It may be small, but it’s increasingly mighty. The Camden International Film Festival, now in its ninth year, set for Sept. 26-29, purposefully keeps itself ever so slightly under the radar — it’s not supposed to be compared to those big film festivals, such as Tribeca or Toronto. It’s supposed to be intimate, easily navigable and allow filmmakers and festival-goers alike ample opportunity to interact.
“Almost 95 percent of our screenings have a Q&A afterwards, and that is something very unique to Camden,” said Ben Fowlie, CIFF founder and director. “We’ve always tried to focus on making sure we have interactions between the audience and the filmmakers and the community. I think that absolutely makes us different.”
Another big thing that sets CIFF apart from other festivals is its Points North Documentary Forum, organized by Sean Flynn and Fowlie. Since 2009, Points North has offered up-and-coming filmmakers the opportunity to pitch their films to a panel of industry professionals, representing everything from Point of View Documentary Films to Sundance to Cinereach.
Jason Mann and Cecily Pingree, both based on the Maine island of North Haven, were some of the first filmmakers to get support from Points North. “Betting the Farm,” their 2011 documentary about the farmers of MOO Milk, Maine’s Own Organic Milk, earned the Pitch Award in 2010, which entails a cash prize, professional editing services and industry recognition.
Mann and Pingree recall standing in front of a group of movers and shakers in the documentary film world and pitching the idea for “Betting the Farm.” As Mann recalls, it was nerve-wracking but enlightening.
“It was a total work in progress at that time, and to be honest, it was a little scary but ultimately incredibly helpful exercise, to figure out how to describe your entire film in just a few minutes,” said Mann. “The whole process of distilling your ideas down is really, really good to do for anyone trying to make a film. That fact that we won was just extra.”
Pingree said the average filmmaker — especially the average filmmaker based in Maine — would almost never have access to the resources that are available at Points North.
“You would never be able to talk to someone from HBO or ITV [from the U.K.]. It would just never happen,” said Pingree. “Here, you have an uninterrupted chance to pitch your film to them. It’s an amazing resource to have right here in Maine.”
This year’s selections for the Points North Pitch are: “The Bolivian Case” directed by Violeta Ayala, “Mateo” by Aaron I. Naar, “Project Nodak” by James Christenson and Lewis Wilcox, “Rainbow Farm” by J.P. Sniadecki, “The Ocean Doesn’t Care” by Chase Whiteside and Eric Stoll, “The Sensitives” by Drew Xanthopoulos and “What Tomorrow Brings” by Beth Murphy and Kevin Belli.
A new aspect for this year’s Points North is the addition of the New York Times Op-Doc Pitch, which will give six filmmakers the chance to pitch a short documentary to the New York Times. A selection of NYT editors will choose one film to be featured on its website.
Finally, in what’s shaping up to be one of the most dynamic, diverse years for the festival yet, CIFF this year offers the “Then and Now” series, which features three classics of documentary filmmaking and followed by a discussion with the filmmakers. The films selected include “Hearts and Minds,” Peter Davis’ Oscar-winning 1974 Vietnam documentary; “Harlan County U.S.A.,” Barbara Kopple’s Oscar-winning 1977 film about a coal miners’ strike; and “Darwin’s Nightmare,” Hubert Sauper’s 2004 film about invasive species and globalization.
“These filmmakers really laid out the verite, on the fly style of documentary that now is really being embraced by these new filmmakers that we have at the festival now,” said Fowlie. “We’re hoping to create a dialogue between these originators of the style and the emerging voices that come to the festival.”
A festival pass is $85; a VIP pass which includes all events and parties is $175. Individual film tickets are $10 each. Film venues include the Strand Theatre and the Farnsworth Art Museum in Rockland; the Camden Opera House and Bayview Street Cinema in Camden; and Union Hall in Rockport. A full schedule is available online at the website.
What to see at the 2013 Camden International Film Festival
Made in Maine: Camden always spotlights films made by Mainers, such as the premiere of “The Way We Get By” in 2009. This year Maine film is represented by offerings such as “Night Labor” (3 p.m. Saturday, Farnsworth Art Museum) a narrative documentary about a Washington County laborer by the makers of “Downeast,” David Redmon and Ashley Sabin; there’s also “See” (3:30 p.m. Sunday, Strand Theatre), a film by Maine visual artists Bo Bartlett and Betsy Eby.
Around the world: Camden offers voices from around the world; this year Danish filmmaker Daniel Dencik screens “Expedition to the End of the World” (9:15 p.m. Saturday, Strand Theatre) about a group of scientists and artists journeying to the slowly melting ice massifs of Greenland on board a three-masted schooner. There’s also “The Act of Killing” (6 p.m. Sunday, Strand Theatre) a riveting Indonesian doc about mass murder and movie making.
Provocative topics: Some of the more controversial films offered this year include “A Will for the Woods” (2 p.m. Sunday, Bayview Street Cinema) a movie about one man’s wish for a “green burial,” a sustainable way of laying to rest one’s remains. The closing night film, “Pandora’s Promise” (7:30 p.m. Sunday, Camden Opera House) asks big questions about what nuclear energy really means for the world.
The sunnier side: “Cutie and the Boxer” (7:30 p.m. Thursday, Camden Opera House) is a sweet, reflective film about the chaotic relationship between famed boxing painter Ushio Shinohara and artist Noriko Shinohara. “Caucus” (4:30 p.m. Saturday, Bayview Street Cinema), on the other hand, gives first hand access to the race to win the 2012 Iowa Republican caucus.
Short and sweet: There are three shorts programs set for 10 a.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday, all at Bayview Street Cinema. Want an easy way to get the perspective of more than 30 unique filmmakers? Attend one of these programs.