It’s Oscar time! No, not that bloated, perpetually disappointing Hollywood extravaganza. We’re here to celebrate the best and brightest of those intrepid, scrappy, downright stubborn filmmakers who’ve decided to stick it out right here in Maine. I’ll be your host (as I have not, as of press time, been fired for saying ignorantly homophobic things on Twitter), and, to the inevitable question “Who are you wearing?” the answer is, of course, a 2004-vintage David Ortiz game jersey. So scrape the ice off the limos, have the coffee brandy chilling backstage – it’s the Maine Oscars!
When New York-based actor Maffei moved to Maine with his family, he imagined a nice, quiet retirement from the casting call rat race before a timely phone call got him back into the game – and a burlap sack on his head. Playing the silent lead psycho in this better-then-it-had-a-right-to-be horror sequel gave the Portland resident a chance to show just how terrifying silence can be.
Operating right in Maine horror icon Stephen King’s backyard of Bangor, filmmakers Shane Grant, George Quinn and Jason Tripp keep pooling meager resources and boundless, fiendish imagination to add to the area’s spooky legacy with no-budget horror films like the 2018 DVD release “Sleep Eaters.”
Now nine years deep, this all-Maine, all-weird dark thriller anthology showcase has been inspiring Maine moviemakers to trot out their most unsettling and imaginative nightmares each Halloween. Showing no signs of slowing, this year’s six-film roster saw the Portland institution striking out in new directions, and bringing in new and diverse talents, all filming Maine’s macabre underside through their uniquely disquieting lenses.
For Maine native Marcus Thorne Bagala of Charging Moose Media (thehuntedencore.com), the vampire apocalypse is where you’ve always got a song in your heart. Songs like “It Only Takes One Bite,” anyway, as the slayers and slayed in this web series from Bagala and fellow Maine minion Ned Donovan croon undeniably hook-filled rock anthems while fighting to the death. Or un-death. It’s catchy either way.
Maine’s shameful history of separating Native American families is the subject of Adam Mazo and Ben Pender-Cudlip’s feature documentary. Examining the work of the Maine Wabanaki-State Child Welfare Truth and Reconciliation Commission to both reform the state’s child welfare system and give voice to those who have been affected by the state’s biased and destructive approach to its native communities, “Dawnland,” aired in 2018 as part of PBS’ Independent Lens series, does what all the best documentaries do – sift through the past to find a better way to the future.
Completed in 2018 and airing this year on NBCSN, this documentary series about the return of the Maine Mariners hockey team in Portland is from filmmaker Devon Platte. The series, about aspiring hockey players trying to make it to the NHL via Portland-based, on-ice heroics, promises to put Maine back on the map, as far as inspirational minor league hockey storytelling goes.
Named for the married duo who kept Portland’s late, deeply lamented Movies On Exchange Street running until 2009, this first lifetime achievement award goes to Courtney, who, in addition to turning Space Gallery into one of Maine’s premiere screening locations for independent films (until his departure in 2018), has carried on the Movies On Exchange spirit in the hallowed halls of the Portland Museum of Art. Portland still doesn’t have its own art theater – which remains infuriating and insane – but Courtney has made the PMA the rightful heir to the Movies’ legacy of cinematic adventurousness. Oh, and Courtney’s not retiring or anything – let’s steal Maine International Film Festival’s bit and call this a “mid-life achievement award.”
No Oscars is complete without a sad goodbye to someone we’ve lost, so – cue the violins. After eight years of spearheading Maine’s first Bechdel Test-approved, woman-centric film festival, Maine filmmaker and all-around amazing “self-described cineanarchist” Kate Kaminski announced back in December that last year’s Bluestocking was its last. But it’s not all tears, as Bluestocking’s efforts to promote the still-difficult-for-Hollywood concept of “complex female protagonists” lives on in the films and filmmakers it attracted and inspired. Plus, Kaminski’s not going anywhere, still fighting the good fight through her Femme.Cine.Anarchy pop-up events around Portland and her company, Gitgo Productions.
And, now, like the actual Oscars, we’re running interminably long, so here’s to say that Maine’s remains a vital, exciting and growing film community, with too many stellar women and men and films to give them all a most-deserved award here. There are no also-rans in this race, so all I can say is watch this column each week and see tomorrow’s Oscar winners (either Maine Oscars or those other ones) profiled as they work right in your neighborhood.
COMING TO LOCAL SCREENS
Starting Friday: “The Image Book.” Legendary, ever-incendiary French filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard’s latest film is an impressionistic collage of classic film images, existential musings, and Godard’s signature prickly genius.
Sunday: “The Foreigner’s Home.” Taking off from her 2006 exhibition of the same name, this documentary follows novelist Toni Morrison as she consults with other artists of all stripes to examine the intersections of art, race and the American experience.