The Independent Film Festival Boston Turns 20

Our homegrown indie-flick fête has come a long way since its 2003 inception.

An Independent Film Festival Boston screening at the Somerville Theater. / Photo courtesy of Independent Film Festival of Boston

Independent Film Festival Boston
April 26 through May 3

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This year, the Independent Film Festival Boston rings in its 20th anniversary of bringing the world of cinema to our city theaters, and indeed it has come a long way since 2003. Back then, the festival’s three founders—Adam Roffman, Scott Moomaw, and Jason Redmond—were just three fans of the Sundance Film Festival who wondered why something similar couldn’t be achieved here. Within weeks of that initial conversation, they’d set up the inaugural event featuring a lineup that felt simultaneously cool and accessible—and didn’t require a round-trip ticket to Park City, Utah.

Since then, IFFBoston has grown steadily to become a key fixture of the city’s arts calendar. (We’ve even named it Best Film Festival.) Executive director Brian Tamm estimates that the festival screened approximately 50 films in its first year, bringing in about 1,200 to 1,500 viewers; these days, it regularly shows more than 100 films per year and has since seen attendance rise to nearly 12,000—especially when stars like Jason Segel and Hamilton native Bo Burnham show up. Other notable cameos include Girls creator Lena Dunham, who wrote, directed, and acted in 2010’s Tiny Furniture, and actor Michael Cera, who showed a short film when he was so young, his mother had to come with him.

This year, the festival runs from April 26 through May 3, and while its lineup hadn’t been finalized by presstime (some titles are below), Tamm and program director Nancy Campbell are excited by documentaries covering a diverse range of subjects—from Michael J. Fox’s battle with Parkinson’s disease to a personal film about learning to box in East Boston by local musician Naomi Yang of the legendary band Galaxie 500 (Never Be A Punching Bag for Nobody, trailer below). But they’re even more excited to convene local filmmakers and film students from colleges throughout the region via student shorts showcases. As Campbell puts it, the talent is here, so it might as well stay here: “We see a lot of work come out of Brooklyn or Austin, but we don’t see it being any better than what can be made here. We love film, but we also have a lot of civic pride.”

Updated March 31, 2023, with the first batch of IFFBoston 2023 titles released:

Opening Night Film
Love to Love You, Donna Summer
Directed by Roger Ross Williams & Brooklyn Sudano
April 26 at the Somerville Theater

Closing Night Film
Past Lives
Directed by Celine Song
May 3 at the Coolidge

Also screening
Stephen Curry: Underrated, directed by Peter Nicks
Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie, directed by Davis Guggenheim
Confessions of a Good Samaritan, the latest documentary from legendary filmmaker Penny Lane
Never Be a Punching Bag for Nobody, the feature documentary debut of musician and photographer Naomi Yang (trailer below)

A version of this was published in the print edition of the April 2023 issue‘s Spring Arts Preview.