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MIFF makes movie magic once more

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Maine International Film Festival returns for 19th year

WATERVILLE One of the highlights of Maine's cinematic calendar is about to get underway in Waterville.

The Maine International Film Festival is set to take place from July 8 through July 17. The festival marking its 19th year will once again feature nearly 100 films. 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 another outstanding program assembled by folks like Shannon Haines and Ken Eisen, the Director and Programming Director of MIFF, respectively.

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 glorious 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.

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July 8

'The End of a Beautiful Epoch' 6 p.m. (Also screens on July 16 at 6 p.m.)

This film, adapted from the writings of the 'ideologically hostile' Russian writer Sergei Dovlatov by Stanislav Govorukhin (who also directed), is a painstaking recreation of the Russia of 1969. As such, this retrodrama is constructed to look like a film from the 1960s. It's the tale of a young journalist who moves to a new city for a new job, only to find himself wrapped up in a variety of love affairs and other relationships that bring forth his own deep-seated resistance to the system.

July 9

'My King (Mon Roi) 9:30 p.m. (Also screens on July 10 at 6:30 p.m.)

This film wound up with nine Cesar nominations the French equivalent of the Oscars. It's the fourth offering from actress/director Maiwenn; 'Mon Roi' is built around a tumultuous decade-long relationship between two people who may not be as well-matched as they believe themselves to be. It's a tale told in retrospect, exploring the nooks and crannies of a life lived together; explosions and tipping points, decisions good and not-so-good, betrayals and reconciliations it's all brought to vivid and raw life.

July 10

'God Knows Where I Am' 12:30 p.m.

This film is offered as part of the series featuring MIFF special guest Lori Singer. The documentary tells the story of Linda Bishop, a mentally ill woman whose body was found in an abandoned New Hampshire farmhouse. Next to the body was a journal in which Bishop documented her last months. Through the stories of Bishop's family and friends, a portrait is painted of a woman who was failed by the system. But it is Bishop's own words read by Singer that truly complete this sad tale, filmed on location at the actual site where these events took place.

July 11

'Miss Sharon Jones!' 6:00 p.m. (Also screens on July 12 at 9:15 p.m.)

Sharon Jones is known in some circles as 'the female James Brown,' a singer of great energy and greater talent who struggled to find success until a later-in-life connection with the Brooklyn-based band Dap Kings. Her throwback sound immediately captured the hearts, minds and ears of music fans the world over. But this film is about more than music; it also portrays Jones's year-long battle with cancer and the accompanying struggle to maintain not just her health, but her career as well.

July 12

'Chimes at Midnight (Falstaff)' 9:30 p.m. (Also screens on July 17 at 3:30 p.m.)

These previews were originally going to be limited to new films, but this 1966 Orson Welles masterpiece epitomizes what MIFF's Re-Discovery is all about. Considered by some to be Welles's finest Shakespearean adaptation (it was his final one at any rate), this film represents the culmination of some forty years of Falstaffian ambition for the filmmaker. This digital restoration helps bring new focus onto the brilliant performances (John Gielgud and Keith Baxter shine alongside Welles) and innovative filmmaking that went into making this underappreciated cinematic jewel.

July 13

'The Brand New Testament' 6:30 p.m. (Also screens on July 9 at 12:30 p.m.)

This Belgian offering was one of the nominees for Best Foreign Language Film at the Golden Globes this past year. It's a dark comedy with a very simple conceit: what if God existsand is kind of a jackass? He lives in Brussels and is generally not the most pleasant fellow to be around, a petty tyrant and all-around jerk. However, his young daughter Ea has had enough; she hacks into God's computer and tells everyone in the world the exact date of their death, leaving humanity to decide what to do with that information.

July 14

'The Great Game' 9:15 p.m. (Also screens on July 16 at 6:30 p.m.)

This French political thriller marks the feature debut of director Nicolas Pariser (who also wrote the screenplay). It's an ensemble-driven piece that tells the tale of a disillusioned novelist who finds himself recruited to ghostwrite a manifesto one intended to undermine and ultimately upend the political landscape, manipulating public opinion to serve shadowy and unclear ends. The complexity of the situation soon outpaces our hero's ability to track it with potentially dire consequences as a result.

July 15

'Everything in the Song is True' 3:30 p.m. (Also screens July 14 at 6:30 p.m.)

This film sounds like one of the more fascinating offerings at this year's festival. Director Doug Morrione spent two years in the American West documenting the lives of four iconic characters. You've got champion yodelers and trick ropers and ranchers who are sculptors and award-winning poets. These uniquely American lives are brought to life thanks to the commitment of Morrione; it's a chance to understand just how rich and layered the 'cowboy life' can be. (Note: The July 14 screening is the film's world premiere Morrione and Gary McMahan (the yodeler) will be introducing the film.)

July 16

Maine Shorts 1 3:30 p.m. (Also screens on July 11 at 3:15 p.m.); Maine Shorts 2 9:30 p.m. (Also screens on July 14 at 3:30 p.m.)

One of MIFF's annual highlights is the screening of Maine-made short films. This year sees 11 different films spread across the two sessions. These films cover a wide variety of stories and styles, but it is the Maine connection that serves as the tie that binds them. As always, it's a phenomenal opportunity to see some of the exceptional work being produced by Maine filmmakers.

July 17

'Five Nights in Maine' 12:30 p.m. (Also screens on July 16 at 6:30 p.m.)

For the festival's final night, why not check out a film not only set in Maine, but filmed here as well? Writer-director Maris Curran's debut feature offers a phenomenal cast, led by talents like David Oyelowo, Rosie Perez and Dianne Wiest. It's the story of a man who loses his wife to a car accident, only to discover that her final wish was to achieve some sort of reconciliation with her domineering mother. The two lost souls come together, only to find themselves in an unspoken competition regarding whose loss cuts the deepest.

Bear in mind that this is just a sample of all the wonderful films that MIFF gives us the opportunity to see. There are the new features, the shorts programs, the showings of films from the various award winners and special guests there's even a screening of a restored version of the Maine-set-and-shot classic 'Peyton Place.'

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Lifetime Achievement Award Robert Benton

On July 10, MIFF will be presenting a Lifetime Achievement Award to Oscar-winning director/screenwriter Robert Benton. The presentation will take place at the Waterville Opera House.

Benton is best known for films such as 'Kramer vs. Kramer,' for which he won both the Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay Oscars; 'Places in the Heart,' which garnered him a Best Original Screenplay Oscar; and offerings such as 'Bonnie and Clyde,' 'The Late Show' and 'Nobody's Fool,' all of which landed him Oscar nominations.

In addition to his personal plaudits, Benton has directed eight actors in performances that landed them their own Oscar nominations.

As part of the celebration, MIFF will be screening four of Benton's films 'Kramer vs. Kramer,' 'Bonnie and Clyde,' 'The Late Show' and 'Nobody's Fool.' The award will be presented at the screening of the latter film, a project on which Benton collaborated with Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist (and Camden resident) Richard Russo; Russo will be on hand to assist in the presentation of the award.

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Mid-Life Achievement Award Gabriel Byrne

One of the more delightful of MIFF's unique quirks is this tradition, the awarding of a Mid-Life Achievement Award, presented to someone whose film career is admirable, but far from complete. It's a delightful subversion of the usual awards trope, one that recognizes the great work done to date while still acknowledging that there's plenty more to come.

This year's honoree is actor Gabriel Byrne. The special ceremony will take place the evening of July 15 following a screening of 'The Usual Suspects' at the Waterville Opera House.

Byrne has appeared in over three dozen feature films and done acclaimed work on stage and on television as well he has been nominated for Emmys and Tonys and Grammys and he has won a Golden Globe for his role on the television drama 'In Treatment.' His body of work is as varied as it is distinguished.

As part of the Mid-Life Achievement celebration, MIFF will be showing four of Byrne's films over the course of the festival. The aforementioned 'The Usual Suspects' will be joined by 'Miller's Crossing,' 'Jindabyne' and 'Louder Than Bombs.'

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Long story short, it is a cinephile's dream and it is all ours.

(For more information about the Maine International Film Festival and its programming, visit the festival website at www.miff.org.)

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