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What To See At Indy Film Fest

This year’s festival is a 10-day, 143-film marathon with special presentations, out-of-town filmmakers, and parties.

Want to see what Oscar-winner Olivia Colman is up to?

This year’s Indy Film Fest will take care of you.

Are you a fan of director Danny “Slumdog Millionaire” Boyle and/or the Beatles?

The fest has got you covered there as well.

But Colman’s latest, Them That Follow, and Boyle’s spin on a world without the Beatles, Yesterday, are just two of the cinematic offerings being screened at this year’s festival, which runs May 2-12 at Newfields.

The adventures come from films in competition, including these five picks—and one dud—from among the stack I had an opportunity to screen in advance.

It’s a cinematic risk to try to make a narrative film using circumstances of a real-life, cannot-be-recreated event. The most famous of these, perhaps, is Haskell Wexler’s Medium Cool, which was shot during the tumultuous Democratic National Convention in 1968. For the 2018 PyeongChang winter games, it’s Olympic Dreams. Not that there’s anything else those two films have in common. With a vibe akin to Once and Before Sunrise, Olympic Dreams pairs Alexi Pappas (who actually competed in an earlier Olympiad) as a cross-country skier with Nick Kroll as a dentist working in the Olympic Village. While Kroll is fine—and smartly restrained—as the awkward tooth technician, Pappas is the film’s revelation in a unique role. She’s achieved her goal of getting to the Games, but has trouble fighting the sadness and loneliness not only of being there by herself, but also of having given up much of her life to train for her event—which is over even before the opening ceremonies.

Owned should be required viewing for anyone hooked on those TV shows that try to convince you that buying a house (and then a bigger house … and then a bigger one) is the key to happiness. It also should be required viewing for anyone who believes that the most poverty-stricken neighborhoods are the result of a lack of effort on the part of their residents. It’s a smart, revealing, and consistently interesting look at the way the post-war housing policies of the U.S. contributed significantly to the segregated world we live in today. It counters the simplified idea that white flight is what innocently destroyed cities and effectively links poverty to policy.

Don’t go looking for your typical issue-of-the-week drama in Frances Ferguson, a film that takes an unusual—and effective—approach to its briefly notorious title character. She’s an unhappily married woman (Kaley Wheless) raising her child, who doesn’t interest her much. There’s not much on the horizon that looks like it’s going to make her enjoy her life much more, and a brief affair develops with a student at the high school where she’s substituting. The secret doesn’t keep very long. Wheless’s lack of affect, the matter-of-fact director by Bob Bynington, and the knowing narration provided by Nick Offerman form the key relationship here. And it works.

Hardly a festival goes by without at least one film about a competition—spelling bees, rock-paper-scissors, hovercrafts, whatever. The better ones know that it’s the people, not the game, that make these films worth watching. Foosballers gets it. It populates the screen with a remarkably varied collection of competitors heading toward a world championship, and gives just enough background on the rec-room staple to provide context. You just have to forgive it when the filmmakers try to get cutesy.

Safe Spaces stars Justin Long, Fran Drescher, and Richard SchiffCourtesy BondIt Media Capital

There’s no hiding the fact that Guest Artist is based on a play. While it’s not shot from the stage, its roots are obvious. Largely using one location and three actors—including the playwright Jeff Daniels—it not only feels like a play, it’s about the artistry of playwriting. At times, it comes across as self-congratulatory, but Daniels—as a Pulitzer-winning playwright now either blocked or hiding something—delivers.

If Green Book didn’t bother you, you may be okay with Safe Spaces. But if the Oscar-winner struck you as culturally blind, featuring a lens aimed in the wrong direction, you may take issue with this one. When the film deals with family travails (with a crew that includes Richard Schiff, Fran Drescher, Justin Long, and Kate Berlant), it’s fine. The problem is the core situation—in which adjunct teacher Long steps way over the line in the classroom—where the script’s ham-handedness drags it down. Anyone dumb enough to do what he does in the film’s opening minutes doesn’t deserve to be the center of a movie that expects us to root for him.

 

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