Maine’s a scary place. We just have to own up to that, by this point, it’s at least in part thanks to local filmmaker Allen Baldwin. Along with co-creator Eddy Bolz, Baldwin transformed our state’s cheery motto into something darker and more exciting by inventing Damnationland, Maine’s very own spooky cinema showcase. Now entering its ninth year, Damnationland, which has its 2018 premiere on Friday at the State Theatre, has become a Maine institution, a rite of passage for Maine filmmakers looking to make their mark.
“People look forward to making a Damnationland film as part of their career,” said Baldwin, whose busy Portland-based production company, The Story Board makes commercial videos for clients across the country. “They look at it not as an end, but more as a beginning. They know they can make a short film and know it will be taken seriously and that a thousand people will see it on the big screen.”
Those shorts, as ever, are unified around Damnationland’s theme of what Baldwin has come to call “dark genre” films, an evolution of the Damnationland mission brought about by the wide and disparate visions of filmmakers attracted to the annual showcase’s flickering lights every October. “Over the years, we wanted to make sure they were all weird or dark films, but beyond that, there isn’t a lot of rhyme or reason. I think we’ve become a little bit of a brand, where people know we don’t ask them to make just a horror film any more. Nowadays, we ask people, ‘Would you make us a Damnationland film?’ And they get what that means.”
What that means for moviegoers this year is a typically eclectic and challenging lineup of short films from local filmmakers Shannon Meserve, Samuel James, E.C. Cregg, Mariah Klapatch, Mark Hensley, Fred Greenhalgh and Jeremy Kasten, whose participation marks several Damnationland milestones. Said Baldwin, “This year, we’ve got seven filmmakers, six features and the interstitials between the films, and four of the filmmakers identify as women, making this the first time there are more women than men. That wasn’t necessarily a conscious decision – depending on who said, yes, it could have gone another way – but we’ve always actively sought out female filmmakers.” In addition, Damnationland’s reach has brought in two female directors of photography in this year’s films, while local musician-turned-filmmaker Samuel James is the first black man making a Damnationland movie. As Baldwin puts it, “That’s important, and it’s about time.”
As for the busy Baldwin, when asked about how he’s managed to fit the ever-growing needs of Damnationland’s continued success around the demands of his non-spooky filmmaking career, the Portland professional and father of two admits that his time may be approaching. “There are a couple of young people working on this year’s films – 21, 22 years old – who’ve been aware of Damnationland for half their lives,” Baldwin said. “This year has been about me getting excited about young filmmakers again, and I know Damnatinland has to keep going, even if I eventually wear out. That’s what keeps me interested. There’s always new talent coming up that we want to give a showcase to. Maybe next year – 10 years is a good time to pass the torch.”
That said, Baldwin tells me he and Bolz are currently curating an all-horror (or “dark genre”) film festival called DamnDance, whose second season comes our way Oct. 25-27. (Look for details in a coming column and at facebook.com/damndance207.) “DamnDance is a way for us to ‘festivalize’ Damnationland,” Baldwin said. “Last year went OK, and we’re looking to grow, even if ‘festivalize’ isn’t really a word.”
Fair enough. But starting on Friday and continuing with screenings around the state, Damnationland continues its mission to remind people that Maine is, as the tagline says, “the way life should bleed.”
The ninth annual Damnationland premieres on Friday at 8 p.m. (doors open at 6:45 p.m.) at Portland’s State Theatre. Tickets are $10, $5 for students and can be purchased at statetheatreportland.com.
COMING TO LOCAL SCREENS
Friday-Sunday: “Matangi/Maya/M.I.A.” Excitingly eclectic documentary portrait of the multimedia musical performer M.I.A., whose journey from daughter of Sri Lanka’s Tamil resistance leader to British immigrant to worldwide pop star is traced through 22 years of video footage.
Starts Friday: “Colette.” Keira Knightley stars as Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette, better known as Colette, who rose to the top of the Paris literary world (eventually being nominated for the Nobel Prize for “Gigi”), all while fighting for her own voice.