The Camden International Film Festival heads into its seventh year on Thursday, having found success and growth built on the idea that truth is stranger than fiction. It’s one of the reasons Ben Fowlie, the festival’s founder and director, was drawn to documentaries in the first place.
“The entire documentary industry has embraced us in such a loving way, and allowed us to get this festival to the level it’s at now,” said Fowlie, who also credits festival producer Sarah Ruddy and Points North producer Sean Flynn for much of the success. “We’re getting great international exposure. Anyone involved in documentary knows who we are, and I think we have a solid reputation of treating documentary filmmakers as the artists that they are.”
Not only is the festival highly regarded among those within the industry, it also has found its niche among intelligent and engaged filmgoers in Maine and surrounding states. They come to Camden every year eager for the conversations the documentaries will ignite.
“The audiences show up in droves. We’ve had every film there sold out,” said documentary filmmaker David Redmon. “Any time you can do that as a programmer, as a director of a festival with a small staff of people who are volunteers … is a pretty remarkable achievement.”
This year’s festival, which will feature about 60 documentaries, will take audiences from a 1950s French burlesque club in Frederick Wiseman’s “Crazy Horse” to war-torn Afghanistan in Denfung Dennis’ “Hell and Back Again,” ultimately bringing them back to Maine with “Downeast,” a work in progress by Redmon and his partner, Ashley Sabin, about the Stinson Seafood canning factory in Goulsboro.
Redmon said that he envisions “Downeast” as being three films. The first, he said, will be a more conventional, character-based documentary about the people laid off from the Stinson factory, as well as Antonio Bussone’s attempt to re-open it.
“For that first film, I’d say we have four or five more months of editing to finish it.”
The second, Redmon said, is a more experimental and experiential film without any interviews or narration. The third will be a one-shot 80-minute take of the factory, where everything has to be timed and aligned just right.
Despite the first film being a work in progress, Redmon said that he hopes the audience in Camden will realize that reopening a factory like the one in Gouldsboro isn’t an isolated event.
“It’s not just about this community. It extends way beyond it,” he said. “It has little ripple effects that extend beyond to other parts of the U.S.”
He also hopes audiences will see that “it is possible to return parts of industrialization to the United States.”
Redmon and Sabin have attended the festival several times, and they’re not the only filmmakers to do so. The festival also has attracted industry delegates from HBO, A&E and other broadcast outlets to take part in its Points North Forum, an intimate program that brings together documentarians and decision makers.
The festival has had much luck over the past seven years attracting films, filmmakers and industry officials because of its strict focus on documentaries. Where documentaries often get pushed aside for higher-budget indie fare at many festivals, Camden shines a spotlight on the unsung heroes of cinema.
“I think in a lot of ways, documentary filmmakers have, through editing and stuff, been forced to put together better stories,” Fowlie said. “They can’t rely on million-dollar budgets and explosives and stuff. They really have to find the story, and follow it and really commit to being there and waiting for the story to unfold. It might take a year, it might take five years, it might take 10 years.”
For Redmon and Sabin, there’s a long way to go before the three “Downeast” documentaries are complete. However, the two will attend a screening of an unfinished cut of the first “Downeast” documentary at 3:30 p.m. Saturday at the Strand Theatre.
For information on the Camden International Film Festival and a complete schedule, visit camdenfilmfest.org.