July 14 – 20, 2017Vol. 19, No. 6

Lights, Camera, Action: The Maine International Film Festival Is Ready To Roll!

Jeff Daniels, Melanie Griffith, Ray Liotta, and Margaret Colin dance at a high-school reunion in Something Wild, which is being shown at this year's MIFF in memory of its late director, Jonathan Demme.

by Gregor Smith

Come one, come all! Come to the twentieth annual Maine International Film Festival, July 14-23, at Railroad Square Cinema and the Waterville Opera House. With movies spanning 90 years and five continents, this year's festival has something for everyone.

The festival's first seven days will bring screenings of diverse Maine-made movies old and new, presentations of MIFF's Mid-Life Achievement Award to a well-known actress and model and of a new award for cinematography to a lesser-known behind-the-camera icon, the screening of a silent film with a new score, the diamond jubilee of an animated Disney classic, and a retrospective of the work of a dearly departed friend of the festival.

Catherine Eaton in The Sounding

The festival opens on Friday at 7:00 p.m. with The Sounding, which like 2015's Centerpiece Film The Congressman features the stunning vistas of Monhegan Island, off the coast of Maine. Lead actress Catherine Eaton, who also directed and co-wrote The Sounding, plays Olivia (Liv), a mute woman who was raised by her now-dying grandfather. When the grandfather's voice falters while reading Shakespeare aloud, Liv breaks her silence, picking up the reading and creating her own way of speaking using Shakespeare's words. A well-meaning neurologist, summoned by the grandfather to protect Liv after his passing, has her committed a psychiatric hospital, where she rebels. He then realizes his mistake and tries to get her out.

The Opera House will host showings of two other Maine-made films during MIFF's opening weekend. Saturday at 3:30 will see the world première of Henry David Thoreau: Surveyor of the Soul by Portland-based documentary filmmaker Huey Coleman. Huey, who prefers to use his first name only, is best known for his previous documentaries Wilderness & Spirit: A Mountain Called Katahdin (2002) and In Good Time: The Piano Jazz of Marian McPartland (2011).

Dana Andrews, Anne Revere, Dean Stockwell, and Jean Peters in Deep Waters

His current film's subject is best known for Walden, the book of essays he wrote about his two years living in a rustic cabin on the shore of Walden Pond in Concord, Massachusetts. Thoreau later became a land surveyor and made several trips to northern Maine in the 1840s and 1850s — journeys which Huey retraces. The film will be shown again on Tuesday, also at 3:30.

At 12:30 on Sunday, one can see a rare print of Deep Waters (1948). Adapted from a novel by Mainer Ruth Moore and partially shot in Maine, the film's main characters are a lobsterman with a enduring love of the sea, a fiancée so afraid that something terrible will happen to him on the ocean that she breaks off the engagement, and an orphaned 12-year-old boy, whom the lobsterman befriends.

At 6:30 that evening, MIFF will present the silent film Sunrise (1927), with the world première of a score composed by Downeast Maine trumpeter Mark Tipton and performed by his quartet, Les Sorciers Perdus ("The Lost Wizards"). According to Tipton's website, Les Sorciers Perdus "is a pan-genre contemporary chamber ensemble that blends jazz, classical, world folk, rock, popular, [and] experimental . . . music, and which specializes in the live performance of Mark's new silent film scores," of which he has composed fourteen so far, including that for Sunrise.

George O'Brien and Margaret Livingston in Sunrise

One of the last silent pictures, Sunrise tells of a simple farmer who becomes enamored of a city sophisticate and plots to kill his wife. According to the Sundance Institute, "Moving from grim tragedy to delirious farce, Sunrise presents a fable of love and lust, light and dark, town and city that remains thematically contemporary. . . . Its camera movements are masterfully, breathtakingly choreographed."

The man responsible for that breathtaking camerawork was Karl Struss (1886-1981), whose work on the film earned him the first-ever Oscar for cinematography. (A cinematographer choreographs the lighting and cameras to give the film the "look" the director wants.) Struss was student of still photographer Clarence H. White, who founded an artists colony on the Georgetown peninsula, which projects into the Gulf of Maine. That colony, Seguinland, flourished from 1900 till 1940 and was home to, among others, Struss and Marsden Hartley, whose paintings are currently on exhibit at the Colby College Museum of Art.

Roger Deakins on the set of Prisoners

In Struss's honor, MIFF has created the Karl Struss Legacy Award for Distinguished Achievement in Cinematography. According to festival programmer Ken Eisen, "MIFF decided to initiate this award because the look of films is something that, ironically, often gets overlooked; we'd like to recognize the work of great cinematographers whose work is certainly noticed by everyone who watches a movie, yet who remain popularly anonymous. Who better to start with than Roger Deakins? Deakins, despite his 13 Oscar nominations, has been overlooked for getting a statue. This is our attempt to rectify that."

Over the past four decades, Deakins, 68, has been cinematographer for some 64 documentaries and feature films and also a few shorts and TV miniseries early in his career. His credits include A Beautiful Mind (2001), O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000), The Big Lebowski (1998), Fargo (1996), and 1984 (1984).

On Monday, he will receive his award at a screening of Prisoners (2013), the crime thriller for which he received one of his thirteen Academy Award nominations. Three of the other films for which he was nominated will also be shown during the festival. They are The Shawshank Redemption (1994), a film based on a Stephen King novella (another Maine connection!); Skyfall (2012), the James Bond flick starring Daniel Craig; and No Country for Old Men (2007), the Coen brothers' adaptation of a Cormac McCarthy novel.

Jonathan Demme

To mark its twentieth anniversary, MIFF has invited some of its favorite filmmakers, all past guests of the festival, to return, each to present one of his or her favorite films, although not necessarily one that he or she helped to make. One of these films, The Whales of August (1987), will be of special interest to local audiences.

Presented by Mike Kaplan, a producer who worked with another festival favorite, the late director Robert Altman, The Whales of August was shot on the coast of Maine and starred four screen legends, Lillian Gish, Bette Davis, Vincent Price, and Ann Sothern. It will be projected Tuesday at 3:30 in Railroad Square's Cinema 1 and will be accompanied by The Raw Whales Interviews, a new documentary compiled from the only interviews of the cast filmed while the movie was being made.

Sadly, one of the festival's favorite filmmakers, Jonathan Demme, could not return. Demme, 73, died of esophageal cancer on April 26. Best known for The Silence of the Lambs (1991), for which he won a Best Directing Oscar, Demme directed some 62 films and television series in his four-decade career. MIFF honored him with its Mid-Life Achievement Award in 2002 and had invited him to return this year.


Instead, MIFF is dedicating this year's festival to him and will present three of his classics: Something Wild, his 1986 comedy thriller starring Jeff Daniels and Melanie Griffith; Stop Making Sense, his 1984 documentary about rock band The Talking Heads; and Cousin Bobby, his 1992 portrait of his cousin, Robert W. Castle, an actor and Episcopalian minister who preached in Harlem.

On Wednesday, MIFF will present its Centerpiece Film Bambi. While neither made nor explicitly set in Maine — the film does not specify the location of Bambi's forest — Disney's 75-year-old, animated classic does have some surprising Maine connections: Damariscotta photographer Maurice Day took many pictures of Mt. Katahdin and the North Woods to guide the animators; two live fawns were sent from Maine to California to serve as models; and the film's songwriter, Frank Churchill, was born in Rumford.

Lauren Hutton and Richard Gere in American Gigolo

Finally, on Thursday, MIFF will present its Mid-Life Achievement Award to actress and model Lauren Hutton. Each year, MIFF presents a handmade, customized, papier maché moose trophy to an actor, director, screenwriter, film editor, or other movie professional, usually to one who is in the prime of his or her career. Past honorees include Robert Benton, Michael Murphy, Glenn Close, Keith Carradine, Malcolm McDowell, John Turturro, Ed Harris, Peter Fonda, Jonathan Demme, Sissy Spacek, and Terrence Malick.

Lauren Hutton

The award presentation will follow a 6:30 screening of American Gigolo (1980), in which Hutton plays a politician's wife and sole ally to a high-priced and high-living male prostitute (Richard Gere) wrongly accused of murder. Three other Hutton films will be screened earlier in the festival: Welcome to L.A. (1978), in which she portrays the photographer girlfriend of an older millionaire; The Gambler (1975), where Hutton plays the girlfriend of a college professor who is addicted to gambling; and A Wedding (1978 ), where she is one of 48 guests at a wedding and reception gone comically and horribly awry.

Admission to most screenings costs $10; the Opening Night Ceremony (The Sounding) costs $12; and the Mid-Life Achievement Award Presentation (American Gigolo), Karl Struss Legacy Award (Prisoners), and Centerpiece Gala (Bambi) are $14 each. (Kids 13 and younger can get into Bambi for $8.) You can buy advance tickets online at www.miff.org, in person at Railroad Square Cinema, or by phone at (866) 811-4111.