by Gregor Smith
Nearly 100 films and nearly 50 filmmakers! That's what the Maine International Film Festival promises movie goers for ten days each July. The eighteen annual MIFF runs from Friday, July 10 to Sunday, July 19, at the Waterville Opera House and Railroad Square Cinema in Waterville. The festival offers movie buffs a rare chance to see new movies before they are officially released, to rediscover forgotten classics, and to talk to filmmakers from around the world both at post-screening question-and-answer sessions at the theater and over appetizers and drinks at informal receptions at local restaurants.
This year's festival opens Friday at 6:30 in the Opera House. After welcoming remarks by festival organizers and various dignitaries, the festival will offer the Pine Tree State premiere of Tumbledown, a film written and directed by a Portland duo and set in Western Maine. The filmmakers' website describes Tumbledown as a "a comedic love story with a serious soul" about Hannah (Rebecca Hall), a young widow trying to put her life back together after the suicide of her singer-songwriter husband, and Andrew (Jason Sudeikis), a brash New Yorker who shows up to investigate the death, hoping to make it "the centerpiece of his book about artist suicides." During a winter month in her cabin at the base of Tumbledown Mountain, a 3068-foot peak north of Weld popular with hikers, they "clash, collaborate, and strike up a connection that begins to feel strangely like love."
While Tumbledown was actually shot in Massachusetts, due to better tax incentives, the festival's first week will present three other feature films that actually were made in Maine. The first of these is Astraea, with screenings at the Opera House on Sunday at 6:30 and Tuesday at 9:30 and at Railroad Square on Wednesday at 9:00.
Shot in the winter of 2013 in Fryeburg and nearby towns on the New Hampshire border, the film takes place after an epidemic nearly destroys humankind. A telepathic teen with visions of survivors in New Brunswick leads her skeptical brother on a 5,000 mile trek north across the wasteland that was the United States. When they meet a young couple living by a rural Maine lake, our heroine is torn between the joy and relief of finding other "normal" humans and her desire to keep moving toward what she believes will be her and her brother's salvation in Canada.
With showings on Monday, July 13, at 6:30 at the Opera House and Saturday, July 18, at 9:15 at Railroad Square, The Hungry Years chronicles two years in the life of Joel Carpenter, a talented, but homeless and mostly jobless, aspiring Portland rock musician in his early twenties. Carpenter strives to put and keep his band together, wile continually seeking shelter and food. This documentary will have its world premiere at the festival, and Joel Carpenter will play after at the Monday showing.
On Wednesday at 6:30 in the Opera House, MIFF will present its Centerpiece film. Shot on Monhegan Island and with the Maine State House standing in for the U.S. Capitol, The Congressman was written and directed by Robert Mrazek, a retired, five-term congressman from New York who now lives half the year on the island. A work in progress, the film stars Treat Williams (Hair, Prince of the City) as Maine Congressman Charlie Winship, who retreats to Monhegan after knocking out another House member, confronting his angry ex-wife, and being condemned in the media for not standing and reciting the Pledge of Allegiance.
Besides this Maine movies, the festival's first seven days will feature other special treats. First among these is a workshop with Golden Pond playwright and perennial MIFF guest Ernest Thompson at noon on Sunday at Railroad Square. With various musical collaborators, Thompson has written most of the songs for his recent stage plays and his two latest films, Time and Charges and Heavenly Angle, which were shown at MIFF 2013 and MIFF 2014, respectively. After premiering a three-minute video, "You Are Loved," which he shot last year in Bar Harbor, Thompson will lead a discussion on the use of music to heighten emotion in films, whether they last three minutes or two hours.
Immediately afterward, at 3:30, audiences at the cinema will get to see Altman, a new documentary about the iconic film director, introduced live by documentary's director, Ron Mann. Considered by many as the greatest American director of the past 50 years, the Robert Altman (1925Ė2006) was staunchly independent. According to the MIFF website, "refusing to bow down to Hollywood's conventions, or its executives, Altman's unique style of filmmaking won him friends and enemies, earned him world-wide praise and occasionally scathing criticism, and proved that it IS possible to make truly independent films ó and truly great American ones."
Altman is clearly a favorite of the festival's organizers, as they presented a six of his films (Kansas City, McCabe and Mrs. Miller, A Prairie Home Companion, Short Cuts, Nashville, and Thieves Like Us) two years ago, partially in conjunction with the Mid-Life Achievement Award to actor Keith Carradine, a frequent collaborator. This year, on Friday, July 17, the festival will screen his classic war satire MASH, with an introduction by the director's widow Kathryn.
Each festival also includes several "re-discoveries," overlooked classics that are worth a fresh look. The best known of this year's crop are the 1964 Sergio Leone Western A Fistful of Dollars, which made Clint Eastwood, "the man with no name," a star, and The Third Man, the atmospheric 1949 murder mystery murder mystery set in post-War Vienna, which will close the festival a week from Sunday.
The other re-discoveries are Forbidden Games (France, 1952), a WWII drama about two children who form an intense friendship that protects them from the insanity of the war around them; Imitation of Life, the 1959 melodrama about mothers and daughters and race relations in the U.S.; The Color of Pomegranates (Soviet Union, 1969), a biography of 18th-century, Armenian poet and musician Sayat Nova; The Epic of Everest, a 1924 silent documentary (with a new musical score) about an ill-fated British attempt to summit the world's highest mountain; and The Tales of Hoffman, a 1951 adaption of Jacques Offenbach's fantasy opera of the same name.
Tickets for the above-mentioned screenings cost $9, except for Tumbledown, The Congressman, Fall, and The Third Man, which cost $12. Admission to the Ernest Thompson workshop is free. Those planning to see multiple movies can buy an $85 Partial Pass, which is good for ten admissions (up to two per show, including the $12 events), or a nontransferable, $200 Full Festival Pass, which will admit the bearer to as many screenings as he or she can attend.