Village Soup, September 18, 2008
Dagney C. Ernest
(Sep 18): The film fest circuit officially opened earlier this year, but Midcoast film fans don't have to go anywhere to see some real contenders. The fourth annual Camden International Film Festival will run Thursday through Sunday, Sept. 25 through 28, with screenings in Camden and Rockland and a symposium in Rockport.
CIFF 08 opens with the Maine Film and Video Association's fall meeting from 5 to 6:30 p.m. Sept. 25 at Maine Media Workshops' 70 Camden St., Rockport, location. A panel of MMW professors will discuss Maximizing Production Values — i.e., creating the most quality production with limited resources. It's a topic most of the festival's emerging filmmakers, and its organizers, know well.
"A good portion of our budget is flying in the filmmakers," said CIFF founder/director, and Camden native, Ben Fowlie.
Most of those filmmakers, like Fowlie, are between 25 and 30 years old, which lends the festival an energy and vibe that distinguishes it from larger, more established events; a curriculum connection to the University of Maine at Orono ups the youngblood ante. But CIFF is beginning to make its mark and to get noticed by the industry, said Fowlie. And in its fourth year, it's hitting its stride.
"That first year, we were all over the place," said Fowlie. "Now our focus is on emerging nonfiction storytelling. We have some filmmakers coming back a second and third time. We're looking to continue with them and if the festival is around in 10 years, we'll have some major premieres."
There are premieres aplenty right now, albeit New England premieres or first screenings north of Boston. A number of previous CIFF picks have gone on to success at the larger festivals. Those venues, however, don't give documentary films the showcase CIFF does.
Documentary films have the reputation of being serious and intense, and the first couple of CIFFs did little to challenge that. Fowlie and his colleagues have worked to offer more variety in subject and tone and CIFF 08's schedule comes close to having something for everyone.
"I've been asked about having something family oriented. Documentaries are unrated and often a little gritty. But I hope kids come in their Harry Potter costumes to see 'We Are Wizards,'" said Fowlie, referring to Josh Koury's entertaining look at Potter mania that screens at 4:30 p.m. Sept. 27 at Rockland's Strand Theatre.
Many of this year's films reflect the current green Zeitgeist, with a particular emphasis on sustainability in urban environments. These include the festival's closing film, "The Garden," about the 14-acre community garden in South Central Los Angeles; and "The Greening of Southie," about the revolutionary, and controversial, green Macallen Building in South Boston.
Current environmental issues are featured in "Red Gold," about threatened salmon runs in Alaska; and "When Clouds Clear," about resisting copper mining in the Andes. The roots of environmental consciousness are explored in "A Sense of Wonder," based on Kaiulani Lee's one-woman play about Rachel Carson and filmed in Maine.
"That's kind of a docu-drama, so it was a stretch for me to accept," said Fowlie. "We're actually previewing it before its world premiere in Toronto."
Some films showcase one of the medium's best strengths, the ability to offer an intimate glimpse into someone else's life. These include the Canadian "Carny"; "Intimidad," about a struggling young Mexican family; "Life.Support.Music," about brain-injured guitarist Jason Crigler; "The End," a British film about Cockney crime; "The Linguists," which follows two academics as they search for endangered languages; and "Second Skin," a feature about players of Massively Multiplayer Online (MMO) games.
Political subjects include those explored in "Crawford," about the president's "home town," and "Secrecy." The war in Iraq, heavily on the menu in previous years, is the subject of two films including "Full Battle Rattle" about the U.S. Army's "virtual Iraq" in California's Mojave Desert.
The interest in "Under Our Skin," about Lyme disease, has taken Fowlie by surprise.
"I've never heard an outcry for a film like for this one," he said. "I got calls and e-mails: Do you have it? When is it?"
"People are driving from Vermont just to see this one," Fowlie said, adding CIFF hopes to have a medical panel discussion in connection with the film.
Indeed, almost every screening will include audience interaction with someone involved in the film's production. A Maine Filmmakers Roundtable the morning of Sept. 27 at the Farnsworth Art Museum in Rockland will gather professionals from the state's film industry. That afternoon will offer a series of short films from the Bucksport-based Northeast Historic Films including an eight-minute clip about the 1988 closing of Rockland's Seapro facility.
Audiences can interact with the filmmaking process itself the opening night of the festival. CIFF 08 will begin with a first — its first work-in-progress screening. "The Way We Get By" focuses on senior citizens Bill Knight, Joan Gaudet and Jerry Mundy, who have greeted troops at the Bangor International Airport 24 hours a day for the past five years.
"It's an unfinished cut that runs about 99 minutes, so people's reactions will help the filmmakers know where else to cut," said Fowlie.
Fowlie said he was e-mailed out of the blue by producer Gita Pulipilly and when he saw the film's trailer, he was blown away.
"It's intense and emotional and beautiful and really sheds light on the Maine persona," he said.
Fowlie said he hopes people of all ages will come and fill the theater at 7 p.m. Sept. 25 for "The Way We Get By" and predicts folks who don't come will wish they had, especially since Knight, Gaudet and Mundy will be in the audience.
"WGBH has first refusal on it," he said. "It's already been accepted for the IFP in New York City and will go to Sundance in January and 'POV' wants it. This thing is going to explode." Maybe CIFF won't have to wait 10 years for its major premiere after all.
CIFF 08 screenings will be at the Strand and Farnsworth auditorium in Rockland and Camden's defunct but still functional Bayview Street Cinema. Festival passes — $100 for all screenings and panels; $150 for that plus special events and parties — are available online. Admission to the Sept. 27 Made in Maine Showcase at the Farnsworth is $10. Tickets to individual screenings and events are $8.50 prior to showtime at the venues.
For a complete schedule and information on all the films to be screened and other events, visit camdenfilmfest.org.