For film fans, “documentary” and “dull” parted company long ago, with the genre’s revitalized offerings drawing sizable crowds to places like Space Gallery, the Portland Public Lbrary and even the occasional screening at the multiplex.

For documentary enthusiasts, the annual arrival of the Camden International Film Festival (Sept. 27-30) is the early Christmas gift — a four-day film-goer’s carnival that includes a collection of documentaries (short and long, national, international and Maine-made) varied enough to make even the most seasoned festival attendee’s head spin.

Even festival director Ben Fowlie remains pleasantly surprised.

“As we’ve expanded, we’ve tried to keep the program in the same scope, size-wise, as last year,” Fowlie said, “but submissions more than doubled to almost 500 this year, with a lot of quality international work coming in.”

Now in its eighth year, CIFF will screen more than 90 documentaries, most of which will allow the public access to the filmmakers through Q&As and the possibility of more informal discussion in Camden’s intimate setting.

“It’s a small community,” Fowlie said, “with all the directors housed in a little block — they’re all there in town, and there’s nothing more rewarding for a filmmaker than to have someone want to continue the conversation over a cup of coffee.”

And there’ll be plenty to discuss, with CIFF’s films covering as wide and often surprising array of subjects as any documentary fan could want. Check out the full roster at, but Fowlie especially recommends the following, if you have to choose. (Tip: Screenings cost $8.50 each, but a $75 festival pass quickly pays for itself.)

“Colmbianos” (U.S. premiere): “I love films that focus on smaller stories that actually tell a larger one. This Swedish film about two brothers — one an immigrant battling drug addiction, the other getting his Ph.D. back in Colombia, and saying, ‘Come back home and we’ll fight it together.’ The filmmaker’s able to show this family’s struggle in a way that’s not exploitative, but emotional and ultimately positive.”

“Survival Prayer” (world premiere): “About food foragers in British Columbia and the loss of their culture told through the elders of this kind of tribe. It’s about harvesting the bounty of the Earth and being appreciative of its beauty. Beautifully shot, it’s very Werner Herzog-esque.”

“Ballroom Dancer”: “A phenomenal piece of work. I don’t think you could script a better love story. It’s about love and loss, with great cinematography and music. It’s what an abstract but mainstream documentary should be.”

“Journey to Planet X”: “In a similar vein to ‘American Movie,’ this is about two friends and ‘B’ sci-fi filmmakers at odds trying to complete their masterpiece called ‘Planet X.’ It’s a huge audience favorite, and very endearing as well.”

That’s just the tip of the CIFF iceberg. In addition to the rest of the fest’s feature and short film offerings, attendees can look forward to a variety of special events, including the aforementioned discussions with filmmakers, free local short-film screenings, special VIP events and receptions, and the first-ever public presentation of the final Points North Pitch on Saturday.

In the latter, eight finalists in CIFF’s yearly Points North Documentary Forum will make the case that their documentaries-in-progress should receive funding from a collected group of industry insiders and power players.

For southern Maine film fanatics, CIFF remains well worth the drive.

Dennis Perkins is a Portland freelance writer.


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