Maine-made “Blow the Man Down” opens the festival Friday. Photos courtesy of Maine International Film Festival

Same as every July, this film writer’s head is swimming. That’s what happens whenever the Maine International Film Festival comes to town (Waterville, that is) and unveils its signature annual trove of cinematic riches.

The Maine institution’s 22nd year runs from Friday through July 21 and as ever, I ran for help to Ken Eisen, co-founder of Waterville’s Railroad Square Cinema, who – with his wife, the actress Karen Young, and Jess Shoudy of the Maine Film Center – programmed this year’s head-spinning array of films. Eisen walked me through some of this year’s festival highlights.

“We’ve never been trying to put ourselves on the film festival map of the universe, per se,” said Eisen, who’s been at the MIFF helm since its inception in 1998. “We’re very grateful for the good reputation I think we have but we never set out to be Sundance or Telluride. That’s not a knock, it just wasn’t what we were intending to do.”

Fair enough. Not every well-respected film festival has to evolve into a high-pressure industry playground for the rich and attention-hungry. But Maine International always has attracted its share of film royalty to the state, the festival’s reputation for quality and integrity bringing in past awardees of MIFF’s Mid-Life Achievement Award like Terrence Malick, Walter Hill, Gabriel Byrne, Sissy Spacek, Thelma Schoonmaker, Jonathan Demme and others whose work in all aspects of the film industry has skewed more toward artistic integrity than superhero-level box office. Eisen points to this year’s Mid-Life Achievement winner, director Hilary Brougher (pronounced “Brocker”), as just the most recent honored – and uniquely worthy – guest.

“Hilary has a fantastic reputation in the indie world but she’s not a showpiece name, so to speak,” Eisen said about the director of such highly regarded independent films as “The Sticky Fingers of Time,” “Stephanie Daley” and her newest film, the family drama “South Mountain.”

“South Mountain” was directed by this year’s Mid-Life Achievement winner, Hilary Brougher.

“I can’t stand people who think that Quentin Tarantino has something to do with indie film,” said Eisen, half-kidding. “Hilary is indie film. She might not be as big a name as some of our past honorees but she makes modest, personal and very truthful films that show huge integrity and meaning in her filmmaking. We’re thrilled she’s going to be here.”

That enthusiasm for all things film is the defining characteristic of any conversation with Eisen, who waxes excitedly about all things MIFF, from this year’s retrospective on the works of the recently late director Bernardo Bertolucci (including a 35mm showing of “The Dreamers” and a new 4k restoration of the director’s groundbreaking “Last Tango In Paris”) to MIFF’s showing of the new documentary about film critic legend and personal hero (of Eisen’s and mine) Pauline Kael to this year’s experimental showcase MIFFONEDGE, curated by Shoudy and featuring some truly surprising sensory experiences. (Forget 3-D and prepare all five of your senses for Audrey Harrer’s “Lavender.”)

Eisen is also excited to highlight MIFF’s commitment to showcasing Maine works, including a Young-curated full program of Maine shorts and the festival’s opening- night film, “Blow the Man Down,” from directors Bridget Savage Cole and Danielle Krudy. A rambunctiously chilly coastal dark comedy-thriller about a pair of Maine sisters frantically attempting to hide an unexpected corpse from the busybody likes of Annette O’Toole, June Squibb and Margo Martindale, the film promises to keep up Maine’s cinematic reputation as a place for stunning scenery and oddball eccentrics.

“La Flor” is a 14-hour film that will be shown in four parts.

As I always do, I asked Eisen to pluck out a few films he’s especially excited for MIFF attendees to discover, with the 14-hour (you read that right) Argentine film “La Flor” from director Mariano Llinas topping his list. Shown in four parts, wherein four women adventure through six separate cinematic genres, “La Flor” is, according to Eisen, “a movie that reinforced and restored my faith in the medium, something that hasn’t happened in a long time.” The epic running time shouldn’t deter viewers, Eisen says. “This is not an inaccessible movie. It’s truly about the love of moviemaking, it’s brilliantly done, and it is tremendously exciting.”

Eisen is also hoping people thrill, as he has, at “The Gathering,” a musical celebration of an overlooked Los Angeles African-American jazz ensemble/movement called the Pan Afrikan People’s Arkestra. “ ‘The Gathering’ is also accessible, vital and exciting,” said Eisen, “and the band has this deep connection to community that makes it especially unique.” Eisen also urges MIFF attendees to come to a special, rare East Coast performance from the band, which will accompany what is the world premiere of the film.

But all this is just the tip of the MIFF iceberg. I haven’t mentioned the retrospective screenings of restored films like “Blue Velvet,” “After Hours,” the grimy noir classic “Detour” or the little-known 1935 homelessness comedy “One More Spring,” which contains a single line so presciently funny that Eisen claims he “laughed for about four minutes straight.” For Eisen and his MIFF team, the annual opportunity to bring such an ambitious and eclectic cavalcade of world cinema to Maine is an unparalleled joy. “Maine International is where people open themselves up to possibilities,” said Eisen. “I love that, and that it makes me so happy. It’s the most gratifying 10 days of the year.”

Amen. To check out the embarrassment of movie riches provided at this year’s Maine International Film Festival and to purchase festival passes or individual tickets, go to the festival website You’ll be glad (if overwhelmed) that you did.

Dennis Perkins is a freelance writer who lives in Auburn with his wife and cat.

This story was updated at 10:50 a.m. July 8 to correct the name of a film.

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