July 3 – 9, 2020Vol. 22, No. 4

Driving into MIFF 2020

by Gregor Smith

Heroic Losers is the opening night feature at the 23rd annual Maine International Film Festival.

Although many traditional summer events have been canceled, postponed, or moved online, one key event is going forward, although in a slimmed-down form and at a different venue. The Maine International Film Festival is moving to the Skowhegan Drive-In, which is located on Route 201 just south of downtown. The festival will run from Tuesday, July 7 until Thursday, July 16. (Note that the festival is starting and ending three days earlier than usual. It normally starts on the second Friday in July.)

In recent years, the drive-in, which opened in the 1950s, has operated on weekends in the summer, showing mainstream Hollywood fare. It is one of only seven drive-in theaters currently operating in the state of Maine. While MIFF has special showings at the Skowhegan Drive-in in the past, this year will be the first time that the entire festival will take place there and also the first time that neither of MIFF's traditional venues, the Waterville Opera House or Railroad Square Cinema, will be used.

Over ten nights, the festival will screen nine feature films and one collection of shorts. This year, the festival will make its first foray into online programming, with two more feature films and another collection of shorts presented solely through its website.

"We usually present about 60 features each year at MIFF," stated Programming Director Ken Eisen in a press release sent earlier this spring. "This year, with our slimmer program, I am thrilled to be able to share some of the absolute best of the best that we usually show: 10 carloads of films that our audiences can truly discover — almost all are major premieres — for themselves."

The festival opens with the Northeast U.S. première of the 2019 Argentinian comedy, Heroic Losers. The MIFF website describes the film: "There's not much money in the present and not much hope on the horizon for a motley crew living in rural Argentina in 2001…until retired soccer player Fermin…comes up with a plan to pool everyone's scant resources…. Things look good until a lying bank manager convinces them to put all their hard-earned money into a savings account he knows is about to go bust, leaving their money in the bank's hands. But…Fermin and company plan a cleverer heist of their own to get back what's theirs. Can it work?"

The next night, Wednesday, July 8, MIFF will present a program of Maine Shorts. Each year, MIFF compiles a new batch of recent short films, all of which are directed by Mainers, shot in Maine, or both. Collectively, this year's two documentaries and eight fictional films add up to just under 70 minutes. One of the documentaries, "Meridians," will be of special interest, as it deals with restaurant and gourmet food shop of the same name in Fairfield. Each of the shorts was described in greater detail in an article that appeared in last week's print issue. You can read an updated version of that article here. (In case you can't come to the drive-in on Wednesday, you can also watch the Maine Shorts at www.miff.org at your leisure.)

On the third night, you can see A Bright Light: Karen and the Process about 1960s folksinger Karen Dalton. According to the MIFF website, "Worshipped by her peers but virtually unknown to the general public, Dalton blazed a trail from Colorado to the Greenwich Village folk scene of the '60s, where she played with the likes of Tim Hardin, Fred Neil and Bob Dylan, who said, '…Karen had a voice like Billie Holiday and played guitar like Jimmy Reed.' Her little-known story is a complex one, but her music sings out still."

This 52-minute documentary will be paired with the 29-minute, fictional Spanish short, "Primary Needs," in which Sol, an aspiring singer, loses her job in a bar after spurning her boss's advances. According to the MIFF site, "Penniless and feeling down and harassed, she meets a surprising stranger, a literally small man who has experienced more than his own share of injustice and indignity, though he holds himself with élan. Might there be some harmony here?"

Over the following seven nights, MIFF will present seven additional feature films. We'll describe each of them in next week's issue.

All screenings start at 8:45. Admission is $10 per person per screening. While you can buy tickets at the drive-in, MIFF organizers encourage you to get your tickets in advance at www.miff.org. You can buy tickets online for any given screening until four hours before it starts. For $95, you can buy a Full Festival Pass, which will admit you to all in-person screenings at the drive-in as well as all the online showings. Parking at the drive-in is first come, first serve, so come early to secure a prime spot. The lot holds 350 cars.

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