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Dennis Perkins

Dennis Perkins is a freelance writer who lives in Auburn with his lovely wife, the writer Emily L. Stephens, and their cat, Cooper. When not watching all the movies ever made or digging up stories about the Maine film scene, he can be found writing for the AV Club and elsewhere. The rest of the time, he's worrying about the Red Sox.

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Posted: March 21, 2016

Four Minute Film Festival at Portland’s Nickelodeon Cinema

Written by: Dennis Perkins

“Joyful Day Behold” Courtesy photo

Filmmakers in Maine talk about the supportive nature of the Maine film community, and they’re right. But it’s something like the Four Minute Film Festival — which has its third outing on Thursday at the Nickelodeon Cinema in Portland — that truly brings that idea home.

Organized by local movie people Anna Gravél and David Surkin, the idea is about as selfless as it gets. A lot of people in the Maine film scene work for free on things they believe in, but the 4MFF founders do so in service of their fellow filmmakers’ dreams of someday perhaps not having to do so.

“I’ve been part of the local filmmaking community for four years,” explains Gravél, “and for so many talented people, exposure is the hardest thing to come by. They make something great and don’t know what to do with it. Our goal is to provide filmmakers with the opportunity to have their work seen—not just to have their friends come to a screening, or people from the film community, but expanding their reach and getting their work to the greater public.”

As to how the Four Minute Film Festival does that, Gravél credits the Nickelodeon, which continues to offer that coveted exposure, not only in the form of a showing of the festival on one of their screens, but in something much more valuable. The winning film (chosen by a panel of judges, one of which is the author of this article) will be shown as part of the previews before each movie shown at the Nick for a month.

“Dave saw a similar prize offered at a New York film festival, and we approached the Nickelodeon, who came through for us,” explains Gravél, gratefully. “The biggest draw for local filmmakers is this amazing prize—we’re so lucky the Nick is a more local, indie-friendly venue and they keep allowing us to come back.”

As for the festival itself, inclusiveness is the name of the game there, too, with no entry fee for filmmakers, and truly wide-open criteria for content. “The only rule is the film has to be four minutes or less,” explains Gravél, who adds that the lure of the grand prize has seen a steady increase in applicants since the festival started in 2014. “It’s totally possible to tell a complete story in that amount of time—it’s a real exercise in creativity.”

Snapshot of a Dancer

‘Snapshot of a Dancer’ Courtesy photo

As someone who’s seen this year’s films, I can only agree, as they run the gamut from travelogue to documentary, to experimental, to thriller, to comedy, even to a trailer for a proposed work to come. As Gravél explains, “It’s a great mix at this stage, and I only hope that, as the word gets out more, even more variety starts to creep in.”

The Thursday screening starts at 7 p.m. (doors open at 6:30), with the $10 ticket price mostly going to reimburse the Nick for the theater space. The nine films in competition are joined by a pair of out-of-competition shorts (one from students at Wayneflete School, and one a music video from Gravél and local artist Ty Gowen) and will run approximately 90 minutes in total. While unrated, there’s some profanity, which would probably land the screening a PG-13. (There will also be an afterparty with the awards ceremony, location still to be determined at press time.)

As for the future, Gravél only hopes that her fledgling festival will continue to grow, and provide yet another outlet for Maine’s best to show their work. “We hope this is the first step in creating something bigger. Some people have made four-minute films and that’s spurred a larger idea for them.” Here’s hoping the same holds true for the Four Minute Film Festival itself.


WHEN: 7 p.m. Thursday
WHERE: Nickelodeon Cinema, Portland
MORE: For details, check out the festival website:


SPACE Gallery(Portland)
Thursday: “A Space Program.” In this fascinating, multimedia film event, artist Tom Sachs constructs his vision of what a manned space mission to Mars would look like, using the guiding philosophy of bricolage: “creating and constructing from available yet limited resources.” The film is followed by a video chat with Sachs himself.

PMA Films (Portland Museum of Art)
Starting Friday: “Very Semi-Serious.” Documentary chronicles the decades of New Yorker cartoons and artists that have produced the magazine’s signature dry, sometimes obscure wit.

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