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Dennis Perkins

Dennis Perkins is a freelance writer who lives on the West End with his lovely wife Emily, where they watch all the movies ever made. When not 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: August 14, 2017

Inspired by a song and the circus, a Maine musician makes a movie

Written by: Dennis Perkins
A farmer by trade, Scott Anton is also renowned for his work with collodion photographs, an antiquated early photographic process popular at the time of the film's traveling carnival. Photo by Jenny Lou Drew

A farmer by trade, Scott Anton is also renowned for his work with collodion photographs, an antiquated early photographic process popular at the time of the film’s traveling carnival.
Photo by Jenny Lou Drew

A summer movie night in Maine can mean a lot of different things. Saturday’s premiere screening event “A Collodion Dream” is both in itself a different thing and made up of many different, equally intriguing things.

Starting at 6 p.m. at country store/event and concert venue Sheepscot General in Whitefield, the multimedia evening is centered around the short film “A Collodion Dream,” directed by Maine musician and first-time filmmaker Jenny Lou Drew. (The film functions as something of an extended music video for Drew’s song “For What It’s Worth.”)

Pia Louise Capaldi plays one of the many human attractions at the film's carnival.

Pia Louise Capaldi plays one of the many human attractions at the film’s carnival.

The film, taking the form of a portrait of a 1930s traveling carnival, was a collaborative project in the most rewarding ways, according to Drew — even if the journey from idea to the screen was much more involved than she expected.

“When I started at university, it was for film, but that was a long time ago,” laughed Drew. “I’m a professional musician now, and do a bit of assemblage art as well, but for every song, I always have a vision for a music video.”

The lyrics of “For What It’s Worth” have a “life is a circus” metaphor, which sent Drew’s imagination back in time and eventually out into the local filmmaking and art worlds, as well as the increasingly popular crowd-funding site Kickstarter.

Rocky Skelton makes for the perfect circus strongman in "A Collodion Dream." Photo by Dylan Verner

Rocky Skelton makes for the perfect circus strongman in “A Collodion Dream.” Photo by Dylan Verner

“As the idea developed, I figured on a budget of $2,500 for the Kickstarter,” Drew said about her campaign, started back in 2015. “We ended up bringing in exactly $3,257, from 48 backers, some from around the world. It helped that we were a featured project on the site and got some local press. Kickstarter is oversaturated with projects, but people responded to ours as a really interesting and fun art thing.”

Money and inspiration are great, but Drew needed to populate her Depression-era carnival fantasy. So, like with her fundraising, she used the internet to reach out, and there, too, she was overwhelmed by the positive reaction from people in all facets of the Maine arts community.

Watch the trailer:

“I envisioned this as a sort of collaborative arts project, bringing together local artists from all over — rural, from Portland, everywhere,” she said. “So, I reached out online to people whose work I knew and was a fan of, but didn’t know personally. Honestly, I figured they’d think I was absolutely crazy and never hear back. But the exact opposite happened.”

Central to the project (and the film’s title) was photographer Scott Anton. A farmer by trade, Anton is also renowned for his work with collodion photographs, an antiquated early photographic process popular at the time of the film’s traveling carnival. “It’s a wet style, where photos are made on sheets of glass,” Drew explained about the era-specific photography style, which features heavily in the film.

To populate “A Collodion Dream’s” exotic world, Drew gathered eager participants from different walks of the artistic life. Every old-time carnival needs a strongman, and vintage strongman buff Rocky Skelton filled the role perfectly.

“Rocky’s all appropriately large and tatted up,” Drew said. He also sports the requisite handlebar mustache, which helped, although the normally clean-shaven Anton committed to his role by growing out a beard — for a long time. “He shaved it off right after,” the appreciative Drew said, laughing.

In addition, the film carnival’s human attractions include Maine artists, dancers and models from all over. Multi-talented and unique participants included Pia Louise Capaldi, Dylan Verner, Tessa Kingsley, Marita Castro Kennedy, Elaina Carrell, Amanda Clark, Scott Morgan, and Staci Rizner.

“As we worked together, the film started to create itself with all these creative artists involved,” Drew said. “This wasn’t something we went into with a definite end goal. In the end, it wasn’t a music video, wasn’t a film; “A Collodion Dream” was a very changeable thing and ultimately a very cool experience.”

You can experience “A Collodion Dream” on Saturday, in an event that’s like an extension of the eclectic film itself. In addition to a screening of the short film (on Sheepscot General’s signature hay wagon stage, no less), Drew and her cast and crew will be in attendance, providing an evening’s entertainment, the likes of which even a carnival would be hard-pressed to match. There’ll be a musical performance by Drew herself. Scott Anton will offer demonstrations of his collodion photography. There’ll be belly dancing, art exhibits, beer on tap and more, all for just $10 in advance/$12 at the door. (Tickets are available at brownpapertickets.com/event/3046239.)

And while Whitefield might be “in the middle of nowhere,” said a chuckling Drew, it’s only about an hour from Portland. “It’s a cool little spot,” she said about the store, “sort of a secret spot, although it’s becoming less secret. Plus, it’s 15 minutes from where we shot.”

As for what comes next, working musician Drew said that “A Collodion Dream” has fully reignited her dormant filmmaking passion. “I’m definitely with film now,” she said. “We’ve accrued some equipment and have another project in mind where we’ve built a music computer into a vintage suitcase — with drum machine, lights, everything. I learned so much in the process of making this little film. It’s exciting to step out of your roles and into a different one.”

“A Collodion Dream” and its accompanying multimedia evening of entertainment will take place on Saturday starting at 6 p.m. at Whitefield’s Sheepscot General. For directions and details, check out Jenny Lou Drew’s website, jennyloudrewandthedamagedone.com.


COMING TO LOCAL SCREENS

Congress Square Park
Friday: “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.” Director Ang Lee took the rudiments of the martial arts film and made one of the most epic, sweeping, entertaining films ever. He made art. Stars Chow Yun Fat and Michelle Yeoh are simply spellbinding, as is the stellar fight choreography. The free outdoor screening starts at dusk.

Portland Public Library
Wednesday, Aug. 23: “Sacred Cod: The Fight for a New England Tradition.” New England fishermen have long relied on the lowly cod for their livelihoods. But overfishing and other factors have made this staple fish scarce enough to threaten an entire industry. This documentary, followed by a discussion with local experts, is part of the library’s Sustainability Series and is free to the public.

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