Tuesday, December 10, 2013
By DENNIS PERKINS
Every aspiring Maine filmmaker is faced with a choice: Do I leave the state and try to make it somewhere more film-friendly, or do I make my films here at home and try to get the rest of the world to notice them?
A scene from "Lobster," a film created by Harpswell native Jessica Caldwell, who is studying film at Columbia University in New York City.
COMING TO LOCAL SCREENS
Tonight and Dec. 9: "Maniac." This 1980 slasher film (about a sweaty psycho, played by "The Godfather's" Joe Spinell, scalping women) was protested by women's groups. It was widely hailed as the most reprehensible thing ever produced by man. Even Gene Siskel admitted that he walked out of it. Bless you, Nickelodeon, for making Portland that much weirder.
Wednesday: "Damnationland" DVD release party! Indie film impresarios Allen Baldwin and Eddy Bolz give everyone who didn't get out to see this outstanding Maine-made horror anthology another shot with a screening, live music from Johnny Cremains, and the chance to buy it on DVD.
Well, for Harpswell native Jessica Caldwell, the answer is both.
In "Lobster," a short-film collaboration between Caldwell and her fellow Columbia University film school student Charlotte Glynn (who, coincidentally, summered in Harpswell through her childhood), a young woman recently graduated from high school can't wait to leave for college, until a last night with a young lobsterman gives her a new perspective on her hometown.
Caldwell graduated from Mt. Ararat High when she was 16, and left the state to pursue her dream of becoming a filmmaker. Autobiographical?
"Not really," says Caldwell, "but I can relate. While the movie is specific to Harpswell, it's the same for any kid from a small town; people who stay versus people who leave."
When Caldwell left Maine for Columbia and was assigned to make a short film, she and Glynn found themselves drawn back to the small Maine town they'd grown up in. "I realize I'm happy, lucky I grew up there," she said. "There's an acceptance and appreciation now I wouldn't have gotten into Columbia without that, because it gave a unique perspective and voice as a writer."
In "Lobster," which, like all film students, the two had to create and fund themselves, Caldwell also discovered a big difference between small-town Maine and NYC. "So much stuff (locations, food, cars, boats, even a volunteer EMT) was donated to help with 'Lobster,' " she said. "That stuff doesn't happen in New York. People aren't as impressed by filmmaking there."
The film will be shown at Frontier Cafe & Cinema in Brunswick on Monday, along with "Rachel Is," Glynn's documentary portrait of her developmentally-disabled sister's struggle for independence. Both filmmakers will be on hand for a Q&A after the 7 p.m. screening.
And as for the future of "Lobster," Caldwell is realistic, calling its making a tremendous learning experience. Her professors, including acclaimed indie filmmaker Ramin Bahrani ("Chop Shop," "Man Push Cart") were, as usual, constructively "harsh" in their assessment.
"I'm happy with it because of how much I learned," she said. "We're going to submit it to some festivals, but it's a mistake to go crazy over the same film. You have to move on."
Before moving on (to festivals, new projects, and a new script about Maine), Caldwell and Glynn will appear on "Morning Edition" on NPR at Monday's screening (www.explorefrontier.com/schedule/film). Perhaps most rewarding of all, they will visit students at Mt. Ararat, where Caldwell will share her filmmaking experiences since leaving -- and coming back to -- Maine.
Dennis Perkins is a freelance writer who lives in Portland.