Every year, the Maine International Film Festival brings together film connoisseurs, screening movies from far and wide (and local, of course) while presenting opportunities to engage with filmmakers, screenwriters and actors in a way that isn’t necessarily possible for the other 355 days of the year.
This year, for example, the festival will bring renowned Irish actor Gabriel Byrne (“The Usual Suspects,” “Miller’s Crossing,” “Stigmata”) to Waterville, as well as Academy Award-winning writer-director Robert Benton. The breadth of talent honored at MIFF year after year speaks to the quality of the festival, character of those who put it together and, ultimately, the dedication of the festival-goers who keep it alive.
I would be lying if I didn’t say I will be a little bit starstruck to see and hear Byrne speak after a screening of 1995’s “The Usual Suspects,” or Benton field questions about “Kramer vs. Kramer” or “Bonnie and Clyde.” It’s no exaggeration when I say, for many Mainers (myself included), those moments may very well be once-in-a-lifetime connections with professionals who have performed at a ridiculously high level in the medium in which we’ve all fallen in love. Those moments undoubtedly will stay with festival-goers for the rest of their lives, though there’s another allure to MIFF, or any film festival for that matter, that I simply refer to as “Navigating the Unknown.”
Like any film festival, the audience is aware that each film has to pass some sort of muster — in this case it’s the seasoned and trusted eye of programming director Ken Eisen — but we never truly know which films will speak to us more than others until the end credits start rolling. How do we find, say, A.J. Edwards’ “The Better Angels” (MIFF 2014) or Aleksei Fedorchenko’s poetic “Silent Souls” (MIFF 2011) amid a sea of others that, for all we know, might be just as good?
The answer is simple. We don’t.
So, in addition to attending screenings of “Blood Simple,” any film starring Gabriel Byrne or written by Robert Benson, and of course, “Footloose,” here’s a list of five films that I will for sure check out at this year’s Maine International Film Festival, and the reasoning behind my choices, which I assure you, will likely be as arbitrary as anyone else’s. Sometimes you just have to take a shot in the dark and hope for some cinematic magic.
- “Little Men”: Directed by Ira Sachs (“Love is Strange”), “Little Men” has landed the coveted closing night spot of MIFF’s program, which, generally speaking, indicates that it’s a high-profile title. Beyond that, however, the film, starring Greg Kinnear, Jennifer Ehle and Alfred Molina, premiered at Sundance and has gone on to garner strong buzz in the indie film world. Now we have the chance to see it in Maine before its Aug. 5 theatrical release. A vague, unjust summary of the film reads like this: “Little Men” is a very humane story of two young friends in Brooklyn whose companionship is tested when their parents enter a dispute over the lease of a dress shop. (7 p.m. Sunday, July 17)
- “My King” (aka “Mon Roi”): Vincent Cassel and Emmanuelle Bercot, who tied for Best Actress at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival, star in this surprisingly intense-looking French drama from Maiwenn, the blue opera singer from “The Fifth Element” who has become an accomplished French filmmaker. After a serious skiing accident, Tony (Bercot) reflects on her volatile roller coaster of a relationship with Georgio (Cassel) while in rehab. With all the accolades earned by these two performances, it’s on my must-see list. (9:30 p.m. Saturday, July 9, and 6:30 p.m. Sunday, July 10)
- “Five Nights in Maine”: Filmed in Maine, Maris Curran’s first feature stars David Oyelowo (coming off his breakout role in “Selma”) as a man grieving after the loss of his wife in a car accident. He journeys to Maine, hoping to find some kind of answers by confronting his estranged mother-in-law (two-time Oscar winner Dianne Wiest). The actors involved, and a general curiosity for movies made in Maine, will likely make this a popular choice among festival-goers. (6:30 p.m. Saturday, July 16, and 12:30 p.m. Sunday, July 17)
- “The Great Game” (aka “Le Grand Jeu”): What’s that, you say? A French political thriller about a ghost writer? I’m sold. And it stars Clemence Poesy, best known in America as Fleur Delacour in the “Harry Potter” series? Doubly sold. (9:15 p.m. Thursday, July 14, and 6:30 p.m. Saturday, July 16)
- “Chimes at Midnight”: Having never seen Orson Welles’ Shakespearean adaptation, there’s absolutely no chance I’m going to miss the opportunity to see it for the first time on the big screen at MIFF. It may not be an “unknown” for many festival-goers who are familiar with the roughly 50-year-old film, but for me, it’s new territory. (9:30 p.m. Tuesday, July 12, and 3:30 p.m., Sunday, July 17)
For information on the Maine International Film Festival, visit www.miff.org. For 140-character reviews of films screening at MIFF and other updates on the festival, follow Joel on Twitter: @JoelCrabtree.