March 8, 2012

Indie Film: Spotlight on kids, behind and in front of the camera

The festival will show movies from around the world and will offer workshops on filmmaking, special effects, animation and more.


When I was a kid, I was a movie freak. (Try to hide your astonishment.)

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Monday and Wednesday: "Belvedere" and "The Light Thief." Bates' Global Lens Film Series continues with two films intended to bring an international perspective to Maine film fans. In "Belvedere," a widow living in a Bosnian refugee camp searches for the remains of her husband and son, and her nephew's desire to move on with his life. In "The Light Thief," a small-town electrician tries to reconcile his innate decency with the possibly corrupt attempts of a wealthy developer to bring wind power to his Krygyzstan village.


Wednesday: "Agadez, the Music and the Rebellion." This documentary, about legendary Saharan Africa guitarist Omara Moctar, aka "Bombino," is coming to Space just in time to get Portland music fans all fired up to see the man himself when he performs at the University of Southern Maine Portland campus on April 4.

I devoured movies on TV and in the theater (this was before VHS -- did I mention I'm old?) with a ravenous hunger; when we got this newfangled thing called "cable," I'm pretty sure I didn't leave the house for a year.

And in all those thousands of hours watching anything I could get my eyeballs on, I, like most kids, saw what I wanted to be: Cowboys, spacemen, whip-wielding archaeologists or maybe the impossibly cool actors who played them.

But it never occurred to me to add "director" to my future plans.

Sure, some families might have had a huge, clunky video camera or an old Super 8 gathering dust, but my frame of reference at the time didn't include being the guy who actually made movies. Now, however, there's cheap, easy-to-use technology all around, and virtually any kid has access to something he or she can use to make a homemade movie.

Directing a film is a vocation or a dream that's as real to modern children as any other.

Enter the first Portland Children's Film Festival, a four-day (March 29 to April 1) celebration of young filmmakers from around the world.

The festival was conceived by parents and teachers at Portland's East End Community School and designed, as explains East End principal Marcia Gendron, "by parents and staff to enhance our extended learning program, which promotes learning linked to the arts."

"So our planning team looked at what assets from the community we could bring to it," Gendron said. "It's really representative of the diversity of our school."

To that end, the festival ( will show movies from around the world that highlight the experiences of children from many countries, such as the acclaimed animated films "The Secret of Kells" from Ireland and "Azur and Asmar" from France, as well as collections of international kid-made films and the "About ME" film series, which features Maine children with global roots.

In addition, the PCFF will be hosting filmmaking workshops by staff and students of Southern Maine Community College's Film Department on topics such as introductory filmmaking and film analysis, special effects, lighting, animation and more.

For young Portland filmmakers, there's also a chance to show what they can do right now in the PCFF's Young Filmmakers Contest. Open to all Portland residents ages 4 to 11, the contest will bring Portland's youngest directors and actors to the big screen with a red-carpet premiere at the Nickelodeon Cinema on March 29.

Adult advisers are allowed, but the films must be genuinely student-made. (Hint to parents: Kids, as a rule, don't have access to a green screen or Skywalker Ranch editing facilities.)

According to Gendron, finding children interested in making films shouldn't be hard.

"We're just offering children the opportunity to be creative to use their talent, and with the popularity and interest in this medium and access to the technology, it's something they're very comfortable with," she said.

Submissions are due a week from today (March 15), but that's OK, kid -- any good director knows how to work up against a deadline.

Dennis Perkins is a Portland-based freelance writer.


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