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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: September 16, 2014

Camden International Film Festival is increasingly renowned – and not just for screening compelling documentaries

Written by: Dennis Perkins

In its 10-year history, the Camden International Film Festival has grown to become one of the top documentary film festivals in the world. (It was called “one of the top dozen documentary film festivals” on IndieWire. See, I’m not just making stuff up here.)

Running for four days beginning Sept. 25, this year’s festival features its signature roster of documentaries (some 80 in all) alongside the festival’s unique programs to develop new films and explore the documentary form, making it the invaluable autumn destination for film fans (and filmmakers) from Maine and around the world.

I spoke with CIFF founder/executive director Ben Fowlie and managing director Caroline von Kuhn about how CIFF has grown over a decade.

Looking back, is the 2014 CIFF what you would have imagined back in 2005?

Ben Fowlie: We’ve always stuck to the ethos of letting the festival take shape in the way we hoped it would. It’s come to fruition on its own in a lot of ways, with the programs developing over time. There were seed programs that are now massive arms within the festival. Our Points North Forum (where aspiring documentarians screen their works-in-progress to a panel of industry professionals) is now in its sixth year. We’ve grown in reputation in the U.S. and have engaged the entire indie film community in the area – it’s a testament to letting the festival grow.

Caroline von Kuhn: It’s only my second year, so I can still say things without sounding egotistical. (Laughs.) The beauty of this festival is that it’s the programming that’s led the growth. Our biggest responsibility is to keep the intimacy of the festival.

Looking at this year’s film schedule, almost every film is being represented by the director and/or subjects. How has CIFF consistently attracted filmmakers to Maine and what’s the festival’s relationship to the Camden community?

Caroline: We’re lucky Camden is our home – it’s a worldly, sophisticated audience, and the filmmakers are very open to interacting with them. (CIFF) is where you can see a director having coffee in town the next morning and continue the conversation started at the Q&A the previous night. For visiting filmmakers, Camden’s the first time they can really sit down and retreat from the grind – it’s like an oasis, and very easy to get immersed in the community.

Ben: The size of the festival was always based on the amount of filmmakers and industry we can accommodate – of course we want as many as we can get, but the interaction between the filmmakers and the community determines that. Film festivals are the best when you can discuss the art as art. (At CIFF) people can engage on what the documentary form is now – where it’s been and where it’s going. Camden is a less frantic environment, with more time to connect and communicate.

CIFF continues to grow (this year introducing a partnership with the Al Jazeera network to foster the growth of short documentaries). What’s next?

Ben: Most people still call this the golden age of documentaries. What’s different is the audience’s appetite for this work has grown, has changed. Documentarians can make work on a much smaller budget – can tell truthful stories and explore. As a format in general, the boundaries are limitless.

Caroline: Distributors are crediting the general audience, having faith in the kind of material they can handle. And filmmakers are really playing with the form – they know an audience will have the patience to enter the slice of life that they’re presenting. It’s serving to push documentaries to the mainstream, where they’re entitled to be.

CHECK OUT the complete schedule at

Read more:
6 films to see at this year’s Camden International Film Festival, Sept. 25-28


HANNAFORD HALL, USM, Portland | See for details
Monday: “Private Violence.” The ever-present epidemic of domestic violence is the subject of this disturbing documentary from director Cynthia Hill in which two survivors of horrific abuse tell their stories and shed light on why a woman would stay with an abuser. Followed by discussion with Kit Gruelle, one of the subjects of the film.

Friday: “The Trip to Italy.” In this sequel to the equally hilarious “The Trip,” real-life friends and comedians Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon take another culinary road trip, bantering their way across Italy, their wine-fueled improvisational one-upsmanship a treat as tasty as any they’re served.

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