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Emerson-Directed Films Aplenty at IFFBoston

Trailer for El Signo Vacío, directed by Visual & Media Arts Professor and Associate Chair Kathryn Ramey.

If you live in the Boston area, you don’t need to travel far to see cutting edge documentary and narrative films directed by Emerson faculty and alums this week. The Independent Film Festival Boston (IFFBoston), running May 1-8, has got you covered.

Visual & Media Arts (VMA) Professor and Associate Chair Kathryn Ramey directed El Signo Vacío, a documentary feature being screened at the festival. Ramey spoke about why she wanted to make the film.

“Ten years ago, while investigating immigration paths to the U.S. through the Caribbean, I discovered a former U.S. Air Force base with my last name – Ramey,” said Ramey. “This led me down a rabbit hole of research about U.S. involvement in the region and ultimately to wanting to make a film.”

Ramey added that it’s important for her to give back to the communities that she works in. With that in mind, she offered to teach a workshop at Beta Local in San Juan.

“I met most of my collaborators for the film through that experience and gave multiple workshops around the island over the course of the production,” said Ramey.

The film was supported by LEF New England Media grants, Creative Capital and the Guggenheim fellowship. El Signo Vacío screens May 5 at the Brattle Theatre.

Still image from 'Crookedfinger'

Another Emerson-connected film is Crookedfinger, which is part of the Narrative Feature lineup. Co-directors Julia Halperin, VMA Assistant Professor, and Jason Cortlund, a VMA affiliated faculty member, started working on the film in the early days of the pandemic, based on a story they developed during a MacDowell residency.

Crookedfinger is a sister-project to their previous feature, Barracuda. The plot of Barracuda involves half-sisters meeting each other.

“The feeling of being alone in one’s own family is a specific kind of terror. Crookedfinger uses elements of slow-burn suspense to explore this underlying feeling of dread, one that generates from a liminal space between the psychological and the supernatural,” said Halperin. “Like all the problems with an aging house, there are some things you just can’t fix. Crookedfinger is about breaking attachments to the old stories that haunt us—and finding the strength to start over again from zero.”

Crookedfinger screens May 4 at Somerville Theatre.

Alexander Freeman plays with his daughter while he sits in a chair, she's brushing his teeth
Alexander Freeman ’14 with his child. (Courtesy photo)

Documentary feature My Own Normal, directed, written and starring Alexander Freeman ’14, produced by Brandon Golden ’17, with cinematography by Erik Fattrosso ’17, and executive produced by Emerson Trustee Kevin Bright ’76, follows Freeman, who has cerebral palsy, as he and his girlfriend Orina have a commitment ceremony, start a life together and raise their daughter, Maya, and convince his parents that he can fulfill his dream of having a loving family of his own.

“It is my hope that viewers will not merely be spectators but will be able to step into my shoes and experience life as I have, from my perspective,” said Freeman. “I want the audience to feel the intimate moments of joy, vulnerability, and growth that have marked my journey as a father and partner. The heart of My Own Normal lies in the evolution of perceptions, both my own and those of my
parents. The film documents their transition from holding reservations about my ability to live independently and be a capable father to embracing the idea that I can, indeed, lead a life that is rich in love, purpose, and fulfillment.”

My Own Normal screens May 7 at the Coolidge Corner Theatre.

In animated narrative short Nalb Noum, directed and written by Xzaviah J. Stone Sr., MFA ’23, is “an arcane massacre on the Black community is unfolding as a Black teen and his friends journey to discover the truth behind an old folklore,” according to the description. Nalb Noum will be screened as part of the Shorts Exeter: Narrative package May 3 and 4 at Somerville Theatre.

The documentary My Last Nerve is produced by Alana Goldstein ’01, is about a “Boston native who goes on a journey to find a cure for his father’s rare and debilitating disease.” The film screens at Somerville Theatre on May 2.

The 21st Independent Film Festival Boston runs from May 1 to 8.

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