“We’re always trying to find ways to do more in Portland. We want to do more – Portland is such a vibrant filmmaking community.”
Hear that, Portland filmmakers? That’s Camden International Film Festival founder and executive director Ben Fowlie sending out the call for submissions to this year’s CIFF (camdenfilmfest.org), Maine’s premier documentary film festival. Since 2005, CIFF has been host to some of the most fascinating and influential documentary films from Maine and around the world, offering moviemakers multiple opportunities to develop and screen their work for appreciative, inquisitive audiences – and the presence of industry professionals looking to discover the next big thing.
The festival’s deadlines extend through June, but there are benefits for filmmakers to get in early. Apart from the fact that it’s cheaper, submitting your film sooner rather than later is a good idea, according to Fowlie. “With our programming, you never want to wait until the last day. The screening committee is dispersed throughout New England, so (early submissions) give us the appropriate time to watch and assess the work.”
Not that CIFF is hurting for hopefuls. Fowlie says the festival has grown dramatically over its history. He expects more than 600 films to be submitted this year in the feature and short documentary categories – and even more for the Points North Pitch, where directors with films in progress compete to have their work evaluated by a panel of industry professionals.
Fowlie says it’s a challenge. “The committee’s always growing. The films are prescreened and the committee decides whether they get pushed up to the next round. It’s pretty fail-safe – at least two people view each work and then conversations can take place.” And as executive director? “I’m reviewing 40 to 60 films or more,” he explains. “I’m watching … I don’t even know how many I’m watching, actually.”
As CIFF has grown, so has its influence. In addition to attracting more international films, the festival has expanded its programming throughout the year, including its “Aging In Maine” screening tour, which is presenting acclaimed documentaries that seek to, as Fowlie explains, “start an inter-generational conversation” about issues surrounding aging. “We were excited to put a tight program together and share it with Maine audiences,” say Fowlie. Look for the program to make its stop at the Portland Museum Of Art (portlandmuseum.org) on April 2.
As for past CIFF films, Fowlie touts the post-festival success of films such as “Mateo,” which was featured in last year’s Points North forum and which has been accepted to South By Southwest (SXSW) this year.
“It’s a phenomenal movie,” enthuses Fowlie, “It’s about a very eccentric character – an insanely talented musician of Cuban music who has sort of a sordid past.”
“Last Dreams,” a Dutch documentary (and part of the “Aging In Maine” program) that powerfully explores the last days of a trio of elderly women in hospice care is also singled out. Fowlie says, “This one blew a lot of attendees away. It got wonderful writeups, and is doing really well in European documentary festivals. CIFF’s in a place where we can bring European work to audiences, where we’re giving filmmakers ability to engage with the U.S. audience.”
Fowlie’s also proud to have presented “Town Hall,” which follows several members of the tea party movement. “It was interesting to see that film get the attention I think it deserved. It’s another intimate verite film that was unbiased – which was refreshing. It came to Camden and really connected with audiences.”
For this year’s festival, Fowlie sounds as optimistic as ever. “It’s exciting to realize that the process does work – we find something not on our radar at all, say, an obscure five-minute short film from a rural community in Quebec, and it becomes the film you talk about the most that year. In the selection process, usually quality work bubbles to the top. Any filmmaker will have a shot.”
Dennis Perkins is a Portland freelance writer.