Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Independent Film Festival Boston 2018.06: The World Before Your Feet and Under the Tree

Both during the film and the Q&A for The World Before Your Fee, Matt Green (left) says he's a year and a half behind on his blog, and, brother, I feel ya - note the 57-day lag between seeing this film and posting the completed review and my mild amazement that I'm going to have two full weeks between the end of writing about this festival and catching a bus for Fantasia. That's why I'm ending at the middle - every movie I saw at the festival after this one has already hit theaters and bumped up the list.

But enough about me! I'm also kind of astounded by the project of walking every block of every street in New York City, considering how utterly wiped I am after a day of trying to see every room in a museum or wandering a sliver of a city. Green talked about how he feels like he's coming to the end, with 500 to 1000 miles to go, but he's been at that figure for several years, and he keeps finding more roads and pathways to walk in the City, and it's fair to ask whether he's putting off what he does with the rest of his life off. He doesn't seem to have much interest in holding down a day job, or a place of his own, and I suspect he'll eventually write a book despite that not being his plan because what else is he going to do with his time and what he's amassed afterward? I kind of admire the ability to live an unencumbered life while also having a little side-eye toward how many other people have to keep busy in order to give him that freedom.

Anyway, it was an entertaining Q&A, in part because much of the film was made with just Green and filmmaker Jeremy Workman. They were honest about how, yeah, Matt probably benefited from doing this as a white male quite a bit, especially compared to the Jamaican fellow doing something similar. They joked a bit about the inevitable "you don't have to talk to my girlfriend" / "oh, we absolutely have to talk to your girlfriend" conversations.

Looks like that one has just been picked up for distribution, albeit by a pretty small label. Under the Tree got picked up by Magnolia, for that matter, although I'm not sure how major a label they are any more (they used to look like the next Miramax, but I don't see their logo much any more). So, if you're just now hearing about these way after the festival is done, it looks like you'll have a chance to catch them.

The World Before Your Feet

* * * (out of four)
Seen 30 April 2018 in Somerville Theatre #5 (Independent Film Festival Boston, DCP)

It's a competitive business, making an independent film and then getting it into theaters and festivals and in good position for streaming services, convincing people that it is worth their time and money. That's why I take a special joy in seeing movies like The World Before Your Feet make the cut despite being completely inconsequential. Go to enough film festivals, or see enough boutique-house films at a rate that approaches going to a festival, and it's something of a relief to see something that is pleasant and well made but free of the burden of convincing you that it's important.

The film follows Matt Green, a former civil engineer who has spent much of his thirties on a project to walk every street in every borough of New York City. Depending what you count as a street, that is somewhere between six and eight thousand miles (Matt is walking footpaths in public parks and cemeteries, so his number skews high). He is not necessarily being systematic about it - in some cases a day's starting point is determined by where his couch-surfing or cat-sitting - and he's opting to travel light enough to keep his expenses low rather than hold down a job. The film opens on day 1,258 out of about 2,200 and counting, and jumps around from there.

Between Matt's improvised, non-linear itinerary and the need to filter even more uneventful footage than usual, director Jeremy Workman (who also shot, edited, and produced the film) must have had a heck of a challenge finding a shape for his movie, and a great deal of his success comes from not imposing too much structure on it. The film itself is impressively freeform, spending time on random subjects like barber shops with z's replacing s's in their names ("Cutz", "Shearz") or "churchagogues" (former temples repurposed into churches after the Jewish community moved but still showing their old symbols if you know where to look), but managing momentum well; Workman may fade to black, throw up a new title card, and move forward (or back) a few months every once in a while, but it seldom feels like stopping and starting again.

Full review on EFC

Undir trénu (Under the Tree)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 30 April 2018 in Somerville Theatre #2 (Independent Film Festival Boston, DCP)

Under the Tree is a tight little story of simmering malice in the suburbs that starts testing how dark you want your comedy very early, to the point where it's arguably just a couple of jokes to slide the audience into quite mean-spirited material. Still, the veneer of absurdity over the building pressure (the latter more underlined by the score than the former) is enough to keep pulling the audience forward, as is the precarious balance between horrific potential and good intentions.

It starts with Atli (Steinþór Hróar Steinþórsson) being kicked out of his house by his wife Agnes (Lára Jóhanna Jónsdóttir) for what are understandable, if not necessarily insurmountable reasons, and as such winding up in his old family home while Agnes moves for full custody of their daughter Asa (Sigrídur Sigurpálsdóttir Scheving), where his mother Inga (Edda Björgvinsdóttir) and to a lesser extent his father Baldvin (Sigurður Sigurjónsson) tend to compare him with absent brother Uggi. They're having a disagreement with their next door neighbors, as their prize tree casts a shadow over the back patio where Eybjorg (Selma Björnsdóttir) likes to sunbathe, and Inga doesn't particularly like the younger woman her neighbor Konrad (Þorsteinn Bachmann) married anyway.

Trees like the one Inga and Baldvin have are something of a rarity in their residential neighborhood - the houses are densely packed and the rocky Icelandic soil is not particularly hospitable - so the most practically straightforward solution to the problem is off the table. There's something fitting about a tree serving as the personification of the couples' anger and resentment; it grows slowly but surely, its shadow harmless until it reaches a certain height and something else changes, and the root system has been growing as well, maintaining a firm grip on the ground (and suggesting that just getting out a chainsaw won't get to the whole issue). It's a living thing even if it seems inactive on first glance, pre-empting the question of how these neighbors ever got along. Director Hafsteinn Gunnar Sigurðsson and cinematographer Monika Lenczewska shoot it and the backyards in question carefully, often framing scenes just wide enough to capture the entirety of the feuding families' house and yard, but just tight enough to exclude the rest of the neighborhood. Every once in a while they'll do the same on the other side of their houses, a brief reminder that all this melodrama may be hidden from passerby.

Full review on EFC

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