by Gregor Smith
For ten days in mid-July, year-round residents and summer visitors alike will have a rare opportunity not only to watch nearly 100 independent films from Maine and beyond and but also to talk to the filmmakers afterward. The fourteenth annual Maine International Film Festival will take place from Friday, July 15 to Sunday, July 24 at Railroad Square Cinema and at Colby College.
For the first time in its history, the festival will not show any films at the historic Waterville Opera House. The century-old downtown theater is closed for long-needed renovations, but is expected to reopen next January. Instead, the festival will be using Given Auditorium in the Bixler Art and Music Building at Colby for the major festival screenings.
The festival opens on July 15, at 6:30, with a showing of The Athlete, a biography of Ethiopian runner Abebe Bikila. Running barefoot through streets of Rome in 1960, Bikila became the first African to win an Olympic gold medal and the first person in history to win the gold at the marathons in two consecutive Olympics. These victories are just the beginning of the life story of this previously unknown athlete, which takes him from the Equator to the Arctic Circle.
The next night will see the presentation of MIFF's Mid-Life Achievement Award. Each year, the festival chooses a Hollywood luminary to honor. Past Achievement Award winners include Sissy Spacek, Ed Harris, Jonathan Demme, and John Turturro. This year, the laurels go to Malcolm McDowell.
A prolific actor whose career began in the mid-1960's, McDowell has appeared in nearly 70 films and television series in the past decade alone, with ten more in various stages of completion. McDowell, whose has made a career of playing villains, may be best known for starring in Stanley Kubrick's controversial 1971 classic, A Clockwork Orange.
Following the 6:00 p.m. award presentation will be a showing of O Lucky Man! (1973), an autobiographical fantasy starring McDowell and based on one of his first jobs, as a coffee salesman. Besides O Lucky Man! and A Clockwork Orange, three other McDowell movies will be shown at the festival: Never Apologize (2007), Assassin of the Tsar (1991), and Tank Girl (1995). Based on a cult comic book, this last film is a funny, gory, scary, silly, grab-your-girlfriend-and-hold-her-tight kind of movie. It will be shown at the Skowhegan Drive-In on July 21 at 8:30 p.m., the only festival screening not taking place at Railroad Square or Colby.
MIFF always has a strong contingent of films shot in Maine, about Maine, or by Maine filmmakers. This year, Maine is represented by five documentaries, most prominent of which will be Huey's In Good Time: The Piano Jazz of Marian McPartland, which will have its world premiere at MIFF's Centerpiece Gala on Tuesday, July 19, at 6:30. An homage to the groundbreaking, 93-year-old, jazz pianist, composer, and host of a long-running and much beloved program on NPR, the film includes interviews with its subject and excerpts from her performances. Huey, who goes by just the one name, will introduce the screening and answer questions afterward.
Festival goers will have a chance to meet is Donn Fendler, who became and remains famous for having been lost in the woods near Mt. Katahdin for nine days in 1939. The film, Finding Donn Fendler: Lost on a Mountain in Maine 72 Years Later, is directed by Waterville native Ryan Cook and Derek Desmond, who, with Fendler, will be at both screenings, on July 16 at 12:30 and July 24 at 3:30, to introduce the film and take questions.
The other Maine-connected feature films are We Still Live Here (As Nutayunean), which chronicles the resurrection of the Wampanoag language (which is similar to Passamaquoddy) in southeastern Massachusetts; The American Folk Festival, which presents a behind-the-scenes look at a festival that has brought both American and international folk musicians to the Bangor waterfront for three days in August since 2005; and An Uncommon Curiosity: At Home and in Nature with Bernd Heinrich, which shares a year in the life of this insightful naturalist who lives in Maine and Vermont.
In recent years, MIFF has included several "re-discoveries," classic films that have been undeservedly neglected. This year, the festival will show new or restored prints of Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver (1976), Bernardo Bertolucci's The Conformist (1970), Sergei Eisenstein's Battleship Potempkin (1925), Delmer Daves's 3:10 to Yuma (1957), and R.W. Fassbinder's long-lost, science fiction epic, World on a Wire (1973). Film goers will also be able to see rare archival prints of Portland native John Ford's The Quiet Man (1952); Carmine Gallone's Madame Butterfly (1954); and two 1930's documentary shorts, A Bronx Morning and The City, the latter with a score by Aaron Copland.
For $200, you can buy a Full Festival Pass, which grants the bearer admission to all festival events. If you don't have as much time, money, or stamina, you may get a Partial Pass for $85. The Partial Pass is good for ten admissions, up to two per showing, to any festival screening, including special events. Individual screenings cost $9 per person, $12 for special events, e.g. the Opening and Closing Ceremonies, the Centerpiece Gala, and Mid-Life Achievement Award. Festival passes and individual tickets are available both online and at the door. The MIFF website also includes times and descriptions for all festival films.
Most of the films to be shown during the festival will not be "coming soon to a theater near you," or even return to Railroad Square later for a regular, week-long run. So if you love movies, come to the festival and take a chance on some wonderful films that are outside the Hollywood mainstream. You will be amazed at what you find.