Best of Fest
The Local Film Fan’s Guide to IFFBoston 2016 | Part 2
The theme of this year’s Independent Film Festival Boston — “Make It Yours,” reflective of the fest’s emphasis on the viewer as an active participant in film exhibition — applies to more than just the 2016 iteration of the fest. Throughout its 14-year history, charting one’s own course and comparing notes with other festivalgoers at the late-night parties has always been a critical part of the IFFBoston experience, with up to five films playing at any given moment at Somerville Theatre as well as simultaneous screenings at Brattle and Coolidge.
By way of illustration, of the 14 films chosen for jury and audience awards, we saw exactly three, yet still managed to have an entirely fulfilling eight-day long filmic fever dream. Based on word of mouth alone, we can’t wait to see Folk Hero & Funny Guy, Donald Cried, Real Boy, Best and Most Beautiful Things, and countless others when they find distribution. But we took IFFBoston on their suggestion and “made it ours,” so based on what we saw, here are some Google Alert-worthy favorites of the festival.
ALWAYS SHINE (dir. Sophia Takal)
Remember the name Sophia Takal. She will direct your favorite movie someday, if she hasn’t already with Always Shine, a tense, unpredictable thriller that explores the absurd, destructive scrutiny placed on women’s behavior by show business and society at large. The film follows best friends Beth (Caitlin FitzGerald) and Anna (Mackenzie Davis) as a weekend getaway reveals an underlying violent hostility in the friendship as well as rifts in each of their identities. Lighthearted chats in the first act are punctuated by momentary glimpses of horrific events and blood-curdling screams, and once the twist comes, the line between reality and social constructs blurs with chilling poignancy. WE WISH WE COULD SAY MORE. HOLY SHIT, SEE THIS MOVIE AS SOON AS YOU LEGALLY CAN.
UNDER THE SHADOW (dir. Babak Anvar)
Recently confirmed for a high-profile Netflix release, Under the Shadow is far more than the “Iranian Babadook” as some have described it. Set against the chaos of the Iran-Iraq War, we follow the story of Shideh (Narges Rashidi) and her young daughter Dorsa (Avin Manshadi), who remain in their flat in Tehran while Shideh’s husband is deployed despite the threat from Iraqi missiles. As the tension mounts, so do the strange events; items with strong sentimental value go missing, a mute child speaks, and Dorsa’s imaginary friend seems more and more real, not to mention frightening. Stylistically solid and atmospherically absorbing, Under the Shadow is an effectively unnerving and emotional tale that draws on Iranian history and folklore to explore fears and anxieties found in all cultures.
WEINER (dir. Elyse Steinberg, Josh Kriegman)
Though not the first all-access documentary on the grueling, brutal nature of modern political campaigning, Weiner is certainly the most effective in crafting a three-dimensional picture of a scandal in real time, as well as its frustratingly flawed and confusingly gifted subject. The film follows former New York Congressman Anthony Weiner on the trail of his 2013 campaign for mayor of New York City, two years after resigning from the House due to his (first) sexting scandal. It doesn’t take long for the film to go from upbeat redemption story — his wife Huma Abedin evidently forgave him, and he began the race well ahead in the polls — to a grueling race to the finish as Weiner attempts to remain true to his convictions in the face of intense scrutiny over politically irrelevant personal shortcomings. If you already like or dislike Anthony Weiner, the film will do nothing to change your mind, but it is a remarkable examination of the dehumanization of modern politics and the collateral casualties of salacious scandals.
LO AND BEHOLD: REVERIES OF THE CONNECTED WORLD (dir. Werner Herzog)
Regardless of whether Werner Herzog is aware of his own brand at this point, there is no filmmaker working today who has his gift for detached observation while brazenly editorializing on his subject. Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World could be described as Herzog’s “internet movie,” but as is his wont, the legendary director uses this opportunity to explore the nature of always-on culture and what this means for humankind spiritually, psychologically, socially, and emotionally. What begins as a look at the advent of the internet seamlessly blends the topic of artificial intelligence, the colonization of space, the horrific ability of psychopaths to exploit online anonymity, and how it could all come tumbling down given a strong enough solar flare.
Skip: THE BLACKCOAT’S DAUGHTER (dir. Oz Perkins)
Sadly, they can’t all be winners at IFFBoston. It’s our duty to inform you that The Blackcoat’s Daughter (formerly February), a film that should have been fantastic given that it’s about Keirnan Shipka (Mad Men’s Sally Draper) stabbing people at her boarding school in the service of Satan, is a complete letdown of style and substance, and betrays the trust of loyal horror fans. Adherents of the genre generally accept that the first 15 to 20 minutes of a given movie are pretty much setup for the bigger idea, and there’s no need to get personally invested in any individual character because the individuals don’t actually matter. It’s about what you, the viewer, are afraid of, not who these people are. The Blackcoat’s Daughter feels like the first 15 minutes of a good horror movie played on repeat six times.
The Intervention (dir. Clea DuVall)
Sure, we’ve seen this kind of movie before — a comedy-drama based around the difficulty of well-off white people to actually sit down and confront their problems like adults — but we’ve never seen this premise pull off the laugh-out-loud heights of The Intervention. It’s entirely familiar yet totally hilarious with an unbeatable cast. A fantastic feature debut by DuVall.
Transpecos (dir. Greg Kwedar)
After what should have been a routine traffic stop turns deadly, three border guards find themselves in the cartel’s — and each other’s — crosshairs. Winner of this year’s Grand Jury Prize for Narrative Feature, Transpecos is a film that explores the subject of US-Mexico border security with a keen eye for detail yet a sober appreciation of the fact that there are no easy answers to this thorny issue.