Last year, the Independent Film Festival of Boston celebrated its 10th anniversary, marking a decade in which it evolved from just another scrappy local event to the best indie-movie smorgasbord in town. This Wednesday, the IFFB opens its second decade with the same mix of strengths that has sustained its growth: savvy curatorial cherry-picking of the best from Sundance, SXSW, and other recent fests; a welcome spotlight on local films and filmmakers; panel discussions and in-person appearances by directors; and a general eye for the weird and wonderful.
The 2013 festival runs from April 24-30 and will unspool mostly at the Somerville Theatre, with other venues including the Brattle, the Coolidge, and Theater 1 at the Revere Hotel. Discussed below are some notable films in this year’s festival.
For more information go to www.iffboston.org
THE SPECTACULAR NOW
The festival’s opening night presentation comes to Boston after going over big at SXSW and especially Sundance, where costars Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley shared a special jury prize for “rare honesty, naturalism and transparency.” Translation: The movie’s a teenage romance with characters who seem like actual teenagers. Based on a novel by Tim Tharp, “Now” stars Teller (“Rabbit Hole”) as a life-of-the-party senior whose bravado masks insecurity; Woodley (“The Descendants”) is the class nobody he dates first out of pity and then — oh, you know. It’s an oft-told tale — a dab of John Hughes, a dash of “Perks of Being a Wallflower” — made fresh by the gentle realism of the playing and the levelheaded direction of James Ponsoldt (“Smashed”). (Wednesday, 7:30 p.m., Somerville)
From Denmark, a riveting moral drama about a commercial vessel hijacked by Somali pirates. As the crew is held for ransom and days stretch into weeks, and then months, writer-director Tobias Lindholm splits the action between the ship, where the Danish cook (Pilou Asbaek) becomes the pirates’ harried intermediary, and company HQ, in Copenhagen, where the CEO (Soren Malling) proves an all-too-cool negotiator. The film works as both a suspenseful nail-biter and a subtle indictment of the profit motive, whether it’s found in a high-rise office building or a Third World motorboat. Recommended. (Friday, 9:45 p.m., Somerville)
PERSISTENCE OF VISION
A documentary portrait of craftsmanship so obsessive it doesn’t know when to quit. British animator Richard Williams is best known for his groundbreaking work on the 1988 classic “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?,” but Kevin Schreck’s film zeroes in on “The Thief and the Cobbler,” a labor of love that Williams worked on for 28 years before it was finally taken out of his hands and released in bowdlerized form as 1994’s “Arabian Night.” (By then Disney had already pilfered the film’s visual ideas for “Aladdin.”) Williams doesn’t talk to the director but everyone else does, and the picture that comes into focus is that of a maverick genius betrayed by his love for detail. (Saturday, noon, Somerville)
THIS IS MARTIN BONNER
A small, disarmingly democratic slice of life set in Reno about the friendship between a paroled convict (Richmond Arquette) and the title character, a wise but regretful older man (Paul Eenhoorn), who has lost touch with God. As in his debut feature, 2008’s little-seen “Luke and Brie Are on a First Date,” writer-director Chad Hartigan puts his faith in average people and little moments, watching as they forge connections almost in spite of themselves. An unassuming gem, more polished than mumblecore but far from the glossy certainties of the mainstream. (Saturday, 12:15 p.m., Somerville)
From straight outta Lexington comes Nathan Silver’s deadpan tale of suburban dysfunction and the human urge to belong. Co-writer/star Kia Davis suggests an evolutionary midpoint between Greta Gerwig and Lena Dunham as a lost 20-something who gets a job as a nurse’s aide for a maddeningly self-absorbed family. As the matriarch, Gert O’Connell is the quintessential progressive, noodgy outer-Boston mom — you could throw a tennis ball off Route 128 and hit about 10 of her. With the director’s own mother playing the grandmother, oy, is this a family affair. (Saturday, 12:30 p.m., Somerville)
Boston University film professor Mary Jane Doherty traveled to Cuba repeatedly over the years to complete this lucid, watchful portrait of young ballet dancers desperately trying to plié their way out of poverty and into the Ballet Nacional. The film follows a path familiar from documentaries like “Spellbound” and “First Position,” the difference here being that the young aspirants have the future of entire families on their shoulders. As we follow Doherty’s primary subjects — middle-class Gabriela, poor Mayara, poorer Moises — “Secundaria” reveals itself as being less about competing in dance and more about battling into adulthood. (Saturday, 1 p.m., Somerville)Continued...