The 28th annual Boston Film Festival, which opens Thursday and runs through Sept. 28, boasts a lineup that includes “The Sessions” (next Sunday) starring John Hawkes and Helen Hunt and already generating Oscar buzz. Another big title is the topical political thriller “A Dark Truth” (Friday) featuring Oscar winner Forest Whitaker, Andy Garcia, and Eva Longoria. It’s about a multinational engineering corporation that with the aid of corrupt governments controls the water rights of developing countries.
As with any festival that tries to balance Hollywood and indie, it’s often the less star-studded fare that’s most enticing. “We’re happy to be able to offer our audience the opportunity to see big pre-releases, but we lean to new filmmakers who need this kind of forum to get attention,” says BFF executive director Robin Dawson. One of her favorites is the documentary “Free Throw” (Sept. 24).
“Free Throw” director Court Crandall couldn’t be more pleased to make the trip to Boston from his Los Angeles home. A Winchester native and University of New Hampshire graduate, he’ll be introducing “Free Throw” before a hometown crowd and taking questions afterward.
“Free Throw” looks at seven inner-city high school students from Southern California whose GPAs qualify them to compete in a basketball shooting contest to win $40,000 in college tuition. Crandall launched the charitable effort through his own advertising agency and a fund-raising campaign via social media. The documentary delves into the lives of these students, each one determined to counter the perception of their city, Compton, as a community wracked by drugs, gangs, and violence.
Crandall, who wrote scripts for “Old School” (2003) and the Maine-set “A Lobster Tale” (2006), makes his directing debut with “Free Throw.” The project, he says, grew out of a desire to show a different Compton to the world.
Crandall’s son Chase, 17, is a star basketball player who “grew up playing with boys from Compton. I knew there was a preconceived notion of what these kids are like and I wanted to do something to help the image of the city,” he says. His scholarship competition caught the attention of the national media. “The first place I screened ‘Free Throw’ was in the Compton High School gym,” Crandall says. “I wanted to get donors to come to the city, see it, and remember it. After the screening, I went outside and saw three news vans. It was the first time in Compton’s history that they were there to cover something positive.”
Local filmmaker Myles Jewell will be at the BFF with “Stranglehold: In the Shadow of the Boston Strangler” (Sept. 24), along with his friend from Sudbury, actor Chris Evans, who narrates the film. The documentary takes a fresh look at the 50-year-old serial-murder case — which was never officially solved— as Jewell delves into the meticulous records of his grandfather Phil DiNatale, who worked as an investigator on the notorious killings.
The festival opens with “Head Games” (Thursday), Steve James’s topical documentary about Harvard University football player and WWE wrestler Chris Nowinski’s efforts to expose the consequences of sports-related head injuries. James (“Hoop Dreams”) and Nowinski will headline a post-screening panel discussion that includes New York Times reporter Alan Schwarz, former NFL player Isaiah Kacyvenski, Penn State athletic trainer Eric Laudano, and physicians Robert Stern and Ann McKee.
“Head Games” is one of several films that tackle controversial subjects. “Greedy Lying Bastards” — “My favorite title ever,” Dawson says — is directed by Craig Rosebraugh and produced by Daryl Hannah. Rosebraugh will introduce the documentary (next Sunday), an indictment of the fossil-fuel industry’s efforts to thwart measures on climate change, minimize regulation, and undermine the political process in the here and abroad.
Actors John Faughnan, James McCaffrey, and Chris Riggi will be on hand when director Alex Oldini’s “To Redemption” makes its world premiere Friday. Costarring Katherine Narducci, the film is about a tight-knit family whose faiths and beliefs are tested when secrets are revealed. Also scheduled to attend the BFF are actors Agnes Bruckner, Carey Elwes, and Khaled Nabawy for the world premiere of Sam Kadi’s “The Citizen” (Saturday), the story of an Arab immigrant who wins the US green card lottery and arrives in New York a day before the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
All screenings take place at the newly remodeled Theater One at the former Stuart Street Playhouse, with festival parties held at the adjacent Revere Hotel.
For a complete schedule of films and events, go to www.bostonfilmfestival.org.