On Friday, the Portland Maine Film Festival begins its fourth year, a fact of which founder and executive director Tyler Johnston is justifiably proud.
“We’re getting heard about in other parts of the country and other film festivals,” he explains, “A lot of festivals pop up and fade away, but we’re in for the long haul.” Begun in 2010, PMFF has been Johnston’s labor of love from the start, a scrappy new addition to the growing Maine movie scene whose mission continues through Sunday. (Seeportlandmainefilmfest .com for full schedule and details.)
“Our mission is still to build a nationally and internationally recognized film-festival destination in Maine,” Johnston continues, “one that brings cultural and economic impact to the state. We wanted there to be an indie film fest in Portland because of the strong indie film community here and because Portland is a world-class destination – we really feel that a well-put-together, large film festival will bring people to the city.”
It’s an ambitious goal, one that Johnston states PMFF is gradually realizing. “Last year, we had some great films and some established film business people as well. But because it was small, (attendees) got to really enjoy these people. There’s a nice, homey feel to PMFF, and we keep getting better at doing our job every year.”
For year four, PMFF boasts in intriguing and eclectic lineup: features and shorts, documentaries and fiction, all chosen for maximum audience enjoyment from an ever-increasing number of submissions from Maine and around the world. “We got more submissions than ever,” enthuses Johnston, “So many that we had a hard time choosing. But that means this year’s roster is a little more challenging and a higher quality of work, while at the same time trying to show student and emerging filmmakers’ work.”
I had Johnston walk us through some of the highlights:
“How to Make Movies at Home,” the opening night film is, according to Johnston, “a made-in-Maine film from a Maine director. It’s a romantic comedy about filmmaking in Maine and is an absolute brilliant gem of a film, great for all audiences.”
“Between Us,” starring Julia Stiles and Taye Diggs, a dark comedy about two couples whose various relationships fracture during one long weekend, is directed by Dan Mirvish, founder of the legendary Slamdance Film Festival. Cited by Johnston as a mentor to the PMFF, Mirvish will appear via Skype after the film, and has leant his name to PMFF’s new “Director’s Choice” award this year.
“Like the Water” is, according to Johnston, “a very beautiful and poetic film, shot on an indie budget but totally professional.” The film, shot in Camden, stars Caitlin FitzGerald (“Masters of Sex”) as a journalist returning to her home town to write the eulogy of her best friend and was directed by Caroline Von Kuhn, who’ll be in attendance for a Q&A.
In addition, PMFF boasts an ambitious roster of short films this year, loosely divided into films about men’s issues (“Manly Shorts”) and women’s (“Women in Film”), although Johnston is quick to explain that the films therein are open to everybody. “Each program looks at the ideas of what it means to be a man or a woman in a holistic way.”
As ever, Johnston is optimistic that PMFF will continue to attract the crowds and sponsorship needed to help the festival grow. “We want to create an environment where people can meet, make connections and friendships and learn from one another – that’s so essential in making successful films.”
Dennis Perkins is a Portland freelance writer.