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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: May 1, 2017

Maine Mayhem puts student films on the big screen

Written by: Dennis Perkins
Scene from "The Mustang, the Hand, and the Big Man," a sci-fi neo-noir Western. Photos courtesy of Southern Maine Community College

Scene from “The Mustang, the Hand, and the Big Man,” a sci-fi neo-noir Western.
Photos courtesy of Southern Maine Community College

May in Maine brings Maine Mayhem. No, that’s not an “everything for a buck” sale at Renys. Or a new all-Maine professional wrestling concern. Or even the mob scene when school lets out for the summer.

Nope, Maine Mayhem, playing on Wednesday at Nickelodeon Cinemas in Portland, is the yearly film festival where senior students of Southern Maine Community College’s Communications and New Media department get to show off their skills to the paying public.

“These projects are the culmination of two semesters’ worth of work,” explains SMCC professor, local filmmaker and Maine Mayhem co-founder Corey Norman. “It’s so much work, it’s shifted the focus of the department. This project is one of two classes students can focus on. For them, it’s a chance to put everything they’ve learned into action.”

This year’s six short films represent an even wider range of styles and topics than ever before. According to Norman, that’s a result of the program’s longevity, and what it’s come to represent to his student filmmakers.

“At this point, they’ve got multiple years to look back on,” said Norman. “The stakes have just been built up so much. They’ve seen earlier incarnations of the program, if you will.”

Where horror films used to dominate Maine Mayhem (Norman himself is a successful director of Maine horrors like “The Hanover House” and the Stephen King adaptation “Suffer the Little Children”), this year, Norman counts off just one true horror film and a sci-fi/horror movie, alongside a documentary, a religious comedy, a fantasy film and what he terms “a sci-fi neo-noir Western. ”

Scene from "The Windigo" about a Native American legend that comes to life.

Scene from “The Windigo” about a Native American legend that comes to life.

Norman ran down this year’s Maine Mayhem films for us:

– ” ‘AIDA’ is by Amber White, and it’s about a young woman who’s kept in a state of medical paralysis by her parents for their own selfish needs.”

– ” ‘It’s a Match’ is the documentary, by director Sarah Ford, about online dating in Portland.” Adds Norman, “This is just the second documentary we’ve had in our history. They’re always fair game, but a lot of people stay away. In a way, it’s a more intensive form, with so many variables.”

– ” ‘Wizard Wars’ by Nicholas Cavanaugh is about a wizard who must stop his friends from turning to the dark side. It’s probably the most special effects-heavy of the bunch.”

– ” ‘Leap of Faith’ from Chris Motley is the religious comedy, about a young man and an alcoholic priest who both feel that they’re cursed by God.”

– ” ‘The Windigo’ by Ness Hutchins is about a Native American legend that comes to life.”

– “And ‘The Mustang, the Hand, and the Big Man’ is that sci-fi neo-noir Western I was talking about, a revenge film about Mustang, who seeks revenge for her killed compadres and to get back her memories from the Big Man.” (Norman’s deliberately vague on the details of this one.)

This year’s Maine Mayhem program will run about two hours and 15 minutes, which includes a Q&A with the filmmakers, who will all be in attendance at both the 7 and 9:30 p.m. screenings. And, for parents, Norman speculates that this year’s festival would probably come in at a PG-13 rating.

“We keep the criteria pretty wide open. Sure, being associated with the school, we don’t want them to go too far,” Norman said, laughing. “We tell them to keep it school-safe. But we don’t want to stifle their creativity with too many restrictions.”

As for the Maine Mayhem experience itself, Norman said seeing their work on the big screen, in front of a real audience, is a big deal for his students, most of whom are leaving SMCC to enter the professional filmmaking industry.

Scene from "Leap of Faith," a religious comedy.

Scene from “Leap of Faith,” a religious comedy.

“Looking over our past alums recently, I see former students working on TV shows, like ‘Survivor,’ or working at the Huffington Post — one former Maine Mayhem alum has worked on films like ‘Ghostbusters,’ ‘The Finest Hours’ and ‘Patriots Day.’ For all these students, film is what they want to do.”

Over the years, Maine Mayhem has grown, not only as an inspiration for aspiring SMCC filmmakers but also as a vital part of the annual Maine Film landscape. Having expanded to two (usually sold-out) screenings at the Nickelodeon, this year’s festival is also playing on May 12 at the Central Gallery in Bangor, and, for the first time, the films will be shown as part of October’s Sanford International Film Festival, a new opportunity for the filmmakers, as each will be entered into the running for SIFF’s best student film award.

“For students, Maine Mayhem is seen as a stepping stone, where they can show off the craft they’ve learned going forward,” Norman said.

The seventh annual Maine Mayhem Film Festival screens at Nickelodeon Cinemas on Wednesday, May 10 at 7 and 9:30 p.m. For tickets and more information, check out the Maine Mayhem Facebook page or the Nickelodeon’s website,


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