Going into his fifth year organizing the Camden International Film Festival, Ben Fowlie has lost none of his enthusiasm for the genre he spotlights over four days each October: documentary films.
Growing up in Maine, he recalled leafing through magazines and watching nature programs, marveling at the stories told on the page and on the screen.
“As a kid, I wanted to work for National Geographic. I minored in journalism in college,” said Fowlie, now 28. “I liked things that dealt with reality, rather than creating a fictional reality. The world is interesting enough on its own.”
This year’s Camden International Film Festival kicks off on Thursday, Oct. 1, with a screening of the movie “Convention,” and wraps up Sunday, Oct. 4. It features more than 35 films of varying lengths by filmmakers from all over the world and from right here in Maine, and covering a vast array of subjects.
Fowlie studied filmmaking at Emerson College in Boston, graduating in 2003. Shortly after, he decided to eschew the movie industry rat race in Los Angeles in favor of the slower pace of his home state — a place he’d been itching to get back to since he left for school.
“I think most people born here have a serious sense of pride for this great state,” said Fowlie. “And I think a lot of people working in the arts, in any area and especially people my age, are always trying to find a way to finagle what they’re doing to work in their own state. That’s always been my goal.”
A film festival seemed like a natural decision — especially in Fowlie’s hometown of Camden, which boasts a number of venues for film screenings, as do the neighboring towns of Rockland and Rockport. For that matter, aside from the Maine International Film Festival and the Maine Jewish Film Festival, there were precious few opportunities to celebrate film in Maine — and certainly none that focused solely on documentaries.
At first, documentaries might have appeared to be a hard sell to Maine filmgoers. Though the Maine Media Workshops in Rockport and the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies in Portland have long trained photojournalists and nonfiction storytellers right here in the Pine Tree State, film audiences don’t generally come out en masse to see documentaries.
“There’s still a strange assumption that documentaries are boring, and yet almost everything I ever see isn’t,” said Fowlie. “There are these incredible personal narratives that are told onscreen that are so unique and gripping and boundary-pushing. They’re unlike anything you’ve ever seen. That’s the kind of stuff we like to show at the festival.”
The lineup for the CIFF this year includes premieres of several high-profile films, which the CIFF has a history of promoting, especially with last year’s world premiere of “The Way We Get By,” the film about the Bangor troop greeters that’s garnering Oscar buzz.
These films include “Convention,” a feature directed by A.J. Schnack, that details the events and impact of the 2008 Democratic National Convention. Another, “Because We Were Born,” directed by Jean Pierre Duret, tells the story of two French teenagers struggling to get by in Brazil. “October Country” is the story of a turbulent working-class American family, as told by the directors Michael Palmieri and Donal Mosher. All four of these directors will be on hand during the festival to discuss their work.
Maine films also get a special spotlight at the CIFF. Iain McCray Martin’s film “Life By Lobster” and Maine International Film Festival hit “The Rivals” will be screened, as will a number of short films, including “Protecting the Nature of Maine,” “Sketches of an Icon” and “A Day on West Meadow.” Up-and-coming Maine filmmaker Will Hyler will have the world premiere of his film, “The Fish Belong to the People.”
Hyler’s father, Walter, went to high school with the principal focus of the film, lobster fisherman Glen Libby. Libby, a Port Clyde resident, is one of many fishermen in the area trying to preserve his livelihood while figuring out how to keep it sustainable — as well as profitable.
“There is such a human struggle occurring with the fishermen,” said Hyler, 24, who was born in Blue Hill and attended film school at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. “They are the ones who did the overfishing, and now they are the ones trying to correct the problem, all on their own. They’ve had a lot of problems chipping away at them over the years, from market prices dropping to regulations placed on them. It’s a big struggle, and they’re taking it on by themselves.”
Hyler shot his movie in just five weeks in August and September of 2008. He did all his own writing and editing, and his father is credited as producer. The score was written and performed by the Hynd Family, bluegrass musicians who are longtime friends of the Hyler family. It’s completely Maine-made — and it’s one of many stories ripe for the telling.
“There’s no shortage of stories to be told,” said Hyler. “The biggest resource that would help Maine filmmakers out the most is funding. Anyone can buy a camera and a computer and make their own movie. It’s the funding that’s the problem. There are a lot of people out there who are ambitious enough to do it.”
For Fowlie, the whole point of the CIFF is to shine a spotlight on both international films that don’t get much attention stateside, as well as Maine features that would never get a chance to be seen otherwise.
“[Will’s film] is a very intense film about a very intense issue that affects a lot of Mainers,” said Fowlie. “It’s a tough one to show in Maine, but it’s also really appropriate to show, with the kinds of things we typically have at the festival. It fits right in. It’s all about the story.”
Films at the Camden International Film Festival will be screened at the Camden Opera House and Bayview Street Cinema in Camden and at the Strand Theatre and the Farnsworth Art Museum in Rockland. For a complete schedule and ticket information, visit www.camdenfilmfest.org.
New to the Camden International Film Festival this year is the Points North Documentary Film Forum, scheduled for 2 to 5 p.m. Friday, Oct. 2, at Maine Media Workshops in Rockport. Free and open to the public, the forum brings together leading film industry figures, who will give presentations and engage forum participants in dialogue. Current and aspiring Maine filmmakers will have a chance to speak with people from the LEF Foundation, the Sundance Documentary Film Program, the Gucci Tribeca Documentary Fund, the PBS National Program Service and from HBO Documentary Films — an incredibly rare opportunity for any filmmaker. A second program will feature a roundtable discussion with independent film producers, directors, bloggers and consultants about how to make a living in film. It’s an afternoon of ideas and networking that no Maine filmmaker of any level should pass up. Points North will be held in Maine Media Workshops’ Union Hall on Central Street in Rockport; to RSVP to this free event, visit www.camdenfilmfest.org/pointsnorth.