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by Esther J. Perne
When the famed and acclaimed of international films are celebrated in Waterville during the Maine International Film Festival, MIFF, each summer, a few gems of state and local subjects, significance and filmmaking are among them, accenting rich state lore such as coastal island life, a mountain town, lobstermen or the state's French heritage.
This year, one of those unique films is a tribute to exceptional native Mainer John Willey, poet, woodworker and boatbuilder documented by longtime summer resident, filmmaker Lauren Shaw.
Shaw has extensive credits and awards nationally and internationally for her filmmaking, but her connection to Maine and to the Maine International Film Festival centers on the documentary films Maine Women: Living on the Land, which premièred at MIFF in 2005, and A Drop in the Bucket, which premièred at MIFF in 2009. Her latest feature documentary, Angkor's Children, has screened in 16 festivals around the world and at many prestigious venues.
A longtime neighbor of John, who has rowed around every cove and peninsula of Great Pond with him, Lauren states, "I have known John Willey for the last twenty years or so. When my son was thirteen they built a wooden kayak together up the road at Eli's Hill, where John used to live. Since that time, John has become part of our family life in Belgrade Lakes. We have spent many summers paddling together in silence across our beloved Great Pond until after a while, John would sing in his baritone voice "Amazing Grace." We have explored ancient rocks, petrified wood, and loon harmonies. We have sat on our dock at sunset toasting the summer, friendships and life, always marveling at the sky."
Lauren describes, "John is an example of 'amazing grace.' He was born in Clinton, Maine, and schooled at Goodwill Hinckley where he has become the most devoted alumnus ever to graduate. His heart is filled with generosity, joy and love. He is one of the most wellread people I know and his curiosity continues to inspire me. His kindness is gentle and his laugh is unforgettable."
"How do you make a film about a man who does not think or speak in straight lines?" Lauren asks. "His storytelling is poetic, wandering and long. So when I set out to make a film about his life, his beloved wife Barbara warned me it would not go well."
Although Lauren has years of footage, which include interviews and sequences, she ultimately knew the only way to share John with an audience was through his poetry. "About John" is "a visual contemplation driven by the poetry of John Willey and the richness of his surrounding natural world."
In summary, Lauren states, "I am honored to pay tribute to this remarkable man and thrilled to share this film at the Maine International Film Festival, which has been part of our lives for the last twenty-two years."
About John will première at the Maine International Film Festival as part of Maine Shorts on the following dates:
John and Lauren will be at the July 15 and 17 showings and John will be at the Opera House on July 20.