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MIFF marks 22 years of movie magic

July 2, 2019
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WATERVILLE - One of the most beloved highlights of Maine's cinematic calendar is set to hit movie screens in Waterville soon.

The Maine International Film Festival is set to take place from July 12 through July 21. The festival - marking its 22nd year - will once again feature a vast array of films - nearly 100 in all. Comedies, dramas and documentaries, feature-length films and shorts, movies new and old from all over the world and from right in our backyards here in Maine.

It's a typically outstanding program for what promises to be another dynamite festival, courtesy of the efforts of executive director Mike Perreault, longtime programming director Ken Eisen and scores of others devoted to bringing the best and brightest to central Maine.

And it’s more than just screenings.

This year, MIFF bestows its coveted Lifetime Achievement Award upon noted indie filmmaker Hilary Brougher. The writer and director first hit the radar of cinephiles with 1996’s “The Sticky Fingers of Time.” Her 2006 film “Stephanie Daley” made quite a splash, winning awards at Sundance (for the screenplay) and the Milan International Film Festival (for direction) among others. The NYC-based artist is also on the MFA Film faculty at Columbia. MIFF will screen Brougher’s latest film “South Mountain” on July 14, followed by the award presentation.

There are other phenomenal goings-on as well. There’s the always-engaging MIFFONEDGE, for example, now in its seventh year. The interactive art exhibition will be headquartered at the historic Old Waterville Post Office building and will feature a half-dozen talented and innovative artists. The work presented will be challenging and unexpected, ranging from a five-screen synched video installation titled “(stillness)18” from Maine artist Susan Bickford to a live interactive performance piece from Narcissa Gold called “My Body is Your Body is Everybody is Nobody: Consent, Intent, & Boundaries.” Other participating artists include Caleb Baker, Audrey Harrer, Heather Lyon and Julie Poitras Santos.

But of course, the main attractions are the movies.

I spend a lot of time at the movies. And while I embrace the bombast and excess that has come to mark the cinematic summer, there's something wonderful about the idea that scores of great films - films of all shapes and sizes from filmmakers that span the globe - are all going to be assembled and played for Maine audiences over the course of 10 marvelous days.

Trying to describe the entire bill of fare at MIFF would be a fool's errand; there are simply too many excellent offerings to try and fit them all in. Instead, let's take a look at a handful of potentially interesting highlights. This list will be far from comprehensive, but it should provide an informative cross-sectional peek at the wide variety of films assembled by the festival's programming team.

(Of particular note: This list does not include “La Flor,” an Argentine film that is nearly 14 hours long and is being screened in parts over the course of the festival. It is a monumental feat of film making – the longest in Argentine history – and the fact that area audiences have the opportunity to see it (or at least part of it) is another example of just how spectacular it is to have a world-class event such as MIFF in our region.)

To that end, we'll be taking a look at an offering from every day of the festival. Please note that this list barely scratches the surface: you can get a look at the full schedule at the festival’s newly-renovated website at www.miff.org.

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July 12

Blow the Man Down – 6:30 p.m., Waterville Opera House

The 22nd Maine International Film Festival will open with this one, filmed largely on location right here in Maine. And not during the summer. No, co-writer/directors Bridget Savage Cole and Danielle Krudy were on location in the dead of winter. This was a vision of the coast that doesn’t make it into many tourism brochures.

Two sisters – Priscilla and Mary Beth – have come home for their mother’s funeral. Their mom suffered from a long illness; just one of many reasons why they could use a break from the stress. Unfortunately, fate has other plans. There’s another dead body, for instance. And then there’s the trio of Mom’s nosy friends – played by a fantastic threesome of Annette O’Toole, June Squibb and Marceline Hugot. There’s an overly friendly local cop. Oh, and the owner of the local in (or is it a brothel?), played by the always exquisite Margo Martindale.

We don’t often see films so fully and obviously filmed here in Maine. An example this strong makes an ideal choice to kick off the festival.

(“Blow the Man Down” will also have a screening on July 20 at 6:30 p.m. at the Waterville Opera House.)

July 13

Bongee Bear and the Kingdom of Rhythm – 12:30 p.m., Railroad Square Cinema #1

What’s that you say? A long-gestating animated project by a pair of brothers, one of whom works out of Winslow right here in Maine? Where can I sign up?

That’s the deal with “Bongee Bear and the Kingdom of Rhythm.” The film is written and directed by the Winslow-based Brian Zemrak and produced by his brother Derek (among others). For some 15 years, the brothers have been working to bring this whimsical family-friendly tale to the big screen, and now they have succeeded in doing just that. With a spectacular cast led by voice acting legend Rob Paulsen as the titular Bongee Bear and featuring Hollywood icons like Ruth Buzzi, June Lockhart and the late Dom DeLuise, this is a feature the likes of which we don’t often see at MIFF. It’s an animated musical romp, a movie that audiences of all ages will be able to embrace. If you’re looking for a festival offering that is fun for the whole family, then you’re in luck.

(“Bongee Bear and the Kingdom of Rhythm” will also have a screening on July 14 at 12:30 p.m. at the Waterville Opera House.)

July 14

South Mountain – 6:30 p.m., Waterville Opera House

This screening is the precursor to the presentation of the MIFF Lifetime Achievement Award to writer/director Hilary Brougher. The critically-acclaimed indie filmmaker will be on hand to accept the award following the screening.

This film is her latest, a look at what happens to relationships when the unexpected happens and how love can continue to blossom even amidst the debris of a life’s path gone awry. A two-decades marriage crumbles as a child born of an affair is revealed and a woman is left to decide what her future will hold. “South Mountain” has received a lot of positive attention, making a huge splash at this year’s SXSW. It’s the sort of intimately challenging work that the auteur has long made her stock in trade; a great lead-in to recognition of a great talent.

(It’s worth noting that two other Hilary Brougher films will be screening ai this year’s MIFF. Both “The Sticky Fingers of Time” and “Stephanie Daley” will show at various times over the course of the festival; check the website for times and locations.)

(“South Mountain” will also have a screening on July 19 at 3:15 p.m. at Railroad Square Cinema #2.)

July 15

American Factory – 3:30 p.m., Railroad Square Cinema #1

This film comes from longtime documentarians Julia Reichart and Steven Bognar, who have been bringing their special brand of political commitment to screens for some 40 years.

Their new one is “American Factory,” the story of a shuttered General Motors plant in Ohio being brought back to life by a Chinese billionaire mogul. The film aims to capture the clash between China’s high-tech ambition and America’s blue-collar work ethic, an East/West divide for the 21st century. By all accounts, it is a fascinating film – a look into where our society stands … and the directions in which it might move in the future.

This preview has focused largely on features, but film fans are going to want to take advantage of the documentary opportunities as well. “American Factory” promises to be one of the best of the bunch, but there are plenty more where this came from.

(“American Factory” will also have a screening on July 20 at 12:15 p.m. at Railroad Square Cinema #2.)

July 16

His Master’s Voice – 9:15 p.m., Railroad Square Cinema #2

There are those who even now will dismiss science fiction as mere genre fare, but this feature – adapted from a novel by sci-fi icon Stanislaw Lem and directed by noted Hungarian director Gyorgy Palfi – promises to challenge audiences with sophisticated ideas wrapped in standard trappings and tropes. Palfi is one of his country’s most renowned and respected filmmakers – two of his films have been Hungary’s submissions for the Best Foreign Film category at the Academy Awards – so his efforts in the sci-fi realm promise to be intensely interesting.

A young man’s search for his father leads him to discover a secret project by the US government, a project ostensibly aimed at developing a weapon, but in actuality seeking a way to answer a mysterious communique from the stars. The conspiracy spins ever deeper – especially when we learn that humanity’s answer to the so-called “voice of God” involves far more than simply sending signals into space. And in a parallel storyline set in the far future, the culmination of that answer is made abundantly clear.

(“His Master’s Voice” will also have a screening on July 14 at 6:00 p.m. at Railroad Square Cinema #3.)

 

July 17

Vita & Virginia – 6:30 p.m., Waterville Opera House

The literary love affair between Virginia Woolf and Vita Sackville-West is one of the most influential epistolary relationships of the 20th century. That relationship is brought to life in “Vita & Virginia,” directed by Chanya Button. The script is adapted from the very letters exchanged by Woolf and Sackville-West; Button and Eileen Atkins are the credited screenwriters.

In the 1920s, bohemian high society was at its peak in England. It’s against this backdrop that the notorious Vita Sackville-West (Gemma Arterton), a diplomat’s wife, brazenly scandalizes the aristocratic upper crust with her affairs with women. When she meets the brilliant Virginia Woolf (Elizabeth Debicki), their shared passions are ignited in ways that will change both of their lives (not to mention inspiring one of Woolf’s greatest – and hence the century’s greatest – works). This film is a stylish interpretation of a story that isn’t nearly as well-known as its scandalous reception at the time would have us believe.

(“Vita & Virginia” will also have a screening on July 14 at 3:30 p.m. at Railroad Square Cinema #1)

July 18

Around the Sun – 3:15 p.m., Railroad Square Cinema #2

This one looks like it could be a lot of fun. Described by screenwriter Jonathan Kiefer as a sort of mash-up of Richard Linklater’s “Before Sunrise” and an episode of Carl Sagan’s “Cosmos,” the film is directed by Oliver Krimpas; he also served as co-producer alongside Kiefer.

This indie romance revolves around a film location scout touring a French chateau and falling in love with the owner’s representative over the course of an afternoon. Oh, and at the center of their interaction is the story of a popular science book that had been written and set there many years before. Is what they have real or simply a symptom of being swept up the splendor of the magnificent setting?

These sorts of single-day love stories can be hit or miss, but with a charming looking cast and a beautiful setting, “Around the Sun” has the look of a lovely time at the cinema.

(“Around the Sun” will also have a screening on July 20 at 6:30 p.m. at Railroad Square Cinema #1)

July 19

Have You Seen My Movie? – 9:30 p.m., Railroad Square Cinema #1

This is one of the more oddly intriguing options on this year’s slate. “Have You Seen My Movie?” is constructed entirely out of found footage; the director/editor is Paul Anton Smith.

It’s a project intended to celebrate the cinematic experience. This is about the audience taking their seats and views from the projectionist booth. Through some 80 years of footage, pulled from over a thousand movies spanning all genres, Smith seeks to tell the story of what moviegoing really means – after all, in what other pastime do we spend hours with strangers in the dark?

It’s worth noting that “Have You Seen My Movie?” isn’t the only MIFF selection this year to use found footage to create a metacommentary on the meaning of film. “[Censored]” is a film experience constructed from scenes removed from movies by Australian government censors from 1958-71. Methodically similar yet thematically different – might make an interesting pairing, no?

(“Have You Seen My Movie?” will also have a screening on July 14 at noon at Railroad Square Cinema #3)

July 21

Luce – 7:00 p.m., Waterville Opera House

Closing out the 2019 Maine International Film Festival is “Luce,” perhaps the most star-studded offering in the entire lineup. Directed by Julius Onah – perhaps best known for “The Cloverfield Paradox” – from a script co-written by Onah and J.C. Lee, it’s the story of just how deeply our biases can sit – and how deeply we’re willing to bury our heads in the sand. Luce is a high school standout – great grades, star athlete, debate team captain – whose world is upended by a shocking discovery made by one of his teachers. But are we getting the whole story? His adoptive parents aren’t so sure.

Starring such luminaries as Octavia Spencer, Tim Roth and Naomi Watts – along with Kelvin Harrison Jr. in the titular role – it’s the story of how a sterling record can be completely undermined through a single act of malice (or is it a simple misunderstanding?) committed by those in charge.

It’s a challenging film that addresses many of the larger cultural issues that our society is confronting today in a way that is up-front and unapologetic. It may discomfit at times, but really – that’s the point.

 

Last modified on Wednesday, 03 July 2019 07:49

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