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by Gregor Smith
What do Footloose, Kramer vs. Kramer, Peyton Place, and Nobody's Fool have in common? All will be shown at the nineteenth annual Maine International Film Festival, which runs from Friday, July 8 to Sunday, July 17, at the Waterville Opera House and Railroad Square Cinema.
With its mix of Hollywood classics and new independent and foreign films, MIFF presents magnificent movies that may never make it to the cineplex at the mall, as they were created to tell a story or convey a message, rather than to maximize profits for their creators. In addition, with the filmmakers present at many screenings, audiences can learn about the art of filmmaking through informal question and answer sessions afterwards.
The festival opens Friday, July 8, at 6:30 at the Waterville Opera House with a screening of Seasons by French documentarians Jacques Perrin and Jacques Cluzaud. Known for their two previous nature documentaries, Winged Migration and Oceans, the team's new film focuses on the animals that occupied Europe's verdant forests following the end of the Ice Age 12,000 years ago, before the arrival of man. According to MIFF website, "Seasons, with its exceptional footage of animals in the wild, is the awe-inspiring and thought-provoking tale of the long and tumultuous shared history that inextricably binds humankind with the natural world, told with the most stunningly lush images you've ever seen. It's our world as we've never seen it, but always sensed it."
Afterwards will be the first of several free, post-screening receptions during the festival. Held in Castonguay Square and catered by Silver Street Tavern, the Opening Night Party will feature music by Bella's Bartok, a six-piece band that blends "Bohemian Klezmer Punk with pop sensibilities into an eminently danceable party," and a performance by VJ Suave, Brazilian duo Ygor Marotta and Ceci Soloaga, who ride custom-built tricycles with onboard projectors and speakers for sharing audiovisual vignettes.
The opening weekend will also bring the visit of the first of four special guests. Director and screenwriter Robert Benton will receive MIFF's Lifetime Achievement Award at the Waterville Opera House at 6:30 on Sunday, July 10. The presentation will take place at a showing of Benton's Oscar-nominated Nobody's Fool (1994), which he adapted from the novel by Richard Russo, a former professor of English at Colby College, and which starred the late Paul Newman and Jessica Tandy. During his five-decade career, Benton has won three Oscars, two of them for Kramer vs. Kramer (1979), which will be shown on Saturday, July 9. Two other Benton films, Bonnie and Clyde (1967) and The Late Show (1977), will be screened on Saturday and Sunday respectively.
MIFF's other three special guests are actress Erica Rivas, best known in the U.S. for Wild Tales (2014), that year's Argentinian nominee for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar; actress Lori Singer, best known for the movie Footloose (1984) and the television series Fame; and actor Grabriel Byrne, this year's MIFF Mid-Life Achievement Award honoree. MIFF's first seven days will have screenings of two Erica Rivas films, Wild Tales and Incident Light (2015); four Lori Singer films, including Footloose; and two Gabriel Byrne movies, Jindabyne (2006) and Louder Than Bombs (2016). Byrne will receive his award on Friday, July 15, at the Opera House; we'll say more about him in the next issue.
As Erika Rivas's presence will attest, MIFF brings not just foreign films, but also their filmmakers, to Waterville. This has been true since the first MIFF in 1998. Last year, MIFF expanded that commitment with its first World Filmmakers Forum, which brought four filmmakers from four continents to present and discuss their works and had two of them and two Maine filmmakers hold a panel discussion on the challenges of independent filmmaking around the world.
This year's Forum guests are Pia Marais of South Africa, who will introduce The Unpolished (2007) on July 9 and Layla Fourie (2013) on July 9 & 10; Fernando Epstein of Uruguay, who will present Neon Bull (2015) on July 10 & 11 and 25 Watts (2001) on July 12; and Alejandra Marquez Abella of Mexico, who will offer Semana Santa (2015), or "Holy Week," on July 14 & 15. Completing the Forum will be VJ Suave, who, besides pedaling the streets on their projector-equipped tricycles, will present their animated "Digital Folklore" project as part of MIFFONEDGE, an exhibit running July 9 — 16 at Common Street Arts that "features audio visual works that undermine common sense assumptions about the nature of film."
On Wednesday evening, July 13, the festival will present its Centerpiece Film, a gorgeously restored version of the 1957 potboiler Peyton Place. Shot on location in Camden and nearby towns, this adaption of a popular novel was nominated for nine Academy Awards. The story opens just before the outbreak of World War II, when an outsider (Lee Philips) takes over as principal of the high school in a conservative New England town. He becomes involved with an attractive but prudish storekeeper (Lana Turner) and learns that beneath the town's prim and proper exterior, many secrets are hidden, including rape, suicide, and murder.
Peyton Place will not be the festival's only vintage film. The festival always includes several "re-discoveries," i.e. classic films that have been undeservedly neglected but are now available in newly restored prints. Among this year's classics are the directors' cut of Blood Simple, the 1984 film-noir debut by brothers Joel and Ethan Coen; Chimes at Midnight, Orson Welles's 1965 take on Shakespeare's great comic character, Sir John Falstaff; and 1943's Heaven Can Wait, in which a newly dead aristocrat's life of "continuous misdemeanor" keeps him out of Heaven, but may not be enough to get him into Hell, which to him is the more desirable destination, as it appears to be a luxury hotel with Lucifer as the gracious host. (This last film has no connection to the better known 1978 comedy of the same name that starred Warren Beatty.)
With nearly seventy new and classic films being shown at this year's MIFF, it's not possible to describe them all here. To see the complete schedule of screenings and read brief descriptions of all the films being shown, pick up a copy of the MIFF broadsheet, which is available at many of the same places where one can find Summertime in the Belgrades. For fuller film descriptions and color photos, visit the MIFF website or get a free copy of the festival's 68-page program guide at either festival venue.
Admission to most screenings costs $10; the Opening Night Ceremony costs $12; and the Lifetime Achievement Award Presentation and Centerpiece Gala are $14 each. One can buy tickets in advance either online at www.miff.org or in person at Railroad Square Cinema. For $95, one can buy a Partial Pass, which is good for ten admissions, up to two per show, including to the aforementioned special events. Those planning to see more movies can buy a nontransferable, Full Pass for $200, which will admit the buyer to all festival events. As screenings can sell out, it's best to arrive at least 15 minutes early, especially when a screening is held in either of Railroad Square's smaller theaters.