First Dispatch: IFF Boston

The 2015 film fest demonstrates the city's influence in the art world

Movies Features Boston
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There may be no more fitting way to kick off a celebration of storytellers than with a portrait of a storyteller, so combining Independent Film Festival Boston with The End of the Tour feels simply felicitous. This is the second time a James Ponsoldt film has commenced festivities at New England’s largest film festival; he opened IFFBoston in 2013 with The Spectacular Now. But repeat appearances aside, Ponsoldt’s adaptation of Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself, David Lipsky’s chronicle of a five-day road trip with the late, great Infinite Jest author David Foster Wallace, feels particularly significant to the eight-day event for a plethora of reasons (beyond the quietly awesome presence of Jason Segel, who plays Wallace in the film).

For one thing, The End of the Tour is intrinsically linked to Boston through Wallace’s legend. If you haven’t read Infinite Jest—or if you started reading it and never finished—the novel divides its time between Tucson and Enfield, a fictional Boston suburb that’s nestled within the municipal confluence of Boston, Allston, and Brighton. He didn’t stop with locations, either. Wallace researched his text by sitting in on open AA meetings, hanging out in halfway houses, and taking notes all the while. The End of the Tour isn’t a Boston movie per se, but Wallace—an Ithaca native who moved to Massachusetts in the ’80s, lived in Somerville, and taught at Emerson—has Boston roots, and those roots remained strong throughout his career (and still do even half a decade after his passing).

As IFFBoston moved into its second, third and fourth days, Boston itself is revealed as a prevailing motif throughout the lineup, though in varying measurements. Thursday saw the area premiere of Results, the fifth film by Boston native Andrew Bujalski, a guy many credit as “the godfather of mumblecore.” Friday evening’s slate boasted The Overnight, which stars Orange is the New Black’s Taylor Schilling. Over the weekend, Bobcat Goldthwait showed off Call Me Lucky, a documentary about comedian Barry Crimmins, a figurehead in the local comedy circuit and founder of clubs The Ding Ho and Stitches; both filmmaker and subject were in attendance. So too was David Chen, host of the Slashfilmcast and co-creator of the Boston Online Film Critics Association, and Stephen Tobolowsky, the figure at the center of Chen’s directorial debut, The Primary Instinct. And Jesse Andrews, who adapted the screenplay for closing film Me and Earl and the Dying Girl from his novel of the same name, calls Boston his home as well.

This is just a small sample of the regional focus of this year’s IFFBoston, which also includes Mark Shuman’s Morphine: Journey of Dreams, a doc about Boston alt rock band Morphine, and 7 Chinese Brothers, which co-stars Olympia Dukakis. It’s not surprising that the fest should highlight so many offerings from and featuring Bostonians, of course, but there’s a sense of increased prominence on movies colored, in one way or another, by their connections to the city. Morphine: Journey of Dreams and Call Me Lucky both revolve around people who have shaped Boston’s culture and entertainment scenes, and both enjoyed the spotlight on Saturday night. Meanwhile, The Primary Instinct took the stage during Sunday evening’s schedue. Maybe most telling is that IFFBoston ’15 is bookended by films with Boston ties, loose though they may be.

“Gather ’round,” says the festival’s inviting campfire theme. And audiences always do, year in and year out. Opening night is always abuzz with excitement and chatter over what films are playing, when they’re playing, and which among them demand to be seen above all others. Wednesday’s ceremony proved no different from any other in terms of anticipatory enthusiasm, but as IFFBoston has grown over the years, so too has Boston grown as a locus for cinephiles. Perhaps in that regard it’s only proper for the festival to put its city on display, especially as Massachusetts’ governor, Charlie Baker, considers putting the kibosh on the state’s film tax credit (a sensitive issue for everyone at the festival, whether they’re members of the dedicated staff or ticket-purchasing participants).

IFFBoston has always provided a place for budding filmmakers to screen their hard work for a discerning viewership, but Boston has only recently begun to emerge as an important industry hub. That the 2015 selections should be about demonstrating Boston’s influence in the art world feels right.

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