– By ELIZABETH MARGOLIS-PINEO

Special to the Maine Sunday Telegram

My favorite fall pastimes unite at the Camden International Film Festival Sept. 29 to Oct. 2, a four-day celebration of great documentary film, food and wine, plus leafy walks, cool breezes, and miles of craggy coast.

It’s a great excuse to enjoy a favorite B&B, the Camden Harbour Inn, whose trademark welcome of a single red rose and glass of bubbly always makes me feel like a film star.

Eat. View. Discuss.

As the leaves change from green to gold, midcoast Maine offers one of the “25 best small film festivals” in the country, with a unique documentary film lineup, renowned panel series, plus yummy food and wine events in a pristine seaside setting. No wonder they get filmmakers from as far as Eastern Europe to this award-winning festival each year.

Now in its seventh year, the Camden International Film Festival is the largest documentary film festival in New England. “Documentary film is alive and well on the coast of Maine!” says Camden’s own intriguing native son, CIFF founder and director Benjamin Fowlie.

 We meet at Zoots, and Fowlie is punctual. This bodes well for a smooth festival.

“Part of what makes our festival so dynamic is the presence of directors and filmmakers,” he said. “The audience’s experience with the artists themselves cannot be replicated.”

Several special screenings and events, musical performances, and the Points North Documentary Forum are also part of this year’s lineup. Fowlie also keeps several surprises up his sleeve each year, like the three “secret screenings” he plans for this festival. 

“Small Towns, Big Films”

The 2011 festival opens with the New England premiere of Sundance winner, “Hell and Back Again,” with director Danfung Dennis, a vivid and moving account of what’s happening on the ground in Afghanistan through expressive, photojournalistic images of soldiers and an extraordinary portrait of a tormented young veteran.

“The experience of war isn’t simply on the battlefield,” emphasizes Dennis, whose remarkable film succeeds in bringing the war much closer to home.

Nearly 60 documentary features and shorts will be shown over the four days. Don’t miss “Give Up Tomorrow” by Michael Collins and “The Castle” by D’Anolfi and Parenti — indelible films that I am eager to see again.

Audiences are engaged in informal settings to discuss the films and ask questions of the artists. Venues include the Strand Theater in Rockland, the Camden Opera House in Camden, and the Farnsworth Museum in Rockland.  Shuttle systems get visitors and filmgoers where they need to go.

The festival will close with a free community screening of “Convento” Oct. 2, an inspiring look at a family of artists who settle in a monastery in Portugal. “We are more than thrilled to be book-ending the 2011 festival with such powerful films,” said Fowlie. “Both films are excellent examples of the new and unique ways documentary filmmakers are telling stories. These are two films that people have been talking about all year and I’m very excited to be bringing them both to Maine to continue the conversation.”

Delectable

Many of midcoast’s award-winning culinary artists participate in the festival. Three Tides and Marshall Wharf Brewing Co. are doing the Saturday afternoon reception; Cafe Miranda has the Thursday night reception; the Thursday night party is by the chefs at Inn at Ocean’s Edge; and Friday Happy Hour will be by 40 Paper in Camden.

Dolcelinos by Swan’s Way are the official festival dessert — made with MOO (Maine’s Own Organic) milk and cream.

Cellardoor and Oyster River Wineries will provide wine, and the official beer for the event is Marshall Wharf, brewer of Chris Beth the beer geek’s fave, Attenuator Dopplebock. “Taste what the area has to offer!” says Fowlie. 

The festival also coincides with the “Vinfest” at Cellardoor vineyard in Lincolnville, Sept. 30, a four-course dinner with each course prepared by a top-notch local chef and paired with Cellardoor wine. Music follows with an R&B performance by Kenny “Babyface” Edmonds. Rubbing elbows with filmmakers and artists like “Babyface” over breakfast at Camden Harbour is Maine’s own version of the red carpet experience.

It’s A Wrap

This fall, enjoy the best the midcoast has to offer: High tides and soft winds, the Camden Hills across Penobscot Bay, coastal walks, fine dining and a four-day celebration of film — it doesn’t get any better!

For information visit camdenfilmfest.org and camdenharbourinn.com.

Elizabeth Margolis-Pineo is a freelance writer and the creator of EpicuriousTravelers.com