SANFORD — Steven Spielberg. Martin Scorsese. Michelle Ouch?

Hey, you never know.

It all begins with that first film, and thanks to a cast and crew comprised largely of fellow Sanford High School students, Ouch already has experience directing a feature-length movie. And while the advent of digital technology has made video projects a fairly common phenomenon for teenagers in Maine and elsewhere, this was different: An 85-page script, an expansive coterie of characters, and a big-deal premier at Sanford’s Curtis Lake Christian Church added a Hollywood luster to the film’s unveiling.

Entitled “#YOLO” ”“ pronounced “hashtag yo-low” ”“ the movie was one of the first to be screened at the inaugural Sanford International Film Festival.

Thirty-seven independent films were screened over the course of the weekend at a variety of locations across the city, and the “international” in the festival’s title is no misnomer. While several of the movies shown were shot in Maine, by filmmakers native to the Pine Tree State, cinephiles from across the globe also premiered their projects here, representing such diverse nations as France, Spain, Australia and Chile.

As recently as this winter, no one had any idea that Sanford would host a film festival at all, let alone draw such global attention. The entire event was organized in two months, and successfully, thanks to the efforts of several volunteer committees overseeing various aspects of its implementation.

But really, it all started with “#YOLO,” although no one knew it at the time.

“I’ve been making movies with my friends since I was 8 ”“ terrible, awful movies that no one would want to watch,” said James Harmon, a teacher at Sanford High School.

That passion for film, he said, inspired him to get his class involved in creating something that people would watch ”“ a project that would harness their creativity and channel it into something collaborative and artistically viable.

With a story conceived by student Sarah Pinette, and a script written by several of her classmates ”“ in about five days, no less ”“ the actors and crew filmed “#YOLO” over the course of last summer, with the goal of screening it this spring at the Lewiston-Auburn Film Festival.

Only that didn’t happen. The Lewiston-Auburn event was canceled at the end of March when its founder was charged with possession of child pornography.

That left the student-made film without a home, until Harmon struck upon an idea: create a new home from scratch, and let “#YOLO” see the light of day in the area in which in was created: Maine’s newest city.

The result was a very narrow window in which to achieve his goal. It meant scrambling to create committees, subcommittees and the appropriate infrastructure to make the event possible.

“It would have made impressive reality television,” he said, smiling.

Of course, it helps to have friends in high places. Sanford Mayor Tom Cote has been working on the festival since its inception, helping to rally volunteers, secure screening locations, and going so far as to serve as the event’s webmaster ”“ overseeing a site he said has received hits from more than 1,000 unique visitors in the last four weeks alone.

Quite a feat for an idea that was only presented to him on March 24.

“We knew we had a limited amount of time,” said Cote. “There were multiple committees, and the basic strategy was divide-and-conquer: Let’s allow the committees some autonomy, here. It really just fell into place.”

That translated into good news, not just for the filmmakers and fans of independent movies, but for the city itself, which has garnered a heap of business sponsorship and attention from tourists who, previously, may not have thought of Sanford as a place to visit.

“It’s an opportunity for us to flex our muscle and show that we’re a destination spot,” said Cote. “And we also have to realize that ourselves.”

For Harmon and his student filmmakers, the destination that mattered most was the main hall of the church, where a screen perched high above the pulpit cast a cinematic glow over moviegoers settled into pews. When the house lights dimmed and “#YOLO” commenced, it was the culmination of nearly a year’s worth of work, hope and anticipation.

Ouch and Pinette ”“ along with students Emma Cyr, Danielle Bourne, Ian Gallant, Andrew “Buddha” Thyng and Kyle Francoeur, as well as several other students and community members ”“ felt immeasurable satisfaction at finally showing the film to an honest-to-goodness audience.

“Take the best thing ever and multiply it by 10,” said Cyr.

“I didn’t think it was going to be this big,” said Gallant. “This is unbelievable.”

Yet it was real: A seedling which bloomed into something that, even this past winter, no one could have expected.

“It’s a big deal for the students, but an even bigger deal for the city,” said Harmon. “It’s a big morale boost all around.”

— Staff Writer Jeff Lagasse can be contacted at 282-1535, ext. 319 or [email protected]

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