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Movies on the Midcoast with CIFF

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Camden International Film Festival marks eighth year

CAMDEN Documentary filmmakers are descending on midcoast Maine to take part in the latest incarnation of the Camden International Film Festival, taking place in and around Camden from Sept. 27 through Sept. 30.

CIFF is entering its eighth year and in that relatively short time has become one of the preeminent documentary film festivals both in the United States and in the world. The festival aims to provide a fully immersive theatergoing experience. Not only is the festival offering screenings of 70-plus films spread across four primary venues (the Opera House and Bayview Street Cinema in Camden, the Strand Theatre and Farnsworth Art Museum in Rockland), but they also offer a variety of Q&A sessions with filmmakers, as well as related events such as the Points North Forum and Panoptic.

Ben Fowlie is one of the co-founders of the Camden International Film Festival and has served as the festival's director since its inception eight years ago. He was also born and raised right there in Camden. Mr. Fowlie recently took time out of his busy schedule of 11th-hour preparations for this year's CIFF to speak with The Maine Edge.

'It's the eighth season of the festival,' Fowlie said. 'We started back in 2005 with absolutely no real experience. None of us had any connection with the film industry. It was just myself and a couple of friends, along with a supporting cast drawn from the people that I had grown up with. We were all looking for something to keep ourselves affiliated with the community.'

Of course, as with any event of this scope, the ride was slow to develop and not without bumps.

'It was a modest event that first year,' said Fowlie. 'And even then, we scaled back in year two. That first year, we had 35 films. In year two, we had 14. And I'm glad we did it [that way]. It let us program around what our budget allowed.

'We were asking ourselves questions like, How do we sustain a non-profit cultural organization like this one? How do we build it? How do we maintain it?''

Those were valid questions in the first few years of the festival. Fowlie and his team were working hard to bring together as many films as they could and create a worthwhile program. And as these things tend to do when fueled by passionate participants, the Camden International Film Festival began to grow.

'Around year five, things started really changing,' Fowlie said. '[CIFF] started receiving more recognition from the international community and the local connections began to blossom. That local support has been great and we've built up a wonderfully committed donor base. Then industry attendance began to increase, so we could then start pulling larger festival films.'

As the festival has grown and started drawing these larger films, the process of assembling the program has become more and more Herculean. Fowlie and his team have made their way through hundreds of selections in an effort to build the festival that they want.

'We've got 30 features in this year's festival,' he said. 'We've got 32 or 33 documentary shorts spread across four sessions. This year saw the largest number of submissions we've ever had; somewhere between 450 and 500 films were submitted. It's a large amount for such a small festival.

'We also have a two-day Made in Maine' program that will be showing at the Farnsworth Museum; they've been a co-sponsor since the very beginning.' Fowlie continued. 'Made in Maine' will offer four features and a shorts program. The quality of the work being submitted keeps getting better. We've always been committed to showcase the best in the world, yes, but also the best in Maine.'

Fowlie's passion for filmmaking particularly documentary filmmaking is palpable. It bubbles to the surface as he talks about the growth of CIFF.

'It's a testament to how popular the form has gotten,' he said. 'You get to see activism and experimentation, individual artists asking, What is a documentary?' It offers a multitude of opportunities.'

As you might have gathered, the vision of the cast of characters powering CIFF goes far beyond simply showing movies; Fowlie and his crew wanted the festival to be even more than that.

Thus was born the Points North Documentary Forum.

'This is the fourth year that we've done the Points North Forum,' said Fowlie. 'We made the decision that we wanted to do something more than just screen films. We thought we could offer a space to provide some media support and find an interesting way for [filmmakers] to raise funds and increase their visibility.

'[Points North] started in a very modest way. In the first year, it was a day-long thing. The second year, we increased it to a day and a half; that's also when we added the pitch session, an opportunity for filmmakers to make their seven-minute pitch to a panel of 10 or 12 industry professionals. Now in our fourth year, we've got two full days of programming with over 30 delegates from all over the film industry.'

(The Points North Documentary Forum takes place on Sept. 28 and 29. While there are no tickets available for individual sessions, admission is free to all festival passholders and the Pitch Session is open to the public.)

Fowlie went on to talk more about the opportunities presented by the Points North Pitch.

'It's not a new model, but we've given it a much more intimate setting,' he said. 'We can provide filmmakers with opportunities without making it such a hectic experience. The more informal environment allows both the attendees and the industry professionals to let their [respective] guards down; it makes for an experience less intense and chaotic than you'd find in New York or Los Angeles.

'Some might ask why we do this in such a small town, but a lot of the filmmakers and industry people look at [Camden] as one of the biggest perks. They're all excited about the chance to experience a small community. By including the community, we make the whole session a much more vibrant experience for all involved.'

There's no disputing that the Camden International Film Festival is a labor of love for all involved. For Ben Fowlie and the dozens upon dozens of others who donate freely of their money and/or their time, it's a chance to give back to the place where they grew up before scattering across the country.

'As always, it's a stellar team this year,' said Fowlie. 'People like [Points North Director] Sean Flynn and [Director of Operations] Alissa Morris have been wonderful in helping the organization transition.

'It's all falling into place.'

The Camden International Film Festival runs from Sept. 27 through Sept. 30. Festival and VIP passes can be purchased through the CIFF website at For $8.50, tickets to some individual screenings can be purchased if available. More information as well as a full schedule of events can also be found at the website.

A few recommendations from CIFF Director Ben Fowlie



This Swedish film follows a young man named Fernando whose struggles with substance abuse threaten the well-being of his whole family. The man's mother wants him to stay with his older brother Pablo, who has a plan to clean up Fernando. However, the strain of years of codependency may prove too much.

Ben Fowlie: 'The level of intimacy here is incredible. There is no fictional film that could tug at the heartstrings more.'



This Mexican offering documents a small community in Veracruz as it gears up for a religious festival. It captures a snapshot of the creeping conflict between the tradition of the old ways and the ever-encroaching trappings of the modern age. The film includes among many other things rare footage of the voladores ('flying dance') ritual of the Totonac people.

Ben Fowlie: 'The level of craftsmanship here is amazing to see.'

Ballroom Dancer'


From Denmark, 'Ballroom Dancer' offers the story of one Slavik Kryklyvyy, who in 2000 became the World Latin Dance Champion alongside his partner and lover Joanna Leunis. However, his career spent the next decade sputtering. A decade later, he returns to the floor with a new partner, seeking redemption. But behind the comeback, tragedy still lurks.

Ben Fowlie: 'This is a love story that you simply could not write.'

Waiting Room'


A behind-the-scenes look at Oakland's Highland Hospital, a safety-net hospital struggling to survive while weathering the worst of the economic downturn, 'Waiting Room' shows us the battles being won and lost every day in a hospital serving a quarter-million people of all colors and creeds and an ER that sees a crowd of 250 every day.

Ben Fowlie: 'Films like this show why it's important to utilize films to initiate conversation.'

Last modified on Wednesday, 26 September 2012 13:24


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