Every year, there are over 100 films of all varieties to check out at IFFBoston. With so many comedies, dramas, documentaries, shorts, satires and satisfyingly schlocky genre flicks to choose from, the only way to do Boston’s most unifying film event wrong is to not share your experience with those who didn’t attend or opted for a different plan of attack. Here are some of the highlights from Scout contributor Kristofer Jenson’s 2015 IFFBoston itinerary.
Joshua Oppenheimer’s follow-up to The Act of Killing–without a doubt 2012’s best documentary, arguably the year’s best film overall–continues the director’s penetrating examination into the unique relationship Indonesia has with its notorious “anticommunist” mass murders of 1965 and 1966. While Indonesia is far from the only nation to carry out such purges, almost unbelievably, the perpetrators make no attempt to cover up their crime and often boast of their behavior as they occupy positions of power and prestige in government and civil society. Where The Act of Killing attempted to unfold the layers of myth that some death squad leaders had used to gild their wickedness by having them reenact the murders for a Hollywood-style movie, The Look of Silence follows an optometrist whose brother was one of those killed. As he tests the eyes of the killers–a fitting metaphor, indeed–he gradually reveals more about himself as he asks for details and explanation, often in front of family members who were oblivious to the inhumanity of their deeds. While it is slightly more confrontational and “gotcha” than Oppenheimer’s previous effort, Silence is a worthwhile, if troubling examination into humankind’s ability to defer responsibility and society’s willingness to look past the awful truth in the name of order.
You are not ready for The Tribe. Hell, I’ve seen it, and I’m still not ready for it, but I will certainly never forget it. Told entirely in Ukrainian Sign Language without a single subtitle, voiceover, spoken line of dialogue or even composed score, its central conceit is somehow not its most alienating component. While impeccably crafted on a technical level and gorgeous in its own way, this is no art film. Nor is it a silent film as there is actually quite a lot of signed dialogue, you just won’t understand it. Set in a school for the deaf among the urban decay of Ukraine, The Tribe examines the culture of crime and authority the largely unsupervised students have created in the absence of genuine order or guidance. Extortion, theft, assault and prostitution are the norm when class isn’t in session, often to horrific effect. With long, often uneventful tracking shots, clocking over two hours and not for the squeamish, there has never been a love-it-or-hate-it film quite as powerful as this, and while I won’t recommend or endorse it, I remain in awe over a week later.
Bobcat Goldthwait’s first foray into documentary filmmaking, Call Me Lucky is the story of Boston comedy legend and tireless social activist Barry Crimmins, a man who is far more than just another gruff comedian with strong opinions. Goldthwait’s character study delves into all aspects of Crimmins’s life and activities, either of which would be filmworthy in its own right: the one hand, a deeply analytical mind with a stunningly traumatic childhood with an unyielding commitment to justice who has testified before Congress and stood beside Cindy Sheehan; and on the other, the man who launched the careers of almost every Boston stand-up of note. Call Me Lucky may be the funniest movie you’ll ever see, but it is in no comedy. Goldthwait clearly respects Crimmins and all he has contributed, but this is no hagiography. A marvel of film craftsmanship that is unafraid of its populism about a man who deserves far more fame than he received in his heyday, Call Me Lucky is a must see on all fronts.
How the makers of Welcome to Leith managed to gain access to notorious white supremacist Craig Cobb in the midst of his plan to convert a town with a population of less than 50 into a neo-Nazi mecca is mystifying, but the most impressive aspect of this gripping documentary is how it never loses focus between its many moving parts. You may have heard about Cobb and his plan in the news or on live daytime TV as he had his ancestry tested, with his peculiar hair and beard and strange voice patterns. Yet this is no kooky old man with a doomed plan; Cobb was dangerous, determined, abusive and threatening to not just the community he co-opted but to society at large. The filmmakers get closer to this violent band of neo-Nazis than seems responsible, while also consulting with the Southern Poverty Law Center and the formerly peaceful denizens of Leith itself. Gripping, amazing stuff here, sure to be an Oscar contender while deserving a place in every social studies curriculum in America.