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Mary Ruoff

Freelance writer Mary Ruoff of Belfast wrote the "Way Down East" chapter of Fodor's "Maine Coast" travel guide and has contributed Maine content to other Fodor's guides.

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Posted: June 23, 2016

Roadtrip and a movie: These Maine theaters are worth the drive

Written by: Mary Ruoff

A Maine movie road trip that ventures to unique and historic venues may seem best left for a colder season. Not so. The peak of summer is the perfect time to hit the route we’ve plotted.

The journey starts inland at an acclaimed Waterville film festival, then heads Down East, where the nonprofits that operate downtown theaters hold special events come summer. The trip concludes in Bar Harbor, a summer destination that’s home to two distinctive theaters.


Waterville Opera House's lobby on opening night 2015 of the Maine International Film Festival. The festival runs July 8–17 this year. Photo courtesy of Maine International Film Festival

Waterville Opera House’s lobby on opening night 2015 of the Maine International Film Festival. The festival runs July 8–17 this year. Photo courtesy of Maine International Film Festival

WATERVILLE: 19TH ANNUAL MAINE INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL

A few years back, the Boston Globe called the Maine International Film Festival “pound for pound, the best-curated film event in New England.” It’s still true.

About 100 films – features, documentaries, shorts – from around the world will be shown at the 10-day festival, July 8-17. There are two film venues: the 810-seat Waterville Opera House and the three-screen Railroad Square Cinema.

Not by accident, a number of Maine films made the cut. All will have their home-state premiere at MIFF. Among the more high-profile is “5 Nights in Maine,” directed by Maris Curran and starring David Oyelowo, Dianne Wiest and Rosie Perez. Set in rural Maine, it explores race and grief.

One of several Maine documentaries, “An American, Portrait of Raymond Luc Levasseur,” tells the story of a radical Mainer of French Canadian descent who spent time in prison for politically motivated crimes.

For the first time, the festival will have two programs of Maine short films.

MIFF’s “Re-Discovery” films – restorations and new prints of older films – include the classic “Peyton Place” (1957), shot largely in Camden but also in Belfast, Rockland and Thomaston; the 1943 version of “Heaven Can Wait”; and the Coen brothers’ “Blood Simple” (1984).

Upwards of 50 filmmakers are expected to attend the festival, and writers, directors or actors are often on hand to take questions. The World Filmmakers’ Forum will bring filmmakers from Uruguay, Brazil, Mexico and South Africa to Waterville to show and talk about their works.

Writer and director Robert Benson, 83, a three-time Oscar winner, will be honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award. A Midlife Achievement Award will go to actor Gabriel Byrne.

Showings are $10; special events cost more. A 10-punch partial pass is $95; a full festival pass, good for all showings and events, costs $200 (full festival pass holders can reserve tickets for specific showings). Online ticket sales are limited to half of a showing’s seats to assure room for pass holders and for people buying tickets at the door. Showings don’t typically sell out, and most films have two.

MORE INFO: miff.org, 861-8138


A 40-foot mural about movie theater architecture in Northern New England lines one wall of Northeast Historic Film's Alamo Theatre in Bucksport. Photo by Mary Ruoff

A 40-foot mural about movie theater architecture in Northern New England lines one wall of Northeast Historic Film’s Alamo Theatre in Bucksport. Photo by Mary Ruoff

BUCKSPORT: NORTHEAST HISTORIC FILM AND ALAMO THEATRE

Operating the Alamo Theatre in downtown Bucksport is one of several ways this nonprofit funds its novel mission: preserving and sharing film and video records of Northern New England, from home movies to old TV ads to footage from a Maine summer camp. Since recently going digital, the Alamo has done brisk business showing new releases Friday through Sunday, and occasionally other movies. “Archival moments” – bits of footage from Northeast Historic Film’s collection – run before films.

To celebrate the building’s 100th birthday, iconic movies from successive decades are shown at 6 p.m. on the third Sunday of the month through November (Alfred Hitchcock double feature, July 17; “The Sound of Music,” Aug. 21; and “Young Frankenstein,” Sept. 18.) The group’s annual film symposium is July 21-23. It teams with Wooden Boat Publications in Brooklin to host the first annual International Maritime Film Festival Sept. 30-Oct. 2. Lectures and other special events are held throughout the year at the Alamo.

Northeast Historic Film bought and restored the dilapidated brick building in the 1990s, decades after the original Alamo closed and the structure was put to other uses. The theater and lobby (check out the display on home moviemaking) are now sleek and modern. The group’s offices are upstairs. This summer the nonprofit hopes to start offering regular tours. You can check out footage from the archives and browse periodicals at the free, by-appointment Study Center. A gleaming three-story addition has temperature-controlled vaults for the organization’s collection and customers’ film and videotape.

MORE INFO: oldfilm.org, 469-0924


Photo by Nick Navarre courtesy of The Grand Ellsworth's downtown theater, The Grand, is a Main Street landmark.

Photo by Nick Navarre courtesy of The Grand
Ellsworth’s downtown theater, The Grand, is a Main Street landmark.

ELLSWORTH: THE GRAND

Run by a nonprofit, The Grand plans to purchase digital projection equipment in 2017 so it can offer new releases. For now, the historic Main Street theater, which also hosts live performances and other events, only runs movies regularly on Tuesday and Wednesday nights. Many of the CineGrand offerings are fairly new award-winning movies, plus some foreign and art house films. “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” and a few other popular flicks from recent decades are on summer’s film lineup. A Summer French Film Series runs July 22–24 and Aug. 12–14. The Grand’s marquee, with its stair-stepped maroon and black tower, is an Art Deco masterpiece and local landmark. Prepacked local ice cream is sold at the concession stand.

MORE INFO: grandonline.org, 667-9500


Photo by George Soules courtesy of Criterion Theatre Bar Harbor's recently restored Criterion Theatre looks much as it did when it opened in 1932.

Photo by George Soules courtesy of Criterion Theatre
Bar Harbor’s recently restored Criterion Theatre looks much as it did when it opened in 1932.

BAR HARBOR:

CRITERION THEATRE

This elegant shell-shaped theater on a downtown side street is back in action and looking good. In 2014, the Bar Harbor Jazz Festival received a $2 million gift to purchase and refurbish the Criterion. Digital projection equipment was purchased, mold removed, and seats restuffed and reupholstered in deep purple fabric. The 764-seat theater was never in disrepair, so much of the original interior is intact. There’s balcony seating, and the ceiling has Art Deco stencils and an eye-catching light fixture.

First-run flicks are shown year-round, and nightly June to September, unless live performances or special events are scheduled.

Popular movies from the not-too-distant past will play here July 17-21: “E.T.,” “Monty Python,” “Back to the Future” and “Jaws.” The concession pops Maine-grown corn and sells paninis and wraps, beer and wine, and of course candy – Maine-made Needhams as well as the movie regulars.

MORE INFO: criteriontheatre.org, 288-0829


REEL PIZZA CINERAMA

Also in downtown Bar Harbor, Reel Pizza Cinerama serves up excellent pizza and Maine-brewed beer to enjoy during the show. Don’t worry: There are built-in counters at seat height for your food and drink.

MORE INFO: reelpizza.net, 288-3811


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