There’s a soundtrack to this year’s Maine International Film Festival in Waterville — and it comes from every genre imaginable, from Scottish folk music to African funk, from Balkan brass to hip hop and Maine-made indie rock.
There’s so much music in this year’s lineup, in fact, that MIFF founder and programmer Ken Eisen noticed a theme weaving itself through this year’s festival, set for July 11-20 — an unintentional theme, but a theme nonetheless — in the 14 music films scheduled for the festival’s 10 days.
“Every year has its own feel, but it’s usually nothing we set out to do. If we like a film, we put it in the festival, whether it’s a [documentary] or a feature. There’s no quota for any particular type of film. It’s always very diverse,” said Eisen, who also founded Railroad Square Cinema in Waterville and distribution company Shadow Distribution. “But this year it turns out that we chose a lot of really wonderful music films. It was a really nice coincidence.”
Those 14 films include picks like “Finding Fela” (July 13 and 14), a documentary about Nigerian music pioneer Fela Kuti, directed by Oscar-winner Alex Gibney; “The Case of the Three-Sided Dream” (July 17 and 18), about jazz legend Rahsaan Roland Kirk; and a screening of a restored print of beloved Beatles movie “A Hard Day’s Night” (July 15 and 20), all at Railroad Square Cinema.
Two music-themed special events are also set for the Waterville Opera House, including Portland indie rock musician Jeff Beam performing his scores to early 20th century silent film of Maine (7 p.m. July 12), and “Psychedelic Cinema,” a collection of Super 8 films created for 1960s rock club the Boston Tea Party, given a live soundtrack by an ensemble featuring members of Boston bands like Morphine and Cul de Sac (7 p.m. July 19).
MIFF each year celebrates a notable figure in film with its Mid-Life Achievement Award, which this year is going to actress and part-time Maine resident Glenn Close. Films featuring Close will be screened, including “Dangerous Liaisons” (July 13) “Cookie’s Fortune” (July 14), and her newest film, “Low Down,” another musical film about jazz pianist Joe Albany, screening July 12.
Past Mid-Life awards have been given to directors Terrence Malick and Jonathan Demme and actors like Sissy Spacek, John Turturro and Peter Fonda. Close will be on hand on Sunday, July 13, for a screening of her Oscar-nominated film “Albert Nobbs,” followed by a reception.
Eisen, who co-founded the festival in 1998, had some indirect help in programming from a pretty big name: Martin Scorsese. Scorsese’s curated selection of Polish film from the 1950s through the 1980s, “Masterpieces of Polish Cinema,” will be screened through the week at MIFF.
“Whether or not you appreciate his films in some capacity, nobody can argue that the guy hasn’t been an unbelievable ambassador of cinema in the most sincere way, especially in preservation and restoration of old, lost films,” said Eisen. “There’s some amazing stuff in this Polish cinema series, most of which I’d never seen before. It’s really a gem.”
There are more than 70 films to be shown over the festival’s 10 days. A few highlights include opening night film “Boyhood” (July 11), directed by Richard Linklater, which he filmed over the course of 12 years with lead actor Ellar Coltrane, who was 5 when filming started and 18 when it ended and literally grows up in front of the camera; “The Two Faces of January” (July 18 and 20), an adaptation of the Patricia Highsmith thriller starring Viggo Mortensen, Kirsten Dunst and Oscar Isaac; and “The Trip to Italy” (July 12 and 16), the engaging, beautifully shot sequel to Michael Winterbottom’s 2010 film “The Trip,” featuring more epic meals and witty banter from Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon.
A special screening this year includes the final four parts of the six-part documentary “Freedom and Unity: The Vermont Movie,” a lyrical, intricate, at times subjective telling of the history of the state of Vermont, made by a collective of filmmakers; parts one and two were shown at MIFF 2012 and 2013.
“I truly believe it’s one of the most monumental pieces of independent filmmaking in the country in recent years,” said Eisen. “It takes an incredibly wide view of the state of Vermont, but it ends up being very cohesive and understandable. I’m kind of obsessed with the idea of our Maine filmmakers doing the same sort of thing.”
There are also several Maine films on the schedule, including a program of Maine shorts (July 12 and 16), a screening of films made by young Maine filmmakers (July 19), and MIFF official section “Extending the Play” (July 12 and 13), directed by John Dahlgren, about Bar Harbor native and UMaine alumni Bracey Barker Ulin and her husband, Kasey Ulin, both of whom play professional basketball in Luxembourg.
“They submitted the movie to us, and we had no idea there was even any Maine connection,” said Eisen. “It’s really a very curious and interesting story about the two of them and their travels through Europe, interspersed with footage from the past. The Maine connection just makes it better for us.”
A full schedule of all the films set for the Maine International Film Festival this year can be found online. A full festival pass which includes admission to all special events and parties is $200; a partial pass for 10 screenings is $85, and individual tickets are $9.
Correction: An earlier version of this story reported that it is the 15th Maine International Film Festival. It is the 17th.