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    Ty Burr

    What to watch at the IFFBoston

    Elsie Fisher in Bo Burnham’s “Eighth Grade.”
    Elsie Fisher in Bo Burnham’s “Eighth Grade.”

    Every spring we tell you about this great, overstuffed event for movie lovers that happens right here in our town, called the Independent Film Festival Boston and bringing in the best of Sundance, South by Southwest, and Toronto film festivals, along with a healthy portion of new-to-screen premieres and New England filmmakers. Have you ever been? You have? Good. You haven’t? Why on earth not? The 2018 edition — the festival turns sweet 16 this year — starts April 25, runs through May 2, and delivers 21 fictional and 28 documentary features, plus 52 shorts, to screens at the Somerville Theatre, the Coolidge Corner, and the Brattle. (Schedules and tickets can be found at This is our festival, and it remains an excellent way to get a jump on independent movies that will be released later in the year and to see them in the presence of the people who made them. Here are my picks for six to look out for.

    EIGHTH GRADE Do we really want to be reminded of how awful it was to be 13? Do we really want to think about how much worse it is to be 13 in the social-media era? This empathetic debut from writer-director Bo Burnham — a Hamilton-bred talent who has bounced from YouTube fame to stand-up comedy specials to filmmaking — stars Elsie Fisher as a sweet middle school nonentity who uses her phone as a shield, makes advice videos no one sees, and can curdle her well-meaning divorced dad (Josh Hamilton) with a single glare. A serio-comic portrait of loneliness amid cliques and crowds, it’s a portrait of who we are before we have any idea of who we might want to be. (Opening night, Somerville — opens theatrically July 13)

    MADELINE’S MADELINE The most formally and emotionally audacious American film I’ve seen at Sundance since “Beasts of the Southern Wild” (2012), this dramatic lulu stars newcomer Helena Howard as a teenager struggling with schizophrenia, performance artist Miranda July as her harried and hovering mother, and Molly Parker as a theater teacher who may be exploiting the girl’s illness for her own dramatic glory. Director Josephine Decker uses improvisation and a visual style that seems sprung from Madeline’s short-circuiting head; the film’s a disorienting watch until the final half-hour, when it soars ecstatically into freedom. Recommended. (April 26, Somerville)


    LEAVE NO TRACE Director Debra Granik hit the jackpot with “Winter’s Bone” (2010), starring a young Jennifer Lawrence. Then she disappeared, a casualty of an industry that isn’t actually all that interested in portraits of poverty in America or the women who make them. “Trace” is a welcome return: a tough, clear-eyed, bighearted drama about a homeless Iraq War vet (Ben Foster, subtle and intense) and the adolescent daughter he’s trained to survive in the woods but who’s ready to come in from the cold. In the latter role, Thomasin McKenzie has a touching translucence that grows in sturdiness as we watch. (April 27, Brattle — opens theatrically July 6)

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    THREE IDENTICAL STRANGERS I’m poaching a documentary from Peter Keough because I can’t get this one out of my head. It’s the tale of identical triplets who were separated at birth and didn’t meet each other until college — if you were near the tabloids and TV talk shows in the early 1980s, you might remember the three. But then director Tim Wardle starts pitching the story’s curveballs, including the possibility that the boys may have been separated on purpose, and it keeps getting weirder and sadder and harder to believe. An all-too-human inquiry into sins and secrets, this is like a podcast like “Serial” or “S-Town,” except it unfolds before your very eyes. (April 28, Somerville)

    FIRST REFORMED The return of Paul Schrader, writer, director, and chronicler of American men in a world without bearings. Ethan Hawke continues an unexpected mid-career renaissance with this portrait of a small-town pastor, keeper of a historic church and a shrinking flock, whose inner torments are slowly bringing him to his knees. It’s very much of a piece with earlier Schrader works and obsessions: his screenplay for “Taxi Driver,” his portraits of lost souls in “Affliction” and “Light Sleeper,” his interest in the transcendental cinematic styles of Ozu, Bresson, and Dreyer. For all that, “First Reformed” is as up to date as an IED. (April 29, Somerville — opens theatrically May 25)

    BLINDSPOTTING One of two films set in Oakland, Calif., to make noise at this year’s Sundance, and the more ambitious of the two. (The other, “Sorry to Bother You,” is just a stone hoot.) It’s about the long and sorely tested friendship between a white loudmouth (Rafael Casal, coming on like a stray meteorite from Planet Scorsese) and a weary black parolee (Daveed Diggs, the charismatic talent who came this close to stealing “Hamilton” from Lin-Manuel Miranda). It’s funny and moving and smart as hell about race in America, but first-time director Carlos Lopez Estrada maybe takes one too many stylistic risks in the last act. See it and decide for yourself. (April 29, Somerville — opens theatrically July 10)

    Six more that I haven’t seen but are hitting town with buzz:

    DAMSEL Robert Pattinson in a high-style western pastiche, from the Zellner brothers. Their “Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter” was woolly and wonderful.


    HEARTS BEAT LOUD Brett Haley (“I’ll See You in My Dreams”) directs a comic tale about a dad-and-daughter songwriting team. Nick Offerman is dad, Kiersey Clemons is daughter.

    HOT SUMMER NIGHTS The logline reads, “A boy comes of age over one summer in Cape Cod,” but the boy is played by Timothée Chalamet, and we know how that went last time.

    NICO, 1988 A dramatization of the final days of the original alt-punk chanteuse, as played by Trine Dyrholm. Calling all Velvet Underground fanatics. (We know who we are.)

    SUPPORT THE GIRLS The new Andrew Bujalski film is a comic ode to working-class women that’s set at a Hooters-style restaurant in Austin, Texas, and stars Regina Hall and Haley Lu Richardson. All good things.

    THE THIRD MURDER From Japan’s Hirokazu Kore-eda (“After the Storm”), a slippery courtroom drama about the aftermath of a factory owner’s murder.

    Ty Burr can be reached at