The growth of Maine’s filmmaking scene has meant more and more outlets for local filmmakers to exhibit their films, both in and out of competition with each other. In a world where the democratization of movie technology has thrown the field wide open for anyone with an iPhone and a dream, there’s something to be said as well for a Maine film festival that forces participants to adapt their visions to certain conditions. Especially if there’s much-needed cash on the line.
Enter the PORTopera FILMfest, which is now accepting submissions for its third season. The festival is sponsored by Portland’s acclaimed opera theater, which might seem an unusual patron for a short film festival. But, as PORTopera Managing Director Caroline Koelker states, the teaming of opera and local filmmaking makes perfect sense – along with some beautiful music.
“It has been a challenge in the past to get people to submit films because people hear ‘opera’ and, unless they have a connection to the field already, they can be a little scared of what that means,” says Koelker. To bridge that gulf between the filmmaking community and PORTopera, she states that, in addition to the generous prizes the festival has offered since the start ($1000 to first place, $500 and $250 to second and third), the festival has broadened its submission guidelines in order to entice some of the best local talent to come aboard this year.
“The entries in the past have been great,” enthuses Koelker, “But we want to try to encourage more filmmakers – especially those with more experience – to participate.” To that end, FILMfest has dropped its previous requirement that all entrant filmmaking teams must have a recent local high school graduate on board (although Koelker is adamant that the festival is still committed to supporting young filmmakers), and has opened participation to filmmakers from all over New England. “We’ve had the opportunity to speak to a lot of creative people,” says Koelker, “And come up with ways to bring together lots of different areas of art in an exciting project.”
The other guidelines for entrants remain constant (and for a full rundown, check out the PORTopera site at portopera.org), with each film running between five and seven minutes in length, and incorporating music from a particular opera into the piece. As ever, the opera in question is what PORTopera will be performing in its main stage summer performance, so filmmakers are looking to Bizet’s “Carmen” this time around.
But does that mean that filmmakers have to have an opera-quality soprano just sitting around, or that each submission will simply be something like a “Carmen” aria music video? Not even close, says Koelker. “Over the years, the films have been all over the board,” she says. “Part of the fun is just seeing how different the approaches are. One of my favorites from 2014 was Sabrina Volante’s “Earworm,” which used a piece from “Rigoletto” to show how a particular tune just gets stuck in your head. We can all relate to something so relatable to opera.” (For a look at some of FILMfest’s previous entrants, check out their YouTube channel youtube.com/user/PORTopera.)
And then there’s the financial reward, something the festival has been able to offer from the start thanks to partial sponsorship from the National Endowment for the Arts. Says Koelker, “They really wanted to help this take off. The NEA and we really look at this as an opportunity for more than just the opera field.” Koelker stresses that the deadline for submissions is May 31, and that all filmmakers are welcome to try their luck. (The winning films will be screened for free on July 14 at the St. Lawrence Center for the Arts in Portland.) So there’s still time for Maine filmmakers to put a little music into their work.
COMING TO LOCAL SCREENS
Friday: “Sing Street.” From John Carney, director of “Once,” comes another celebration of music, and Ireland. A 1980s coming-of-age story sees a Dublin teenager attempting to navigate the rough streets and high school hallways of Dublin by inviting the girl of his dreams to star in the music videos of the band he’s just made up to impress her.
Wednesday, May 25.: “High-Rise.” From always-interesting director Ben Wheatley (“Down Terrace,” “A Field In England”) comes this allegorical thriller adapted from the book by J.G. Ballard. When mild-mannered doctor Tom Hiddleston moves into an isolated, luxurious skyscraper designed by the enigmatic Mr. Royal (Jeremy Irons), all seems perfect – until the less well-heeled tenants on the lower floors decide to start climbing.