July 10 – 16, 2020Vol. 22, No. 5

Seven Movies for Seven Nights

Khadim Diop stars as Diop in American Thief, which will have its world premiere on Saturday, July 11, as part of the 23rd Maine International Film Festival.

by Gregor Smith

The Maine International Film Festival is well underway, with three nights down and seven more to go. MIFF will present a different movie on each of the seven nights at the Skowhegan Drive-In on Route 201, just south of downtown. All screenings start at 8:45.

All seven films are premieres of some sort (World, U.S., North American, East Coast, etc.) and all but one are new, i.e. completed in 2019 or 2020. The film descriptions below were taken from the MIFF website and then edited and shortened. Admission to each film costs $10 per person. You can buy tickets at the box office at the drive-in, but it's better to purchase in advance at www.miff.org, where you can also get fuller descriptions for all of these films and see previews of some.

Friday, July 10 will see the Northeast premiere of Instinct, Holland's nominee for Best Foreign Language Film at this year's Oscars. In this tense, erotic thriller, experienced psychologist Nicoline (Carice van Houten, Game Of Thrones) starts a new job at a prison, where she meets serial sex offender Idris (Marwan Kenzari, Aladdin), who, after five years of treatment, is up for probation. His therapists are enthusiastic about his progress, but Nicoline does not trust him. As Idris tries to persuade Nicoline that he really has changed, a sexually charged dynamic develops between the two.

Marwan Kenzari and Carice van Houten in Instinct

On Saturday, MIFF's Centerpiece Film will be the world premiere of American Thief, in which Toncruz (Xisko Maximo Monroe) and Diop (Khadim Diop) are teenage hackers. Diop wants to make society aware of overreaching government surveillance programs, while Toncruz wants to avenge his father's murder. As Toncruz connects to Internet criminals on the Deep Web, Paul Hunter (Ben Becher), a disgruntled and possibly askew video blogger, rants about political conspiracies. Both Paul and Toncruz are contacted by a mysterious, unnamed person who claims to have what they all need to expose the truth. With the 2016 presidential election as its backdrop, American Thief reaches a stunning climax on election evening.

The next night will bring the North American premiere of Queen Lear. Sixteen years ago, a handful of peasant women from the mountains of southern Turkey formed a theater group. They acted out their own life stories, transforming their lives in the process. In this funny and sweet, modest and profound documentary, a female-led crew follows the actors as they travel to remote, mountain villages to perform an adaptation of Shakespeare's King Lear, which delicately becomes Queen Lear in their hands.

On Monday, you can watch the North American premiere of White Riot. In a country deeply divided about immigration, where racism is rampant, a generation rebels to change the world for the better. This film could be about the U.S. today, but director Rubika Shah's inspirational and incendiary documentary actually details events that took place in the United Kingdom in 1976, when Rock Against Racism was founded in collaboration with musically and politically terrific punk bands including The Clash, Steel Pulse, and Tom Robinson to form the biggest — and certainly the most energetic and musically charged — civil rights movement in British history.

Richard Estes

Tuesday takes us to The 11th Green. After the death of his father from a heart attack, journalist Jeremy Rudd (Campbell Scott of Amazing Spider Man 2) is summoned to the exclusive California golf resort where his father lived. Though estranged from his father for two decades, he is now forced to learn about the man's secretive legacy in classified aerospace programs. While his romantic attraction to his father's former assistant Laurie (Agnes Bruckner of Murder By Numbers) challenges his judgment, he is further tested when his father's protégé Jacobsen (Currie Graham), a charming but shifty intelligence operative, offers him several astonishing reels of film purporting to document the U.S. Governments interactions with extraterrestrials five decades earlier.

On Wednesday, MIFF will premiere the digital restoration of Latcho Drom, the one "rediscovery," or classic film, in this year's festival. Theatrically released in 1993, Latcho Drom ("Safe Journey") is a documentary, but not in the conventional sense, as it contains little dialogue and no interviews. Rather, it is the story of the Roma, the people more commonly and pejoratively called "gypsies," told entirely through music and dance. With one spectacularly staged visual sequence and jaw-dropping performance after another, the film literally follows the trail of the Roma through India, Egypt, Turkey, Romania, Hungary, Slovakia, France, and Spain.

On Thursday, July 16, the festival concludes with the Northeastern premiere of The Last Shift, which is certainly an appropriate title for a closing night feature. In the film, white, Midwestern everyman Stanley (Richard Jenkins, nominated for Oscars for The Shape Of Water and The Visitor) is retiring after 38 reasonably proud years working in fast food. When asked to train his replacement Jevon (Shane Paul McGhie), an aspiring black journalist on probation, Stanley discovers uncomfortable truths about himself and the society in which he lives. Warm and unflashy, The Last Shift is a smart, quiet film that refuses pat answers and deeply engages the viewer.

Besides the films shown at the drive-in, MIFF will also present two other features, both documentaries, exclusively online. They are Actually, Iconic: Richard Estes, which profiles the seminal "photorealist" painter and Portland resident of that name, and Represent, which follows three Midwestern women of different ages, races, income levels, and political affiliations who each try to break into politics by running for office in her hometown. You can watch both films, along with the eight Maine Shorts and ten Shorts from Away, at any time during the festival at www.miff.org. The two compilations of shorts, which come to nearly 70 minutes and just over two hours, respectively, were described in articles in previous issues of Summertime, linked above.