Tuesday, May 2, 2017

IFF Boston 2017 Reflections

This was my first year experiencing IFF Boston, a festival celebrating independent film across a number of Boston theaters. The fest premieres all sorts of cool movies from features to shorts to documentaries to even student films, often times with the directors there to promote their work. I officially volunteered at this multi-day event, doing whatever odd jobs I was assigned in my required hot pink t-shirt (a real good look for me).

Although scanning people's tickets and handing out flyers got monotonous after a while, I did get to chat with a handful of cool, fellow movie-loving people. To be completely honest, it was this, more so than even the films, that ended up being the highlight of the festival experience for me. As a generally shy, introverted person in real life who thinks "small talk" belongs in the seventh circle of hell, I was surprised how easily I could snake into conversations with people. Now that it's over, my only problem is that I don't remember any of their names (!), and these mysterious movie folk will likely forever fade into obscurity in my memory.

Anywho... because I was a volunteer, when it wasn't my shift, I could see all the movies I wanted - for FREE! I took advantage of this perk, as you may imagine.

Below I've listed all the movies I saw, along with my personal favorites of the festival highlighted!



I really hope this movie's audacious title doesn't negate its chances at the Oscars, because Gook is likely to be one of the best films this year. The story, set during the LA riots of 1992, follows two Korean-American brothers who own a struggling women's shoe store and their unlikely friend and sometime-helper, 11-year old-with-an-attitude Kamilla. Similar to Do the Right Thing, this film takes place during one day, and you see a race-based conflict from multiple different angles, increasingly escalating in violence. But don't let the heavy subject matter and black-and-white cinematography fool you - this is not a preachy, political, devoid-of-humor "art snob" film, this is an honest portrayal of life during a specific moment of time with fantastic performances all around. Writer/director/star Justin Chon is primarily an actor, and it really shows in this film - even the little girl was amazing (during a Q&A, the producer said that the young actress in real life loves pink, horses, etc, nothing like she is in the film - it's a total transformation).

Simply put, Gook is incredible filmmaking. Please watch it. The producers said that this film will be released in theaters some time in August, so be on the lookout!

RUNNERS-UP:  Dealt and Dina

My favorite documentary of the festival. It follows the world's greatest card magician (or card "mechanic" as he'd like to be known), Richard Turner, who also happens to be completely blind. My screening was followed by a Q&A with the director and Turner himself; this guy is simply amazing. Turner can tell how many cards are in any given deck just by its thickness, he can tell some impossibly small fraction of a difference between cards by touch alone, and doesn't go an hour without a deck of cards in his hand, practicing 16 hours a day. Turner notes that he's not a magician per se - what he does is not "illusions" or misdirection, it's pure skill. He's a real life superhero as far as I'm concerned, and this documentary beautifully captures his story.

Another amazing documentary from the festival, Dina is a heartwarming and quirky love story between two adults living with Asperger Syndrome. A great example of "fly on the wall" filmmaking, this film gives an inside look into the colorful lives of two people who love each other despite their conditions, rendering certain communications and emotions difficult. Dina is an absolute joy to watch, hilarious at times and heart-wrenching during others; part of me can't even believe this movie exists because it's just so beautifully shot and the private moments feel so perfect cinematically. Even if it was all staged, it would've still been a wonderful film - but the reality it captures makes it all the more affecting.


This narrative is about a young girl with dreams of being a comedian, but gets panic attacks at the thought of going on stage. Was really looking forward to this one, but the emotionally-distraught lead character didn't have a single "funny" line, making it difficult to root for her.

High Low Forty
This one was... kind of rough to get through. It follows two brothers on a road trip to say goodbye to their dying father. One is kind of a douchey Texas pretty boy, who feels uncomfortable when his brother admits he's gay. Very awkwardly shot and acted - I'm kind of shocked this was even in the festival.

Intent to Destroy
This documentary from Joe Berlinger explores the history of the Armenian Genocide, and how there's a sort of "denial" movement about it in Turkey. A fascinating subject, but unfortunately most of it feels like a puff piece for the film The Promise, at times seeming like a glorified DVD special feature.

La Barracuda
A strange woman comes to Texas to meet her half-sister. I was sold on its Hitchcockian premise, but besides a couple interesting performances, this one just fell flat, with protracted scenes going nowhere and characters acting bizarrely for no reason.



This narrative short has a twist in the middle that I didn't see coming, and although I realize none of you will probably see this, I won't spoil it. The story is about a high school kid, AJ, trying to be a star basketball player, even though there are bullies on the team and a hard-ass coach (played by former Celtics player/TV star Rick Fox) who make his life miserable. Add on top of that this other "thing" we learn about AJ, and it seems like all hope is lost. But, like Rocky or any other number of underdog sports movies, Game gives its central character some light at the end of the tunnel, and you can't help but root for AJ. Sorry I'm being so vague! Overall, Game is a crowd-pleasing, wonderfully acted, heart-warming sports story that I hope is nominated for an Oscar!

RUNNERS-UP: Night and (Out)caste

Like Game, Night's power comes from a mid-short twist, so it's impossible to talk about without spoiling anything. All I'll say is that this twist was brilliant, making you re-evaluate everything that came before it. The story follows four girls with fake IDs who go out to a club - the two black girls are let in by the bouncer while the white girls are told to step aside. This short poignantly captures racial "micro-aggressions" in a way only possible in the short film format.

A fantastic, if extremely depressing, narrative short set in India (you'd never know it was shot in California) about an outcast single mother whose job is to literally scoop, carry, and dump a pile of shit on her head every day. The actresses playing mother and daughter were fantastic, the film reminding me of Bicycle Thieves in its worn-down spirit.


Circus City, USA
This short doc details a small town - Hugo, Oklahoma - where just about everyone and their families going back generations is involved in a traveling circus. Interesting subject, but the technical filmmaking was very amateurish (basic stuff I learned not to do in school!).

The Collection
This short doc takes a brief look at a collection - found untouched at an antique store for 15 years - of extremely rare newspaper print blocks for movie ads, dating back all the way to the silent era. Basically just a collage of the actual blocks/freshly printed ads, but interesting nonetheless.

This narrative short is about a single father (who kind of looks like Hagrid from Harry Potter) who lets his daughter hold a slumber party - which turns out to be much more challenging than he originally thought. Strangely dark and disturbing with a shock ending.

This dialogue-free, abstract musical short is about a man remembering all his past relationships... through the power of interpretive dance. A strange one, indeed, but very original concept.

A Favor for Jerry
This improvised short was shot in real time on election day, 11/8/16, following a pot dealer wandering around NYC, running into all kinds of funny characters. It's interesting how drastically different this short could've been if the results were different, but as it stands it was kind of a document of the dangers of apathy towards voting.

Preparations for the Forest
This short doc was about an old man whose life was spent as a taxidermist and wilderness painter. A pretty slight film, but the old dude had some interesting philosophies about life and death.

The Privates
This narrative short felt in the spirit of Scott Pilgrim; it's about a young band whose rocking-out literally causes fires. Quirky and silly, but not as laugh-out-loud funny as the premise suggests.

So It Goes
Musical short starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead (10 Cloverfield Lane) as a struggling singer who finds the inspiration she needs sitting on the park bench beside her. Wasn't super impressed with this one - it's like a watered down La La Land.

The Watchmaker
This short follows a philosophizing, bearded Iranian watchmaker as he waxes poetic about life. Just watching this impossibly patient man tinker with the tiny watch parts made me uncomfortable.

When Jeff Tried to Save the World
Starring Jon Heder (Napoleon Dynamite), this short is about a bowling alley manager trying to save his business. I thought this felt like a feature film forcibly crammed into a short film format, which was confirmed during the director Q&A afterwards (that's exactly what happened).

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So, yeah, I watched a crap-ton of movies, but what else is new? Hope you enjoyed reading about my week at IFF Boston! I enjoyed my experience there way more than I thought I would, and if my life is properly positioned to do so come 2018, I totally plan on coming back next year!

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