July 11 – 17, 2014Vol. 16, No. 6

The Magic of Movies

Blackbird, the story of a young Scottish balladeer intent on keeping his hometown from dying out, is one of the new feature films to be presented at this year's festival.

by Gregor Smith

Come experience the magic of movies! The seventeenth annual Maine International Film Festival will bring cinematic offerings spanning the continents and the decades to the Waterville Opera House and Railroad Square Cinema. The festival runs from Friday, July 11 to Sunday, July 20.

The magic comes not from special effects ó few MIFF films have many of those ó but from the power of storytelling, from the ability of the director and actors to transport you to another land or another time, all without your leaving the comfort of a padded seat in an air-conditioned movie theater.

Sadly, it is not possible to describe more than a fraction of the festival's nearly 100 features and shorts here, so we'll just hit a few highlights from the first seven days. We encourage you to visit the MIFF website, or to pick up a copy of the festival broadsheet, available at Railroad Square, the Opera House, and many other places around Greater Waterville, so that you can learn about all the films and associated events and can then decide for yourself what to see and do.

The festival opens at 6:30 Friday at the Opera House with a screening of Boyhood from director Richard Linklater. Filmed over twelve years, Boyhood takes the audience along on Mason's (Ellar Coltrane's) journey to adulthood, as he and the other members of his film family (parents Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette and sister Lorelei Linklater) literally age before our eyes. According to the MIFF website, "Boyhood charts the rocky terrain of childhood like no other film has before. Snapshots of adolescence from road trips and family dinners, to birthdays and graduations and all the moments in between become transcendent, . . . Boyhood is both a nostalgic time capsule of the recent past and an ode to growing up and parenting."

Saturday, July 12, is Making it in Maine Day. The day opens at 10:00 a.m. with a brunch for filmmakers at the Hathaway Creative Center on Water Street and continues at 12:30 with a screening of A Chair Fit for an Angel at Railroad Square. This unusual documentary blends excerpts from a Finnish dance piece inspired by Shaker music and dance with footage from world's last active Shaker community, the Sabbathday Lake Shaker Village in New Gloucester.

In "Death, Taxes, and Apple Juice," one of the Maine Shorts, 10-year-old Claire wonders if life has passed her by and seeks comfort in a glass of "chardonnay" (actually apple juice) as 7-year-old Hannah helps her file her taxes.

At 2:30 in the Studio Theater (93 Main St., Waterville), Golden Pond playwright Ernest Thompson will lead a free workshop for actors, directors, writers, and others who interested in how films are made. The following afternoon, at 3:30 in the Opera House, he will introduce a screening of Heavenly Angle, his most recent exercise in community filmmaking. He is now looking for actors for his next film.

At 3:30 on Saturday, the Opera House will present a program of five short films by Maine filmmakers, and at 7:00, will screen an assemblage of archival silent films from the early 20th-Century showing everything from blueberry farming to ice harvesting, with live accompaniment by Jeff Beam, a Portland performer of atmospheric rock. The day concludes with Extending the Play, a documentary about Maine native and European professional basketball player, Bracey Ulin, at 9:15 at Railroad Square.

On Sunday, MIFF will bestow its Mid-Life Achievement Award upon actress Glenn Close at the Opera House. Each year, MIFF presents its moose trophy to filmmaker who has accomplished much, but still has more to offer. The past winners are actors Keith Carradine (2013), Malcolm McDowell (2011), John Turturro (2008), Bud Cort (2007), Lili Taylor (2005), Ed Harris (2004), Peter Fonda (2003), and Sissy Spacek (2001); directors Arthur Penn (2009), Walter Hill (2006), Jonathan Demme (2002), Terrence Malick (2000), and Jos Stelling (1999); film editor Thelma Schoonmaker (2012); and screenwriter Jay Cocks (2010).

Close's first feature film role was as Jenny Fields in The World According to Garp (1982), a performance that garnered critical raves and her first Oscar nomination. She received further nominations for The Big Chill (1983), The Natural (1984), Fatal Attraction (1987), Dangerous Liaisons (1988), and Albert Nobbs (2011). This last film, in which Close plays a woman posing as a man to get by in 19th-Century Ireland, will be shown at 6:30 Sunday, prior to the award presentation. Besides Albert Nobbs, three other Glenn close movies will be shown at this year's MIFF, all during the festival's first few days: Low Down (2014) on Saturday at 6:30 at Railroad Square, Dangerous Liaisons on Sunday at 3:30 at the cinema, and Cookie's Fortune (1999) on Monday at 3:30 at the Opera House.

On Monday, MIFF will present Part 3 of Freedom & Unity: The Vermont Movie, a six-part documentary by a collaborative of three dozen Vermont filmmakers to chronicle the history of their state. Parts 1 and 2 were shown at the 2012 and 2013 festivals. Now the remaining four parts are complete and will be projected on consecutive days at Railroad Square. The films are thematic, not chronological. Each stands on its own and can be understood and appreciated without having seen any of the others. All screenings start at 3:15, except for Part 4, which will be shown on Tuesday at 6:15.

Besides showing new films, each year's festival features newly restored versions of long-lost or unjustly overlooked classics. Chief among these is this year's Centerpiece Film, Too Much Johnson. Made in 1938, this 40-minute silent slapstick opus was Orson Welles's first professional film. (Most people think Citizen Kane was his first, but Kane came three years later.) Welles had meant to show Too Much Johnson in three parts, one part before each of the three acts of a stage production of a turn-of-the-century farce of the same name, but he never finished editing the footage; and until a copy was discovered last year in an Italian warehouse, the film was thought to have burned up in a fire at his villa in Spain.

Besides this early Welles work, other "rediscoveries" to be shown during the festival include The Conformist (Italy, 1970), Gun Crazy (U.S.A., 1950), A Hard Day's Night (U.K., 1964 ó Yes, it's the Beatles!), Her Sister's Secret (U.S.A., 1946), and Salvatore Giuliano (Italy, 1961). Check the MIFF website or the festival broadsheet for film descriptions and show times.

Finally, throughout its ten days, MIFF will present sixteen Masterpieces of Polish Cinema from a collection of 21 Polish films selected by acclaimed director Martin Scorsese (Goodfellas, The Wolf of Wall Street, Shutter Island). Made from 1957 to 1987, these digitally restored masterworks are the best of Polish cinema, but most are little known outside the former East Block nation. See the MIFF broadsheet or website for titles, times, and descriptions.

Mother Joan of the Angels is one of the Masterpieces of Polish Cinema to be shown during the festival.

Admission to most screenings costs $9; special events, including the opening ceremony and the Mid-Life Achievement Award, cost more. You can buy tickets for any screening in advance on the MIFF website or at Railroad Square Cinema. You can also buy a ticket at the door, but since festival screenings in the smaller cinemas at Railroad Square do occasionally sell out, it's best to buy in advance, if there's a movie you really want to see.

If you are planning to see a lot of movies, you can buy a Full Festival Pass for $200 or a Partial Pass for $85. A full pass will admit you to all festival screenings and events; a partial pass is good for ten admissions, up to two per event. You can buy passes online, at Railroad Square, or at the Waterville Opera House.

Whether you see one film or many, let the magic of movies bear you away. You'll be glad you did.

The Conformist is one of the "rediscoveries" to be shown at this year's MIFF.