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Crunchy Movies: The 2006 Independent Film Festival of Boston

On a chilly Saturday afternoon in April, an Independent Film Festival of Boston organizer stood in front of a packed house and called his event ‘organic.’ Unless you’re using that word at the Whole Foods market you might be pegged as a tree-hugger — but this guy was speaking the truth. In fact, the word couldn’t have been more appropriate.

It was uttered during a nervous apology, amid circumstances that had festival management flying by the seat of their collective pants. As a sold-out theater awaited the comedy Chalk, fest staff announced that a ticketless crowd outside was as numerous as the seated audience. A quick decision was made to move Chalk into the largest venue in the venerable Somerville Theater and let in the throngs.

A projector crapped out during the transition. Films were swapped, people were herded. Free potato chips and fruit leather were tossed about as a peace offering. Movie fans seemed too caught up in the anticipation and bustle to worry about the delay, and one of the most polite movie crowds in Boston history hung around.

Forty-five minutes after its scheduled start, Chalk hit the screen. Two days later, it received the Grand Jury Prize as Best Narrative Feature (its third major award in three festivals).

This is the true flow and satisfying grassroots feel of the IFFB, once an ambitious weekend, now a six-day, five-venue celebration of small, eclectic films. This year’s lineup of 22 narrative features opened with Half Nelson, the breakout full-length entry from Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden, four-time IFFB veterans who display a fine touch in this drama about a troubled middle-school teacher (Ryan Gosling).

Other features of note:
· Special Jury Prize winner Brothers of the Head, a mishmash of realities about conjoined twins-turned-rock heroes from Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe
· John Stimpson’s New England-based drama The Legend of Lucy Keyes, Audience Award winner starring Julie Delpy
· The Great New Wonderful, a post-9/11 character pastiche and about-face for comedy director Danny Leiner (Dude, Where’s My Car?, Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle)

Some lobby buzz arose from a one-time-only screening of Edmond, director Stuart Gordon’s adaptation of an early, vicious work from David Mamet, starring Mamet favorite William H. Macy. And heartier moviegoers showed up — in what appeared to be larger crowds than previous years — for two late-night actioners: District B13, featuring jaw-dropping stunt work in a violent, future Paris; and director Yuji Shimomura’s samurai story Death Trance.

In the documentary category, 28 titles vied for attention, with three rising to the top: Grand Jury Prize winner Thin, a view of women’s eating disorders from photographer-turned-director Lauren Greenfield; So Much So Fast, a chronicle of the horrors of ALS and winner of the Audience Award for Steven Ascher and Jeannie Jordan; and American Blackout, the Guerilla News Network’s look at questionable U.S. voting practices.

American Blackout and director Ian Inaba were the beneficiaries of a new festival addition: extra final-day screenings for award-winning films. As recipient of the Special Jury Prize, Blackout landed a coveted bonus showing with a twist: an appearance by Cynthia McKinney, the controversial Georgia Congresswoman whose efforts are featured in the film, and who caused a stir weeks earlier after a now-infamous run-in with a Capitol building cop.

For those who enjoy themes with their viewing, this year’s fest provided the opportunity for some curious pairings: Half Nelson and Chalk offer enormously different looks at public school teachers; legendary Boston-based bands are the focus of documentaries loudQUIETloud: A Film About the Pixies and Not a Photograph: The Mission of Burma Story; and street artists of many colors inhabit Robin and Rory Muir’s subway music documentary Downtown Locals as well as Doug Pray’s graffiti study Infamy. If your inclination is to scan your program and devise this kind of ‘organic’ programming on your own, then you’ve got the vibe IFFB folks would be proud of.

But how is that down-to-earth sensibility retained as the festival gains popularity and depth with each year? Prior experience says it comes down to strong acquisitions, smart scheduling, and small, lively locations. So far, so good for this energetic, unassuming display of independent cinema.

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