FESTIVAL REVIEW Alternatives to ‘Iron Man’

What You Might Have Missed at Boston’s Independent Film Festival

2008 Independent Film Festival of Boston

April 23rd to April 28th, 2008

Somerville, Coolidge Corner, and Brattle Theatres

The sixth installment of the annual Boston Independent Film Festival took place a couple weeks ago from April 23rd to 28th. Over 90 films were screened over seven days at the Somerville Theatre, the Brattle, and Coolidge Corner. In case you missed the action, here are some highlights and lowlights so you can start getting excited for next year’s festival.

A good way to start is to highlight the films that won awards at the festival. Awards at film festivals are great, mostly because they allow filmmakers to put that little laurel thing on the DVD box or their Web site. They are also useful to help one decide what films are actually worth watching! This year Ballast, Momma’s Man, and My Winnipeg won awards for narrative features. Sing Song Blue, Secrecy, and Life.Support.Music. won for documentaries. For the short films, Man, Glory at Sea, and Tony Zoreil came out on top. Be on the lookout for these films at local cinemas or on Netflix.

Now comes the part where I confess that I didn’t actually make it to most of these winning films! I sampled the festival’s offerings in a manner that best fit my schedule more than anything else. The result was sort of a mixed bag — some good surprises and some really boring surprises.

To begin with the good, I have to say that the twelve shorts I was able to see were almost all fantastic! Tony Zoreil is an adorable and delightfully whimsical French short about the aptly named Tony Zoreil (oreille is French for ear) with unusually large ears. Also of note is The Rambler, which in the spirit of gross-out horror succeeded in being one of the most disgusting things I have ever seen.

I was also not disappointed with both full-length documentaries I attended. We are Wizards is about the Harry Potter fan culture and instead of trying to cover the whole phenomenon, it focuses on a few people who were inspired creatively by the books and films. The result is an extremely joyful film about people with Harry Potter Web sites, rock bands, and cartoons. It isn’t as centered as it could be, but it is still a fun experience, especially if you are not afraid to embrace your dorky side.

Crawford documents the lives of the citizens of a small town in Texas where president George W. Bush just happens to live. Although it is about a subject that even Michael Moore would admit is extremely played out, the film approaches the Bush presidency from a slightly different angle. It is not about what Bush himself actually did or didn’t do so much as the personal stories of the people who live in a miniscule town that the president decided to relocate to shortly before his election and how this affected them.

I have mixed feelings about some of the narratives I saw. Transsiberian is a big bad-ass production starring Sir Ben Kingsley, Woody Harrelson, and Emily Mortimer. Russians are in right now and this film is Eastern Promises plus trains and minus the naked fight scene. The film makes it half-way to good, but then makes a U-turn and heads straight to crazy. It débuts with some beautiful shots and an interesting reversal of fortune, but then it just all falls apart and is totally ridiculous. I liked it, but only because of what it could have been.

Blood Car lies on the other end of the finance spectrum from Transsiberian, which had an estimated 15 million dollar budget. There are no big names or fancy explosions, but there is a lot of blood and sex. The film takes place in the near future where gas is over 30 dollars a gallon and no one can afford to drive. But how is a young man supposed to get laid without any wheels? The solution, naturally, is to kill people and use the blood to fuel your ride. My beef with the movie, besides the fact that it sometimes felt a little too much like an extended YouTube video was the complete lack of effort to make the movie a little layered. Yes, I understand that the filmmakers weren’t trying to change the world or win an Oscar, but would it have hurt to make any of the characters more than one-dimensional caricatures?

And now, dear readers, prepare yourself for the not so good. Two narrative films that I found to be excruciatingly boring were The Tracey Fragments and My Effortless Brilliance. The Tracey Fragments seemed promising — it stars Ellen Page as a girl running away from home while searching for her missing younger brother. The film starts as an interesting cinematic device where the film is literally fragmented as the title suggests. For the first few minutes, many screen in screen and splitscreens are interesting, but it becomes very tiring. I have seen other films utilize this sort of gimmick, such as Conversations with Other Women, but the reason Conversations is so great is that the split-screen is used to show more at once than what one is capable of seeing in a single shot. Here, however, it often felt that multiple shots were shown simultaneously not to gain more perspective, but for the pure sake of continuing the style. It would make for a cool music video, but not a cool movie. Even worse, Page is obnoxious in this role that feels like a re-hash of her brilliant previous performances in Juno and Hard Candy. I was really hoping to see Page take on a different character and command the role, but it appears she is in a bit of a rut. This film will probably be out soon is select theaters … don’t be lured in by Ellen Page’s star power — see something else.

As far as My Effortless Brilliance, it had some great humorous moments, but they were literally few and far between. I don’t think I have looked at my watch so many times in a period of 90 minutes since high school orchestra rehearsals. Something would happen, but then seemingly endless minutes of cinematically empty footage followed. While I can appreciate a slower paced film — rather than a lightning-fast Michael Bay blockbuster — watching people sit around and do crosswords as in My Effortless Brilliance felt pointless. It was missing a connective thread or direction such as, say, a plot would have provided.

Okay, well I hope you will consider attending next year’s festival and looking into some of these films, even if they are a little harder to find! Or you could just see Iron Man like everyone else and I will cry my little Robert Downey Jr. tears to myself.