HomeEntertainment9 Greater Boston film festivals to check out this spring

9 Greater Boston film festivals to check out this spring


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Forty-year milestones call for celebration, especially when it comes to queer cinema. Boston’s Wicked Queer turns 40 this spring and will have throwback screenings, cutting-edge contemporary features and shorts, and an energy that executive director Shawn Cotter hopes will foster queer unity and action. The theme, says Cotter over a recent Zoom call, is “Power to the people: 40 years of queer agency, community joy, history and excellence.”

Just as culture has evolved to be more inclusive of the LGBTQ+ experience, with landmark legislated rights, Cotter, who programs queer cinema throughout the U.S. acknowledges, “Bars are closing. Community spaces are under attack. The fact that we can gather and have a conversation and plot and plan the revolution, I think, is a great thing to do. I feel like the festival space gives us the opportunity to do that.” In addition to a new website and logo, Wicked Queer will close with a gem plucked from Boston. Cotter describes “Transsexuals From Space” as a trans history project set in Boston. “It’s hilarious, it’s educational and it’s local. It’s the most fantastic thing I’ve ever seen.”

In other news, the Boston Israeli Film Festival, usually held in March, will go on hiatus with a plan to return next spring. The Coolidge cuts the ribbon to its new entrance, theaters and educational space in mid-March. And Widowmaker Brewing has started drawing crowds for its monthly film nights at its Braintree taproom. On Sunday, April 21, the brewery’s Hopsmokerfest will close with a screening of the documentary “Even Hell has its Heroes,” about the slow metal band Earth. By email, Widowmaker founder Ryan Lavery explained, “We are a bit early on in our movie screening nights to say we have regulars.” So far, most people attending already know the brewery. Lavery said they want to reach film lovers who also love beer. Here are nine other ways to quench a thirst for movies with a variety of refreshments.

When: March 20-24

Where: The Grange Hall in West Tisbury, Strand Theatre in Oak Bluffs, Capawock Theatre in Vineyard Haven, and the Martha’s Vineyard Performing Arts Center in Oak Bluffs

Highlights: This is the kind of fest that makes you want to hunker down and become a full-time islander. Lots of great talent shows up to talk about their work, as Dawn Porter will with her new Luther Vandross documentary, “Luther: Never Too Much.” Film subjects will make appearances too, like Steven Callahan who spent months adrift in the Atlantic after a whale collided with his boat. The documentary “76 Days” recounts his survival; his 1986 memoir about the ordeal hit the bestseller list. Movies also come fresh from Sundance, like the Norwegian documentary “Ibelin,” in which parents discover their late son’s vast network of friends made while gaming. While programmers can be loath to identify overarching themes (despite people like me persistently pestering for them), director Minah Worley Oh writes on the website that films this year demonstrate the “importance of community engagement and how, in turn, it shapes our personal narratives.”

Good to know: Click through the fest schedule and you’ll find comfort food menus to keep you satiated between features, many of which screen more than once.

When: March 20-24

Where: Brattle Theatre

Highlights: Think BUFF and think eclectic, all over the map movies. Sometimes genre, with titles that range from no-budget independent to the kind that open at Cannes with recognizable stars. This year, Sydney Sweeney shows up (onscreen only; sorry, “Euphoria” fans) wearing a nun’s habit in opening night’s “Immaculate,” in its East Coast premiere. The feature “Strange Kindness,” directed by Joseph Mault, was shot on the Cape with a Massachusetts cast and crew and makes its world premiere. One of the five shorts programs — themed along the lines of “dark comedy” to “hard-to-describe” — features only horror films made in New England. By email, BUFF director of programming Nicole McControversy wrote that this fest welcomes “New England cinephiles who love the thrill of gathering in a dark cinema to contemplate the oft-darker side of the human condition.”

Good to know: The Sisters of St. Joseph of Boston settled in Jamaica Plain and Roxbury in 1873. A robust history on their website reports that in the 1970s they “changed from wearing a ‘traditional’ habit to dressing like their neighbors.”

When: March 21-24

Where: Cinema Salem, Peabody Essex Museum, National Park Service Visitor Center in Salem and The Cabot in Beverly

Highlights: For the first time since the pandemic, this all nonfiction fest will happen only in person. “First We Bombed New Mexico” — an antithesis, of sorts, to “Oppenheimer” — opens the fest with a chronicle of the unacknowledged environmental fallout from the U.S. government’s nuclear tests, including cancer experienced by generations of Indigenous and Latinx families who lived in the region. Director Lois Lipman will attend. North Shore resident Marci Darling gets a home-field world premiere for “The Nita & Zita Project,” about two boundary-breaking burlesque dancers who traveled the world and eventually settled in New Orleans. There, they stored a cache of elaborate hand-sewn costumes and photos of their escapades, which the doc celebrates as artifacts of counterculturalism. Many on the team behind “Citizen Sleuth” have Boston ties. The film follows a true crime podcast smash in the making and has its Massachusetts premiere. David Abel’s “Inundation District,” about the threat climate change poses to Boston’s low-lying Seaport neighborhood, has been making stops in the area, including at this fest. Abel will participate on a panel, details forthcoming.

Good to know: Filmmakers behind “All We Carry,” about a young Honduran couple seeking asylum in the U.S., and “Bring Them Home/Aiskótáhkapiyaaya,” about a group of Blackfoot people working to bring wild buffalo to their ancestral land and narrated by Lily Gladstone, are also planning to attend the festival.

When: March 25-June 10

Where: Apple Cinemas in Cambridge, Embassy Theater Waltham, West Newton Cinema and online

Highlights: If you’re looking to join an unofficial film club, this weekly spring series has you covered. Every Monday night you’ll find people hungry for movies from a global perspective and sometimes there will also be food. For example, a dinner reception with Indian and Canadian cuisine precedes the March 25 opener, “The Queen of My Dreams.” (I’ve written many travel guides to Canada and am intrigued by this culinary combo.) “The Queen” jumps between past and present to reveal the discord and commonality between a mother and daughter, one who grew up in Pakistan, the other in Canada. Amrit Kaur from “The Sex Lives of College Girls” stars and director Fawzia Mirza will participate in a virtual Q&A. But that’s just the beginning. Ken Loach’s “The Old Oak” screens (April 1) and “Àma Gloria” by Marie Amachoukeli-Barsacq (May 6); both titles promise a little chuckle and tug at the heart. Check out the whole calendar or simply join the club. In addition to in-person screenings, two titles — “Traces” and “Bonjour Switzerland” — will also stream.

Good to know: Events often include post-film conversations. The final two films, “Opponent” and “Striking the Palace,” are part of a sidebar in observance of World Refugee Awareness Month.

When: April 2-30

Where: Coolidge Corner Theatre

Highlights: Prompted by the forthcoming documentary “Ennio” about famed film composer Ennio Morricone, the Coolidge turns to movies with great scores for its April repertory series. Think of music for a Western, you probably hear “wah, wah, wah” from “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly,” thanks to Morricone. That film plus others with scores by composers like Isaac Hayes (“Shaft”) and, of course, John Williams (“Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back”) will play.

Good to know: By the time this series launches, the Coolidge will have put the finishing touches on its major renovation, including an expansive new lobby (no more waiting in the rain!), two new theaters and a new space devoted to cinema education.

When: April 5-28

Where: MFA, Boston and online

Highlights: For its 23rd year, this fest welcomes back Zeki Demirkubuz, its 2007 recipient for excellence in Turkish cinema. Demirkubuz will appear as a special guest on opening night with his latest, “Life (Hayat).” As one can imagine from the ambitious title, “Life” offers a sweeping lens on contemporary Turkey through the story of a young woman who flees a forced engagement. Demirkubuz’s titles translate to English with similarly bold singularity — “Innocence” in 1997, “Fate” in 2001, “Nausea” in 2015, and so on. Another film by a past excellence in Turkish cinema awardee, Reha Erdem, will screen on April 7. “Neandria” premiered at the Warsaw International Film Festival and according to Boston Turkish Festival director Erkut Gomulu it’s “the first example of sustainable film production in Turkey.” Winners of the Boston Turkish Festival’s 18th annual Documentary and Short Film Competition screen ahead of Erdem’s feature.

Good to know: In his more than 30 years of directing, Reha Erdem often keeps the top duties such as writing, editing, shooting and recording sound in-house, meaning he does as much as possible himself.

When: April 5-14

Where: Brattle Theatre, ArtsEmerson, ICA, MassArt, Boston University, the Coolidge and online

Highlights: Forty. Yes, 40 years ago this festival began as the Boston Gay and Lesbian Film/Video Festival. The fourth such festival to focus on LGBTQ+ cinema in the United States. Much has changed since then. The fact that Deepa Mehta’s “Fire,” which caused in-theater rioting upon its 1996 release, can play as a throwback? The fact that younger audience members can take in Marlon T. Riggs’ “Tongues Untied” (1989) surrounded by people who openly support queer culture? The milestones are not lost on executive director Shawn Cotter, who says, “to remind people of their history, I think is utmost.” But Cotter also acknowledges the urgent need to drop the infighting and purity tests (“we’re all valid”) and come together. Those titles and other throwbacks, along with a fresh batch of what Cotter calls “B-movie magic” (like “Transsexuals From Space” mentioned in the intro) play this year as do 14 shorts programs. With an abundance of content, the festival spun off a program devoted to nonfiction in November 2022, now also an annual event held mid-month.

Good to know: The History Project collects and shares Boston’s LGBTQ+ history and hosts one of the largest independent archives in the nation. Its digital collection contains images of George Mansour, founder of what is now Wicked Queer.

When: April 25-May 5

Where: Coolidge Corner Theatre, Peabody Essex Museum, and other Salem venues TBA

Highlights: Hold on to your pointy black hats: Kathy Najimy — aka Mary Sanderson of “Hocus Pocus” — will kick off this horrific festival in an event that includes a keynote speech by author Alexandra West. (I am among the strange slice of people who agree that academic discourse can jumpstart parties.) Inspired, informed dialogue continues throughout the fest with the “Faculty of Horror” (a podcast hosted by West and Andrea Subissati) appearing live for a screening of “Cat People” (1942). Over email, Salem Horror Festival founder and director Kay Lynch shares that “our audience is 65% women. Our film program is 50/50 women to men filmmakers. 35% queer.” Additional program announcements, including events related to a partnership with the George A. Romero Foundation, are forthcoming.

Good to know: “Cat People” did well enough at the box office in 1942 that RKO Pictures made a sequel, “The Curse of the Cat People,” in 1944. Paul Schrader made his version of “Cat People” in 1982. None of this should be confused with the slippery short story turned 2023 cinematic bomb, “Cat Person.”

When: May 1-8

Where: Somerville, Brattle and Coolidge theaters

Highlights: Press time arrived too early for any sneak peeks at the 2024 line-up, but rest assured this fest will bring in some of the finest independent cinema of the year. Based on past festivals, it’s likely a few documentaries with Boston ties will have their world premieres. Director Brian Tamm sent a reminder that last year’s closing night film, “Past Lives,” went on to rack up several awards, including a Best Picture Academy Award nomination and a Best Picture win at the Independent Spirit Awards. “So that’s the kind of thing they can expect this year,” he wrote.

Good to know: “Past Lives” came the closest to making both Sean Burns’ and my top movie picks from 2023, with a couple of honorable mentions also overlapping.

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