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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: May 6, 2019

SMCC film students get dramatic for Maine Mayhem

Written by: Dennis Perkins

Emily Eberhart as Jane Hitch in “Begin Again.” Photo courtesy of Corey Norman

When you hear the term “Maine Mayhem,” mental images fly fast and furious.

Is it the rush for Sea Dogs tickets whenever a member of the Red Sox is in town rehabbing an injury? Possibly. (And get well soon, Dustin Pedroia.) Could it be a full-contact women’s football team? Actually, it could, as there is such a team called the Maine Mayhem, which sounds incredibly cool. But, no, the real Maine Mayhem, as all Maine film fans know, is the annual exhibition of short films from Southern Maine Community College students, which will be screening this year at Portland’s Nickelodeon Cinema on Thursday.

The product of a semester’s worth of hard work from students of SMCC professor Corey Norman’s Communications and New Media course, Maine Mayhem makes for another annual marker on the Maine movie calendar. Now entering its ninth year, the short film showcase represents not just the final project of student filmmakers’ academic year, but a yearly milestone for the Maine film community to measure its progress. For Norman, this year’s roster of films shows how Maine Mayhem and the Maine film scene have grown together.

“I know I sound like a broken record when I say that each year is the best yet,” Norman said, “but it’s so true.” For Norman, the longtime educator and filmmaker (currently hard at work on the Maine Mariners documentary series “Puckland”), the growth of Maine Mayhem has gone hand in hand with the growth of both film literacy among his students and of the strengthening connection between Maine Mayhem filmmakers past and present.

Behind the scenes of the filming of “Life Mother, Life Daughter.” Photo by Corey Norman

Agreeing that Maine Mayhem has become something of a self-improving, self-perpetuating cinematic system at this point, Norman says his student filmmakers have become “very much students of Maine Mayhem.” “They’ve watched, on their own time, every film that’s come before them, seen what’s succeeded and what hasn’t, and used that to inform the chances they take.” Citing the fact that previous Maine Mayhem alums have remained in touch and involved as they take their own steps into their film careers, Norman says that their guidance and influence “brings another level of professionalism” to each succeeding year’s festival.

When it comes down to it, though, it’s up to Norman’s students to deliver the goods, a process that involves a tremendous amount of labor, creativity and, yes, mayhem. With 19 filmmakers pitching for the six eventual spots in this year’s Maine Mayhem, Norman says that the bar for both technical and screenwriting has only risen higher. Charting the development of the festival, Norman still finds it fascinating how students’ choice of tone and subject matter shifts with the years. Noting that this year’s films all have more of a dramatic bent than in the past (when horror, comedy and dark fantasy held sway), Norman is effusive in his praise for the students’ ability to handle some genuinely heavy material.

“Students can pull actors from literally anywhere,” Norman explained, “but a lot of them draw from the acting class run by (SMCC’s) Tess Van Horn,” and, he said, they have really stolen the show this year. “There’s one first-year actress in one of this year’s films called ‘Like Mother, Like Daughter’ who’s just amazing,” Norman said. “For her and some of these other actors, this is their first real foray into something like this, and they are called upon to do some really heavy lifting, dramatically.” As to the shift toward drama, Norman speculates that this year’s filmmakers were inspired largely by more personal stories and experiences when coming up with their films. “Plus,” joked the noted horror filmmaker (“The Hanover House,” “Suffer The Little Children”), “they might have wised up on that count, figuring I’d be harder on them if they did a horror movie.”

So what can viewers expect from this year’s two-hour-plus program? Norman summarizes this year’s Maine Mayhem (and trailers for this year’s films can be found at vimeo.com):

  • “Like Mother, Like Daughter,” from director Catie Collier, is “sort of a dark comedy about reconnecting with an estranged parent.”
  • “Rockstar,” by Luke Chafee, is “about a struggling musician trying to make it in the music industry … completely scored with all original music.”
  • “Pieces,” by Spencer Linscott, is best summed up in its tagline: “When Mason wakes up in a dark abyss he finds himself in a game of chess to save his life.”
  • “Alone on a Park Bench,” by Madison Edmunds, is about “a woman trying to move on and find herself in the wake of a loss.”
  • “Begin Again,” by Robert Moore, follows “an unlikely relationship between an introvert and an extrovert.”
  • “The Most Precious Thing,” by T.J. Hunter, is a Quentin Tarantino-esque thriller about a millionaire, a lost key, and the various unsavory people on the hunt for it.

To Norman, each year’s Maine Mayhem represents the culmination of his and his students’ work in learning the ropes of filmmaking, and of sending those students forward into professional careers. “It’s cool to watch the Maine Mayhem community develop and grow from year to year,” Norman says, calling the coming-together of past and present students, local filmmakers, and the Maine viewing public at each year’s festival enduringly inspiring. For those of us invested in the Maine film scene, it’s truly promising, too.

Maine Mayhem’s ninth year kicks of with two screenings (at 6 and 8:45) at the Nickelodeon in Portland. There will also be an encore screening at Brunswick’s Frontier on Tuesday, May 14. Tickets are $10, and are selling fast. This year’s Maine Mayhem will run about 2 hours, 15 minutes, and would be, according to Norman, rated R for “a lot of f-bombs.”


COMING TO LOCAL SCREENS

Sebago Brewing Company
616 Main St., Gorham

Friday: “Sisu.” What do you get when a group of friends from Oxford Hills takes part in a 72-hour bicycle trek around the entire coast of Iceland? Well, this documentary, for one, along with a specially brewed local beer, fittingly enough, called “Recovery Beverage.” Festivities start at 6 p.m., with the film beginning at 7:45 p.m.

PMA Films
Starts Friday: “Rafiki.” An exuberant, colorful, and tender love story about two Kenyan women in love in a country where being gay is illegal.

Nickelodeon Cinema
Wednesday, May 19: “Brothers.” Profiled in Indie Film last week, this touching, wrenchingly honest documentary profiles a Portland family whose experiences with illness and suicide haven’t diminished their love and creativity.

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