The Emerge Film Festival has come into its own. Rushing in to fill the gap in the Maine film scene left by the abrupt 2014 dissolution of the Lewiston-Auburn Film Festival, Emerge has, well, emerged as an equally popular and potent draw for filmmakers and film fans alike.
With the festival’s fourth season running from Thursday to Saturday in the L/A Film Festival’s old stomping grounds, I spoke to Emerge President Ramsey Tripp about how the festival has evolved, what attendees can expect this year and which films he’s most excited for people to see.
Of the 50-plus films in this year’s festival, there’s a focus on short films. Was that intentional or a product of what submissions you received?
It was just a natural thing based on submissions. We received a lot more short films this year, so we focused on that. It wasn’t a conscious decision, but we decided we didn’t want to not show films we thought were really awesome. So, in addition to most of the shorts showing at their regular screenings, we looked at how best to showcase them. Thursday, there’s typically an opening reception party and then one feature. But we had so many great shorts, we created the Self-Guided Shorts Tour.
It’s always fascinating to me how Maine film festivals are so adaptable, and the Self-Guided Shorts Tour idea is something I haven’t seen before.
Basically, the idea came up thanks to the number of shorts and the fact that Rinck Advertising (one of Emerge’s sponsors) just moved into this awesome new space that they made available to us. It’s a setup with four different rooms where 26 of this year’s shorts will be playing on a loop through the evening. So you can mill around, talk, grab a drink, then go into one of the screening venues and watch. It allows people to have open interaction and then move at their leisure into the closed-off screening rooms.
Going into your fourth season, has the mission of Emerge changed at all?
It’s very much the same as far as bringing in great independent films, in providing an opportunity to see films people otherwise wouldn’t be able to see. And we’re still very committed to the educational aspect — we’ve always allowed any students to come to Emerge for free. On a creative level, we’re just continuing to innovate and collaborate as partnerships and opportunities arise. Partially because we’re in Maine and we’re small, we have to partner with people to get things done and put together the ambitious program we want. This year, we’re partnering with L/A Arts, which has been wonderful. But even if we had tons of money, people would still be at the heart of what we do. That’s one reason why we still have open submissions for films. There’s always talk about having a narrower focus, but we consciously wanted to remain an open festival, to allow things to come in. We love to work with emerging filmmakers and to urge them to be involved.
What are some of the films you’re most excited for people to see at this year’s festival?
This year, we’ve seen films come in from even more unusual places, with first-time entries from places like Japan, Cameroon and Ethiopia. I’d really recommend checking out a film from Ireland, “Property of the State.” It’s a powerful feature, a little bit different for the Friday Night Screening – usually those are more uplifting – but this drama, based on a true story from the 1990s, has a dark side to it. But it’s a really well-made, powerful story about a brother and sister and how the sister deals with the fact that the brother she loves has done something horrible. We’re really excited to have it. The producers and director were looking at film festivals and were very particular but liked what they saw in Emerge. Kit Ryan, the director, is flying in from Ireland to be at a Q&A.
I’m excited for “Johnny Physical Lives,” a 20-minute, creatively done documentary about this guy, Johnny Physical, who was a young musician and up-and-coming artist who ended up getting cancer. The filmmaker (Joshua Neuman, brother of the film’s subject) didn’t have a lot of footage to work with, so he used stills and animation, which you’d think would be disconcerting, but they just work to help tell the story.
And, for kids programming, “Detect Earth: When Life Gets Stinky” is a very cute Maine-made film by director Robert Little from Auburn. He used his pets (a ferret, a Great Dane) as the actors and fashioned a mystery around them. It’s a great local film for families to check out.
The fourth annual Emerge Film Festival runs from Thursday to Saturday at various venues in the Lewiston-Auburn area. For tickets, show times and locations, check out the Emerge website (emergefilmfestival.org) or call Lewiston’s Gendron Franco Center at (207) 689-2000. As ever, there’s a lot of value packed into Emerge’s very reasonable festival passes, and high school and college students with ID are welcome at Emerge free of charge.
COMING TO LOCAL SCREENS
Friday-Sunday: “A Quiet Passion.” Cynthia Nixon is getting all manner of Oscar buzz for her portrayal of poet Emily Dickinson in this biopic from director Terence Davies (“House of Mirth,” “The Deep Blue Sea”). Co-presented by PMA Films and the Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance.
Wednesday, May 3: “Peace, Love & Zoo.” Featured in MaineToday and showing at Emerge, this is a return engagement of this colorful documentary about eccentric Portland artist Zoo Cain.