10 to see at Independent Film Festival Boston
It couldn’t be farther from Cannes’s Croisette or Venice’s Lido. The Independent Film Festival Boston takes place at the Brattle, Somerville, and Coolidge Corner theaters, as well as the Campus Center Ballroom at UMass Boston, where it insists on putting movies, not celebrities, in the spotlight. None of which means there won’t be plenty to buzz about from April 27 to May 4, when the IFFB marks its 14th season as one of the premiere cinema events in New England.
This year’s festival features the highly anticipated directorial efforts of actors John Krasinski (“The Hollars”) and Clea Duvall (her feature debut, “The Intervention”), the latest documentary/provocation by Werner Herzog (“Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World”), documentaries by local filmmakers Allie Humenuk and Amy Geller (“The Guys Next Door”) and James Demo (“The Peacemaker”), and about 100 other features, documentaries, and shorts.
Here’s our take on 10 of the best.
Outside of the car-crash fetishists of David Cronenberg’s 1996 “Crash,” the movies haven’t really known what to make of the apocalyptic novels of J.G. Ballard. It figures that another cinematic outsider artist would take a whack at it: Ben Wheatley, the twisted British mind behind cult indies “Down Terrace” and “Sightseers,” adapts Ballard’s 1975 allegory of class warfare and social breakdown, with Tom Hiddleston as a young doctor who moves into an apartment tower and befriends its fractious residents. What starts realistically has by the end become full-blown surrealism with teeth; think the train from “Snowpiercer” stood on its end. (April 28, 7:30 p.m., Somerville Theatre.)
Movies like “Leave the Lights On” and “Love Is Strange” have established writer-director Ira Sachs as a lower-case poet of New York City, and his latest humanizes the gentrification wars with gentle moralism. A Manhattan couple (Greg Kinnear and Jennifer Ehle) move into his late dad’s Bay Ridge townhouse and inevitably come into conflict with the woman who has rented the ground floor shop for years (Paulina Garcia, the star of Chile’s wondrous “Gloria”). By showing the unfolding drama through the friendship of their young sons, a dreamy artist (Theo Taplitz) and a classic mouthy Brooklynite (Michael Barbieri, a star in the rough), Sachs roots social issues in real lives and real emotions. A winner. (May 3, 7 p.m., Coolidge Corner Theatre.)
MORRIS FROM AMERICA
Oh, it’s just another coming-of-age teen drama, but the teen in question is Morris (newcomer Markees Gentry), a middle-class rap-loving black American kid somehow coming of age in whiter-than-white Heidelberg, Germany, where his single-dad father (Craig Robinson) is working as a soccer coach. What could be genre clichés — the haughty girl, the supportive tutor, the life lessons — is infused with real warmth and feeling by Chad Hartigan, last seen in these parts with the winsome coming-of-old-age drama “This Is Martin Bonner.” See it for the fresh notes Hartigan finds in what you thought were shopworn storylines. (April 29, 7:30 p.m., Somerville Theatre.)
THE BLACKCOAT’S DAUGHTER
Perhaps Jung or Freud could explain what lurks in the halls of boarding schools that arouses such primal terror. Osgood Perkins’s slow-moving, well-acted, and densely atmospheric thriller adds some new twists to this horror film standard – some so new as to be incomprehensible. During a snowy winter break at Bramford Academy, vivacious Rose (Lucy Boynton) and timid frosh Kat (Kiernan Shipka) are stranded on campus when their parents are no shows to take them home. Meanwhile, Joan (Emma Roberts), a young woman with a tendency for rapid-fire, alarming flashbacks, is desperately trying to get somewhere. Will it all climax in a bloodbath that raises more questions than it answers? If so, until then it’s best to enjoy Perkins’s skill at creating terror out of not much at all. (April 30, 10:30 p.m., Brattle Theatre.)
Kris Avedisian’s absurd and poignant ex-buddy movie demonstrates that the reason people shun old friends is not so much because they don’t like them but because they don’t like who they were when they knew them. In the case of Donald Treebeck (Avedisian), however, both reasons may apply. He lives at his family home in Warwick, R.I., with his bong, porn, and action figures, and the same uncensored, passive aggressive puerility he perfected in the 1980s. For former best bud Peter Latang (Jesse Wakeman), Donald embodies all the reasons why he took off for New York 15 years ago. But now Peter is back in town to tend to his recently deceased grandmother’s ashes. He loses his wallet and, to his dismay, Donald is his last resort for a lift and a loan. (April 30, 4:30 p.m., Somerville Theatre.)
FREE IN DEED
If Bresson had set “Diary of a Country Priest” in an Africa-American storefront church in Memphis, it might have turned out like Jake Mahaffy’s challenging spiritual odyssey. Abe (David Harewood) is a marginalized man who has found Jesus, repeatedly (he keeps reaffirming his belief to his congregation so often that a fellow preacher finds it embarrassing). Melva (Edwina Findley), an attractive single mother new to the church, puts this tentative faith to the test. Her pre-teen son Benny (RaJay Chandler) suffers from severe autism, a demon that Abe is determined to purge by exorcism. Through its oblique, impressionistic, and intense narrative, Mahaffy’s film is a cathartic rite in itself. (April 30, 7:45 p.m., Somerville Theatre.)
THE LOVERS AND THE DESPOT
Ross Adams’s documentary is one of those stranger-than-fiction deals, and it’s fascinating. Film director Shin Sang-ok and actress Choi Eun-hee were the glamorous power-couple of 1960s South Korean cinema — so much so that North Korea’s dictator, Kim Jong-Il, kidnapped them both and forced them to make films for his regime. And not just one or two films, but 17 . Imagine “The Interview” with a wicked case of Stockholm Syndrome, or “The Manchurian Candidate” rewritten by Vladimir Nabokov, and you get a sense of this bizarre, sad, absurdist tale. (May 2, 7 p.m., Somerville Theatre.)
Hands down, the most alarming piece of documentary schadenfreude you’ll encounter this year, this records what happened when New York Congressman Anthony Weiner — already bruised by a sexting scandal — decided to run for mayor of New York in 2013 and, doubling down on karma, invited filmmakers Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg to follow him everywhere. Including into the pit of public mortification after additional bad behavior surfaced. (“Carlos Danger,” remember?) It’s a movie to make you ponder the double human helix of self-aggrandizement and self-destruction and to make you feel really, really bad for Weiner’s wife, Huma Abedin. (May 2, 7 p.m., Somerville Theatre.)
AUTHOR: THE JT LEROY STORY
The confessional memoir genre thrived in the late 1990s but wilted in 2006 when James Frey (“A Million Little Pieces”) and JT LeRoy (“The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things,” among other works) confessed that their memories were more made up than remembered. LeRoy — who claimed to be an abused child, a junkie, and a male prostitute – not only made it all up but was made up himself, the invention of the real author, 40-year-old punk rocker and phone-sex operator Laura Albert. In short, LeRoy was both the “author” and the fiction. Jeff Feuerzeig’s documentary lets Albert tell her story, which probably doesn’t need the animation and cute archival cutaways that embellish it. (April 28, 9:45 p.m., Somerville Theatre.)
TONY ROBBINS: I AM NOT YOUR GURU
The big revelation in documentarian Joe Berlinger’s look at life-strategist Tony Robbins is that there is none – except, that is, for the personal revelations experienced by the 2,500 followers at Robbins’s six-day “Date With Destiny” convention in Boca Raton, Fla. Berlinger doesn’t expose any smoke and mirrors as Robbins picks random subjects and, with the gruff voice of a drill sergeant, cajoles from them their deepest fears and traumas and sets them on the road to wellness. Some of these conversion experiences should dampen the eyes of the most cynical viewers. Such viewers, however, might note that Berlinger does not pick up on Robbins’s gender biases, or his tendency to intimidate and exploit. But, as Robbins might put it, if the tool works, use it. (April 30, 7:30 p.m., Brattle Theatre.)