One of the chief joys of writing this column every week for a year is discovering all the ways in which filmmakers are making themselves heard. Sure, we’re in Maine, not Hollywood, and sure, the local multiplex is, as ever, more likely to feature spandex-clad punch-outs than thoughtful indie films, but that’s always been the way of things.
What’s so endlessly inspiring and refreshing about talking to those people out there pursuing their cinematic visions is how, despite every obstacle in the book (like trying to be a working filmmaker in Maine), there’s always another story, always another filmmaker. Week after week.
In so many ways, 2017 was a truly lousy year. And while the movies are a peerless form of escape, the sheer amount of stuff from which we feel the need to escape can make them seem unequal to the task. Again, however, I’ve taken solace, as a film writer and a film lover, in how moviemakers have risen to meet the challenge, either by responding cinematically to the world around them, or simply by persevering to tell their own stories.
There’s no more potent way for a filmmaker with something to say to say it than a movie. And, as hard as it is for independent-minded filmmakers to make themselves heard above the din of formulaic blockbusters and corporate monopolies, there are ways we film fans can make movies better.
For one, speak with your wallets. As much as major film companies like the prestige and good press of a respected, socially conscious Oscar-winner, they only really respond to cold, hard box office receipts. So convince them. This year saw the first woman-directed major studio superhero film (the Patty Jenkins-helmed “Wonder Woman”) kick down the door to the lucrative boys club, not only out-drawing the likes of Batman and Superman’s most recent outings, but outclassing them critically as well.
On-screen representation matters — not just for filmmakers traditionally shut out of the process, but for audiences of people that process has systematically excluded. A year that saw “Get Out,” writer-director Jordan Peele’s wickedly scary fable of the insidious murderousness of institutionalized racism, become the highest-grossing film from a black director ever and the highest-grossing debut film based on an original screenplay is a good year indeed. Both Jenkins and Peele essentially have carte blanche on their next projects now, a testament to their skills, certainly, but also to audiences’ willingness to support their visions by getting out to the theater.
Second, think — and spend — locally. While supporting a big budget superhero movie or a modestly budgeted studio film are important on the macro level, don’t forget that your movie-going dollar can make even more of an impact here in Maine. Apart from the fact that Maine moviemakers’ budgets take a lot less to recoup, local support makes local filmmakers’ and organizers’ goals feel that much more attainable. So attend local film festivals (the Maine Jewish Film Festival comes up in March), go to screenings at local indie venues like Space Gallery, PMA Films, Railroad Square in Waterville, Frontier in Brunswick or Rockland’s The Strand, and seek out information on screenings of Maine-made shorts, student films and self-financed projects of all kinds. (Hint: This column is a good place to start.) Maine has a thriving film scene, mainly because people make the effort to support it.
Lastly, make your own movies. Maine does have a busy, active and supportive film scene, so take advantage of that. Writing this column for the past seven-plus years has taught me about a lot of things, none more heartening than the truly generous and encouraging spirit of those making movies in Maine. Plus, you have access to a high-definition movie camera in your pocket. Scoff if you want, but Sean Baker (a sure Oscar nominee this year for “The Florida Project”) made 2015’s award-winning indie hit “Tangerine” on his iPhone, for crying out loud. Technology — for filming, editing and distributing your film — is ever more available to nearly everyone. And Maine is a place where filmmakers know that, to succeed, you need help — and to help. If there’s another thing I’ve learned, it’s that the year in movies is infinitely better the more — and more varied — stories people get to tell.
COMING TO LOCAL SCREENS
Thursday, Dec. 28: “Blade of the Immortal.” When the sister of a master swordsman is killed, he sets out on a roaring rampage of revenge, a quest aided by the fact that he’s also unable to die. Reportedly, this is the 100th (!) film by Japanese master cult filmmaker Takashi Miike (“Audition,” “13 Assassins”).
Starts Thursday, Dec. 28: “Jane.” British researcher and conservationist Jane Goodall has been fighting to save the chimpanzee for more than 50 years, and this stunning documentary follows the still-active Goodall’s tireless quest via previously unreleased archival footage.