September 26, 2013

Indie Film: Camden festival gives real-life films a chance to shine

Founder and executive director Ben Fowlie asserts that the ninth CIFF is bigger, and more innovative, than ever.


The holiday season starts in late September for Maine film fans, with the annual arrival of the Camden International Film Festival.

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Stills from documentaries to be screened at this year’s Camden International Film Festival, Thursday through Sunday: “The Act of Killing”

Images courtesy of Camden International Film Festival

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“The Kill Team"

Additional Photos Below




Thursday: "Brooklyn Castle." The library's summer documentary series concludes with this crowd-pleaser about the award-winning chess club at a beleaguered New York City junior high school.



Friday: "Manhattan Short Film Festival." Thanks to the Nick for bringing in this acclaimed traveling festival, featuring a select grab-bag of 10 of the best award-winning short films from around the world.

Embarking on its ninth season Thursday (through Sunday), the CIFF ( has embedded itself firmly in the international documentary festival field, bringing in the best docs and documentary filmmakers from all around the globe (and right here in Maine).

I caught up with founder and executive director Ben Fowlie, who asserts that the ninth CIFF is bigger, and more innovative, than ever.

"Last year, you'd have to call a tremendous success," Fowlie said. "Attendance was the best so far, and this year we've already sold double the number of festival passes." (Individual tickets are $10, but a festival pass gets you into all films for $85.)

"We're really finding our identity in Maine and on the festival circuit," Fowlie said. "And we're playing an important role in the creative and professional development of emerging documentary filmmakers."

That encouragement of the next generation of documentarians continues through CIFF's Points North Forum, where selected films-in-progress are developed under the aegis of industry insiders.

Fowlie said a grant received from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (the Oscars, to you), will help CIFF "create a dialogue between luminary figures who paved the way" and fledgling documentarians. He cited this year's pairing of legendary director (and 2013 festival guest) Barbara Kopple with CIFF newcomer Elaine McMillion.

"Kopple's 'Harlan County USA' and Elaine's 'Hollow' both examine a similar subject (issues in the American coal country), some 30 years apart and through completely different styles of filmmaking," Fowlie said.

In addition to Kopple, Fowlie promises that nearly all screenings this year will feature a Q&A, with some 35 filmmakers and 10 national film critics participating. "We're really pushing the boundaries of what a regional film festival can be," said Fowlie.

And what about this year's features? I asked Fowlie to pick out some favorites.

"The Act of Killing." (About the perpetrators of genocide in Indonesia making their own biopic.) "Such an important film. One of the most jaw-dropping experiences I've ever seen -- it leaves audiences speechless."

"Our Nixon." "It's an all-archival, somewhat experimental documentary made from Nixon's top aides' home movies. It's a remarkable editing feat."

"The Kill Team." (Harrowing tale of a young soldier trying to bring American war crimes to light.) "A great, exquisite piece of investigative journalism. (Director) Dan Krauss is just a great storyteller, he captures the story from all angles."

"Big Men." "One of my favorites. Talk about access -- (director Rachel Boynton) seems to be everywhere at the same time. It's about an oil discovery in Ghana and how a new government tries to control it, while U.S. corporations also vie for it. It feels like a high-budget thriller."

"The Genius of Marian." "With Maine being the oldest state in the country, this year we had a specific goal to focus on aging, with the Points North Engagement Summit: Aging in Maine, where we're getting groups throughout the state to use this media to create some kind of inter-generational dialogue. This documentary, about the decline in health of the director's mother over the last three years of her life is a beautiful love story that also shows how quickly people can deteriorate."

As ever, that's just a taste of what CIFF has to offer the Maine movie enthusiast looking to see what this growing festival brings to the state. Gas up, people.

Dennis Perkins is a Portland freelance writer.


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Additional Photos

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“The Genius of Marian”

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“Our Nixon”


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