July 14 – 20, 2023Vol. 25, No. 5

A Second Helping at the Maine International Film Festival

A clip from Polly of the Circus (1917), as seen in >Dawson City: Frozen Time.

by Gregor Smith

Although the 26th annual Maine International Film Festival is winding down, there is still much to experience. The festival’s closing days will bring the visit of MIFF’s second special guest and a second chance to see all the Maine features and shorts. Other highlights of the second weekend include the Maine Student Film and Video Festival, a Maine filmmakers forum, and the Closing Celebration.

This year, the festival has two special guests, Hungarian director Ildikó Enyedi, who received MIFF’s Mid-Life Achievement Award last Sunday, and American documentarian Bill Morrison. Over the past two decades, Morrison has produced six feature films and dozens of shorts. According to Morrison’s website, “[h]is films typically source rare archival footage in which long-forgotten, and sometimes deteriorated, imagery is reframed as part of a collective mythology.” The festival will present his two most recent features.

In 2014, Smithsonian Magazine gave Morrison an American Ingenuity Award for Historical Scholarship for The Great Flood (2013). That film chronicles the Mississippi River flood of the Spring of 1927. The MIFF website calls that flood, which consumed 27,000 square miles, “the most destructive river flood in American history” — a description to which one might add, “so far.” As climate change makes massive floods more likely in the future, the film becomes a prescient warning. That film screening was scheduled for Thursday, July 13, at 6:00 p.m. in the Schupf Center’s Cinema 1.

Bill Morrison (Photo by Wolfgang Wesener)

A day later, at the same time and place, one can watch the second film, Dawson City: Frozen Time (2016). In 1910s and 1920s, Dawson City was the end of the line for movie distribution. Many silent reels that made it to this Yukon outpost never left. During a 1978 construction project, some 533 of them were literally unearthed from the permafrost. According to the MIFF site, “Morrison deftly combines excerpts from this remarkable collection with historical footage, photographs, and original interviews, to explore the complicated history of Dawson City, a Canadian Gold Rush town founded across the river from a First Nation hunting camp, and then traces how the development of that town both reflected and influenced the evolution of modern Cinema.” A reception will be held at OPA at 139 Main Street after this screening.

Saturday opens with the 44th Maine Student Film & Video Festival at noon in Cinema 1. The festival was open to submissions from Maine students, up to age 19, of short films, up to 10 minutes long. Films were judged by a panel of educators, media arts professionals, and festival alumni in three age groups (Grades K-6, Grades 7-8, and Grades 9-12) and in three categories (Narrative, Documentary, and Creative.) At this free screening, the winning films will be shown and the awards will be presented. The maker of the best film will receive a $500 prize.

That same afternoon and evening, one can watch (or re-watch) the Maine features and shorts shown at this year’s festival. Six of the seven features and all three of the shorts compilations (Maine Documentary, Maine Narrative, and Mostly Maine Horrors) will have their second and final screenings on Saturday, July 15. Check the MIFF website or program book for titles, times, and locations. (The seventh Maine feature, the Opening Night Film Hangdog, will have its second screening on Sunday at 3:40 p.m. in Cinema 2.)

Some of these screenings overlap, so plan ahead. Otherwise, you’ll have to decide at the last minute which ones not to see. Moreover, several of these screenings have already sold out, but do not despair. In festival parlance, “sold out” means that advance ticket sales have been halted, as 80% of the seats have been sold. The remaining seats are reserved for pass holders who arrive more than 15 minutes before the screening. Any unclaimed seats will then be sold to last-minute ticket buyers.

From 4:00 to 6:00 p.m. Saturday, MIFF will hold a panel discussion on making movies in Maine. Three Maine filmmmakers will discuss tax credits, fundraising, and the current and future state of the film industry in the Pine Tree State. The first hour of the event is for networking and refreshments; the panel discussion will start at 5:00. This event will take place in the Greene Block + Studios at 18 Main Street in Waterville. While admission is free, advance reservations are required. Go to the MIFF site for more information.

Isaiah Lehtinen as Lawrence in I Like Movies.

The main event on Sunday will be the closing festivities in the Waterville Opera House at 7:00. The featured film, I Like Movies, is the coming-of-age story of a socially awkward 17-year-old Canadian cinephine who works in a video rental store — the film is set in 2003, when such stores still existed — and for whom the movies he watches and those he creates in his mind are more real than the world around him.

At this screening, two sets of awards will be announced. Sponsored by the Unity Foundation and the Louis M. Rabinowitz Foundation, the Tourmaline Prizes are in their second year. Named after Maine’s state gem, they will be presented to the best Maine feature and best Maine short shown at this year’s festival. The winners, chosen by a jury comprising two filmmakers and a film scholar, will receive prizes of $5,000 and $2,500, respectively.

Festival organizers will also announce the Audience Favorite Awards. Upon leaving a screening of an eligible film, each attendee may rank the film on a scale of one to ten. Except for the Closing Night film, any new feature film shown at this year’s festival is eligible The three films with the highest average ranking win. The filmmakers receive neither a cash prize nor a trophy, but they do get bragging rights.

After the winners of the Tourmaline and Audience Favorite Awards are announced, we will add the list of winners to the online version article of this article. The festivities will conclude with a reception at Silver Street Tavern.

Except for the Maine Student Film and Video Festival, which is free, admission to any of the abovementioned screenings costs $14. If you have not bought a festival pass, we urge you to buy your ticket in advance, either online or at the festival box office on the first floor of the Schupf Center. If you do have a pass, please come at least 15 minutes early for your best chance of getting a seat.

Update: The Winners!

Tourmaline Awards

Audience Favorite Awards

Feature:We Are the Warriors3rd Place:Riceboy Sleeps
Short:“See You in April”2nd Place:Jules
 1st Place:What I Want You to Know

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