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Busting the Blockbusters? The 2005 Independent Film Festival of Boston

Although this year’s Independent Film Festival of Boston wrapped some two months ago, discussing its entries — and presence — seems as timely as ever. While the movie industry sits in an extended financial slump with the year’s ‘biggest’ films (from genre films like Kingdom of Heaven to standard remakes like The Longest Yard), the IFFB’s closing night selection is breaking box office records.

The film is Me and You and Everyone We Know, an astounding debut from writer/director/actress Miranda July. Just weeks after the fragile, witty film unspooled for an appreciative Boston audience, it snagged four awards at the Cannes Film Festival. And just last weekend, July’s feature earned over $30,000 on just one NYC screen. (In comparison, the weekend’s top grosser, Batman Begins, averaged about $12,000 per screen.)

That closing night springboard for Me and You… capped another year of impressive expansion for the IFFB, as the fledgling fest added its first venue within Boston city limits with a selection of films at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts. The MFA, whose clean, large theater can feel like a screening room at a stuffy liberal arts college, hosted some decidedly local festival favorites:

· The world premiere of the documentary Closed on Sundays, about the controversial closing of Catholic parishes in Boston
· The East Coast debut of Same Sex America, a look at gay marriage in Massachusetts from both sides of the debate
· Stolen, director Rebecca Dreyfus’ chronicle of the mystery behind the famous Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum art heist

In addition to a strong infusion of New England-themed films — don’t forget Buddy, Cherry Arnold’s doc about popular Providence mayor/current convict Buddy Cianci — the IFFB showcased a handful of features from major independent filmmakers:

· Steve Buscemi’s opening night selection, Lonesome Jim, starring Casey Affleck and Liv Tyler
· Don McKellar’s America vs. Canada satire, Childstar
· The Girl from Monday, Hal Hartley’s limp disappointing look at the future
· Gregg Araki’s well-received drama Mysterious Skin

The smart folks at the IFFB continued their not-always-lucrative After Dark screenings, freakier midnight fare that included the pigment-centric shocker White Skin and the spooky Civil War-era tale Dead Birds, starring Patrick Fugit and Henry Thomas. One After Dark projection snafu resulted in the violent, darkly comic short titled Herbie! getting its premiere at 1am — two hours after its scheduled time. A hearty late-night crowd hung around anyway.

That’s a pretty good indication of many moviegoers’ hunger for a change from the ordinary and, at this point in the movie season, the box office is proving that to be true. Which gets us back to Me and You and Everyone We Know. A success story like that is one every indie fan loves to hear about. A film reaps rewards after being made with smarts, heart, and no expectation of enormous financial success. On the other hand, Batman Begins and others of its ilk are made only for enormous financial success. Makes it even easier to root for the little guy.

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