It is a sad thought that Boston might be forever destined to live in the shadow of New York City in virtually every cultural aspect. Be it baseball, theater, music or nightlife, New York seems always to be top dog. This fact is only reinforced in the independent film world, thanks to entities like the Tisch School for the Arts at New York University, producer of talent such as Kate Hudson, Phillip Seymour Hoffman and, most famously, Spike Lee.
Add to that the countless other film schools that dot Manhattan (let us not forget the New School, home to “Inside the Actor’s Studio”) and the myriad film festivals that take place there every year, and the Big Apple emerges as a filmmakers’ mecca, one that any film community away from the cozy confines of the 405 freeway would have trouble thriving under.
Seeking to attract the throngs of Tribeca-minded film fanatics, the organizers of the Independent Film Festival of Boston (IFF) are turning the regional film spotlight on the Massachusetts Bay for the second year running. On display are a long weekend of independent feature films, documentaries and shorts that would make many a festival programmer’s mouth water.
“Part of our aim certainly is to put Boston on the map in terms of film. Hopefully we can get more recognition of what’s happening here, and get more film production done in the city,” says Jason Redmond, executive director of the Independent Film Society of Boston, which is hosting this weekend’s festival. “If we can create an organization like we want, and make a name for Boston through a series of relationships with other area arts institutes then we feel that it will benefit the Boston arts scene in general.”
According to Redmond, the IFF “fills a void. There were other film festivals in Boston, but they were mostly niche festivals: filmmakers only from New England, or only Jewish filmmakers, whatever it was. We felt there was no festival showing really high quality independent films—films from around the world, in Boston, and we wanted to address that.”
This year’s line-up of films is a testament to the festival’s commitment to a diverse repertoire of films from such locales as Mongolia, France and Japan, and a handful from and about the Harvard community. Amanda R. Micheli ’98, whose film Double Dare will be making its New England premiere at the festival, believes, “there’s no real nationally respected festival in Boston, and I think this one could be what Boston needs. All of the selections in this year’s program are amazing; it’s a real honor to be included on the same list.”
Micheli, a Visual and Environmental Studies graduate whose first film, Just for the Ride, was her senior thesis, is also excited about the numerous venues the IFF has secured for showings. “It’s very cool that my film is going to be playing at the Brattle,” she says. “As a VES student, the Brattle is like this little oasis, the antidote to the multiplex.”
Micheli also feels that Boston is ready for a big time film festival, as proven by the success of small theatres such as the Brattle in Harvard Square and Somerville Theatres in Davis Square. “Boston has a strong community of filmgoers, and I think the success of places like the Brattle is a testament to that,” says Micheli. “People here are knowledgeable about films and, more importantly, love films.”
Although Micheli is originally from the Boston area, her film Double Dare deals with a phenomenon not normally encountered in the Northeast—stuntwomen. The film documents two individual stuntwomen named Jeannie, the stunt double for Wonder Woman in the 1970s, and Zöe, the stunt double for Xena: Warrior Princess.
“I’m into athletics. I played Radcliffe Rugby, and I am interested by women doing physical work, like being a stuntwoman, and how women forge an identity through that,” Micheli says. “Plus, I am really interested in older women’s stories. They’ve experienced things I haven’t, and I can learn from them.”
Micheli, who admits that athletics “kept her in school,” says, “I relate, in some regards, to my subjects. Not necessarily dare devils, but it’s easy to see yourself in your work.”
Being able to relate is not as prominent a feature of the other film at the festival with Harvard connections. The Puppeteer, a documentary short about Harvard Square street performer Igor Fokin, was co-produced and directed by Gary Henoch and Chris Schmidt. Fokin, who died in 1996, hand-carved his own puppets and would perform several shows a night to a large and loyal fan base.
“Igor had an uncanny ability to capture the imaginations of both children and adults,” says Henoch. “He was a fixture in Harvard Square, he affected the whole community.”
Henoch also believes it is significant that the short is playing at the Brattle, just steps away from where Fokin performed prior to his death. “The hometown crowd, the opportunity to play at the Brattle, across from where Igor used to perform, all those things make this the most significant venue we will play,” he says.
The short also reveals an explanation for the mysterious golden statue that sits atop one of the granite pedestals outside EMS on the intersection of Eliot and Brattle streets. “It’s a statue of Doo Doo, Igor’s favorite character, that was commissioned by the Cambridge Arts Council, placed there in honor of him,” says Henoch. “A Russian sculptor named Konstantin Simun created the statue, and over 1000 people attended the dedication.”
The Puppeteer will be getting its own screening during the festival, something that is not common for shorts, especially documentary shorts. “We want to do what we can to help Boston area filmmakers,” says Redmond. “The Puppeteer is a good example of a film that Boston filmgoers might not see in theatres.”
While the directors of the IFF would like to see the festival grow and begin to incorporate other artistic media, Redmond believes it should always stay true to its cinematic roots. “South by Southwest is a good example, even though it was not started as a film festival,” says Redmond. “They have a good sense of reality, balance, in that they attract celebrities but also feature great independent films. We would like to incorporate artists of all types, as well.”
Micheli agrees with Redmond’s sentiments. “Big film festivals, like Sundance, are just politics,” she says. “They aren’t film festivals, they are film markets. Everyone wants to premiere at Sundance, so it’s really hard for independent, American documentaries to get accepted.” Micheli sees the 2002 documentary Spellbound as a type of model. “Spellbound didn’t premiere at Sundance, it just got more and more popular through word of mouth. That’s the case study.”
Although both Harvard-tied films have already premiered at other sites, it is still an important experience for those involved. “I’m from Boston originally, so it’s a nice homecoming,” says Micheli. “It would be cool if Harvard kids came out and saw the films playing.”
The Sox swept the Yanks last weekend. Boston-based Mystic River won Sean Penn an Academy Award. The Independent Film Festival of Boston is entering its second year. Slowly but surely, Boston is emerging from New York’s shadow.
—Staff writer Douglas G. Mulliken can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.