July 13 – 19, 2012Vol. 14, No. 6

MIFF Brings the World To Waterville

Ivy Girdwood (left) and Karen Black star in VacationLand, the Maine-made film that opens this year's film festival.

by Gregor Smith

Cinephiles rejoice! Friday the 13th is your lucky day! That's when the fifteenth annual Maine International Film Festival begins.

Since 1998, the festival has been bringing films and filmmakers from around the world to Waterville for ten glorious days in July. Besides film screenings, MIFF typically includes Q&A sessions and receptions with the filmmakers, a concert or two, and other special events.

This year's MIFF features over 60 feature films and more than two dozen shorts. The feature films are a mixture of Hollywood classics and new films from Maine and the far reaches of the world, including eight world premieres. All screenings will take place at Railroad Square Cinema and the newly renovated and reopened, 810-seat Waterville Opera House.

One of the world premieres is the festival's opening film, VacationLand, which will be shown Friday, July 13, at 6:30 p.m. in the Opera House, with a repeat showing the next day at 3:30 at Railroad Square. As the film's title implies, it was made and is set in the Pine Tree State. MIFF's website describes the film thus: "Journeying to the mountains of western Maine for a high summer reunion that no one seems to know about, several members ó and one would-be member ó of a scattered family find beauty, truth and a buried treasure of no particular worth . . ."

Karen Black

The film stars Karen Black, who will be a special guest at this year's festival. Born in 1939, Black has appeared in more than 150 films in a career spanning more than a half century. She was nominated for an Oscar and won the Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress for Five Easy Pieces (1970) and was nominated for the Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Drama for The Day of the Locust (1975). Both of these films will be shown at MIFF, along with her Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean (1982) and Maria My Love (2011).

MIFF's second special guest will be film editor Thelma Schoonmaker, who is this year's Mid-Life Achievement Award winner. Each year, MIFF honors a veteran filmmaker. In choosing its honorees, MIFF considers not just those who appear in front of the camera, but also those who work behind the camera or off the set entirely. Past honorees include actors Malcolm McDowell (2011), John Turturro (2008), Ed Harris (2004), and Sissy Spacek (2001); directors Arthur Penn (2010), Jonathan Demme (2002), and Terrence Malick (2000); and screenwriter Jay Cocks (2010); but Schoonmaker is the first film editor to receive this award.

Thelma Schoonmaker

A film editor is a vital, but unheralded member of any filmmaking team. Wikipedia describes film editing as the "art, technique, and practice of assembling shots into a coherent whole . . . [but] the job of an editor isn't simply to mechanically put pieces of a film together, cut off film slates, or edit dialogue scenes. A film editor must creatively work with the layers of images, story, dialogue, music, pacing, as well as the actors' performances to effectively 're-imagine' and even rewrite the film to craft a cohesive whole."

For her efforts, Thelma Schoonmaker has been nominated for seven Oscars for film editing and has won thrice. All but one of her Oscar nominations were for films directed by Martin Scorsese; she has edited every Scorsese film since Raging Bull in 1980. She will receive the MIFF award on Tuesday, July 17, after a 6:30 showing of Scorsese's gangster drama Goodfellas (1990). On Wednesday, at 3:30, filmgoers will be able to see another Schoonmaker/Scorsese film, Kundun, a 1997 biographical epic on the Dalai Lama.

Besides the new films and those associated with its special guests, MIFF likes to include several overlooked classics in its lineup. Thanks to support from the Film Foundation, a nonprofit organization founded by Martin Scorsese to fund the restoration of old movies, this year's selection of "rediscoveries" will be better than ever. Offerings include The Big Sky, a 1952 Howard Hawks western; The Chase, a 1946 film noir based on a Cornell Woolrich pulp novel; The Breaking Point, a 1950 adaptation of Ernest Hemingway's To Have and Have Not; and Punishment Park, a 1971 documentary-style feature in which the federal government can confine hippies, Vietnam War draft dodgers, and anyone else it deems "a risk to internal security" to a southwestern desert, where they are hunted down by soldiers and police as a training exercise. The Film Foundation supplied prints for all but the last of these films.

The Oranges, a just-released "gentle satire and muted celebration of the American family" starring (left to right) Allison Janney, Oliver Platt, Leighton Meester, Hugh Laurie, Catherine Keener, Alia Shawkat, and Adam Brody will be MIFF's Centerpiece Film. It screens Wednesday, July 18, at 6:30 p.m. at the Waterville Opera House and Sunday, July 22, at 3:15 at Railroad Square. Click to enlarge the photo.

With so many movies packed into a mere ten days, it's probably not possible for even the most ardent film buff to see them all, but anyone who wants to try can buy a nontransferable pass for $200 that will admit him (or her) to all public festival events. If one has less time, money, or stamina, one can get a punchcard for $85 that is good for ten admissions, up to two per screening, to any festival event, including the Opening and Closing Ceremonies, the Centerpiece Gala, and Mid-Life Achievement Award Presentation. Most individual screenings cost $9 per person; admission to the special events listed in the previous sentence costs $3 more.

One can buy full and partial festival passes and individual tickets either online or at the door. The website also includes dates, times, locations, and descriptions for all festival screenings.