If a documentary is a window on the world, a great documentary film festival is the ingeniously constructed house whose every window is angled just right, so that every one you look through reveals the world outside according to its own unique perspective.

Which brings us to the Camden International Film Festival, beginning today and running through Oct. 2 ($8.50 for individual screenings/$75 festival pass). In its seventh year, CIFF promises an even broader selection of documentaries, from Maine and around the world, each capturing its small slice of life in insightful, even startling ways.

Far from being a dry, prosaic depiction of “how things are,” the documentary form has evolved over the years into a very elastic medium, stretching itself to accommodate a dizzying variety of stories and points of view.

“With documentaries, there’s a whole hybrid thing going on,” said Ben Fowlie, CIFF’s founder and director. “The canvas is so open these days, and viewers are more open to watching something they might not have thought of as a documentary previously. Over time, we’ve transitioned into finding quality stories, not necessarily focusing on social issues as such.

“I find that the longevity of a documentary in people’s minds, (it’s) the story that does that, not from it telling you what you should be thinking. We’re able to do the issue-based storytelling through these individual stories.”

In the dozens of films on this year’s roster, CIFF can boast several Maine, U.S. and world premieres, and promises an unprecedented amount of access to this year’s filmmakers.

“Most screenings will have a Q&A afterward,” Fowlie said. “Many (filmmakers) are staying for the whole festival. It’s a chance to get to know the community, maybe continue the conversation with their audience at a coffee shop.”

Besides its feature documentary lineup, CIFF will present several short documentary programs, its “Made in Maine Showcase” and the enigmatic “Secret Cinema” attraction, with three as yet unnamed documentaries that, Fowlie says, “are new, exciting, sometimes not 100 percent done, but which we predict will really be buzz-worthy in the coming year.”

Also, there’s CIFF’s Panoptic exhibition, which highlights experimental and “new media” film, and the prestigious Points North Forum, where qualifying New England filmmakers will have the opportunity to show their works-in-progress to major players in the documentary world, including representatives from HBO, PBS and the Tribeca Film Festival, among others.

“It’s a lot to digest,” said Fowlie. “We’ve gotten a lot more interest from out-of-state attendees, we’re on par to double our past sales from last year, and we’re running into capacity issues. I suggest you get here early. Just come and experience a little bit of everything.”

Dennis Perkins is a freelance writer who lives in Portland.


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