Maine might not be movie Mecca, but it’s getting there. The calendar of Maine movie festivals continues to fill up more each year (up next: The Bluestocking Festival on July 17-18 and The Maine Student Film & Video Festival on July 18), but everyone knows that early July is when the big film festival dog comes to town.
The Maine International Film Festival starts on Friday, July 10 and runs until Sunday, July 19, and, as ever, features a truly overwhelming roster of features, documentaries, shorts, Maine-made films, international films, and selected restored classic films over that time. Now in its 18th year, MIFF has become a major destination, both for filmgoers and for films and filmmakers from around the world. As ever, the festival will also be awarding its coveted Mid-Life Achievement Award as well, with this year’s recipient, noted character actor and Robert Altman favorite Michael Murphy coming to Waterville to receive the honor. There’s always too much movie goodness to cover in this little column, so I enlisted the help of MIFF director of programming Ken Eisen to walk us through some of this year’s highlights.
Starting with the guest of honor, Eisen is excited that Murphy will be on hand, as, he says, “Michael’s been to the festival before, and he’s such an amazing actor and a great person. We’re presenting his new film ‘Fall,’ which won him a Canadian Best Actor nomination – and he deserved it.” “Fall,” in which Murphy plays a distinguished Catholic priest whose life is upended by a mysterious letter, is, according to Eisen, a rare chance for Murphy to play a lead (he’s in every scene of the film), and that the longtime Hollywood mainstay (“Manhattan,” “Nashville”) is better than he’s ever been. In addition, Murphy will be on hand to see MIFF’s screening of director Ron Mann’s documentary “Altman,” where Murphy, along with many of the late director Robert Altman’s colleagues and family try to encapsulate the career of a man considered one of the greatest and most adventurous American directors ever. The film will also be presented by Altman’s widow Kathryn, a thrill to Eisen, who praises her as a “remarkable woman,” and affirms that, to him, “Altman is my God.” (The author wholeheartedly agrees with that assessment.)
Of all the films at this year’s MIFF, Eisen expresses his hope that the selections in the festival’s “World Filmmakers’ Forum” will attract more than usual attention. Praising Claus Drexel’s French-language documentary about the homeless in Paris “Au Bord du Monde,” Eisen says, “There’s so much more humanity in the film than in other documentaries on the subject. And it’s shot with the most beautiful cinematography I’ve seen in the last couple of years.” Speaking of this year’s foreign language contingent (where he also has high praise for “Hilda” from Mexico and Turkish entry “Come To My Voice”), Eisen urges, “It’s amazing work from all over the world, the kind of international films people will never see otherwise.”
Speaking of rare delights, MIFF continues its dedication to showing classic films to a theatergoing public. “My favorite section of the festival is the restorations,” explains Eisen. “These older films have been restored and look fantastic, and people aren’t used to seeing them on the big screen.” This year, look for sparkling prints of classics like Douglas Sirk’s revered melodrama “Imitation Of Life,” the French anti-war heartbreaker “Forbidden Games,” Clint Eastwood’s seminal spaghetti Western “A Fistful Of Dollars,” and Orson Welles giving perhaps his finest performance in Carol Reed’s post-WWII thriller “The Third Man.”
As I’ve said, the cinematic riches contained in the Maine International Film Festival are too vast and varied to cover in full (see miff.org for a complete lineup and schedule). MIFF is a gift – to film fans from Maine and away. And, as Eisen always says, “Waterville is just an hour’s drive from Portland.” Well worth the trip.
COMING TO LOCAL SCREENS
FRONTIER, Brunswick | www.explorefrontier.com
Starting Sunday: “When Marnie Was There.” If you know great contemporary animation, then you’re already excited for the newest film from Japan’s Studio Ghibli (home to “My Neighbor Totoro,” “Spirited Away,” “The Tale Of Princess Kaguya,” and more). For the rest of you, just trust me that this tale of a friendship between two imaginative girls is probably going to be great.
Friday: “The Gallows.” This horror flick about a group of high schoolers unwisely remounting a school play where a guy died years before and getting the heck killed out of them stars Portland native Ryan Shoos. South Portland film fans – come watch one of our own scream and scream again! (See movie listings on page M(x))