When you think about it, isn’t it strange that Portland doesn’t have a prestigious film festival to call its own? I mean, we’re Portland, for cryin’ out loud — hip, young, artsy, a thriving filmmaking community.

But the big Maine film festivals reside in places like Waterville (pop. 15,000, Maine International Film Festival), and Camden (pop. 5,000, Camden International Film Festival), while we in Portland, with our state’s largest population of more than 60,000 film-loving souls get nothin’.

But one Portlander has been working to change that.

“It’s going great,” says Tyler Johnston, founder of the Portland Maine Film Festival which runs tonight through Sunday (portlandmainefilmfestival.com/). “We’re starting off small. We’re a mom-and-pop festival that’s trying to grow every year, and with the support of the community, we’re catching on.”

Last year’s fest, initially called the Portland Maine International Film Festival (“We are an international festival, too, but decided that MIFF already had the ‘international,’ ” explained Johnston about the name change), debuted with an intriguing lineup of small national indie films — but none from Maine, an element that this year’s festival has changed in a big way.

In addition to another impressively varied roster of American and, yes, international films, this year PMFF can boast a healthy selection of homegrown product.

“Local filmmakers are dying to get their work out,” said Johnston. “They need more avenues for their work. There’s a huge filmmaking scene in Portland, and this is a channel to connect with wider audiences, national and international.”

Among the Maine offerings Johnston enthuses about is “April’s Heart,” a film made by professional filmmakers and students of Sanford High School working from anonymous, coming-of-age student stories. “It’s a true community success story,” said Johnston, “and exactly the sort of project the PMFF is trying to promote.”

As well, festival-goers can look forward to Maine-made films as diverse as creator Eric Bailey’s newsroom sitcom pilot “Off-Air” and a documentary tribute to comic book legend (and Maine native) Mort Todd.

There’s also the doc “Beverly Hallam: Maine Master” about the titular Maine painter, director Nathan Oliver’s horror comedy “The Zombies Are Coming to Town!” and a panel discussion titled “The Future of Filmmaking in Maine,” featuring locals such as Kate Kaminski, Wayne Beach and Elise Plakke, among others. (A complete schedule of PMFF’s films can be found at portlandmainefilmfestival.com.)

And as to PMFF’s future plans to put Portland on the film festival map?

“There’s already a lot of buzz,” said Johnston. “We’re putting together a great team, a solid board of directors, and we’re going to work on sustainable long-term growth. It takes a lot of work and time, but we’re all committed, smart people dedicated to supporting Maine filmmaking and attracting national and international talent. Portland’s got a lot to offer, and the potential to bring in business here is part of the plan too.”

Dennis Perkins is a freelance writer who lives in Portland.


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