At the upcoming IFFBoston, films include a documentary on Madison Park High School’s basketball team and coach Dennis Wilson to “Raising Renee,” a feature on a woman who takes care of her debilitated sister. There’s also a feature on the creator of Elmo titled “Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey.” (Photos courtesy of “Raising Renee,” “Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey” and Mike Pecci)
The Independent Film Festival of Boston (IFFBoston) returns April 27 – May 4, with more than 90 films. Each year IFFBoston brings a wide-variety of films created by a local and international body of filmmakers to Cambridge and Somerville, and this year is no exception, with many local films for audiences to choose from.
Roxbury’s own Dennis Wilson, former coach and history teacher at Madison Park High School, stars in, “PUSH: Madison versus Madison,” a film about the trials and accomplishments of the 2006-2007 basketball team, which he co-produced with local filmmaker Rudy Hypolite.
“Rudy was able to capture some real truisms of the team,” Wilson said. He explained that the film shows his relationship with the players and their performance habits on and off the court.
It is important to Hypolite that people get to know the team as well as the neighborhood. Filming took place on the court, in the classroom and throughout the community.
“[Roxbury] definitely is a character in the film,” said Hypolite. “Even in the opening montage and as we transition from one day to the next you see different parts of Roxbury. Some parts that people will definitely recognize who are from the area, and also it gives those who aren’t from the area a sense of, you know, the neighborhood itself. Not just the basketball court, but some of the houses, some of the key landmarks: Washington Park …”
“Dudley Square,” Wilson chimed in, “Blue Hill Ave., Codman Square, Washington Street … there is definitely a Roxbury flavor in the film. No doubt.”
Hypolite explains that is Wilson’s charisma that carries the film. He calls his inspirational speaking style “on-point” and said that he couldn’t have scripted him better in a narrative film. Audiences are sure to see Wilson’s commitment to his students and to also be captivated by his coaching style.
It’s his love for his students and his belief in them that Wilson said helped the team succeed. By sharing his own history, Wilson showed his students that they could be like him and overcome their adversities. Wilson grew up poor in Roxbury but made a promise to his mother before she passed away that he would go to college. He went on to attain two university degrees and then returned home to share his knowledge with his community.
“I didn’t have it nowhere near as well as you guys and all the opportunity that you guys got,” he would tell his students. “I said, ‘So I don’t want to hear that you don’t have this, you don’t have that. You guys have all the opportunity in the world,’ and I said, ‘All I want you to do is do your best; respect me and my program; respect each other and just, try. And I’ll take care of the rest.’ ”
“PUSH: Madison versus Madison” will be screened for the first time in Boston on Saturday, April 30 at 7:30 p.m. at the Somerville Theatre in Davis Square.
“Raising Renee” is another local offering for this year’s festivalgoers.
When painter Beverly McIver’s mother Ethel was diagnosed with cancer and given three months to live, a promise McIver had made became her uncomfortable reality. Her older sister, Renee has the mental capacity of “an underdeveloped third-grader,” explains McIver in the movie. Prompted to make a will, Ethel tells her daughter that Renee had asked to live with her and that she felt that was a good idea.
“So that was kinda weird,” McIver confessed, “because I’m not married or anything and the only thing I’ve ever really taken care of are my cats.”
McIver rises to the challenge, yet she feels conflicted. As a successful artist living in New York City, she had to set her career aside to bring in Renee. McIver tells us that she doesn’t feel like she had a choice with Renee and furthermore, she’s completely unprepared.
“Mama told Beverly that, ‘I want you to do me a favor,’ ” explains Renee. “ ‘I want you to start raising Renee,’ and Beverly accepted and say OK. So she’s doing a good job, and I like it … a lot.”
The film follows McIver and Renee for five years as they struggle to find a rhythm and McIver learns to care for her sister. The most difficult moment for McIver is when she decides to accept a job and return to her hometown of Greensboro, N.C., a place she swore she would never return.
While the opportunities for Renee are better in Greenboro, McIver remembers too clearly the feelings of being marginalized as a black woman growing up in the 1970s. She shares her memories with the camera of the Woolworth lunch counter sit-ins that happened just before she was born; her mom testifying against Ku Klux Klan members who killed five demonstrators outside their home in the projects, and that the Klan members got off; and the constant reminders to her when she’s in the South, that she is a “second-class citizen.”
The film is the third in the award-winning Families in Trouble Trilogy created by Newton based filmmakers Steven Asher and Jeanne Jordan. The pair has found success in exploring difficult circumstances in which families must come together to overcome their adversities.
Jordan met McIver during a fellowship at the Radcliffe Institute in Cambridge, Mass. and was attracted to her complicated story and her openness. She describes McIver as an easy to talk to and affable person, who is as open with the camera as she is with Renee.
“One of the things that is kind of amazing about watching people watch [‘Raising Renee’],” said Jordan, “is how everybody brings their own things to it. … Some people think that Beverly is like a saint; some people think she’s way too harsh; some people think that basically if she could get out if it she would, and part of me has always been fascinated by those reactions.”
Audiences will have the opportunity to decide for themselves whether or not McIver is an icon of the sandwich generation during the screening of “Raising Renee,” on May 1 at 5 p.m. at the Somerville Theatre. Both Renee and Beverly McIver will be in attendance with the filmmakers to answer questions.
IFFBoston opens on Wednesday evening at 7:30 at the Somerville Theatre with the much talked about entry: “Being Elmo: A Puppeteers Journey.” The film won the Special Jury Prize at the Sundance Festival earlier this year. The film follows the story of Kevin Clash, the 6’2” man behind Elmo, and how he turned his childhood dream of working with the Muppets into a reality.
In all, the festival will present three panel discussions, screen 93 films and host six parties over eight days, ending on May 4 with an awards ceremony at American Craft restaurant in Brookline.
To learn more about The Independent Film Festival of Boston, visit: www.iffboston.org.