Film

From an Oakland Muralist to a Failing Goat Farm, Artful Highlights from Boston’s Indie Film Festival

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Still from ‘Author: The JT LeRoy Story’ (all images courtesy the Independent Film Festival of Boston)

BOSTON — The Independent Film Festival of Boston (IFF Boston) started out earnestly and enthusiastically in 2003, blowing the minds of locals and filmmakers by being a polished, world-class (and yet 100% volunteer-run) operation from the get-go. Now, still volunteer-run, but more smoothly than ever, the festival has matured into what might be among the city’s best events and envoys.

Always a haven for music and art nerds, this year, IFFBoston has less in the way of arts-focused and experimental film offerings than in previous years. Some of this shift can be attributed to an awareness that, during the festival’s lifetime, more outlets for this kind of work have popped up around the city — so the ground is slightly better covered now outside of the festival context. But also, at its heart, IFFBoston is most committed to serving Boston audiences who crave pre-release independent films and opportunities to hobnob with their casts and crews.

Still, with a little bit of imagination, the 2016 festival should be able to scratch your itch if you need to see some hot-off-the-presses (reels? digibeta decks?) movies about art. Or movies that are art. Here are the highlights. 

Author: The JT LeRoy Story

This documentary about writer/literary sensation/celebrity darling JT LeRoy is a fascinating study of how persona and creative process intersect and diverge from one another and the marketplace. Featuring a main character who makes major life decisions by imagining what Andy Warhol would do, Author is worth seeing for a whole host of reasons. Not the least of which is sharing a prolonged laugh with everyone else in the theater while listening to an audio recording of a phone call where Courtney Love snorts “a short line” (it doesn’t sound short at all…) of mid-conversation coke. If Andy Warhol were only going to see one film at IFFBoston, this would definitely be the one.

Boone

This is the closest thing to a completely experimental aesthetic that you’re going to find in the 2016 lineup, but it fills that bill well. There’s almost no dialogue in this 75-minute documentary about a failing Oregon goat farm where you’re emerged in near-darkness with no coherent reference points for probably the first full five minutes. Between the organic-feeling audio — animal and tractor sounds, the young farmers’ singing or cursing while they work, hard rain and wind — and some quite unique camera angles (many shots feel as if they were from a goat’s perspective), Boone drops viewers into a liminal sensory world where, until almost the very end, animal characters and landscapes have roughly equal narrative weight to humans. Sometimes more.

Primaria

Like Boone, Primaria is a very sensual experience, offering lush, poetic, evenly paced, “direct cinema” style immersion into the lives and training of three young Cuban ballet students. This is the second documentary about Cuban ballet students by Boston filmmaker Mary Jane Doherty, and almost every shot and gesture is crisp and gorgeous, overflowing with eye-love for its subjects. Definitely one of the most finely wrought pieces of artwork (or maybe it’s an ethnography?) on this list.

The Dwarvenaut

It sounds disingenuous to say that a documentary about an artist’s successful 2.3 million dollar-plus Kickstarter campaign is a representative portrait of the struggle of artists to keep at their practices, against the odds involved with niche audiences. But The Dwarvenaut is just that. And its entertaining main character — a goofy, beer-loving Dungeon (Dungeons & Dragons) Master — makes this film a lively interpretation of the theme. It’s also a refreshingly “other” take on the currently hot notion of “placemaking.” Oh, and there’s a bonus for any Bushwickian Hyperallergic reader who might catch this screening: a brief Matthew Silver cameo at the beginning.

Collective: Unconscious

This collaborative, conceptual art project, listed as a feature film, is really five short narrative pieces held together by a weird hypnotherapist host. Playing what feels like a Surrealist game, five filmmakers have interpreted each other’s dreams, with end results including a Wes Anderson-colored high school gymnastics class inside an active volcano; two dance films (one about getting out of prison and another about breastfeeding); and a bleak game show with 1980s cable-access aesthetics called “Everybody Dies,” featuring primarily young, black, male contestants killed by police officers. The most lyrical of the bunch is essentially a filmed sound installation with a minimalist narrative centered on relentless broadcasts of a voice counting sheep …

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Still from ‘Collective: Unconscious’

A New Color: The Art of Being Edythe Boone

The top recommendation for those interested in seeing films about art or artists, A New Color hangs around with an Oakland-based muralist in her mid-70s as she nurtures creativity and builds community all day long, every day, unflaggingly, for eons. If you’re an artist a bit lost as to where to go next with your “gift,” this glimpse into the world of Edythe Boone is an hour-long trip to role model city. Emotionally rich, empowering, and full of strong, minority women being generous and proud and not taking shit, you won’t find better bang for your buck if you’re out watching films for inspiration instead of going to your studio.

Skips Stones for Fudge

You probably think that skipping stones is not an art form, but you’re wrong. Educate yourself.

In addition to the features, there’s also a shorts package with several mini-docs about artists whose mediums range from wheat pasting to breakdancing to heavy metal drumming to animating for Disney. “Selling Out,” about an elaborately mustachioed puppet maker, articulates the main theme being addressed by all of these shorts most clearly: it’s a constant and exhausting balancing act being an idiosyncratic creative type and trying to make a living. But it beats being square.

The Independent Film Festival of Boston continues through May 4. Visit online for screening times and locations.

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