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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: August 18, 2015

Rugged Phoenix Underground Film Festival in Sanford launches in October

Written by: Dennis Perkins
Andrew Bard is director of the new Rugged Phoenix Underground Film Festival. Below, board member Stephanie Brock. Courtesy photo

Andrew Bard is director of the new Rugged Phoenix Underground Film Festival. Courtesy photo

It’s a testament to the Sanford International Film Festival – which completed its successful second season back in May – that there’s another Sanford-based film festival starting up at least partly in reaction to it.

“With no negativity toward Sanford [International Film Festival] at all, but I was filming all of the festival last year and thought, ‘There are a lot of things I would do differently.'” So says Maine filmmaker Andrew Bard, who, alongside Sanford-area media professionals Janet Llavina, Ricky Dunton, and Stephanie Brock, is deep in the planning for the brand new Rugged Phoenix Underground Film Festival, which will take place in Sanford on October 23-24.

The two-day festival will focus on short films from around the world, and has already received over 200 submissions, of which Bard says, “More than half have been exceptional, and some that have literally blown us away. We’ve watched 80 hours or more of these films and whittling them down to maybe 12 hours of actual movie for the festival has been extremely difficult.”

Rugged Phoenix Underground Film Festival (its name taken from Bard and Llavina’s Neo Phoenix Studios and Dunton’s company Rugged Sound) is, according to Bard, something the organizers had been planning for years, but which had been put on the back burner when they became involved in helping get SIFF off the ground. It is also, in Bard’s view, more in line with their vision for a film festival than SIFF (which Bard is still involved in as well).

“Again, I love Sanford International,” explains Bard, “But they’re starting to focus more on the city of Sanford, with the investors and the city turning it into more of a community festival, putting the city in the spotlight. In starting Rugged Phoenix, we want the films to be more of the focus. Our style is going to be vastly different – we already have a film festival for the people of Sanford, now we want to cater more to the films. Yes, we want the community involved, but the filmmakers are the ones contributing, and they’re what we should be focusing on.”

Stephanie Brock - Board member of Rugged Phoenix Underground Film Festival. Courtesy photo

Stephanie Brock – Board member of Rugged Phoenix Underground Film Festival. Courtesy photo

To that end, Rugged Phoenix—which will feature films of no longer than 40 minutes—has used their connections in the film world (and, Bard credits, the tireless networking efforts of Janet Llavina) to attract films and filmmakers from all over the U.S. and countries as far-flung as Australia, Sweden, Russia, Germany, and Ireland. And from Maine—although Bard urges more Maine filmmakers to submit their films before the final September 5th deadline. Even with Rugged Phoenix’s submission fee a low $15 (for the extended September cutoff), the filmmaker states that the Maine film community can be slow to branch out.

“Maine is kind of the black sheep in the New England filmmaking community,” says Bard. “Maine filmmakers tend to stick to themselves as well—unless we reach out to specific filmmakers, [Maine filmmakers] might not show up. Plus, even with the submission fees being so low (basically, you could skip Starbucks for a day and you’d be in), we get a lot of people asking for waivers, which, as a first-year film festival, we just can’t give. There are expenses—we could grant everyone a waiver, but then the festival would be a bunch of people huddled around a laptop.”

Rugged Phoenix Underground Film Festival—which Bard plans to base in a different location every year (“sort of like a traveling art show”) is, Bard stresses again, not in competition with Sanford International Film Festival, but part of the ongoing (and growing) attempt to revitalize a city too-often disregarded. “Neo Phoenix has been pushing and fighting to get more art here in Sanford. SIFF has been great, and seeing it blow up has been great, but we’re still aiming to make Sanford a more art-friendly community. Too many people see Sanford as this impoverished, welfare mill town—Sanford needs to change this reputation of being a not-great city.”

Rugged Phoenix Underground Film Festival, Oct. 23-24, 12 Bradeen St., Sanford.



Tuesday: “The Tribe.” Proving you don’t need dialogue to be shocking, this acclaimed Ukrainian film follows the harrowing arrival of a young deaf student at an isolated boarding school for the hearing-impaired as he is forcibly integrated into the high school’s ruthless gang culture. Featuring an all-deaf, non-professional cast and no voice-over or subtitles.


Friday: “The End Of The Tour.” Jason Segel gives a career-changing performance as late, beloved cult novelist David Foster Wallace, as the reclusive author warily allows himself to be interviewed—and sort-of befriended—by a rolling Stone reporter, played by Jesse Eisenberg.

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