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Independent Film Festival Boston is full of choices

Jenny Slate in the film “Obvious Child.” Independent Film Festival Boston/Courtesy of Independent Film Festival Boston

The Independent Film Festival Boston begins its 12th edition this Wednesday by literally bringing it back home to New England. The opening-night movie, “Beneath the Harvest Sky,” is a stark drama, set on the border of Maine and Canada, about two friends running drugs and harvesting potatoes as they struggle to make ends meet. Seven days later, the festival concludes with “Mood Indigo,” an effervescent romantic comedy-drama starring Audrey Tautou (“Amelie”) and directed by Michel Gondry (“Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”). In between, you can find nearly 100 feature films and shorts unspooling primarily at the Somerville Theatre but also at the Brattle in Harvard Square, Brookline’s Coolidge Corner Theatre, and the University of Massachusetts Boston. Executive director Brian Tamm and program director Nancy Campbell have cherry-picked high-profile movies from Sundance, Toronto, SXSW, and other festivals and mixed them with the best films and filmmakers from the Northeast. There will be director and cast appearances and panel discussions as well — in short, the usual embarrassment of riches. Below are our picks. Additional information (and tickets) can be found at

Ellar Coltrane in 2014 film BOYHOOD, directed by Richard Linklater. Courtesy of Independent Film Festival Boston 20IFFBIndependent Film Festival Boston/Courtesy of Independent Film Festival Boston


With his “Before Sunrise/Sunset/Midnight” cycle, writer-director Richard Linklater has explored a unique concept: three films about one couple, shot over 18 years. His latest, “Boyhood,” is even more audacious: one boy filmed over 12 years as he grows from childhood to the brink of maturity. The movie follows a fictional Texas kid named Mason (played by newcomer Ellar Coltrane) from ages 6 to 18, through the breakup of his parents (Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke), rebellions small and large, first crushes, loves, sex, and the slow gathering of a young man’s independent sensibility. It’s nearly three hours long and nothing much happens — other than, uh, life — but with “Boyhood” Linklater puts his thumb on the rapturous pulse of the big picture in ways we’ve never seen. (Friday, 7:30 p.m., Somerville)


Tessa Thompson(left, holding notebook) , Tyler James Williams (center with tie), Naomi Ko, and Ashley Blaine Featherson in 2014 film DEAR WHITE PEOPLE, directed by Justin Simien. Courtesy of Independent Film Festival Boston 20IFFBIndependent Film Festival Boston


The word-of-mouth Sundance hit comes to Boston; see it now so you can say you knew about writer-director Justin Simien back when. It’s a chatty campus comedy-drama, bristling with ideas and attitudes (and humor and sob stories, and outrage and arguments) about race and perception in modern America. A first-timer’s movie, for sure, with too many characters, a low-budget feel, and performances that land mostly on the right side of raw. But Simien’s script has a wickedly playful wit and an inclusive sense of sympathy; while comparisons to the young Spike Lee (and “School Daze,” in particular) are being bandied about, he’s clearly his own man. (Sunday, 8:30 p.m., and Monday, 7 p.m., Somerville)



Boston born and bred writer-actor-comedian Mark Phinney made his bones in Los Angeles writing TV shows and sketch comedy, but he came back home to direct this bleakly comic drama about a subject he knows all too well: the perils of loving food more than life itself. Starring Melvin Rodriguez, excellent as Phinney’s overweight alter ego, “Fat” is a tour de force of self-loathing, rationalizations, bad romantic choices, and problematic grooming issues. (Let’s not even mention the diabetes.) Cauterizing in its honesty, the movie’s also notable for the scuzzy rightness of its Boston locations: the kind of local streets, stoops, and T stops you have to have grown up here to know. (Friday, 9:45 p.m., Brattle)

Rinko Kikuchi in 2014 film KUMIKO THE TREASURE HUNTER, directed by David Zellner. Courtesy of Independent Film Festival Boston 20IFFBIndependent Film Festival Boston


The Zellner brothers of Austin, Texas — both of whom write, David directs, Nathan does a lot of everything else — have had a squirrely, under-the-radar career that goes back 15 years and that peeks its head above the fence with this wondrously strange road movie. Rinko Kikuchi (“Pacific Rim,” Oscar nominee for “Babel”) plays a Tokyo “office lady” who becomes obsessed with the movie “Fargo” and is convinced that the bag of money Steve Buscemi buried in the snow is still out there. “Kumiko” takes off when the title character manages to get to North Dakota and embarks on an odyssey both heroic and completely delusional. A film that’s hard to categorize and harder to forget. (April 27, 6 p.m., Brattle)


Jenny Slate in the 2014 film OBVIOUS CHILD, directed by Gillian Robespierre. Courtesy of Independent Film Festival Boston 20iffbIndependent Film Festival Boston/Courtesy of Independent Film Festival Boston


One way to look at Gillian Robespierre’s debut film is as a post-“Girls” comedy. Another way is as “Knocked Up” from the woman’s point of view. The best way is as a long-awaited showcase for comic actress Jenny Slate (you know her from “SNL” and “Parks and Recreation,” you love her as the voice of YouTube hit “Marcel the Shell”). She’s cast as a potty-mouthed comedian who gets pregnant from a one-night stand with a genial preppie (Jake Lacy), schedules an abortion, and goes through with it. That in itself makes the film a radical act, but even more radical is that Robespierre has no interest in fashioning a polemic. She simply offers us a sisterly take on one young woman’s life: funny, not-so-funny, and real. (Saturday, 9:45 p.m., Somerville)

Emma Roberts in the 2013 film PALO ALTO, directed by Gia Coppola. Courtesy of Independent Film Festival Boston. 20iffbIndependent Film Festival Boston/Courtesy of Independent Film Festival Boston


James Franco keeps on multitasking and the Coppola clan keeps on replicating: This adaptation of Franco’s 2010 short-story cycle about teens lost and found in the title city has been brought to the screen by first-time director Gia Coppola, niece of Sofia, daughter of the late Gian-Carlo, granddaughter of Francis. More Hollywood royalty: Jack Kilmer (son of Val) plays one of the leads while his father plays the character’s pothead stepdad, and Emma Roberts (niece of Julia, daughter of Eric) is the local good girl trying to figure out if that even means anything anymore. (Franco himself pops up as creepy soccer coach “Mr. B.”) A very solid debut for Coppola: Lighter than “Kids,” moodier than “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” it aims for an adolescent version of Robert Altman’s “Short Cuts” and comes unexpectedly close. (Friday, 9:30 p.m., Somerville)


"The Internet's Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz" Credit: Noah Berger Courtesy Independent Film Festival Boston 20IFFBNoah Berger


Brian Knappenberger’s documentary portrait of Swartz, the digital freedom activist who hanged himself in 2013 as the US Department of Justice prepared a case against him, is a work of eulogy and sorrow, intent on ennobling its subject and on working audiences into a pitch of angry righteousness. It’s advocacy portraiture rather than nuanced docu-journalism, and it often favors Aaron the martyr over Swartz the human being. But we still get enough of the latter to flesh out this story in all its epic particulars, and Knappenberger ably convinces us that the suicide of this absurdly talented young man was a great and stupid loss to the future of our culture, both online and off. Besides, if the film seems one-sided, that’s partially because no one from the DOJ was willing to talk to the director. (April 28, 8 p.m., Somerville)


Kelly Reilly and Brendan Gleeson in 2014 film CALVARY, directed by John Michael McDonagh. Courtesy of Independent Film Festival Boston 20IFFBIndependent Film Festival Boston


Back in 2011, writer-director John Michael McDonagh (brother of playwright-turned-filmmaker Martin McDonagh) made his debut with the funny, profane “The Guard.” Starring Brendan Gleeson as the most eccentric of Irish police detectives, it was so good that you just knew a sophomore slump was in the offing. And here it is: McDonagh’s second feature is a turgidly serious, pretentiously violent modern-day allegory about a small-town priest (Gleeson again) climbing his own spiritual Golgotha after being threatened with assassination in the confessional booth. That said, the movie was one of the most buzzed-about premieres at this year’s Sundance and a lot of people liked it, so maybe you should go see it and make up your own mind. (Saturday, 2 p.m., Brattle)


Richard Kane’s hourlong documentary was submitted to IFFB as a testament to the courage, humor, talent, and indomitability of its subject: painter and Harvard art professor Jon Imber, struggling to retrain his technique as ALS (a.k.a. Lou Gehrig’s disease) ravages his body. Sadly, the film is now a valediction: Imbry died Thursday. Kane captures the artist’s final project: thanking more than 100 friends and supporters in the Boston area and his second home of Stonington, Maine, by painting their portraits. It’s a story about the web of community that extends out from art and the people who make it. (Saturday, 12:30 p.m., Somerville)


Maine documentarians Gillen Gita Pullapilly and Aron Gaudet capture the details and ambiance of a depressed town near the Canadian border with poetic detail, but their story about two teens trying to flee the tedium is strictly by the Hollywood playbook (it’s no coincidence that S. E. Hinton’s “The Outsiders” is being taught in an English class). Bright Dominic (Callan McAuliffe) has been pals with criminally inclined Casper (Emory Cohen), a relationship that complicates their dreams of escaping. Aidan Gillen (“Game of Thrones”) brings menace and melancholy to his role as Casper’s dad, a two-bit, Down East Walter White. (Wednesday, 7:30 p.m., Somerville)

Mia Wasikowska in the 2013 film THE DOUBLE, directed by Richard Ayoade. Courtesy of Independent Film Festival Boston. 20iffbIndependent Film Festival Boston/Courtesy of Independent Film Festival Boston


Richard Ayoade’s debut feature, “Submarine,” brought bracing originality and endearing absurdity to a coming-of-age tale set in an alternative British universe. He shows little of that whimsy in this adaptation of Dostoevsky’s novella about a meek bureaucrat whose self-confident doppelganger takes over his life. Jesse Eisenberg takes on the double role, and despite Mia Wasikowska as a teasing love interest, Ayoade’s style and décor (“Brazil” by way of “Naked Lunch”) does too good a job of oppressing life. (April 29, 9:45 PM, Coolidge Corner)


Is beating an opponent into bloody submission before a howling crowd in keeping with the tenets of the New Testament? The various cage-fighting and mixed martial arts preachers in Bryan Storkel and Daniel Junge’s documentary think so, claiming that it is another way of spreading the Gospel. Despite the contradictions, the filmmakers demonstrate remarkable evenhandedness in investigating the phenomenon (700 churches have now adopted this approach to ministry). (Thursday, 7:45 p.m. and Saturday, 6:30 p.m., Somerville)


Steven Knight’s oddity draws on Roberto Rossellini’s “A Human Voice” and Joel Schumacher’s “Phone Booth,” and despite the performance of Tom Hardy in the title role, with mixed success. One of Britain’s most reliable engineers, Locke deserts an important project, driving to London on a mysterious mission. Along the way he takes calls from his frenetic boss, from his sons expecting him home to watch the big football match, from the foreman he left in charge (who starts hitting the hard cider), and from his less-than-understanding wife. At least the traffic is clear. Despite Hardy, who demonstrates he has range beyond Bane in “The Dark Knight Rises,” it’s a bumpy ride. (April 28, 7:15 p.m., Somerville)

Audrey Tatou and Romain Duris in the 2013 film MOOD INDIGO, directed by Michel Gondry. Courtesy of Independent Film Festival Boston 20IFFBIndependent Film Festival Boston


Even before the end of the opening credits, Michel Gondry’s confection enervates with its exhaustingly twee surreality and self-conscious whimsy, evoking a cartoon world reminiscent of Jan Svankmajer and “Who Killed Roger Rabbit?” Inhabiting this goofball, pseudo-hip universe is Colin (Romain Duris), an inventor; his African lawyer-manservant Nicolas (Omar Sy); and Colin’s heartthrob, the cloying Chloé, played by the inescapable Audrey Tautou. Gondry’s film gathers substance toward the end, as Colin and Chloé’s gleeful existence faces the challenge of nothingness. (April 30, 7:30 p.m., Coolidge Corner)


As an anonymous epigraph at the beginning of this documentary points out, any person’s life could be a novel by Tolstoy. Filmmakers Ed Pincus and Lucia Small are proof of that. They met at a film jury in 2003 and sensed an artistic kinship. They collaborated on one film, the outstanding Katrina documentary “The Axe in the Attic.” But they also had their own tragedies to confront. Pincus, a legend in documentary filmmaking with his classic “Diaries: 1971-1976,” had left filmmaking for three decades after being threatened by a deranged collaborator. After moving to New York, Small lost two close friends to violent deaths within seven weeks. Then Pincus contracted a fatal illness. This collaborative film embraces all the joy, messiness, creativity, and tragedy of their friendship with almost unbearable intimacy and an aesthetic clarity. (Saturday, 6 p.m., Somerville)

Appachey (13 years old) in the 2013 documentary film RICH HILL, directed by Tracy Droz Tragos and Andrew Droz Palermo. Courtesy of Independent Film Festival Boston 20iffbIndependent Film Festival Boston/Courtesy of Independent Film Festival Boston


Filmmakers have often depicted the marginalized poor as grotesque stereotypes. Not so in Tracy Droz Tragos and Andrew Droz Palermo’s portrait of three boys in the tiny moribund Missouri town of the title. At 13, Andrew has taken over the care of his family from his depressive mother and his unemployable father; his sweet nature shines through the injustice and hopelessness. Chubby 13-year-old Appachey suffers from ailments ranging from dyslexia to autism; he won’t take his meds, and his over-burdened single mom has lost patience. And 15-year-old Harley, whose mother is in jail, is filled with rage. By the end of the film we see why. The filmmakers let the boys speak for themselves, their voice-overs as poetic as those in the films of Terrence Malick. (Saturday, 7 p.m., Somerville)


Traces of Kafka, Antonioni’s “Blow-Up,” and Coppola’s “The Conversation” pervade this atmospheric and enigmatic story about a young surveyor who spies on a beautiful woman in a red car. She disappears down a side street that does not show up on any city map. He sees her again and gives her a lift in a rainstorm; she leaves behind a case containing flash drives. The romance then turns into nightmare as unidentified agents, straight from “The Trial” by way of “Zero Dark Thirty,” pick him up for questioning. Writer-director Vivian Qu’s elliptical narrative and stark shots of sterile modern urbanity locate this tale of universal anomie in a specific setting of political oppression. (Thursday, 7 p.m., Brattle)


When last we saw Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon in Michael Winterbottom’s “The Trip,” they were on an assignment to write a magazine article about restaurants and inns in Britain’s Lake District. There they combined witty banter, midlife crises, natural beauty, sexual misadventures, competing imitations of Sean Connery, and the legacy of the romantic poets into an agreeable trifle. They’re at it again in this sequel of sorts, the assignment much the same, the ghosts of the romantic poets still pervasive, the food and accommodations better, the sexual interludes sadder, and the celebrity imitations getting a little old. (April 29, 7 p.m., Coolidge Corner)

Ty Burr can be reached at Peter Keough can be reached at