As a cultural epicenter, it’s tough to beat the city of Waterville during the first half of July. Starting Friday and running through July 18 at the Railroad Square Cinema and the Waterville Opera House, the Maine International Film Festival, or MIFF, begins its much-anticipated run, offering film buffs and casual moviegoers alike an opportunity to see movies they likely would never have the opportunity to see otherwise.
Including those made in Maine.
Over the next 10 days, nearly 100 films from Maine and all over the world will be showcased. Unparalleled access to directors, producers, writers and musicians will be the mainstay. Also, look for a special series presented in partnership with the American Film Institute’s Project: 20-20, which is an initiative to bridge cultural boundaries through cinema.
And that’s just the start. It’s the conversation ignited by all this that makes the festival so vital, entertaining and gratifying.
“In our 13th year, we celebrate the continued support of countless filmmakers, numerous sponsors and supporters, and thousands of attendees,” said Shannon Haines, the festival director. “For 10 days this summer, the spotlight will once again shine on Waterville as we bring the best of American independent, international and Maine-made cinema to the big screen.”
Over the years, the festival has grown from a grass-roots effort to become one of Waterville’s — and Maine’s — most important cultural events, drawing people from around the state and around the world. This year, dozens of independent and foreign films will be featured, including movies from Tokyo, Germany, India, Russia and beyond.
The criteria for choosing each film is simple — it must be good. And many are, which underscores the reason behind the festival’s rapid growth, the success its reputation has earned for the quality and diversity of its program and for the way it brings filmmakers and audiences together informally.
Festival organizers receive the films from many sources. Some come via their associations and contacts with filmmakers, distributors and exhibitors around the country and the world. Many come to them through interactions at past festivals, while some are submitted directly to the festival. Others come from films that organizers have seen advance screenings of elsewhere.
Being chosen here literally can change one’s career elsewhere. With so many films competing for inclusion at the increasing number of film festivals popping up across the country — being seen and well-received by a festival audience significantly increases the chances of winning a distribution deal — festivals such as Waterville’s are crucial for those filmmakers still fighting to make it in Hollywood.
Some of the highlighted films include “I Killed My Mother” from Quebec, which has won dozens of awards, including three from the Cannes Film Festival, a Cesar (French Oscar) nomination for Best Foreign Film, two Lumiere awards including Best French Language Film and a Genie award, which is the equivalent of the Canadian Academy Award.
The Maine-made film “The Eventful Life of Al Hawkes” will be shown with the filmmakers present. The movie is about Hawkes, “an active musician and entertainer who formed a recording company called Event Records. He recorded many local and national artists such as Dick Curless, Hal Lone Pine and Betty Cody, Charlie Bailey (of the Bailey Brothers), the Lilly Brothers & Don Stover, Lenny Breau, Curtis Johnson, as well as many others. This film is a testament to Al, his music and commitment.”
Other films of note include the acclaimed “Sita Sings the Blues,” “Beetle Queen Conquers Tokyo,” “Cell 211,” “Desert of Forbidden Art,” “House,” “Conversations with My Gardener,” “Mao’s Last Dancer” and “Room and a Half.”
If you’re a fan of Patricia Clarkson — and who in their right mind isn’t? — you won’t want to miss “Cairo Time,” which is set in Egypt and follows her character Juliette, “a fashion magazine editor in her 50s who travels to Cairo to meet her husband, Mark (Tom McCamus), a UN official working in Gaza, for a three-week vacation. When he is unavoidably delayed, he sends his friend Tareq (Alexander Siddig) to escort her throughout the exotic city. The last thing anyone expects is that they will fall in love.” Check out the trailer on YouTube and understand why it’s a must-see.
Finally, what must be one of the festival’s chief highlights is “Get Low,” which was released in 2009, but it never made it to Maine — until now. Why the buzz? First, because of the excellent reviews, and second, because of the cast — Bill Murray, Robert Duvall, Sissy Spacek, Gerald McRaney and Lucas Black, among a host of others. From the official synopsis, the movie is “spun out of equal parts folk tale, fable and real-life legend about the mysterious, 1930s Tennessee hermit who famously threw his own rollicking funeral party … while he was still alive.”
Opening night will take place at the Waterville Opera House. A complete listing of films, film times and other information, including directions, can be found at the festival’s website: www.miff.org. Tickets for the event are $200 for a full festival pass (admits one person to all public festival events), $85 for a partial pass (punchcard for 10 admissions; up to 2 per screening; good for any festival screening including special events), and $9 for individual screenings. Opening night, closing night and Mid-Life Achievement Award events are $12 each.
WeekinRewind.com is the site for Bangor Daily News film critic Christopher Smith’s blog, DVD giveaways and archive of movie reviews. Smith’s reviews appear Fridays and weekends in Lifestyle, as well as on bangordailynews.com. He may be reached at Christopher@weekinrewind.com.