IFFB 2018 Wrap-up

4 May 2018, 8:39 am

Reviving a tradition, here are my favorites of the screenings I saw at Independent Film Festival Boston 2018, (in alphabetical order by category).

Short

Hair Wolf, which uses horror film tropes to examine appropriation of black culture was my favorite short. Great funny/creepy balance, gorgeous production design. Not sure how you can see it, but here’s a trailer:

Narrative

Blindspotting writers/stars Daveed Diggs (Hamilton’s Lafayette/Jefferson) and Rafael Casal were working on this film for nearly ten years before it was unexpectedly greenlit. It’s a hilarious, but unflinching, look at race, class, and gentrification in the Bay Area. Both Diggs and Casal are absolutely terrific, and the script is sensational – dodges nimbly away from moves you might expect it to make, lands some wrenching sucker punches (I’m linking the trailer, coz I think it’s expected, but if you trust me, go see it without clicking through, coz I’m glad I didn’t know what was coming in some scenes the trailer shows), and avoids easy answers. Releases July 20th, and I’m looking forward to seeing it again to catch some of the flow that I missed the first time.

In Eighth Grade writer/director Bo Burnham, who launched his career as a YouTuber, looks at at adolescence now, as personified by Elsie Fisher, who turns in an absolutely jaw-dropping performance. The film has some serious stuff to say how about how modern technology mediates social interaction, but it’s deftly interwoven in a compelling story. Fisher got the first of the two standing ovations I witnessed at IFFB this year.

Don’t Leave Home is a moody gothic from the always interesting and never-predictable Michael Tully. Finely pitched performances from Helena Beeren, Anna Margaret Hollyman, and Mark Lawrence evoke some genre classics (e.g., Rosemary’s Baby) without sliding into parody. The plot manages the neat trick of evoking Lynch-ian dream logic, but also kind of making sense, without slotting into any particular established supernatural mythos. It’s been picked up for fall release by the brand-new Cranked Up Films.

(Hollyman also starred in the short “Maude” which was fun in a completely different way.)

Never Goin’ Back, from writer/director Augustine Frizzell, is a gleefully amoral and raunchy buddy comedy pitched somewhere between Broad City and Spring Breakers. Camila Morrone and Maia Mitchell are sparking live wires throughout.

Sadie offers another bravura performance from a very young actor, Sophia Mitri Schloss, in writer/director Megan Griffith’s dark and unsettling comedy about a girl who’s not happy about her mother entertaining suitors while her dad is serving in the army.

Documentary

Chico Colvard’s Black Memorabilia grapples with tough questions and offers some surprising twists. The bulk of it is divided into three sections, examining two people involved in the production (even today) and sale of artifacts that perpetuate racist stereotypes, and an artist whose work seeks to recontextualize them. If I heard right, it will be broadcast on PBS during Black History Month in 2019.

Lauren Greenfield’s Queen of Versailles was one of the highlights of IFFB in 2012, so we were eager to see Generation Wealth, which revisits some of the same territory, but goes farther and deeper in its examination of the relentless pursuit of wealth, and related obsessions (including Greenfield’s own). Greenfield’s photography of excess is amazing: saturated colors and strong compositions, sometimes startling depth of field. So it seems almost unfair that she’s also a strikingly gifted interviewer, drawing surprising candor out of people like convicted fraudster Florian Homm.

North Pole, N.Y. is writer/director Ali Cotterill and producer Christa Orth’s story of Santa’s Workshop, one of the first theme parks in the U.S.. I liked how the park’s story didn’t fit in a single narrative arc – there are details about the park’s creators, current employees and longtime patrons, a look at the economics of the park and nearby town of Wilmington, and even a detour into true-crime territory. But it’s deftly assembled, and feels remarkably cohesive for all the ground it covers.

Advance word was to bring plenty of tissues to Morgan Neville’s biography of “Mr.” Fred Rogers Won’t You Be My Neighbor, and it’s not bad advice. It doesn’t shy away from acknowledging that he was not universally beloved, or that he wasn’t perfect, but it provides ample justification for why he was beloved by so many. Some of the clips from the show itself are startling if you haven’t seen them, and perspective is offered from his friends and collaborators.

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