The auteur theory holds that though producing a film is a collaborative process between many creative and technical minds, the resulting work is ultimately the vision of the director who is therefore the film’s primary “author.” Every year since 2002, the team behind the Boston Cinema Census takes this one step further by showcasing films that are so personal that they could only have been the work of their respective directors and no one else. “Art for film’s sake” is the slogan of the BCC, embracing the deeply personal element of the medium that often gets forgotten in a business obsessed with branding and marketing.
Last Thursday, the BCC held its annual screening at the Somerville Theatre to highlight the best and brightest of Boston’s independent filmmakers of all styles, genres and experience levels. On the docket were fictional shorts, documentaries, abstract satires, visual poems and daring artistic and political statements, each totally unique in substance and vision.
Kicking things off was the first of several entries in surrealist satirical family television program “Telegraph Road,” in which a jaunty bluegrass intro is followed by alienating still-life word association based on terms like “toys” and “chairs.” Episodes were shown as a palate cleanser in between selections, grounding audience expectations as the mood got too heavy or silly. Among the other whimsical picks were moped lifestyle tribute “Two-Strokes: A Love Story,” workday-as-ego-deflation parable “Airhead” and the gross yet endearing animated short “Pig.” These were contrasted yet complemented by more personal, often painful statements that included “My Soul to Keep,” asking whether a lie that alleviates grief is such a bad thing, and “Rattle,” which showed the filmmaker in the throes of separation. “Winter Spring” tells the charming yet emotionally charged story of farmers who, while expecting their first child, are finding difficulty in being completely honest with each other even in such close proximity.
Though all films were worthy representatives of the BCC’s mission statement and are auspicious starts to promising creative voices, there were three that resonated with me as a stunning collision of artistic vision, personal voice, and technical skill. The first is “Someone Else’s Project,” in which director Shirin Mozaffari presented smuggled footage of urban, everyday Tehran shot by a volunteer with text from email correspondence between the two about the experience in subtitles. It’s a very simple concept, but plays with the perception of Iran as a forbidden place by showing that it is a living, breathing place while examining the nature of public space in a totalitarian regime.
Then there is “Washed,” (Ed. note: This video is graphic.) from Israeli director Daphna Mero. A dancer by training, Mero carefully choreographed this unique short in which the actors dance without music to express themselves as naturally as they would speak. Taking place in an industrial laundry facility in which a woman is horrifically sexually assaulted by her coworkers, the true impact of this violation is felt more deeply through interpretive movement than if it had been literal or graphic. Mero is in full control of her vision, and though it is difficult to watch, it is a triumph of metaphor, technique, and humanity.
Ending the night was the documentary short “Toñita’s,” which gives an intimate look at the owner and patrons of one of the last Puerto Rican social clubs representing Williamsburg, Brooklyn’s Latino roots. With a cast of characters as rich as any work of fiction, it’s as much about the individuals as it is with their relationship with gentrification; all acknowledge the difficulty of growing up in this neighborhood, in decades past, yet the changes have not been all good. The majority of the focus is on this club and its patrons with a defiantly upbeat tone, and it is worth pursuing as soon as it is publicly available.
Film is one of the most potent media available to us in the modern age, but most of what we see utilizes maybe a third of its full capability to express ideas and emotions. Catch the Boston Cinema Census every year and celebrate “art for film’s sake” with the best shorts you didn’t know you needed to see.