Can you hear it?
That telltale whirring, clicking sound, off in the distance, heralding the imminent arrival of this year’s annual anthology of Maine-centric dark fantasy and horror?
Yes, friends, it’s Damnationland time once again.
The venerable (it started back in 2010) local fear film extravaganza (the Frankenstein’s monster-esque brainchild of Portland film fixtures Allan Baldwin and Eddy Bolz) returns for the world premiere of its eighth installment of all-new, all-original, all-local horror, suspense and horrible suspense next Friday – Friday the 13th, natch – at Portland’s State Theatre.
As ever, the Maine movie institution has brought together some of the finest film talents Maine has to offer, all vying to scare off the most pants possible with five short films by Mackenzie Bartlett, Tadin Brown, Alexander Balzano and Ellis Ducharme, Alex Steed and Charlotte Warren. In addition, the films will be linked by interstitial segments by Derek R. Brigham, Julia Haltof, Stacey Koloski, Shannon Meserve, Melissa Salmi and Clark Shepard, serving up a full Halloween banquet of varied and unique Maine-centric films guaranteed to, again, scare some pants clean off.
In preparation for the big night (and the statewide screenings to follow), co-directors of this year’s short “Syndrome,” Ellis Ducharme and Alexander Balzano spoke about the film they brought to the Halloween party and what Damnationland has come to mean to Maine’s filmmakers and filmmaking community.
So what’s “Syndrome”?
Alexander Balzano: Essentially, it’s a loose retelling of the “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” story with a modern twist. It’s about a teenage girl named Harper who’s struggling as an outcast in high school, both with bullies and with her mental health. She has another, darker side named Heidi who takes control every so often to protect her.
Damnationland gets called a horror anthology, but everyone’s visions are different. Is “Syndrome” horror?
Ellis Ducharme: That’s a hard question. I’d say it’s not straight-up horror in a traditional sense.
Balzano: Even before Allen (Baldwin, Damnationland co-founder) approached us, the idea had been kicking around in my head. I’m attracted to coming-of-age themes, and it touches on relevant issues, like bullying, mental health and LGBT issues.
Ducharme: It teeters on the edge. Let’s call it a dark drama.
How did you both get involved in this year’s Damnationland?
Ducharme: We both have our own production companies and have collaborated before on things, but this is our first time as co-directors. We worked on a 48-Hour Film called “On the Rocks” together.
Balzano: It’s kind of a funny story. I work in a restaurant, and I was told someone was asking for me out front. It was Allen, asking if we’d be interested in being a part of Damnationland this year. It was so exciting and so random.
Ducharme: I also made this sort of unofficial aspiring Damnationland film called “Town I Call Home” last year that was sort of in he shadow of Damnationland. I don’t know if that helped at all.
So Damnationland was something you aspired to all along?
Balzano: Filmmaking is my true passion and Maine’s a very nurturing place to be. Since I was at (Southern Maine Community College), I’ve been working with different individuals in this small, close-knit, really generous and patient film community. When I was there, I worked on the sets of various Damnationland films, and I was always impressed by the professionalism. I started comparing myself to where they are and saw that I needed to get to that point one day. To be asked is a very big honor.
Ducharme: I agree completely. It sort of hurts people’s feelings in a way if you say you want to be a filmmaker and don’t intend to stay in Maine forever. I do intend to leave, but I know I wouldn’t be were I am if I had started out somewhere else. It’s such a communal place, especially the film industry, and everyone’s so eager to help. And for me, I can’t stress enough how honored I am to be in Damnationland. It’s one of the best honors to get in the state of Maine in film. When I heard Allen asked for us specifically, I was like, “Holy crap.” [Laughs.] I only had two career goals before I left Maine. One was to make a Damnationland film.
Make some dreams come true for Maine filmmakers while giving yourself some nightmares at this year’s Damnationland. The world premiere is happening Oct. 13 at the State Theatre. Doors open at 6:45 p.m., and the show starts at 7:45 p.m. Tickets are $10 in advance, $12 on the night of the show. For more information, check out the Damnationland website at damnationland.com. You can see more works by Ellis Ducharme on Facebook at Ellis Ducharme Cinematography and Alex Balzano at balzano-media.com.
Thursday: “Critters.” The Nick’s Throwback Thursday film series gives us the gift of furry little alien monster-goblins with a screening of this 1986 cult horror flick.
Saturday: “My Journey Through French Cinema.” Who’s the best person in the world to take you on a personal cinematic tour of all the greatest French films of all time? Director Bertrand Tavernier, that’s who, since he made a number of those fine films himself.