July 12 – 18, 2013Vol. 15, No. 6

More Than Just Movies: the Maine International Film Festival Returns

Italian jazz saxophonist Enzo Avitabile stars in MIFF's Opening Night Film, the documuntary Enzo Avitabile Music Life.

by Gregor Smith

Do you love movies? Do you want to escape the heat and humidity of July? Then come to the sixteenth annual Maine International Film Festival and enjoy the finest films from around the world in air-conditioned comfort! The festival will be held in various venues in downtown Waterville and will run from Friday, July 12 to Sunday, July 21.

This year's festival offers nearly 100 films, ranging in length from three minutes to more than three hours, covering ninety years of filmmaking, and coming from countries as diverse as Russia, Rwanda, Uruguay, and of course, the United States. As always, the lineup includes a few U.S. and world premieres and screenings of works in progress. More than just movies, this year's festival also offers two concerts, an art exhibit, question-and-answer sessions with the filmmakers, and post-screening receptions.

As is MIFF's custom, the festival will feature several groups of related films. These film series include Demme Does Music, which comprises five documentaries about musicians by Oscar- and MIFF-award winner Jonathan Demme; Celebrating Altman, which honors the work of the late eponymous director; Re-discoveries, which will present eight long-neglected, but newly restored classics; and a tribute this year's winner of MIFF's Mid-Life Achievement Award, Keith Carradine.

The festival opens Friday at 7:00 p.m. at the Waterville Opera House with the screening of Demme's latest film, Enzo Avitabile Music Life, introduced by the director himself. According to MIFF's website, "Demme follows his musical passions to Naples, Italy to document an extraordinary gathering of world musicians, led by Enzo Avitabile, the Neapolitan multi-instrumentalist, singer and songwriter whose past collaborators include James Brown and Tina Turner. One of the world's great directors tells us not just about the thrilling music of a singular artist who fuses Neapoliltan, folk, world music and jazz, but also of a city, Naples, with all of its treasures and contradictions, . . ."

Four other Demme concert films will also be screened during the festival. They are Live from Wildwood Beach (about country singer Kenny Chesney), the Neil Young Trunk Show, Stop Making Sense (about New Wave, pop/rock group The Talking Heads), and Storefront Hitchcock (about British singer-songwriter Robyn Hitchcock). All will be shown on Friday and Saturday, July 12 and 13, at Railroad Square Cinema.

Keith Carradine in Nashville

Keith Carradine today

On Sunday and Monday, July 14 and 15, the festival turns to the work of Keith Carradine, winner of this year's Mid-Life Achievement Award. Each year, MIFF honors an actor, director, screenwriter, or film editor who has compiled an impressive résumé in cinema, but still has more to contribute. Past winners of the moose trophy include film editor Thelma Schoonmaker (2012); 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).

Carradine is most acclaimed for his work with director Robert Altman in McCabe and Mrs. Miller, Thieves Like Us, and Nashville, all of which will be shown at this year's festival. For his role as a self-absorbed womanizer rock star in 1975's Nashville, he won an Academy Award and Golden Globe and was nominated for a Grammy. Nashville will be shown on Monday at the Opera House after the 6:30 award presentation. Carradine was also nominated for a Primetime Emmy as a supporting actor in the 1983 CBS mini-series Chiefs and most recently for a Tony for starring in the new Broadway musical, Hands on a Hard Body. His latest film, Ain't Them Bodies Saints, an outlaw drama in which he plays a storekeeper, will also be shown at MIFF, along with The Moderns, Choose Me, and the Robert Altman films listed above.

Warren Beatty and Julie Christie as the title characters in McCabe and Mrs. Miller.

MIFF will also present several Altman films in which Carradine does not appear. Many cinephiles consider Altman, who died in 2006, America's greatest film director. To celebrate his life and work, MIFF will screen seven of his movies and bring some of those who knew him best — Michael Murphy, Allan Nicholls, Mike Kaplan, and Altman's widow Kathryn — to town to introduce and discuss the films. Besides the three Carradine pictures, MIFF will present Short Cuts, Luck, Trust & Ketchup: Robert Altman in Carver Country, Kansas City, and A Prairie Home Companion, his last work. As a capstone to this retrospective, Annie Ross, who starred in and sang in Short Cuts, will sing at the Waterville Opera House on Wednesday, July 17, at 8:00. Now 82, Ross was an early exponent of vocalese, a jazz style in which original lyrics are sung to an existing instrumental line.

Each year, besides presenting new films and those featuring its special guests, MIFF brings back several unfairly overlooked films from decades past. This year's crop of eight includes Safety Last, a 1923 silent comedy about a country boy who moves to the big city; Leave Her to Heaven, a 1945 Technicolor film noir starring Gene Tierney that was shot partly in Maine; and 1961's Richard III, a 161-minute adaptation of Shakespeare's play in which Sir Laurence Olivier both directs and stars.

Gene Tierney portrays a very smart, but mentally disturbed, young woman in Leave Her to Heaven.

With so many movies and so little time, not even the most devoted filmgoer could see them all, but if you want to try, you can buy a Full Festival Pass for $200. This nontransferable pass grants you admission to all festival screenings and special events. Since admission to individual screenings costs $9 — special events, such as the Opening and Closing Night ceremonies, the Midlife Achievement Award presentation, and the Annie Ross concert, cost more — buying the full pass makes sense, if you plan to watch more than 22 movies. If you have less time and money, you can get a Partial Pass for $85, which is good for admission to any ten festival screenings or special events.

Except for the post-screening receptions, which will be held in various eateries in downtown Waterville, all festival events take place at Railroad Square Cinema and the Waterville Opera House. You can find a complete schedule at www.miff.org, where you can also buy full and partial passes and tickets to individual screenings. If you do not have Internet access or have questions that are not answered online, you may call MIFF at 861-8138.