It’s Christmas every July for local movie fans, since that’s when the Maine International Film Festival comes to town — Waterville, to be exact. Movie festivals in Maine keep growing, improving and proliferating, but MIFF is the cinematic gold standard, an annual film feast overflowing with the movies, events and Hollywood luminaries for which Maine movie enthusiasts hunger.
Running from Friday through July 23, this year’s big 20th annual festival will provide more than even the most ravenous film buff could ask for (and certainly more than one brief article could hope to encapsulate). So, I asked MIFF programming director Ken Eisen to guide us through this year’s special guests, best films and those hidden treasures you shouldn’t miss. Thankfully, he agreed.
This year’s Mid-Life Achievement Award is going to MIFF honored guest, actress Lauren Hutton. What about Hutton made her the choice for MIFF’s signature honor?
We always think about who’d be interesting and available. It’s a combination of factors. Lauren’s a bit of an offbeat choice in that she’s at least as well known as a model as an actress, but that makes sense, as her career has always been about being offbeat. So, she was an interesting cultural choice as well as a worthwhile acting choice. She’s worked with directors like Robert Altman (“A Wedding”), Alan Rudolph (“Welcome To L.A.”), Paul Schrader (“American Gigolo”), Karel Reisz (“The Gambler”) and more. She’s got a very unique presence that carries with her in every scene of every movie. (All four of the aforementioned Hutton-starring films will screen during the festival, with Hutton on hand for multiple days during the week.)
Your other big award this year is going to acclaimed cinematographer Roger Deakins.
It’s a new award for us, the Karl Struss Legacy Award for Distinguished Achievement in Cinematography, named for the legendary, Maine-connected cinematographer of silent classic “Sunrise,” which is also screening at this year’s festival. Deakins has been nominated for an Oscar 13 times and never won! As he’s currently working on “Blade Runner 2049,” I have a feeling that isn’t going to last long; you just can’t keep ignoring him, and we really wanted to highlight what is an often overlooked art. (Deakins will be in attendance, too, with MIFF screening his work in films like “No Country for Old Men,” “Prisoners,” “Skyfall” and “The Shawshank Redemption.”)
Looking over this year’s as-ever impressive program, it’s obvious that MIFF’s commitment to showing films on celluloid remains as strong as ever.
We try to do that as often as possible, and, in my opinion, our retrospective and restoration program is the best it’s ever been. We’ve got a 75th anniversary screening of a gorgeous archive print of “Bambi,” which also has a lot of Maine connections most people don’t know about. We’ve invited a lot of past Mid-Life winners to program films for the 20th anniversary, and actor (and 2015 awardee) Michael Murphy is presenting a 35MM print of “Double Indemnity,” which is just one of the greatest films ever made. Plus, besides my wife, Barbara Stanwyck is the best there is. (Laughs.) In addition, we’ve scored a vault archive print of the 1948 Fox film “Deep Waters,” starring Dana Andrews and Jean Peters, which was filmed here in Maine. It was rare for Hollywood to shoot on location, and there’s almost no comparable record of Down East Maine on 35MM.
MIFF’s Maine connections aren’t all about the past. In addition to the annual showcase of Maine-made shorts, your opening night film is the Maine-set indie “The Sounding,” about a seemingly mute woman (played by the film’s writer-director Catherine Eaton), who starts to speak in her own unique language after the grandfather who raised her falls ill. What else can you tell us about it?
Shot on Monhegan, it’s got a great feeling for Maine. It’s clearly shot here, and while it’s not about Maine per se, in certain ways, it is. Catherine Eaton really gets it. It’s a perfect opening film — a really strong film, and Eaton is an amazing force of nature. We just get so much support from the Maine community, and it feels good to be a part of that. The audiences are wonderful; they’re proud of Maine and so supportive of Maine films when we show them.
IF YOU GO:
The 20th annual Maine International Film Festival will take place from Friday through July 23 in Waterville. Individual screenings are $10, but the canny festival goer knows that either the partial pass ($95) or full festival pass ($200) is the way to go. For tickets, directions and to plan your cinematic assault on this year’s fully-packed roster of films, check out miff.org. Seriously, we’ve only scratched the surface here, people.
COMING TO LOCAL SCREENS
Friday-Sunday: “I Am Not Your Negro.” Back for a return engagement at the Portland Museum of Art, this mesmerizing, deeply necessary documentary takes on American racism through the words and life of the late writer and activist James Baldwin.
Tuesday, July 18: “Dave Made A Maze.” This visually striking, whimsical indie fantasy (think Spike Jonze or Michel Gondry) is about a struggling artist who gets trapped inside the unexpectedly massive cardboard maze he’s constructed inside his tiny apartment.