Maine’s newest film festival is, fittingly, all about its youngest filmmakers.

The second annual Portland Children’s Film Festival, which opened Wednesday night and runs through Sunday, continues its mission to provide Maine’s aspiring moviemakers a venue to exhibit the next generation of Maine films to the public while presenting a varied roster of movies that examine kids’ issues from Maine and around the world.

And, like the participants itself, this young festival is already showing a lot of growth.

“We had over 500 people attend last year,” said co-founder and steering committee member Leah Coplon. “We’ve added more venues and picked up new sponsors. We’ve got free screenings at the Portland Public Library on Saturday, and we’ve even introduced pre-programming in most Portland schools in the week before the festival to prepare the kids.”

The centerpiece of the festival is the Young Filmmakers Contest, where aspiring Maine directors ages pre-kindergarten through high school submit purely student-made short films in three age groups. This year, Coplon said the PCFF received twice as many submissions as last, with 49 shorts competing for the coveted Golden Lighthouse statue.

The submitted films came from “seven Portland public schools plus four other school districts, and several private schools (plus home-schoolers) all over southern Maine,” Coplon said.

The films, which all had to focus on the general theme of “connections,” incorporate styles as diverse as documentary, drama and even claymation, and are being evaluated by a panel of judges that includes local filmmakers, film students and community members involved in the local arts scene. A program including the winning films, plus several honorable mentions and others, will be shown on the big screen at Nickelodeon Cinema in Portland on Sunday morning. “It’s great for these kids to see their own films in a real theater,” Coplon said.

In addition, the PCFF continues its commitment to bring Portland film fans even more to satisfy their movie appetites. Coplon is especially excited for people to see “World Peace and Other Fourth Grade Achievements,” a documentary about educator John Hunter. His innovative “World Peace Game” has introduced fourth-graders to a sort of student United Nations, where kids across the country engage in creative, real-world problem solving on a global level.

Coplon also heartily recommended families check out “Circus Dreams,” a documentary about the famed children’s troupe Circus Smirkus. One of the Circus Smirkus performers will be on hand doing tricks before the screening, and filmmaker Signe Taylor will take questions afterward.

I’ll throw in my recommendation for the nature documentary “Otter 501,” about a young woman and the stranded baby sea otter that she cares for. Be warned, however — unparalleled cuteness may make your head explode.

Coplon stressed that the PCFF offers plenty for every film fan in the family.

“The word ‘children’s’ shouldn’t turn off older kids and adults,” she said. “PCFF represents the best in filmmaking that will really appeal to anybody. We want to make the festival an activity for the whole family to enjoy.”

For the full schedule and prices, check out

Dennis Perkins is a Portland freelance writer.


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