Camden International Film Festival

Expansion, engagement … and robots

By Dagney C. Ernest | Sep 23, 2013
“The Act of Killing,” a Danish-British-Norwegian co-production, offers a powerful example of cinematic non-fiction.

The day after high winds toppled trees around the Midcoast, Ben Fowlie looked at the rain being driven against the Zoot Coffee window in Camden with an appreciation rarely offered by big-event organizers.

“I sure hope there’s some of this weather left for the festival,” he said.

Inclement weather makes for more movie watching, but the ninth annual Camden International Film Festival, which runs Thursday night through Sunday evening, Sept. 26 through 29, is jam-packed with options that can entice people indoors even on a sunny day. Festival pass sales have been running above last year’s, and the program has expanded to include several embedded series including, for the first time, a chance to view an earlier generation’s documentary classics in addition to the output of the last year or so.

Thanks to a grant from the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, this year’s screenings include a Then and Now program, which pairs classic documentary films and filmmakers with some of the work from emerging non-fiction filmmakers they inspired.

“We’re linking work created today with their luminaries. For example, we’re screening Barbara Kopple’s work and that of Elaine McMillion, who does interactive documentary work to create a huge web piece,” he said.

Both filmmakers — McMillion’s groundbreaking “Hollow” will be presented during the Points North forum — have focused on coal country. Kopple, whose “Harlan County U.S.A.” won an Academy Award in 1977, also is screening her latest work, “Running From Crazy,” a portrait of actor Mariel Hemingway’s explorations into her family’s complicated history. Both her films will screen at Rockland’s Strand Theatre.

A 10-year-old film that has current — and local — ties is “My Architect,” Nathaniel Kahn’s effort to come to terms with his late father, famous architect Louis Kahn. The movie was filmed in Maine; Kahn’s sister, Alexandra Tyng, is currently showing paintings that reflect family history at Rockland’s Dowling Walsh Gallery; and the director and other family members will attend the screening in Rockport’s Union Hall. “My Architect” is part of the second grant-funded program, Process, which focuses on artists and their work.

Another embedded series in this year’s multi-faceted festival is CIFF’s inaugural Engagement Summit, an attempt to bring professionals and organizations focused on a social issue into a conversation about using the power of non-fiction storytelling as a tool in their work. This first Summit, in partnership with Camden National Bank and the Pen Bay Healthcare Foundation, is focused on Aging in Maine and the related screenings include one of Fowlie’s favorite films of the year, “The Genius of Marian,” in which a filmmaker documents his mother’s experience with the early stages of Alzheimer's disease.

Thursday, Sept. 26

Camden Opera House

7:30 p.m. "Cutie and The Boxer" (2012, USA) 81 min.

Friday, Sept. 27

Bayview Street Cinema

10 a.m. Shorts First 1 (FREE, 10 films) 86 min.

Noon "Pablo’s Winter (El Invierno de Pablo)" (2012, Scotland/Spain) 76 min.

2 p.m. "These Birds Walk" (2013, USA/Pakistan) 72 min.

4 p.m. "Last Dreams (Sidste Drømme)" (2013, Denmark) 60 min. plus a short

6:30 p.m. “Our Nixon” (2013, USA), 85 min.

9 p.m. "William and The Windmill" (2013, USA) 92 min.

Farnsworth Art Museum

Noon “Darwin’s Nightmare” (2004, Austria/Belgium/France) 107 min.

2 p.m. “Hearts and Minds” (1974, USA) 112 min.

Strand Theatre

6:30 p.m. "Maidentrip" (2013, USA) 81 min.

9 p.m. The Secret Cinema (2013, USA) 116 min.

Saturday, Sept. 28

Bayview Street Cinema

10 a.m. Shorts First 2 (FREE, eight films) 84 min.

Noon "Remote Area Medical" (2013, USA) 80 min.

2 p.m. "Bending Steel" (2013, USA) 93 min.

4:30 p.m. "Caucus" (2013, USA) 104 min.

7 p.m. "The Genius of Marian” (2013, USA) 84 min.

9 p.m. "Narco Cultura" (2013, USA) 102 min.

Camden Opera House

8 p.m. “The Crash Reel” (2013, USA) 109 min.

Farnsworth Art Museum

11 a.m. “To the Wolf (Sto Lyko)” (2013, Greece/France/UK) 74 min.

12:30 p.m. "Public Hearing" (2012, USA) 110 min.

3 p.m. “Night Labor” (2012, USA/Canada) 64 min.

Strand Theatre

11 a.m. “The Kill Team” (2013, USA) 79 min.

1 p.m. "Running From Crazy" (2013, USA) 100 min.

3:30 p.m. “Terms and Conditions May Apply” (2013, USA) 79 min. plus short, panel discussion

6:30 p.m. “Big Men” (2013, USA) 99 min.

9:15 p.m. "Expedition to the End of the World" (2013, Denmark/Sweden) 90 min.

Sunday, Sept. 29

Bayview Street Cinema

10 a.m. Shorts First 3 (FREE, seven films) 92 min.

Noon “Town Hall” (2013, USA) 74 min.

2 p.m. “A Will for the Woods” (2013, USA) 93 min.

4:30 p.m. "Elena" (2013, Brazil) 80 min.

6:30 p.m. “The Last Station (La Estacion Ultima)” (2012, Chile/Germany) 90 min.

Camden Opera House

7:30 p.m. "Pandora’s Promise" (2012, USA) 90 min.

Farnsworth Art Museum

11 a.m. “Moon Rider” (2013, Denmark) 94 min.

1 p.m. Sense of Place (two shorts) 18 min.

3 p.m. "Suitcase of Love and Shame" (2013, USA) 70 min.

Strand Theatre

11 a.m. "Harlan County U.S.A." (1977, USA) 103 min.

1:30 p.m. Dirigo Shorts (Maine-made) 52 min.

3:30 p.m. "See" (2013, USA) 70 min.

6 p.m. “The Act of Killing” (2012, Denmark/Indonesia) 159 min.

Union Hall

2 p.m. “My Architect: A Son’s Journey” (2003, USA) 116 min.

“We were looking for an engagement opportunity with the larger community, an open conversation … It’s morphing into a media conference about the special power of this specific form we’re working with. For me, there’s no better medium for engaging a general audience; the movies are meant to communicate and inspire conversation,” he said.

Another change is the CIFF selection of several major market documentaries, some of which have been in release for a number of months. The Opening Night Film at the Camden Opera House, part of the Process series, is 2012’s “Cutie and the Boxer” about “boxing painter” Ushio Shinohara and his wife, artist Noriko Shinohara.

“It’s hard to imagine topping last year’s ‘Betting the Farm’ but as far as an enjoyable cinematic experience, it’s exactly the way to open the festival — it’s about the creative process, art, love — anyone will enjoy it,” said Fowlie.

The festival’s Closing Night Film, “Pandora’s Promise,” may get less love but promises to challenge the mind and provoke discussion in its presentation of nuclear power as the antidote to climate catastrophe. In between, there is, as usual, a wide range of subjects from filmmakers here and abroad. The closest-to-home is “Reviving the Freedom Mill,” part of the Dirigo Shorts program. And there are several films from Denmark, two by filmmaker Daniel Dencik; CIFF has often screened films from Scandinavia, which produces a lot of experimental work.

“We’ve always had a lot; there’s good funding for the arts there and what comes out is often groundbreaking and forward-thinking. ‘Last Dream’ is my kind of film, a little slower pacing and atmosphere,” he said of Estephan Wagner’s Aging series selection.

The aging angle is an unexpected one in a festival that has traditionally focused on up-and-coming documentary talent, but several films inject a youthful perspective including “Maidentrip,” about 14-year-old Laura Dekker’s attempt to become the youngest person to sail solo around the world. Other lively young dreamers profiled include bike rider Rasmus Quaade (Dencik’s “Moon Rider”) and snowboard legend Kevin Pearce (Lucy Walker’s “Crash Reel,” which Fowlie calls a great family film).

The documentary genre’s longstanding tradition of revealing injustice and raising awareness is well represented, no more so than in the special screening and discussion of “Terms and Conditions May Apply,” a 2013 film that could not be more timely, given the recent National Security Agency revelations. The 79-minute film will be followed by a panel discussion in Internet privacy experts.

“We’re bringing in a lot of heavy guns for a 45-minute panel. I’m interested to see how the community will respond,” said Fowlie.

Community response to the free Shorts First programs Friday through Sunday mornings at Camden’s Bayview Street Cinema has been enough to bring them back again; meanwhile, the Farnsworth Art Museum’s auditorium is getting an upgrade this year with a real screen and new projector.

“It’s a ‘serious’ venue now, great for abstract and experimental work,” said Fowlie.

There are several examples of the ongoing experiment that is cinematic non-fiction filmmaking, a hot topic in the documentary field these days. “Public Hearing” may ring some local bells in its verbatim re-performance of a rural American town meeting debate over the replacement of an existing Wal-Mart with a Super Wal-Mart; “Suitcase of Love and Shame” was created from 60 hours of reel-to-reel audiotape discovered in a suitcase purchased on eBay. CIFF perennials David Redmon and Ashley Sabin, whose “Night Labor” was screened as a work-in-progress last year, brings it back as an award-winning feature.

“’Public Hearing,’ [Aran Hughes and Christina Koutsospyrou’s] ‘To the Wolf (Sto Lyko)” and Redmon’s all use non-actors staged in a way that’s directed. They’re part of a large conversation that’s happening now” in the non-fiction film community, Fowlie said.

One of the more creative storytelling selections is another major release documentary, 2012’s “The Act of Killing,” which has the perpetrators of the 1965 genocide in Indonesia re-enact their infamous exploits for the camera; the result is both compelling and repellant.

“It’s been out for 10 months but hasn’t shown here, and is one of the best films I’ve ever seen,” said Fowlie.

The Camden International Film Festival has expanded in a number of unusual directions since its 2005 debut, notable via its concurrent Points North Documentary Forum that offers access to industry professionals usually reserved for much larger markets than Midcoast Maine. This year, Points North has added a pitch for the popular online New York Times Op Docs, master classes and more. As always, admission is free for the popular Points North Pitch is free.

“We’re definitely not doing the typical regional festival model of showing 50 films and having 15 fundraising parties … the level of interest and involvement from the industry and emerging filmmakers separates us. Nobody does the breadth of programming we do,” Fowlie said.

That breadth takes a dedicated team, which grows from a couple of year-round staffers to eight to 10 festival month, most of who have been on board for a few years.

“We’ve added some new positions; 90 percent of last year is returning. It’s a well-oiled machine,” said Fowlie.

Little cardboard machines will add a bit of whimsy to this year’s CIFF. Points North director Sean Flynn is enrolled in the new Communication Media Studies program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and his MIT connection is bringing Blabdroids to the Midcoast. Blabdroids are small, rolling robots meant to be picked up by those they bump into; when their cameras sense someone has done so and is looking into the lens, it “asks” a question and films the answer. CIFF is loading the Blabdroids with questions about aging and plans to cut the resulting footage into a two-to-three-minute short that will be part of this winter’s Aging in Maine screenings around the state.

“They’re a marriage of science and art … and cute! I saw one in New York and got to talk to one, it’s a great experience,” said Fowlie.

He added that people seem free to be quite candid with the little robots, which is in keeping with CIFF’s sense of intimacy — another thing that sets it apart from the larger fests, despite its growing international reputation. For those attending the Camden Film Festival this year, either as in full immersion or a casual screening pop-in, Fowlie has some advice.

“Take a risk and see something you might not usually see; you won’t be disappointed,” he said.

For more information on each film, as well as festival passes and the full schedule, visit camdenfilmfest.org. Passes may be purchased online through Sept. 26 and picked up at the CIFF Box Office starting Wednesday, Sept. 25, at noon. The CIFF box office is located at Bayview Street Cinema.

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Staff Profile

Dagney C. Ernest
A&E editor for Courier Publications, LLC
(207) 594-4401/4407, ext. 115
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Dagney has been providing Courier coverage of the local arts scene since 1985 and has helmed the multi-paper A&E section since it debuted in 2003. She has been a local performing artist, community and professional, for 30 years and spent a decade writing, producing and announcing on-air for several Midcoast radio stations. When not in the NewsNest, Dagney likes to be in motion.

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