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MIFF brings movie magic back to Waterville

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WATERVILLE – Movie magic is returning to Waterville’s big screens this summer.

The Maine International Film Festival, one of the highlights of the region’s cultural calendar, is back in action once again. Running from July 9 through July 18, MIFF has once again assembled a top-notch slate of films. We’re talking dozens of movies running the gamut – comedies and dramas and documentaries, feature-length and short, international offerings and movies made right here in Maine – all collected and curated by the folks at the Maine Film Center. It’s a typically outstanding program for what promises to be another dynamite festival.

MIFF was one of the many cultural institutions forced to pivot last year due to the circumstances of the pandemic. One could argue they were among the nimblest in doing so, teaming up with the Skowhegan Drive-In to present a pared-down and safe version of the festival last summer.

That relationship is continuing this year, even though MIFF’s indoor venues – Railroad Square Cinema and the Waterville Opera House – are both open and available. It’s a wonderful expansion of the festival, both geographically and in terms of the way in which the films can be enjoyed.

It’s also worth noting that there is a virtual component to this year’s festival. Through the MIFF website – – viewers can access a number of offerings, including all four of the short film compilations. It’s a great opportunity for those unable to travel to the festival site to still engage with some of the wonderful films that are part of the slate.

Additionally, the festival is featuring an exhibit called The Kneeling Art Photography Project, an exhibition of photos of Mainers from many different backgrounds taking a knee in support of anti-racist actions in their respective communities. Those who attend will have the opportunity to have their own photos made as they themselves take a knee and become part of this statewide solidarity. Also, there will be a live music and projection event in Castonguay Square following the opening night film on July 9.

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.

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 website at

(All film descriptions come from the Maine International Film Festival website.)


July 9

Nine Days (6:30 p.m. – Waterville Opera House)

Chances are you haven’t seen a film like NINE DAYS because there really isn’t another. It’s a true original from first-time feature director Edson Oda. This is a deeply imaginative, heartfelt and contemplative story of unborn souls trying to make their way to earth as one man in a remote location determines which among them is most suitable for the miraculous journey into life. Is he God, or A god? It appears not. From the comfort of his living room, Will watches human life unfurl on a series of vintage TV sets, keeping an eye on random people across the globe as they go about their daily lives. But when one subject suddenly dies, leaving a vacancy for another life, Will sets out to interview and select the ideal replacement candidate over the course of nine days, issuing a series of challenges to determine their emotional and spiritual fitness. Only one soul can make the journey, with the rest facing oblivion after experiencing one final wish orchestrated by Will—a chosen moment of what life on earth might have been like had they made the cut. Oda conjures up a cinematic universe like no other—a vision of life before life that delves to the very heart of where we come from, where we are going, and what we must do to survive once we are born.

(Also screening: July 13, 7:30 p.m., Railroad Square Cinema #2)

July 10

Fighting Indians (7:00 p.m. – Waterville Opera House)

On May 16th, 2019, The State of Maine made history by passing of LD 944: An Act to Ban Native American Mascots in All Public Schools, the first legislation of its kind in the country. For Maine’s tribal nations, the landmark legislation was a victory in a decades-long struggle to educate the public on the harms of native mascotry. FIGHTING INDIANS chronicles the last and most contentious holdout in that struggle, the central Maine Skowhegan High School, known for decades as “The Home of the Indians.” This is the story of a small New England community forced to reckon with its identity, problematic history, and future relationship with its Indigenous neighbors. It is a story spanning many years, taking place in a divided town where the “mascot debate” exposes centuries-old abuses while still asking if reconciliation is possible.

(Also screening: July 11, 8:30 p.m., Skowhegan Drive-In)

July 11

Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain (7:00 p.m. – Waterville Opera House)

It’s a perfect match: Morgan Neville, who won an Oscar for his wonderful portrait of back-up rock singers, TWENTY FEET FROM STARDOM, meets Anthony Bourdain, the cultural-culinary-intellectual force who exploded onto the scene in 2000 and became a restaurant celebrity and TV star, found a truly entertaining place in the American cultural canon. Bourdain’s outsize personality, insatiable curiosity, and passion for food, travel, and culture tapped into a deeper humanity that resonated with viewers who felt that they knew him. ROADRUNNER is an amazingly energetic, fast-moving documentary, as fun and yet complex as the man himself, about his career as a chef, writer, and host, revered and renowned for his authentic, relaxed approach to food, culture, and travel. It’s not at all hard to imagine Neville copping another Oscar for this terrific documentary.

(This will be the only screening of this film at MIFF)

July 12

The Catch (8:30 p.m. – Skowhegan Drive-In)

When Matt Ya-Hsiung Balzer brought his “The Colonial” to MIFF as part of its “Peril” shorts program four years ago, it was clear that we were witnessing the cinematic birth of a really promising young talent. That promise is more than fulfilled with his Maine-set THE CATCH, which follows a woman who returns to her estranged family in coastal Maine and hijacks a drug shipment, putting her life and her family in danger. Blending thriller with family drama and incorporating a remarkable blend of acting talent including Katia Winter, Bill Sage, James McMenamin, Kyle Gallner, Emy Colligado and Jere Burns, THE CATCH is unforgettable.

(Also screening: July 13, 7:00 p.m., Railroad Square Cinema #1)

July 13

The Bride in the Box (3:00 p.m. – Railroad Square Cinema #1)

Entirely made-in-Maine by former Mainer Doug Bost, THE BRIDE IN THE BOX is Bost’s first feature—and it’s both an offbeat ghost story and an offbeat family story, navigating all terrain with equal finesse, and always skirting the pitfalls that befall films that make everything too direct and in-your-face. THE BRIDE IN THE BOX’s central character is Iris, the lively, imaginative young daughter of Don and Heather, who are returning to their favorite Downeast area (around Northwest Harbor) from the city to chill out, play, and be together. But Heather’s job demands delay her, so Don and Iris arrive before her, taking up residency in a new spot, a house with an old trunk at the end of the hall. “What’s in there?” Iris wonders—it’s locked, and can’t be opened. Don and Heather communicate with each other by cell with some increasing tension as Heather prepares to get back to her family, as Iris communicates with…what? And is it inside her head or inside the box? That’s one of the questions this tense yet playful Maine original, world premiering here, hinges on.

(Also screening: July 14, 8:30 p.m., Skowhegan Drive-In; July 15, 7:00 p.m., Railroad Square Cinema #1)

July 14

The Loneliness of the Bones (7:00 p.m. – Waterville Opera House)

In the early 1960s, Natalie arrives in Tierra del Fuego from the United States to start a family. There, she dedicates her life to exploring the islands, looking for plants for an herbarium, and finding the bones of whales and dolphins for a museum. She creates an endless collection. This is the life of a woman who had the audacity to venture into a place with no room for the weak 150 years ago. It’s a nearly forgotten story from another time and another astonishing part of the world that few ever see. THE LONELINESS OF THE BONES takes Argentine director Alfredo Lichter, who graced us at MIFF with his wonderful NATURAL HISTORY, to this unique and dreamlike landscape for a documentary that’s also a work of the imagination, because there’s no other way than Lichter’s truthful yet uniquely cinematic approach to fully appreciate Natalie’s life, work, and landscape.

(Also screening: July 16, 3:30 p.m., Railroad Square Cinema #2)

July 15

Ailey (7:00 p.m. – Waterville Opera House)

You could say that Alvin Ailey embodied a mass of contradictions. Proudly Black, he founded, in the ‘50s, a company trailblazingly based on African and African-American history and tradition in the eurocentric world of modern dance at the time. Gay, he remained closeted until after his death of AIDS in the late ‘80s. But in the end, there’s his stunning work and legacy, and a dance company that still flourishes with his name today. AILEY is a dynamic profile of the iconic dancer and choreographer. Framed around a remastered voiceover of Ailey himself recounting his own life story, the film takes us from his humble childhood in segregated Texas through his stints on Broadway and in Hollywood, before finding his niche as a choreographer and founding his eponymous dance troupe. Interwoven with awe-inspiring dance footage of Ailey and his company over the decades is the current company, rehearsing choreographer Rennie Harris’s hauntingly beautiful tribute piece to Ailey. Colleagues and fellow dance greats Judith Jamison, Bill T. Jones, Carmen de Lavallade also appear to help us realize the legacy and story of this pioneer who interpreted the Black American experience with grace, strength, and unparalleled beauty through a great art form.

(Also screening: July 11, 3:30 p.m., Railroad Square Cinema #2)

July 16

Beans (7:00 p.m. – Waterville Opera House)

Twelve-year-old Beans is on the edge: torn between innocent childhood and delinquent adolescence; and between Native and Settler culture—strongly French-Canadian, as she is just outside Montreal. She must grow up fast to become the tough Mohawk warrior she needs to be during the Indigenous uprising known as The Oka Crisis, which tore Quebec and Canada apart for 78 tense days in the summer of 1990, observing and then participating as her people defend the little they have. Director Tracey Deer’s first feature, like Beans, is smart, energetic, surprising, engaging, and important.

(Also screening: July 17, 3:00 p.m., Railroad Square Cinema #1)

July 17

Sapelo (7:00 p.m. – Railroad Square Cinema #1)

On the barrier island of Sapelo off the coast of Georgia, reachable only by boat, two brothers, JerMarkest and Johnathan, are growing up in the last remaining enclave of the Saltwater Geechee people. Their greatest joy is exploring the island like their adoptive mother, Cornelia Walker Bailey, did as a child. As SAPELO’s storyteller and elder matriarch, she works to preserve what remains of this unique community established by her ancestors. Reflecting on the complicated splendor of her youth, Cornelia strives to shepherd her young sons through theirs. At the dawn of adolescence, the brothers inherit her hope, but their bond is tested as they begin to face the wider world. Director Nick Brandestini, a veteran of several past MIFFs with his films CHILDREN OF THE ARCTIC and DARWIN, has etched a remarkable cinematic career, traveling the world in search of cultures and places that he evokes honestly yet poetically in his films. He has met an ideal subject in SAPELO.

(Also screening: July 12, 3:00 p.m., Railroad Square Cinema #1)

July 18

Cryptozoo (7:00 p.m. – Waterville Opera House)

It’s hard to talk about CRYPTOZOO without shaking your head and saying “What a trip!” This incredibly animated indie film appears to have taken some acid, and we get to go along for the ride. Set on another world (or is it some past or future version of ours?), CRYPTOZOO follows cryptozookeepers through a richly-drawn hallucinatory world as they struggle to capture a baku (a legendary dream-eating hybrid creature) and begin to wonder if they should display these rare beasts in the confines of a zoo, or if these mythical creatures should remain hidden and unknown for their ultimate safety. What a world, what a world!

(This will be the only screening of this film at MIFF)

Last modified on Saturday, 10 July 2021 09:40


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