What I don’t know about opera is, well, a lot. But the story of “La Boheme” (three young artists and art lovers attempt to pursue their creative dreams and almost starve to death in the process) is one to which I and a lot of local writers, musicians and filmmakers can relate.
Artists live on the hope that, one day, they can produce something of great beauty. And, you know, that they can figure out a way to keep clothed, housed and fed in the process.
Enter PortOpera Film Fest 2013, Portland’s newest film fest, which encompasses both a unique thematic encapsulation of that struggle — and a possible solution to it.
“The festival came about because the story of ‘La Boheme’ is one of artists, of young people devoted to art and what happens to them,” said PortOpera manager Julia Underwood. “That is the focus of the opera. And so many young people are devoted to, and trying to make a living with, art. We thought, ‘What can we do for them?’ “
To that end, the PortOpera Film Festival is offering two things young artists need most to advance their careers: Money and recognition.
Three cash prizes ($1,000, $500 and $250) await the festival’s winners, and their films will receive a theatrical showing in Portland. It’s just the sort of institutional largesse of which the young protagonists of “La Boheme” could only dream (and sing) about.
Filmmakers must choose one of six pieces of music from the opera and craft a five- to seven-minute film inspired by it. And rather than simply visualizing the story of the opera, Underwood explains that the music is intended as “a touchstone” for the filmmakers’ individual experiences.
“We want to give them an opportunity to be inspired by the music,” she said. “To listen to the music and get inspired to tell a story that’s their story, not the story of the opera itself.”
Filmmakers should be prepared for a shared experience as well, because the festival’s rules (portopera.org/film-fest.php) specify that the films’ scores must be original renditions of the pieces of music chosen.
“It could be performed on a kazoo, by a rock band — as long as it’s original,” said Underwood. “A lot of this music will be recognizable from movies, from commercials. People just don’t know they’re already familiar with it.”
In addition, the festival’s rules stipulate that at least one member of the filmmaking team must have been a high school or college student at some point in the last two years.
Again, this is in keeping with the theme of the opera itself, but it’s also part of the mission of the festival, according to Underwood, “to encourage mentoring, and to introduce a newer constituency to opera at the same time.”
The entries will be judged by a panel of local luminaries who, collectively, could write an opera or two about the challenges involved in chasing your artistic dreams in the marketplace. They include Kate Kaminski (filmmaker, USM professor), Allen Baldwin (filmmaker), James Cagney (indie video store mainstay at Videoport), Carlos Cuellar (filmmaker, video professional), Sean Alonzo Harris (local photographer) and Tom Morse (festival organizer, partner at Woodbury & Morse ad agency).
It’s an ambitious and thought-provoking new outlet for local filmmakers, and Underwood is thrilled to be a part of it.
“A lot of people are intimidated by opera,” she said, “but ‘La Boheme’ is a story about people who are devoted to art, struggling to make a living doing art. For young artists in the state of Maine, this is about them. At bottom, it’s driven by music. It will take them to a new place, and we want them to take us there with them.”
The deadline for entries is June 7, so it’s time for local filmmakers to let the music move them. And to get to work — someone’s in the market for your art.
Dennis Perkins is a Portland freelance writer.