What are the signs of spring? Birders look for kinglets, gardeners for croci. Red Sox fans look for the very first slump. And movie lovers start queueing for the Independent Film Festival of Boston, the best movie fest this city has to offer.
The 17th version of IFFBoston, curated as it has been for the past decade or so by festival directors Nancy Campbell and Brian Tamm, brings over 100 fiction features, documentaries, and short films to the Brattle Theatre, the Coolidge Corner Theatre, and (mostly) the Somerville Theatre, from April 24 through May 1. There will be filmmaker appearances, panels, parties, not to mention a host of movie premieres and titles cherry-picked from Sundance, South by Southwest, and other festivals.
Peter Keough has the line on the festival’s documentary offerings, although I’d be remiss if I didn’t call your attention to the centerpiece doc, “WBCN and the American Revolution,” about the pioneering Boston radio station. Here are my picks for the narrative films to catch. Further information can be found at www.iffboston.org.
Luce The festival’s opening night film is director Julius Onah’s taut drama about an orphan from war torn Eritrea who, adopted by an American couple (Tim Roth and Naomi Watts), becomes a high school star while hiding dark secrets. Kelvin Harrison Jr. (“Mudbound”) plays the boy. (April 24, 7:30 p.m., Somerville; director in attendance)
The Farewell The closing-night offering is a sweet Sundance crowd pleaser that lets “Crazy Rich Asians” comic relief Awkwafina hold down the lead in a comedy drama about intergenerational culture clashes in both China and America. (May 1, 7:30 p.m., Coolidge Corner; director Lulu Wang in attendance)
Her Smell The ever-edgy Alex Ross Perry (“Listen Up Philip”) directs Elisabeth Moss (“Mad Men,” “The Handmaid’s Tale”) as his latest VIP (Very Irritating Person), a basket case of a rock star who won’t at all remind you of Courtney Love. Perry and Moss have made three films together, each one further out on the limb. (April 27, 6:45 p.m., Brattle)
In Fabric If you saw Peter Strickland’s 2014 “The Duke of Burgundy,” you know his love for surreal updates of classic Italian horror-movie tropes. His latest, about a haunted dress that makes people do very bad things, isn’t quite up to the earlier film but it’s a stylish (and bloody) midnight-movie gasser. (April 27, 9:45 p.m., Brattle)
Loro A new film from Paolo Sorrentino (“The Great Beauty,” “Youth”) is always an event, and this one casts the director’s favorite clown-prince actor, Toni Servillo, as bad-boy Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. The movie’s long, luxuriant, and angry, and you probably have to be Italian to catch all the in-jokes. (April 28, 12:15 p.m., Somerville)
Ms. Purple Justin Chon’s last film, ”Gook,” was one of those scrappy little winners most people stumble upon on Netflix. His follow-up is a moody character study greatly enhanced by the elegant presence of Tiffany Chu as a karaoke hostess in LA’s Koreatown coping with a dying father and an estranged brother. (April 27, 4 p.m., Somerville)
The Nightingale Another much-awaited sophomore feature, from Australia’s Jennifer Kent, whose “The Babadook” is already a smart fright-night classic. Early reports are that the new film is a brutal but brilliant period revenge drama, anchored by actress Aisling Franciosi. (April 26, 7 p.m., Brattle)
Official Secrets The true story of British whistle-blower Katherine Gun (Keira Knightley), who leaked memos of the NSA’s eavesdropping of foreign embassies in the run-up to the Iraq War. Directed by Gavin Hood (“Eye in the Sky”) (April 29, 7:30 p.m., Somerville)
Shadow An epic like they used to make ’em, set in third-century China, with stunning camerawork, costumes, and panoply. It’s been called a return to form for the legendary “Fifth generation” director Zhang Yimou (“Raise the Red Lantern,” “House of Flying Daggers”). (April 25, 7:30 p.m., Somerville)
One more group hug
One familiar and much-loved face that, sadly, won’t be seen at this year’s IFFBoston: David Kleiler, a legend among Boston-area movie cognoscenti, died Monday morning at 79 from complications of esophageal cancer. Kleiler saved the Coolidge Corner Theatre from demolition in 1989, and — there’s no other way to put this — in so doing established a cinematic anchor for a newly vibrant urban neighborhood and brought Boston’s entire independent movie scene into the modern era.
He had help, obviously, from the core Coolidge rescue squad of Nat Green, Bill Schechter, and Jon Bok; to friends in the press like Boston Globe movie critic Jay Carr; to an army of Brookline residents, who placed “Save the Coolidge” donation boxes around town and participated in a storied group hug for the 80-year-old building slated for the wrecking ball by a local developer.
But it was Kleiler, a deep-dyed film freak with a love for offbeat fare, a loquacious manner, and a spot on the Brookline Arts Council, who pushed for a nonprofit foundation to raise money to save the Coolidge and who brought in the late real estate mogul Harold Brown to save the day. In a finale that wouldn’t be out of place in a Frank Capra film, Brown bought the theater and leased it back to the Coolidge Corner Theatre Foundation for 99 years.
Kleiler was there to cut a celluloid ribbon in late 1989 and open the Coolidge’s new era, and he served as artistic director until 1993. But there was much more to David than that. He founded the Boston Underground Film Festival, the first held in 1999 in the old Revolving Museum in South Boston. Still going strong (the 21st edition was held at the Brattle in late March), the BUFF no longer hands out an award for Most Effectively Offensive Film. In David’s honor, it probably should.
David taught at Emerson, Babson, Tufts, UMass Boston, and anywhere cinemaniacs gather in Greater Boston. He was artistic director of the Woods Hole Film Festival for nine years. He ran an independent film series in the 1980s and a weekly film club, the Salon/Saloon, out of his home until his death. He was an influence on and mentor to several generations of Boston movie critics.
Above all, David Kleiler was a cineaste — a man who lived, loved, breathed, and talked the movies. The man was a master of palaver: When you’d see him coming toward you across a lobby or at an event, you knew you’d be getting an earful about the latest, hippest, weirdest movies that no one had seen and somehow David had. He was a raconteur, a sharer, a giver, and a friend, and that Boston-indie landscape he helped create will be tamer (and quieter) without him.
On Tuesday evening, the Coolidge gave its marquee over to David, and his friends and fans gave the place one more group hug. How fitting for a man whose life was dedicated to embracing the movies and the city in which he loved to watch them.Ty Burr can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @tyburr.