. The star quality is on the rise as well, with appearances this year by Ira Glass of “This American Life” (he co-wrote the opening night film, “Sleepwalk With Me’’), actress-director Julie Delpy (“2 Days in New York”), and directors Todd Solondz (“Dark Horse”), Guy Maddin (“Keyhole”), and Bobcat Goldthwait (“God Bless America”).

The IFFB’s second decade can only promise bigger and better things — more sponsors, we hope, and is it too much to ask that a Boston film festival take place in Boston rather than the surrounding neighborhoods? — but for now it’s the best we have and it’s more than good enough.

(More information is at www.iffboston.org.)

Mike Birbiglia

Mike Birbiglia co-wrote (with, among others, Ira Glass), directed, and stars in “Sleepwalk With Me.’’

TY BURR:

SLEEPWALK WITH ME

The festival’s opening-night film set its makers a challenge: How do you turn an off-Broadway one-man show into a comedy-drama taking place in the real world, with real characters? Shrewsbury’s own Mike Birbiglia, a comedian with a deadpan bedhead delivery, plays a man-child who’s not sure whether to grow up and definitely not sure about marrying his longtime sweetheart (Lauren Ambrose). So he sleepwalks. A lot. Birbiglia settles comfortably into the director’s chair, and the script was co-written by, among others, Ira Glass. Not surprisingly, the movie keeps its characters at droll arm’s length in ways that are alternately acute and obtuse. Most cheering is watching the main character slowly but resolutely find his voice as a stand-up comedian, a pleasing metaphor for Birbiglia’s own journey as a storyteller and a filmmaker. (April 25, 7:30 p.m., Somerville)

THE QUEEN OF VERSAILLES

The talk of this year’s Sundance comes to Boston as the festival’s closing-night offering. Lauren Greenfield’s acridly observed documentary follows the ups and downs of David and Jackie Siegel as they try to build the largest residential home in America before the recession comes along to bite them on the tuchis. When the film opens, the Siegels are living a life of pornographic opulence, with seven children, countless lapdogs, and a life of excess that would turn Glenn Beck communist. Then the crunch comes; the scene where Jackie rents a car at the airport and asks where the driver is makes for uproarious parvenu comedy. But she’s also an unexpectedly moving stand-in for the American consumer at his or her most psychologically desperate. It’s a troubling, eye-opening movie that, unfortunately, ends before the story does. (May 2, 8 p.m., Coolidge Corner)

YOUR SISTER’S SISTER

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The low-budget, kitchen-sink genre known (uneasily) as mumblecore keeps morphing closer to the mainstream, and rarely as charmingly as in Lynn Shelton’s comedy of kind hearts and bad bedroom manners. The performance by ’core veteran Mark Duplass, playing a good-hearted schmoe who loves one sister and drunkenly sleeps with the other, interlocks with the more polished approach of “real” actors Emily Blunt and Rosemarie DeWitt as the siblings. You’d think you would need an algorithm to put these three on the screen together, but “Sister” works beautifully as you are watching and only reveals its weak spots — an unwillingness to explore emotional pain too deeply, a tendency to let characters off the hook in the name of forgiveness (earned or not) — if you examine it later. If nothing else, it’s a quantum leap over Shelton’s “Humpday” (2009) and marks her as a filmmaker to watch. (April 30, 7:30 p.m., Somerville)

Julie Delpy wrote, directed, and stars in “2 Days in New York,’’ her sequel to “2 Days in Paris.”

Julie Delpy wrote, directed, and stars in “2 Days in New York,’’ her sequel to “2 Days in Paris.”

2 DAYS IN NEW YORK

If Woody Allen was a woman and was French — I’m sure he’s had dreams about this — and if he loosened up his filmmaking until the comedy started bubbling out of every corner, he might come up with something like writer-director-star Julie Delpy’s loose-limbed, enjoyably silly sequel to “2 Days in Paris.” Now relocated to Manhattan, Delpy’s Marion is living with her toddler, Lulu (Owen Shipman), and NPR reporter boyfriend Mingus (Chris Rock) when her family arrives from Paris for an extended stay. Dad (Albert Delpy, Julie’s own pere) is an old goat, sister Rose (Alexia Landeau, who co-wrote the script) is a tightly-wound nympho, and hanger-on Manu (Alexandre Nahon) is every American’s worst idea of a Frenchman, blowing joints in the elevator and borrowing Mingus’s toothbrush for unimaginable sexual activities. It’s a fast-paced, hyper-talkative comedy of miscommunication, and without Rock as its anchor it might fly in 20 different directions. (April 28, 6:45 p.m., Brattle)

KEYHOLE

Isabella Rossellini and Udo Kier star in Guy Maddin's “Keyhole.”

KEYHOLE

To appreciate the latest from Winnipeg’s gonzo writer-director Guy Maddin, it helps to have seen previous works such as 2003’s “The Saddest Music in the World.” Like that film, “Keyhole” takes place in a psycho-Freudian update of early Hollywood cliches — this time lifting off from a “Petrified Forest”-style hostage crisis involving a gangster (Jason Patric), his estranged wife (Isabella Rossellini), and assorted gunmen, ghosts, and French-speaking tootsies. The director’s usual demonic control over his material has loosened, though, and we are left with a cluttered, overwrought meditation on family skeletons and residual guilt. It’s the first Maddin film in which the subtext appears to have taken over, a useful experience for completists but a probable bafflement to newcomers. (April 29, 8:30 p.m., Somerville)

LOVE AND OTHER ANXIETIES

The debut documentary by Lyda Kuth, much-admired head of Cambridge’s LEF Foundation, is a bravely personal essay about empty-nest doubts. With Kuth’s daughter preparing for college, the filmmaker confronts a marriage she is no longer sure of — by making a movie that does everything but confront that marriage. “Love” is extraordinarily touching in its very ordinariness, bearing witness to the genteel repressions of educated New Englanders, the ache we all have to keep love fresh, and the ways in which 21st-century 20-somethings avoid emotional entanglement, for better and for worse. The one person you sense Kuth most wants to hear from is the one who is not talking: her likable but extremely terse spouse. Self-absorbed yet surprisingly egoless, “Love” is rich in ways its maker may not have intended and ruffled by an anger that remains unspoken. (April 29, 3:15 p.m., Somerville)

BEWARE OF MR. BAKER

Every film festival has to have a documentary resurrecting an overlooked rock ’n’ roll icon, and this year’s IFFB entry is a hilarious, scabrous, informative wallow through the life of Ginger Baker, best known as the drummer for the ’60s supergroup Cream, and still a wild man at 72. First-time director Jay Bulger interviews Baker in cantankerous baronial splendor at his South African hideaway (the title comes from the warning posted at the gate), using animations, concert footage, and various talking heads to create a portrait of a “seriously antisocial” (Eric Clapton’s words) talent who went the chemical distance and emerged gloriously unredeemed. (April 27, 9:15 p.m., Somerville)

WESLEY MORRIS:

POLISSE

There are movies that grab you by the throat and knee you in the groin. And there are movies that grab your throat, knee your groin, drive you to the hospital, help you fill out the police report, and ask you out to dinner, where you both laugh and cry over everything. This is that latter movie, an electrifying epic emotional thriller about an endangered child-protection unit in the Paris police department and the tight, tense bond among the detectives. People who have seen it have complained that it’s more about them than the at-risk kids. That might be true, but it’s as if the movie’s director, co-writer, and costar, Maïwenn, sensed that prolonged exposure to young suffering would be impossible to take and infused most scenes with some kind of levity. Maybe the adults in the cast were just easier to direct. They are certainly more eruptive. Each gets a monologue or aria that singes whoever is in its path. It’s “Law & Order: Vesuvius.”

Ben Shapiro’s documentary explores a process of making images in “Gregory Crewdson: Brief Encounters.’’

Ben Shapiro’s documentary explores a process of making images in “Gregory Crewdson: Brief Encounters.’’

GREGORY CREWDSON:

BRIEF ENCOUNTERS

What do we call Crewdson? “Photographer” doesn’t seem quite right. He uses a camera to take his pictures, but he is no more a photographer than David Lynch or Tim Burton. He’s more a single-shot director. His unknowably grim wide-screen images have become iconic while Crewdson himself remains somewhat elusive. So one task Ben Shapiro sets for himself with this documentary is to better introduce Crewdson to us. It sketches his life and career, while watching him scout locations in Western Massachusetts. It’s an enlightening peek behind the curtain, one that reinforces the mystery of Crewdson’s pictures. Knowing how they are made doesn’t make them any easier to apprehend.

DETROPIA

This is Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady’s fourth documentary feature together; “The Boys of Baraka,” “Jesus Camp,” and “12th and Delaware” are the first three. You can feel them gathering strength. The new movie observes the comprehensive decline of Detroit, which they capture with their characteristic impressionism that makes dreamy imagery indistinguishable from its nightmare counterpart. They are committed to that style, and rather than change it or use it to keep making polemical horror movies, they linger at a few pivotal events and follow a handful of local residents who express pride, shame, worry, bemusement, commitment, and dismay. This city is theirs. Ewing and Grady just have the good sense to create a complex space in which they can defend that city unto death.

Chinese artist Ai Weiwei is the subject of Alison Klayman’s documentary “Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry.’’

Chinese artist Ai Weiwei is the subject of Alison Klayman’s documentary “Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry.’’

AI WEIWEI: NEVER SORRY

Alison Klayman’s levelheaded documentary profile is full of talking heads and interviews with the artist. It’s the sort of piece you would find playing at the end of a museum show. Except for two things: First, Klayman is a smart journalist with an editor’s sensibility. The heads spout enlightenment, as opposed to the platitudes you tend to find in similar films. Everyone who speaks advances an argument or idea about Ai and the government’s violent reaction to his art. That’s the second thing. Ai Weiwei is a great political artist. The film unpacks the folk hero-rock star-persecuted martyr status that can overshadow his ingenuity but never loses sight of the art.

DOWNEAST

With a monk’s calm, David Redmon and Ashley Sabin’s documentary immerses itself in and around Gouldsboro, Maine. It’s a lobster village that is also home to a sardine cannery. The film is devoted to its last days (there once were as many as 75). The cannery closed in 2010. So the contemplative shots of fish being caught, fish bulleting out of chutes into vats of thousands of fish, fish being sliced and sawed at the cannery, achieve the power of visual eulogy. That lasts a few minutes. The film then watches as the cannery’s new owner, Antonio Bussone, a Boston-based businessman, attempts to turn it into a lobster processing facility. He doesn’t have an easy time. Redmon and Sabin approach both the people of Gouldsboro and Bussone’s determination — to provide jobs, to win over lobstermen and a deeply skeptical town, to succeed — with the same absorbing solemnity. The entire movie is an elegy.

Ty Burr can be reached at tburr@
globe.com. Wesley Morris can be reached at wmorris@globe.com.

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