Closing Dispatch: IFF Boston

A showcase for talent hailing from everywhere, not just homegrown wunderkinds

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And just like that, the 2015 Independent Film Festival Boston came to a close, not with a whimper, but with a big screen sick-lit adaptation made for the Sundance set.

A lot more than that took place before IFFBoston’s closing night blowout, of course, but ending on Alfonso Gomez-Rejon’s Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is kind of major. This is the flick that stole everyone’s heart at Park City, the picture that Fox Searchlight acquired with Indian Paintbrush in yet another deal-making team-up between the two companies. (The last time they joined forces, they snagged The Grand Budapest Hotel, which turned out pretty well for them after tallying awards season laurels and box office success.) If you’re up for stacking Gomez-Rejon’s film against even more past Sundance winners, you may wish to consider that it won the Grand Jury Prize as well as the Audience Award, just like Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash.

Is Me and Earl and the Dying Girl as good as either of those movies? Or, for the sake of ducking objectivity, is it as buzzy? To the former, it depends on who you ask. To the latter, well, it might just be buzzier. (It’s infinitely more difficult to type on a keyboard, that’s for sure.) Regardless, the confluence of hype and festival circuit prestige surging beneath Me and Earl and the Dying Girl lent additional electricity to the conclusion of the annual IFFBoston shindig.

In part, that’s because screening the film provided a spotlight for Harvard grad and on again/off again Boston resident Jesse Andrews, who penned the film’s screenplay (as well as the novel it’s based on). Since last Wednesday, IFFBoston has rattled off a veritable smorgasbord of movies with Boston affiliations, but our previous dispatch only scratched the surface. Of note among the remaining lot: a pair of films from Dorchester native Albert Maysles, who sadly passed away early this year. In Iris, he profiles fashion icon Iris Apfel. In In Transit, he collaborates with a handful of other filmmakers (including Nelson Walker, Lynn True, David Usai and Ben Wu) to tell a verite story of passengers aboard Amtrak’s Empire Builder train. Saturday saw the Boston premiere of Stray Dog, the wonderful new film from Cambridge’s own Debra Granik (who most remember for 2010’s Winter’s Bone). On Sunday, Diego Ongaro showed his stunning feature debut, Bob and the Trees, which easily stands out as the most local production of the entire festival. (Ongaro shot in the Berkshires with a terrific cast of Massachusetts non-actors.)

Andrews’ post-screening Q&A couples with James Ponsoldt’s and Jason Segel’s opening night appearances to make a Boston-centric bookend for IFFBoston. But in being so categorically Bostony, the festival underscores its own importance without trying: It’s a showcase for talent hailing from all over the place, not just homegrown wunderkinds. Ongaro, a Parisian transplant, described the IFFBoston experience as akin to “playing at home,” and stated that it’s “always amazing to return, and see amazing films, and screen my films.” Similarly, Geoffrey Cowper and Jesus Lloveras, the director, star, and co-writing cabal of Day Release (which screened Saturday), flew from Barcelona to trek across the U.S. to give audiences a look at their work. “We’ve been to a couple of other Latino film festivals, and I guess the reaction was a bit more vivid during the screening,” Cowper told us in an interview on Sunday. “So I was a bit afraid we would go wrong at [the screening] yesterday, but they were so nice, and they stayed for the Q&A, and they had a lot of questions, very precise. But they enjoyed the movie, and that was the best.” Lloveras agreed, adding that, “Over 90 percent of the audience stayed for the Q&A, so that was a very good sign. I think just one person left out of 80 people, so yeah, that felt very good!”

“And [the festival] has its own thing going on, you know,” said Cowper. “It’s very artistic, very hip, very different from other festivals.”

Never let it be said that Boston doesn’t have a vibrant, cool movie scene—or that Bostonians don’t do hospitality (whether for first-timers visiting the city from abroad, or for repeat attendees like Bobcat Goldthwait). And if there’s something extra special about running films that on some level speak to the city’s many-layered identity, there’s something equally special about welcoming films, as well as the people who make them, that hail from outside the rough edges of Boston’s embrace. That’s what any good film festival should be about: bringing together all corners of film fandom to share in their common love for the cinema. And with IFFBoston, that’s exactly what you get. (And then some. Boston’s cinephile crowd is really, really savvy.)

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