July 15 – 21, 2016Vol. 18, No. 6

Mad About Movies! There's Still Lots to See in MIFF's Closing Days

Ashley Bryan with two of his creations, made by hand from found objects.

by Gregor Smith

On Friday, July 19, the Maine International Film Festival will present its Mid-Life Achievement Award to Irish actor Gabriel Byrne, 66. Other highlights of the festival's final weekend include the Maine Student Film and Video Awards, screenings of four Maine-connected films (two of the world premieres introduced by the filmmakers, and the Closing Night Film, Little Men.

Each year, MIFF honors a mid-career actor, director, screenwriter, or other professional filmmaker. Some of the past honorees are Michael Murphy, Glenn Close, Keith Carradine, Malcolm McDowell, John Turturro , Ed Harris, Peter Fonda, Sissy Spacek, and Jonathan Demme.

This year's winner has acted in over ninety feature films and television series during his four-decade career, including the movies Excalibur (1981), Miller's Crossing (1990), The Usual Suspects (1995), and Stigmata (1999). In addition, he co-wrote The Last of the High Kings (1996) and produced seven films, most notably In the Name of the Father (1994), which was nominated for seven Oscars. He may be best known as Dr. Paul Weston from the HBO drama In Treatment, having won a Golden Globe Award in 2009 for that role. Earlier this year, he was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Leading Actor in the Broadway revival of Eugene O'Neill's Long Day's Journey Into Night.

Gabriel Byrne

Byrne will receive his custom-designed, handcrafted, papier-mâché moose trophy at the Waterville Opera House, following a 6:30 screening of The Usual Suspects. In this thriller, Byrne plays one of five career criminals rounded up for a crime none of them committed. In the holding cell, the five new allies plot a $3 million jewel theft, which brings them to the attention of an almost mythical uber-criminal who hires them to take on an even more dangerous job.

Three other Byrne films will also be shown during MIFF: Jindabyne (2006), Louder Than Bombs (2016), and Miller's Crossing (1990). These three screenings, on Thursday at 3:30, Thursday at 6:30, and Friday at 9:30, respectively, will take place at Railroad Square Cinema.

Saturday's events begin at 12:30 at the Opera House with the awards ceremony for the 39th Annual Maine Student Film and Video Festival. Organized by the Maine Film Center, which also organizes MIFF, the student competition accepts short films, not longer than 10 minutes, in three age divisions (Grades K-6, Grades 7-8, and Grades 9-12) and in three categories: fiction, documentary, and "creative." This last category includes music videos, art films, stop-motion animation, and experimental works. At each year's MIFF, the top submissions are shown, the winners announced, and the prizes awarded. This year's prizes include $500 cash awards, a one-year subscription to an online suite of video editing software, and full passes to next year's MIFF.

David Oyelowo and Dianne Wiest in Five Nights in Maine.

For those interested in short subjects by older Maine filmmakers, MIFF has two collections of Maine shorts being screened later in the day. Each 90-minute collection comprises five or six comedies, dramas, and documentaries, ranging from 3 to 30 minutes in length. Maine Shorts I will be shown at 3:30 at the Opera House and Maine Shorts II at 9:30 at Railroad Square Cinema.

The festival's final days will also offer a first (or second) look at four Maine-connected feature films. Three were set and shot in Maine, but the first is a Maine director's exploration of a different part of the United States. In Everything in the Song is True, we meet three men and one woman who personify the American West. Collectively, their skills include singing, writing poetry and songs, doing rope tricks, training horses, quilting, and sculpting in iron. The director, Winslow-raised Doug Morrione, and one of the film's subjects, cowboy singer Gary McMahan, will introduce these world premiere screenings, Thursday at 6:30 and Friday at 3:30, both at the Waterville Opera House.

The second film is another world premiere. Maine native Raymond Luc Levasseur made the FBI's Ten Most Wanted list in 1977 for taking part in bombings by the United Freedom Front. He was arrested in 1984, wrote an essay from prison describing his French-Canadian heritage and the roots of his rebellion, and was released in 2004. An American, Portrait of Raymond Luc Levasseur will be shown on Friday at 9:15 and Saturday at 6:15. Levasseur and the film's director Pierre Marier will introduce both screenings.

Michael Barbieri and Theo Taplitz in Little Men

The third film, I Know A Man . . . Ashley Bryan, is a portrait of a nonagenarian, African-American children's book author and puppet-maker who lives in a small community on a Maine coastal island. According to the MIFF website, Bryan "has been using art his entire life to celebrate joy, mediate the darkness of war and racism, explore the mysteries of faith, and create loving community." The screening is on Saturday at 3:30 at Railroad Square.

Finally, Five Nights in Maine is "a quiet film about volcanic emotions" set and shot on the Maine coast. In the story, young African-American (David Oyelowo of Selma and Nightingale) goes to meet his white mother-in-law (Dianne Wiest of Edward Scissorhands and Hannah and Her Sisters) after his wife dies in a car crash after visiting her mother after a long estrangement. The film screens Saturday at 6:30 at the Opera House and Sunday at 12:30 at Railroad Square.

While you're downtown, be sure to check out MIFFONEDGE. Held during the each of the past three MIFFs, this exhibit "features audio visual works that undermine common sense assumptions about the nature of film." The new edition features the work of Robert Breer (1926-2011), a painter and sculptor who experimented with animation, and includes complementary works by living artists. The exhibit runs from Saturday, July 9 to Saturday, July 16, from 2:00 to 9:00 p.m. each day, in Common Street Arts' new space in The Center, diagonally across Castonguay Square from its former location.

The festival ends with the 7:00 p.m. Sunday showing in the Opera House of Little Men, a coming-of-age drama that opens nationwide on August 5. The story begins when Jake moves into his late grandfather's house and meets Nate, the son of the of renter of the dress shop on the first floor. The two 13-year-old boys become friends as they discover shared interests navigate the challenges of adolescence and rent dispute between their parents.

For fuller descriptions of any of the films mentioned in this article, go to www.miff.org or pick up a copy of the festival's free, 68-page program guide at either venue. Admission to any of these screenings costs $10, except to The Usual Suspects ($14) and Little Men ($12). Admission to MIFFONEDGE and the Maine Student Film and Video Festival Awards Ceremony is free.

Kevin Pollak, Stephen Baldwin, Benicio Del Toro, Gabriel Byrne, and Kevin Spacey in The Usual Suspects. (Click the picture to enlarge it.)