My trip to the fifth annual Independent Film Festival of Boston

My trip to the fifth annual Independent Film Festival of Boston

Michael Hogan

A little out of the ordinary is the best way to describe the slate of films offered at this year’s Independent Film Festival of Boston. But, isn’t that what makes the independent film so great? The ability to break with conformity, the willingness to try something new and unknown. There is a certain artistry that is inherent in the independent film; a certain amount of care and dedication not found in the offerings that the big movie studios give us. That love for the subject and for the craft is found in all of the 79 documentaries, narratives and shorts at the IFFB.

Across the city from April 25 to May 1, filmmakers and film lovers alike could be found mingling and enjoying a little cinematic exploration. Harvard Square’s Brattle Theater, Coolidge Corner’s Coolidge Corner Theater and Davis Square’s Somerville Theater served as venues for films ranging from narratives about Alzheimer’s patients, to documentaries about people who twist balloons for a living, to shorts about office workers running through the halls.

Like every festival, the IFFB offered the good, the bad and the ugly. There were a few films that shined through as something special, something worth the $10 at you local movie house when they are released nationwide. Still, there were a few films that fizzled quickly, crashing and burning in a heap of unfulfilled cinematic brilliance. Most, however, fit into some sort of happy medium, something worth checking out at matinee prices.

Let’s start with the misses, the few films that, even though they were free with my press pass, felt like a waste of precious time that could’ve been spent watching snails race. First there is “Day Night Day Night,” a narrative directed by Julia Loktev. I wanted so badly to love this movie. The synopsis was intriguing, as all synopses are but perhaps it was a bit too intriguing. A nameless girl gets off a bus and waits at a hotel room where three hooded men meet her. She goes through the details of preparation for something, something drastic, something final.

Sounded pretty interesting, and I have to admit that for the most part it was. It had something to do with the ending, or lack there of, that soured the movie for me. Okay, so it wasn’t horrible. It just wasn’t the suspenseful psychological drama I hoped it would be. It was really just a girl getting ready for something, something serious. She is waiting for something that never comes to any kind of fruition and never gets its much-needed explanation.

The big miss, at least of all the movies I was able to see, was “Kinetta,” a narrative directed by Yorgos Lanthimos. Again, it was the synopsis that drew me into this one. The story of three strangers who meet and reenact murders that take place in their hometown. Like “Day Night Day Night,” it sounded to me like some sort of exploration into the human psyche.

What the synopsis failed to mention was, not only is it in Greek with English subtitles, but it was also avant-garde. Apparently, nowadays that means confusing as hell. The location, a seaside Greek town, was really the only saving grace, if there was one. The dialogue was pretty fake, the characters ended up being pretty boring. I’ll admit, I am not the biggest fan of subtitles, but even without them I probably wouldn’t have been very happy with “Kinetta.”

A good portion of the movies at the festival fell into some sort of middle ground. Laura Dunn’s documentary “The Unforseen,” the tale of a battle of wills between real estate developers and environmentalists over an Austin, TX subdivision that threatened a beloved watering hole, was one of those middle ground films. “The Sensation of Sight,” Aaron J. Wiedersphan’s narrative about a lost former English teacher, a man troubled by the horrors of the past and, in turn, disconnected with the present, and “The Killer Within,” a documentary from Macky Alston about an Arizona psychology professor and family man who makes a shocking confession, he is also a cold blooded killer, also fall into that middle category.

The festival had its great films too, three in particular that I loved. “Monkey Warfare,” by Reg Harkema, is a humorous narrative about a Canadian couple that does their best to live apart from modern society, or at least modern bureaucracy, while partaking in a little herbal recreation. B.C. organic, bicycles, revolution, trash picking. All of these things fold together and weave their way through a strangely enduring love triangle.

Another movie, “Away From Her,” the directorial debut of veteran actress Sarah Polley is your quintessential tearjerker. Yeah, that’s right, I cried. I cried like a baby. More than once. “Away From Her” is based on a story by author Alice Munro and follows the complicated losses, gains and misplacings of Alzheimer’s. It is the story of one man unwilling to let go as the one he loves slips further and further away from him. It is a view of one man struggling to hold on to the last vestiges of love.

The highlight of the festival was a movie called “The Ten,” a set of ten, sometimes interrelated and always hilarious, stories. Each story is meant to illustrate one of the Ten Commandments. David Wain, the man behind “Wet Hot American Summer,” is the mastermind behind this gem.

The all-star cast is nearly bursting at the seams with big names. Winona Ryder, Paul Rudd, Jessica Alba, Famke Jannsen, Adam Brody, Gretchen Mol and Rob Corddry just to name a few of the recognizable faces you’ll be laughing at. Blasphemy is a good way to describe the stories as a whole, hilarious blasphemy. Bible-thumpers and those who were not blessed with a sense of humor probably won’t like “The Ten,” but everyone else will. Well, at least you should. If you don’t there is probably something wrong with you.

Okay, here is where I admit that I apparently know nothing about independent film. As with all film festivals, awards were given to the best films as chosen by experts and also by the audiences. Well, “Day Night Day Night,” a movie that I just talked trash about a few paragraphs ago, one that I still didn’t really like (and I am standing my ground on this one) was awarded the Grand Jury Prize for Narrative Feature.

So, according to the experts, I was wrong about that one. See it for yourself when it hits theaters and decide for yourself. But, don’t say I didn’t warn you. To save a little face here I would like to make it known that the winner of the Special Jury Prize for Narrative Feature was a film that I raved about in the previous paragraph, “Monkey Warfare.” So I’m not completely ignorant when it comes to independent cinema.

The festival is an experience like no other, as long as you take advantage of all that it has to offer. Just the ability to see 12 films in the span of five days, to spend more than 18 hours watching movies that few others have ever seen, that is something special. When the IFFB comes back next year you can bet I will again head out to the theaters and check out an insane number of movies in very little time again. Once you’ve had the experience, apparently you are hooked.

AWARD WINNERSGrand Jury Prize:Narrative Feature: Day Night Day Night (Julia Loktev)Documentary Feature: The King of Kong (Seth Gordon)Short Film: Pop Foul: (Moon Molson)

Special Jury Prize:Narrative Feature: Monkey Warfare (Reg Harkema)Documentary Feature: Kamp Katrina (David Redmon and Ashley Sabin)Short Film: Songbird (John Thompson)

Audience Award: Narrative Feature: Year of the Fish (David Kaplan)Documentary Feature: Darius Goes West (Logan Smalley)Short Film: Freeheld (Cynthia Wade)

Apple Programmer’s Choice Award:Gretchen (Steve Collins)

Dewars Collective Choice Award:Year of the Fish (David Kaplan)

Best Marketing:Twisted: A Balloonamentary (Naomi Greenfield and Sara Taksler)