June 23, 2018
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Makers of troop greeters film ‘moving on’ from MPBN after scheduling dispute

By Mario Moretto, BDN Staff

ELLSWORTH, Maine — The Maine filmmaking duo who created the award-winning film “The Way We Get By” has a new documentary slated for nationwide release through PBS in February.

The program, “ Lifecasters,” tells the stories of three disparate personalities who overcame the odds to find success in their lives. It is made up of three short films — one by Aron Gaudet and Gita Pullapilly of Bar Harbor, one by Adam McKay (“Anchorman,” “Talladega Nights”) and the last by Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert (“The Last Truck,” “A Lion in the House”).

Gaudet and Pullapilly are executive producers, and pre- and post-production took place in Bar Harbor. The film has generated buzz in the independent film community and has earned a red-carpet premiere through the Film Society of Lincoln Center in New York, to be hosted by actor Jeremy Piven (“Entourage”), and a screening at the Grammy Museum in L.A.

But despite the good reception to their as-yet unaired piece, the Maine film maestros are upset. They feel snubbed that Maine Public Broadcasting Network, the state’s local PBS affiliate, won’t broadcast the film until two months after its TV premiere date on Feb. 7.

Pullapilly said she was surprised MPBN wouldn’t capitalize on the opportunity to promote the show, given the network’s previous support for the filmmakers. MPBN was a partner in 2009’s “The Way We Get By” and retains the rights to the film for another year.

Pullapilly said MPBN obviously has the discretion to run or not run whatever it likes she was but was surprised she was able to get premiere-date releases in larger markets, such as Boston and Los Angeles, but not Maine. She said she reached out to MPBN in November with several calls and emails that weren’t answered until January.

“If they want to choose to program ‘Lifecasters’ or not, it’s totally within their discretion to do that,” she said Thursday. “The question is why not to consider the opportunity that comes to it when dealing with filmmakers who are from Maine, producing content at the national level?”

Mark Vogelzang, president and CEO at MPBN, said the decision to air “Lifecasters” in April, rather than February wasn’t a slight against Pullapilly and Gaudet, but a decision made considering all the factors at play in the winter schedule.

He also said that early attempts by the filmmakers to reach MPBN fell through the cracks in November, when the station was undergoing huge scheduling changes.

“We should have known that this was coming earlier, and so it’s our fault for not getting it, or having the ability to look at it earlier,” he said Wednesday evening. But Vogelzang said that even with notice, February scheduling would have been a challenge.

“Thursday evenings in February, that really does conflict with several things going on,” he said. “We have a very solid schedule Thursdays, including ‘MaineWatch’ and our community film series. We also air high school basketball, which puts more pressure on our schedule. That’s not an excuse, it’s just a reality of scheduling.”

Vogelzang also said the later slot for “Lifecasters” will mean the network can adequately promote the show and include it in a scheduling guide.

Regardless, Pullapilly said she and Gaudet are “moving on” from their relationship with MPBN. She said relationships with local broadcasters are important for independent filmmakers, but that she didn’t feel like MPBN treated her as an equal, especially considering the history of collaboration among she, Gaudet and the network.

“For a lot of independent filmmakers, those relationships are crucial,” she said. “You want to feel respected and treated fairly, because you’re creating content these places can use. … We’re moving on from MPBN, and we hope they find a better way to work with independent filmmakers.”

Vogelzang said that regardless of any hurt feelings between his network and the filmmakers, “Lifecasters” is scheduled to air at 3:30 p.m. Sunday, April 7. Viewers who don’t want to wait can catch the show on pbs.org live from 9 to 10 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 7.

Follow Mario Moretto on Twitter at @riocarmine.

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