The Camden International Film Festival opened Wednesday and runs through Sunday joining the healthy (and growing) family of Maine film fests that are quietly turning the state into an unexpected cinematic destination.

CIFF (, now in its sixth year, has become one of the most prestigious documentary film festivals in the country, and I recently spoke with founder/director Ben Fowlie about the reasons why.

As ever, this year’s lineup of films is a fascinatingly diverse array of international and local documentaries, delving into topics as varied as the conflict in the Middle East (“Budrus”) and life in post-U.S.S.R. Russia (“My Perestroika,” “Tankograd”) to a study of filmmaker David Lynch’s lifelong practice of transcendental meditation (“David Wants to Fly”) and a documentarian’s frustrated attempts to film his favorite band, The Kinks (“Do It Again”) — and many more. The fest boasts films from as far away as South Africa, Iceland, Switzerland, Germany and, of course, all points Maine.

Fowlie claims that Maine was exactly the right place for CIFF, citing the intelligence of Maine audiences and the vibrant nature of the Maine documentary filmmaking community, whose continuing support is a vital component of the festival.

CIFF’s “Points North” forum (in which aspiring local documentarians can interact with, as Fowlie asserts, “major players in the international documentary scene”) is one way the festival is strengthening the Maine documentary community.

It gives working moviemakers a chance to not only learn more about the nuts and bolts of filmmaking and fundraising, but also to “get their films on the radar” of industry professionals who are always scouting for talent and projects.

In addition, CIFF’s “Made in Maine Showcase” features an intriguing roster of Maine-made docs such as Andrew Jawitz’s portrait of a Maine bluegrass legend, “The Eventful Life of Al Hawkes”; Gary Robinov’s “Canvasman,” about the double life of prestigious art curator/professional wrestler Rob Elowitch; and Dana Rae Warren’s “Alleluia Junction,” which follows a Maine chorus’ journey through Russia.

Such small, uniquely told stories are the backbone of CIFF, which Fowlie credits with championing an “anti-Ken Burns” style of documentary filmmaking.

While conceding that he loves Burns’ works, Fowlie prefers “a much more artistic approach, with a focus on craft and story,” asserting that the documentary form has room for “innovative craft and artistry, not just plodding along at the same kind of pace.”

“There is a vibrant movement from young filmmakers,” he says. “Documentary can be recognized as both an art form and a way to share information.”

It is these smaller stories that reveal a lot about the big picture, as the CIFF continues to show.

 Dennis Perkins is a freelance writer who lives in Portland. 

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