scorecardresearch Skip to main content

Local docs at the IFFB

Members of Kalabante troupe from “Circus Without Borders.”Michele McDonald for the boston globe/Michele McDonald

Since it began in 2003, the Independent Film Festival Boston has established itself as one of the best such events in New England. But it could also stand alone as an outstanding documentary film festival. This year’s program, running April 22-29, offers not only a formidable fiction lineup but a nonfiction slate that includes 35 feature-length and 23 short films, many of which have local ties.

The latter group includes Mark Shuman’s “Morphine: Journey of Dreams” (screens Saturday, 7:15 p.m. at the Brattle Theatre), an account of the legendary Cambridge band with its incantatory “low rock” sound and poetic lyrics by charismatic songwriter and vocalist Mark Sandman.


Evocative of Joy Division and Lou Reed but with its own wry intimations of darkness and ecstasy, the band sprung from the music scene in Boston in the ’90s and developed a huge cult following until Sandman’s death from a heart attack on stage in 1999 at the age of 46. Shuman relates the story through concert footage and interviews with band members, including Dana Colley and Jerome Deupree, who will also participate in a Q & A with the director after the screening.

“Circus Without Borders” (Saturday, 2 p.m. at the Brattle), directed by local documentarian Susan Gray and Globe Living/Arts writer Linda Matchan, also centers on unique performers as it follows the interconnected stories of two circus troupes on opposite ends of the world: Artcirq from an Inuit settlement in Arctic Canada and Kalabante from a village in tropical Guinea. Both groups were founded to help bring opportunity and a resurgence of local culture in their respective communities, and so it seems fated that they would eventually meet and collaborate.

The filmmakers (who will attend the screening) intercut the two troupes as they practice and enjoy increasing success on international tours. Their performances of balletic acrobatics backed by haunting traditional music are exhilarating, but equally thrilling is the positive impact the groups have on communities where poverty, youth disaffection, drugs, and suicide have taken a toll.


Photographer Phil Toledano, the subject of Tufts graduate Joshua Seftel’s short documentary “The Many Sad Fates of Mr. Toledano” (Thursday at 9:30 p.m. and April 26 at 8:30 p.m. at the Somerville Theatre), no longer struggles for recognition or success or, one would think, happiness. He’s a famous photographer with a lovely wife and daughter.

But existential problems trouble him: mortality, death, and whatever dread developments the future might have in store. To deal with this he has devised a project in which he has his DNA tested and consults fortune tellers to predict possible outcomes to his life. Then he has a makeup artist transform him into each potential doomed wretch and takes a picture of the result: stroke victim, derelict, wage slave, suicide – it’s a grim portfolio.

Phil Toledano from “The Many Sad Fates of Mr. Toledano.”Stehan T. Maing

The project takes three years. At one point his wife laments, why doesn’t he just see a shrink like everyone else? Good point, but then we wouldn’t have Toledano’s macabre and poignant pictures, and Seftel’s comic, provocative film.

For more information on IFFB, go to

Peter Keough can be reached at