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Donna Summer documentary is opening night film for IFFBoston’s 20th year

Olivia Grant
Donna Summer documentary is opening night film for IFFBoston’s 20th year
Donna Summer in “Love to Love You, Donna Summer.” IMAGE: COURTESY OF HBO

The Independent Film Festival Boston (IFFBoston) is back for its 20th year and is celebrating the milestone with its opening night film, “Love to Love You, Donna Summer,” directed by Oscar-winner Roger Ross Williams and Brooklyn Sudano, Donna Summer’s daughter. 

The screening will take place at the Somerville Theatre on April 26. The festival spans April 26-May 3 in a number of venues around the Greater Boston area, including the Somerville, Brattle and Coolidge Corner Theaters.

The documentary reveals the inner emotional world of the queen of disco. “Love To Love You, Donna Summer” splices archival footage and home videos, most from Summer’s own camera, with her music and pensive voiceovers. The film also includes audio interviews with her family, friends, exes and business associates. Elton John’s voice makes a cameo, too.

The film is ambitious, covering many of the events in Summer’s life. Yet, what it has in breadth lacks a certain depth. Despite certain subjects being glossed over (for example, why her first marriage ended and what she really meant when she said the “Adam and Steve” comment that upended her career), the film does humanize Summer. It captures her humor and creative bursts as well as her battles with mental illness and the seemingly never-ending tension between fame, success and privacy.   

Donna Summer in “Love to Love You, Donna Summer.” IMAGE: COURTESY OF HBO

Sudano is scheduled to attend the event for a post-screening Q&A. Brian Tamm, the festival’s executive director, expects members of Summer’s family to attend the Boston premiere as well. A disco party at the Somerville’s Crystal Ballroom will follow. The Somerville Theatre is accessible by bus and the Red Line’s Davis stop.     

In a phone interview, Tamm explained IFFBoston’s decision to screen the HBO documentary as the opening night film. “To have a story that started here was very important to bring the community together,” he said.

Tamm also shared some of his favorite aspects of the film. He appreciated the emotional insights and was impressed by the amount of never-before-seen footage.

“It doesn’t put her on a pedestal. It treats her like a real person,” he said. “We have these relationships with celebrities where they become iconic and distant from us. But to be able to see them as real people and connect to them is incredibly important.” He continued, “She becomes more filled in, more 3D in this movie.”

Tamm said the film screening would be an emotional homecoming for Sudano and Summer’s local family.

“I think there’s going to be a lot of love in that room, and I think that’s something that you wouldn’t get in Berlin,” he said. (Berlin is where the film had its world premiere.) “When you know you’re in the room with the filmmaker and the subject’s family, it makes it a deeper experience overall.”

arts, Donna Summer, film, IFFBoston