Independent Film Festival Boston unveils a packed lineup

Actors, from left to right, Diana Lin, writer/director Lulu Wang, Awkwafina, and Tzi Ma pose at the premiere of "The Farewell" during the 2019 Sundance Film Festival, Friday, Jan. 25, 2019, in Park City, Utah. (Photo by Danny Moloshok/Invision/AP)
Danny Moloshok/Invision/AP/file
From left: Diana Lin, writer-director Lulu Wang, Awkwafina, and Tzi Ma pose at the premiere of "The Farewell" at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival. The film will be shown May 1 at the Coolidge Corner Theater, as part of the Independent Film Festival Boston.

Two buzzy Sundance hits — “Luce” and “The Farewell” — will bookend this year’s Independent Film Festival Boston (April 24-May 1), the lineup of which was announced Wednesday. Though both rode strong word-of-mouth out of Park City, Utah, back in January, the differences between the opening and closing night titles underscore IFFBoston’s signature commitment to spread.

Opener “Luce,” directed by Julius Onah, is a taut social psychodrama; it follows two parents (Naomi Watts and Tim Roth) whose view of their model-student son (Kelvin Harrison Jr., of “It Comes at Night”), adopted from war-torn Eritrea, is challenged after a teacher (Octavia Spencer) uncovers his startling views on political violence. It plays the Somerville Theater April 24, with Onah on hand for a Q&A.

And while fest capper “The Farewell” (May 1, at the Coolidge) also examines how identity can challenge familial bonds, it does so in the form of a gentle, heartfelt dramedy. “Crazy Rich Asians” breakout Awkwafina stars as a Chinese-American woman who returns to China to make peace with her grandmother’s terminal cancer diagnosis. The twist is that her family has chosen to hide the truth from Granny so as not to spoil her remaining time, instead staging a wedding under false pretenses so everyone can say their goodbyes together.


If it sounds outrageous, consider that writer-director Lulu Wang (a Boston College grad) based “The Farewell” on her own experiences. If it sounds familiar, you likely heard Wang discuss the stranger-than-fiction tale on “This American Life.” She’ll speak after the screening.

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Keira Knightley toplines IFFBoston’s narrative centerpiece “Official Secrets” (April 26, at the Somerville), “Eye in the Sky” director Gavin Hood’s true account of whistleblower Katharine Gun, who exposed an illegal NSA spy operation to manipulate the UN into sanctioning the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Doc centerpiece “WBCN and the American Revolution” (April 27, at the Somerville) is landmark local fare; it chronicles how Boston’s underground rock radio galvanized social, political, and cultural shifts across the late 1960s and early ’70s. The director, Boston-bred Bill Lichtenstein, was 14 when he started at WBCN. He’ll speak after the screening.

High-profile helmers abound. One narrative highlight, “The Nightingale,” is “Babadook” director Jennifer Kent’s long-awaited follow-up to that chiller, a revenge odyssey set in 1820s Tasmania. Italian Oscar winner Paolo Sorrentino’s “Loro” will screen, as will Peter Strickland’s textile ghost story “In Fabric.”

As usual, locally grown actors and filmmakers are in fine form this year. Emerson grad Daniel Scheinert, who co-directed “Swiss Army Man,” is back with a dark comedy, “The Death of Dick Long.” (His Emerson peer and “Swiss Army Man” cinematographer Larkin Seiple, coincidentally, lensed “Luce.”)


Salem residents Jeffrey Ryan and Arielle Cimino co-directed comedy-thriller “Mass Hysteria,” about a modern witch hunt in their hometown. Benjamin Kasulke, who attended the Northfield-Mountain Hermon School in Gill, has comedy “Banana Split.” Boston-born actor Alessandro Nivola plays a screw-loose sensei opposite Jesse Eisenberg in Riley Stearns’s dark comedy “The Art of Self-Defense.”

In documentaries, “Running With Beto” — by Harvard grad David Modigliani, of Milton — looks at the rise of Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke. Another hot-button Washington doc, “Knock Down the House,” revolves around four women who ran for Congress last year, including the victorious Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a BU grad.

Locally based filmmaker Fiona Turner will screen her doc “Eat Up,” which explores nutrition in Boston Public Schools. Boston’s Julie Smith Clem’s “It Started as a Joke,” co-directed with Ken Druckman, chronicles the decadelong run of Eugene Mirman’s Brooklyn comedy fest; Mirman himself grew up in Lexington and attended Hampshire College.

Wayland-bred documentarian Bill Haney, a Harvard grad, has a doc about cancer immunotherapy researcher Jim Allison; and Boston’s Kevin J. James is behind video-game-store doc “Not for Resale.”

The full lineup, including short selections, can be viewed at

Isaac Feldberg can be reached at