The Independent Film Festival Boston will celebrate its 20th anniversary with a rich, diverse lineup of films, from celebrity documentaries to poignant dramas, April 26-May 3.
The slate of 90 films includes a range of narrative and documentary features and shorts. The screenings are in person at the Brattle Theatre, the Coolidge Corner Theatre, and the Somerville Theatre. Many of the screenings will be followed by discussions with the filmmakers. Established in 2003, IFFBoston showcases both local and international films.
“It means a lot that the community is still behind us after all these years,” IFFBoston executive director Brian Tamm said.
The festival opens with “Love to Love You, Donna Summer,” a documentary that intimately captures the Boston-born Queen of Disco from her childhood and burgeoning musical talents to her complicated days as a pop icon. The film, screening at the Somerville Theatre, is directed by Roger Ross Williams and Donna Summer’s daughter, Brooklyn Sudano. Tamm said the documentary shows new dimensions of Summer’s life, but is also not a “hagiography.”
“Having the ability to show a documentary about such an important figure, not just in musical history, but in Boston history … was incredibly fortunate for us,” Tamm said. Entry to an afterparty at Somerville’s Crystal Ballroom is included with each ticket.
The festival closes with “Past Lives,” the feature film debut from Celine Song that premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, about two childhood friends who reconnect later in life. A romantic narrative film of what-ifs playing at the Coolidge Corner Theatre, it’s a “gift that people can take with them in the days and weeks after the festival,” Tamm said.
Between these bookends are centerpiece narrative “BlackBerry” and centerpiece documentary “Never Be A Punching Bag for Nobody.” Matt Johnson’s “BlackBerry,” screening May 2 at the Somerville Theatre, charts the ascent and failure of the titular smartphone. In “Never Be A Punching Bag for Nobody,” screening April 30 at the Brattle, director and musician Naomi Yang documents her time at a boxing gym in East Boston, intersecting it with other stories that provide an in-depth look at the history of the East Boston community.
“[‘Never Be A Punching Bag for Nobody’] really shows you a side of the city that often gets forgotten about,” Nancy Campbell, IFFBoston’s program director, said.
Yang’s film, which looks at the organizing efforts against the expansion of Logan Airport in the ‘60s, signals a theme that permeates the festival and the greater film industry, Tamm said. Filmmakers are highlighting stories about “people not wanting to accept how things are and wanting to change things,” he said.
There are a variety of documentaries engaging with personal or political inflection points that inspired people to take action. One example is “Stonebreakers,” screening April 29 at the Somerville Theatre for its US premiere, which is about the removal of Confederate and Christopher Columbus monuments and the ensuing conversations about national and racial narratives in 2020. The film depicts the activists who fought against the idealization of America’s racial history and broadens its scope from monuments to other sites like Mount Rushmore, the US-Mexico border, and Plymouth Rock.
“The film is a chronicle of this very exceptional ... period in American social and political life,” Isaak J. Liptzin, “Stonebreakers” producer and cinematographer, said.
Other films in the lineup that express this theme are “Plan C,” a documentary about an abortion advocacy organization of the same name, and even the celebrity documentaries “Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie” and “Stephen Curry: Underrated,” according to Tamm.
Some narrative features also of interest are “Charcoal” — a “dark comedy” set in Brazil, Tamm said — and “Fremont” — a black-and-white film about an Afghan immigrant.
In addition to the traditional lineup, the festival will screen student films at the Somerville Theatre. At 1 p.m. April 29, the festival presents the sixth annual showcase of local student short films in partnership with the nonprofit Massachusetts Production Coalition. At 8 p.m., the Massachusetts College of Art and Design celebrates its 150th anniversary with a screening of alumni short films. The celebration continues April 30, with a second screening at 4 p.m.
“We’re always looking to find people at the beginning of their careers to help to nurture them,” Tamm said.
INDEPENDENT FILM FESTIVAL BOSTON
April 26-May 3. $12-$21 per screening. Brattle Theatre, 40 Brattle St., Cambridge; Somerville Theatre, 55 Davis Square, Somerville; Coolidge Corner Theatre, 290 Harvard St., Brookline. IFFBoston.org
Abigail Lee can be reached at email@example.com.