June 19, 2018
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Portland film festival to ‘spread the vision,’ spotlight Maine-made, Bahamian movies

By Kathleen Pierce, BDN Staff

PORTLAND, Maine — Now in its fourth year, the Portland Maine Film Festival remains as underground as the films it supports.

“The big festivals have become an arm for Hollywood,” said Tyler Johnston, founder of the grassroots festival being held this weekend.

Of the 20 shorts and feature-length films screened at the University of Southern Maine and co-working space Think Tank, Maine-made and Bahamian pictures take center stage.

Opening night film “ How To Make Movies At Home,” is a humorous take on the ups and downs of shooting a low-budget film in the Pine Tree State. Director Morgan Nichols, a Kennebunk native now living in Brooklyn, will field audience questions Friday night.

“The point of the film is to inspire young people to pick up cameras and do it yourself,” said Nichols, who shot his movie in Biddeford, Kennebunk and Portland with $25,000 from Kickstarter. “What’s wrong with cinema today is it’s deeply in the hands of the industry. We need to entertain ourselves with less dollars spent.”

“The County,” a documentary about Aroostook County, and “ Like the Water,” a narrative filmed in Camden and Jefferson County in 2011, does just that while showcasing Maine on the silver screen. “Like the Water” Director Caroline von Kuhn will be present to screen her drama about a journalist who returns to her seaside hometown to attend a friend’s funeral and write her eulogy. The film closes out the three-day event.

“The landscape of Maine is such a character in the film,” said von Kuhn, who lives in New York and is the managing director of the Camden International Film Festival. “I’m unbelievably excited to be sharing it on the big screen with an audience.”

Johnston, who grew up in Yarmouth and the Bahamas, has created a hybrid festival to celebrate both coastal regions that share an independent spirit.

“We want this to become a world-class film festival and find people to spread the vision,” said Johnston, a filmmaker and artist.

This collaboration with the Bahamas Film and TV Commission brings a smattering of Bahamian films such as “Passage,” about a Haitian brother and sister immigrating to the Bahamas on a wooden ship and “I’m not Through,” a music video. Tyler sees this as a “cultural exchange program” uniting film heavyweights from the tropics to the rocky coast.

There will be awards, panel discussions and a beach party at the event.

“This a chance for filmmakers to hang out and build relationships,” he said.

As with any startup, money has been a struggle for the fledgling fest that seeks to showcase provocative films in Maine’s largest city. Founders Johnston and entrepreneur and documentarian Patrick Roche, who have been planning this all year, hope financial partners step up to the plate for their 5th year. Filmmakers agree.

“The art scene seems so strong in Portland, there must be such a great film culture there. I’m excited to learn more about it,” said von Kuhn. “There should be more film festivals there.”

MENSK, a local arts based nonprofit is a fiscal sponsor, but more is needed to put Portland Maine Film Festival on the same playing field as the Camden International Film Festival or Maine International Film Festival, for example.

“There is a strong Maine film community; we see no reason why this can’t become a South by Southwest,” said Johnston.

The Portland Maine Film Festival starts 6:30 p.m. Friday Nov. 8, at Hannaford Hall on USM’s Portland Campus. An opening night film and after party pass is $15. Movie tickets are $8. For a full schedule and program, visit portlandmainefilmfest.com.

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