38th Boston Film Festival confronts environmental issues

By Melissa Ellin

Boston Film Festival will tackle environmental justice in its 38th run with a five-day slate of in-person and virtual screenings starting Thursday.

Eight in-person screenings will take place between Thursday and Saturday at various locations in and around Boston, while digital programming is available starting at 4 p.m. Thursday and ending at 11:59 p.m. Monday. 

BFF Executive Director Robin Dawson urged people to support the festival, highlighting the limited seating for pandemic concerns.

“It’s a safe way to come and engage,” Dawson said. “It’s connecting.”

This year’s event will kick off with Director and Actress Olivia Wilde’s much anticipated “Don’t Worry Darling,” starring Florence Pugh, Harry Styles, Chris Pine and others. It will play at 7 p.m. Thursday in the Regal Fenway on Park Drive.

For the first time, BFF will dedicate part of Friday to comedy. Dawson said it’s important to combat the heavy issues the world faces today.

“Between the war in Ukraine, the pandemic, losing so many people, the environment, it’s time for us to laugh a little bit and relieve some of that stress,” Dawson said.

Massachusetts native Court Crandall’s film “Bromates” will headline the night of laughs, with a screening at The Wilbur Theatre in downtown Boston at 7:30 p.m. Friday. The comedy follows two recently single best friends who move in together for support.

Crandall said he pushed for his film to show at The Wilbur because it has around 800 total seats. While such a large audience might “almost create an anti-film festival experience,” Crandall said, he wanted to reach a wide group.

“There’s nothing wrong with film festivals, but if it was a little bigger and a little more rowdy, that wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world,” Crandall said.

The film also ties into the festival’s themes of environmental stewardship, Crandall said. 

“It’s probably even more subtle than ‘Don’t Look Up,’ but it’s there,” Crandall said. “I think if people are laughing and talking about an issue, it’s a lot better than fighting over it.”

On the same night and time as “Bromates,” Director Ashley Avis’ documentary “Wild Beauty: Mustang Spirit of the West” makes its East Coast debut at the Rockport Music-Shalin Lie Performance Center. The film follows Avis’ multi-year exploration of wild horse endangerment.

Despite its immediacy, Avis said few people know about this issue.

“Our film is about wild horses, but the greater theme is about protecting our wild world,” Avis said. “Protecting not only horses but wolves, and mountain lions, and coyotes and all these other species that allow our world and our planet to stay in balance.”

Avis said she while people cannot experience the great American west as she did, a big screening like BFF’s can help bring it to life.

“Seeing all of that varied topography, and seeing the salt flats, and the sand dunes, and the mountains and the lush forests of Oregon,” Avis said. “Film festivals like Boston are really important to be able to have that true immersive experience. That is moviemaking.”

One of Avis’ favorite memories from filming, she said was a night in Sand Wash Basin when hundreds of wild horses appeared.

“It was stallions fighting, and it was babies running around and noses with their family members,” Avis said. “It was really special”

Outside of documentaries and comedies, the festival will include short films, a true crime drama and more.

Following in-person screenings, there will be a Q&A with directors and actors, which Dawson said she is most excited about this year.

“It can be a rare experience that is not easily accessed if you don’t live in the area,” Dawson said.

Tickets to live shows and digital access information are available on the festival’s website.