July 17 – 23, 2015Vol. 17, No. 7

A Cinematic Swan Song: The Final Days of the Maine International Film Festival

Donald Sutherland (left) and Elliot Gould star Hawkeye Pierce and Trapper John in MASH.

by Gregor Smith

Seven days down, three more to go. It's hard to believe that the eighteenth annual Maine International Film Festival is almost over, but there's still plenty to see during the festival's closing weekend, especially for aficionados of Maine-made and vintage films.

On Friday at 6:30 at the Opera House, Kathryn Altman will introduce a screening of MASH (1970), the Korean War satire directed by Robert Altman (1925 ó 2006) that spawned the long-running television series. The film stars Elliot Gould and Donald Sutherland and features this year's Mid-Life Achievement Award honoree Michael Murphy. The movie also has a local connection: it was adapted from a novel by H. Richard Hornberger (1924 ó 1997), a thoracic surgeon who practiced at Mid-Maine Medical Center (now part of MaineGeneral Health) and who wrote under the pseudonym Richard Hooker. Afterward the screening, Kathryn Altman will sign copies of Altman, an anthology of photographs of and essays about her late husband, along with archival documents from his files.

Also at 6:30 on Friday, but at Railroad Square, will be the U.S. premiere of the final Maine feature, The Strange Eyes of Dr. Myes. Mixing live action and animation, this psychedelic romp chronicles the attempts of the fictional female scientist to, in the words of the MIFF website, "create medical/scientific treatments and body augmentations that elevate an individual's consciousness by enhancing their senses to go beyond the normal human range of vision, hearing, smell and touch. . . . It is a classic gothic horror, mad scientist movie, but with elements of musical, animation and experimental cinema."

A scene from "Arabel," one of the Maine shorts.

The film features original music, and the director and lead actress, among others, will treat the audience to a concert after the showing. Those who decide to go to MASH instead can see Strange Eyes the Saturday night at 6:00, but without the post-screening performance.

On Saturday, the Maine theme continues with the Maine Student Film and Video Festival at 12:30 at the Opera House. Now in its 38th year, the festival accepts short films on any subject from Mainers 19 and younger. Submissions can be fiction or nonfiction, live-action or animated, but must not be longer than 10 minutes. At each year's MIFF, the top student films are screened; the winners are announced; and the prizes awarded. This years prizes include a $500 cash award, a one-year subscription to an online suite of video editing software, and full-festival passes to next year's MIFF.

Following the screening and award presentation, one can see a collection of six shorts by grown-up Mainers at Railroad Square. Ranging from 6 to 24 minutes ó 90 minutes total ó these films tell the stories of two burnt-out Olympians trying to find a new purpose for their lives, an artist who channels her grief at the death of her epileptic son to build stained glass pyramids in his memory, American POWs in World War II Germany who escape with inspiration from Greta Garbo, an elderly man whose dreams may portend tragedy, a fiddle duo that plays Franco-American contradance music, and the 1971 U.S. Alpine Championships at Sugarloaf Mountain, the only downhill skiing World Cup event ever to be held in Maine.

The Third Man is the final film of this year's festival.

Besides the Strange Eyes reprise, Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon offer a second chance to see one of the other Maine features and two newly restored classic films shown earlier in the festival. They are The Hungry Years (Sat., 9:15), a documentary about a struggling, young Portland rock musician; The Epic of Everest (Sun., 12:15), a video diary of a failed 1924 British attempt to conquer the world's highest peak; and Imitation of Life (Sun., 3:00), a 1959 melodrama about mothers and daughters and race relations. All three screenings are at Railroad Square Cinema.

The festival closes Sunday evening with a 7:00 screening at Opera House of a digitally restored 1949 noir classic, The Third Man, in which a pulp fiction writer (Joseph Cotten) arrives in post-War Vienna to take a job offered by an old school chum (Orson Welles) only to learn that his host has just been killed in a mysterious traffic accident. The novelist now turns sleuth to try to uncover what was behind this "accident."

Admission to any of the above-mentioned screenings is $9, except for The Third Man, which costs $3 more, and the Maine Student Film and Video Festival, which is free.