I’ll admit that sometimes it’s hard to feel thankful. As someone who holds certain things (civil rights for all, free speech, the free press, the American system of checks and balances, truth, justice, human dignity and reason) sacred, this past year has been something of a bare patch, giving-thanks-wise.
Thankfully, though, we’ve always got the movies.
And, sure, there are always some big, honking stinkers gobbling up all the screen space and ticket dollars out there. But this was a fine year for indie films that defied pretty much every convention they could find and still managed to garner enough critical and financial success to ensure their directors get to keep making it weird. Boots Reilly’s “Sorry to Bother You” was a lunatic, sledgehammer satire of racism and consumerism (among about a dozen other things) that found an enthusiastic audience of people who like their genre-destroying dark comedy with a generous side-helping of things I wouldn’t dare spoil. And, to pick just one more 2018 movie that put the “indie” in “what indie hell did I just watch?,” director Panos Cosmatos channeled everything from ’80s horror flicks, to hallucinatory ’70s grindhouse films, to, well, ’70s horror flicks to bring us “Mandy,” the most slyly over-the-top exploitation art film in years. Both films play like offerings from the movie sleaze-merchants at Troma or Full Moon, except made by people who actually have talent.
But there’s a special sort of thanks reserved for the Maine filmmakers and organizers working all around us. In defiance of low budgets, industry indifference, shrinking numbers of screening venues, and the fact that Maine is not New York or California, the men and women of the Maine film community are out there every day, pursuing cinematic dreams. Sometimes people ask if it’s hard to find a Maine-related movie story every week for this column after some eight years. But the truth is, Maine is brimming with filmmaking talent, and I’ve never been caught short without a new Maine-produced film, film festival, screening, library film series, public event or any other local movie news to cover. So thanks.
Looking back at my first-ever Indie Film column (from 2010, I was shocked to discover), I was reminded that I spoke to Portland’s Eddy Bolz, one of the founders of the then-new (as in he couldn’t talk about it) Maine-made horror anthology film series Damnationland. Well it’s 2018, and Damnationland just screened its ninth annual outing of all-Maine, all-weird and wonderful short films, and Bolz and Damnationland co-founder Allen Baldwin have recently branched out with their second season of DamnDance, a horror film festival that’s bringing features to Maine from all over the world. So thanks to dogged, determined people like Eddy and Allen for carrying the flame.
Over just this past year, I’ve been thankful to meet other fascinating Mainers making movies. Like high-schoolers Daniel Kayamba, Claude Kirongozi and Henry Spritz, who, seeing a need for a festival designed to highlight the work of young filmmakers like themselves, made one this August, called the Rolling Tapes Short Film and Art Festival. I’m always thankful to talk to USM professor and filmmaker Kate Kaminski, who, not satisfied merely running Maine’s own feminist Bluestocking Film Series, also organized the woman-directed viewing party Femme.Cine.Anarchy in September. I got to talk to the Bangor-based gorehounds of Cemetery Theater, keeping Maine’s horror rep flowing up north, and new Portlander Damian Maffei, who brought some downhome terror to the nation’s screens as the new big bad in the horror hit “The Strangers: Prey At Night.”
I talked to Bowdoin College grad Hari Kondabolu about his thought-provoking documentary about “The Simpsons'” most problematic racial stereotype, “The Problem With Apu,” and got the inside skinny on Maine film festivals like The Camden International Film Festival, Emerge, The Maine International Film Festival, The Maine Deaf Film Festival and more. So thanks to them for giving a film fanatic (and, sure, the Maine viewing public) an unending supply of fantastic films to watch, and write about.
And then there are the movies themselves, whether homemade or brought in from the big, bad “away.” No film fan worth his popcorn salt can let a Thanksgiving go by without thanking local Portland venues like Space Gallery, PMA Films and the sneakily subversive little chain theater that could, The Nickelodeon, as well as further-afield indie film stalwarts like Waterville’s Railroad Square, The Strand in Rockland, Brunswick’s Eveningstar and Frontier, and Bridgton’s Magic Lantern, all of which provide flickering oases for movie lovers all over the state. And I can’t forget to thank unconventional movie enclaves like Portland’s The Apohadion Theater, Bayside Bowl, Congress Square Park (of the summer-long free outdoor screenings) and good old Portland Public Library, which is the secret movie heaven for film fans in the know.
Basically, I’m thankful for movies, and for the people who make them, and who make sure I and all of you can see them. The world is a mess, for sure, but it’s also a whole lot more fulfilling and fun with movies in it. Here’s to the next 52 weeks at the movies.
COMING TO LOCAL SCREENS
Friday-Sunday: “The 20th Annual Animation Show of Shows.” The museum once more brings in this traveling festival of eclectic, surprising, generally delightful animated shorts from around the world.
Tuesday, Nov. 27: “Crime + Punishment.” The issue of community policing and race gets a unique and thorough look in this documentary about a group of young black and Latino officers in the NYPD who rebel against policies involving illegal racial arrest quotas. With a video chat with NYPD Officer Ritchie Baez.