A scene from “Laynie Needs A Light,” one of the short films screening at annual horror showcase Damnationland. Photo courtesy of Jill Harrigan

As has been the case for the past nine years, October in Maine arrives with the menacing footsteps of Damnationland. The all-Maine, all-spooky short film anthology institution will premiere its landmark 10th season a little closer to Halloween (Oct. 11, to be exact ), but as fans of Maine’s most eclectic collection of horror, dark fantasy, all things unnerving can tell you, it’s best not to dive right in the middle of the cinematic haunted house that is Damnationland unprepared.

Luckily, I’m here to guide you into this year’s skeletal handful of Maine horror shorts. Even more luckily, Portland filmmaker and first-time Damnationland director Jill Harrigan is here to guide me on a tour of her film, “Laynie Needs A Light,” and explain how she made inclusion and representation a priority in making it.

“Damnationland brings people together,” Harrigan said of her participation in this year’s Maine-made showcase. “I went to (the University of Southern Maine) for acting and graduated with a media studies degree with a concentration in creative writing. Then I went to Denver to write for a small production company – which immediately laid everyone off. I was in account management and sales, and went to a semester of film school and wound up making a movie called ‘Half Lost,’ which got me back into the swing. I’d been hearing about Damnationland for a few years from some filmmakers I went to high school with and determined that, when I got back home to Maine, I wanted to be involved.”

After working on a Damnationland film last year, Jill Harrigan decided this year year, she’d direct her own. Photo by Amy Harrigan

Working on producer-director Mariah Klapatch’s 2018 Damnationland entry “Ultra Witchy” gave Auburn native Harrigan the contacts and the confidence to strike out on her own with “Laynie Needs A Light.” A decidedly Portland-centric tale of a young woman whose chance meeting at a local speakeasy (the movie was filmed largely at Portland’s ever-mysterious Lincolns bar) brings her more than the love connection she was looking for, the short film is, according to Harrigan, less a horror film per se and more of a thriller – with a twist. “I can’t give too much away,” Harrigan said, “but the movie will spook you out for the first seven minutes, then, let’s just say, the main character gets what sets them free.”

For Harrigan, the experience of making “Laynie Needs a Light” meant being able to incorporate a lot of deeply personal and important ideas that are often overlooked. Some people, too. “I wanted to give a voice to people who are usually not represented in a fair light on the screen,” Harrigan said of the film’s lesbian not-quite-love story. “I set out to gather a group of as many queer people as I can and make a film, and I’m really happy how things turned out. In terms of cast and crew, we’ve got trans, gay, queer, and non-binary people in front of and behind the camera, plus people of color, women, and even a few straight men,” she said. For Harrigan, that meant working her Damnationland connections, and doing a lot of active digging. “Everybody who became part of the film either came through word of mouth or me trying to get such a diverse cast and crew.”

The main characters are played by two non-binary people, who were both consulted about playing the film’s female protagonists. “The film is definitely about female and queer empowerment,” said Harrigan, adding that her own experience as one half of an interracial lesbian couple informs her moviemaking choices as well. “I’m married to a person of color,” she said, “and, personally, I’m disappointed when I see a movie where everyone is the same color, or is sort of grouped together. It’s my intention to have any film I make have a biracial couple.” Summing up her experience on the film, Harrigan added, “If you’ve ever heard the expression ‘It takes a village,’ well, this took a village of a lot of different personalities that touched the film with their experiences.”

For Harrigan, Damnationland is a place for Mainers of all kinds to come together to make something creatively satisfying – and fun. “The big thing about Damnationland is how important it is to the community, whether the Maine filmmaking community or just someone who wants to help.” Along with the enthusiastic cooperation of the people at Lincolns and some 40 donors who contributed to the film’s crowdfunding campaign, Harrigan credits Damnationland producer Charlotte Warren and “Island Zero” producer Klapatch for taking her under their wings and showing her the ropes. “Mariah taught us a lot about the right way, the professional way to do things. Things that would help anyone get a producing job going forward.” Overall, Damnationland is an experience Harrigan highly recommends. “It’s a great way to network with other filmmakers, and, if you’re just interested at all, come get a job as a production assistant, dip your toes in, and have some fun.”

Damnationland premieres at Portland’s State Theatre on Oct. 11 at 7:45 p.m. Tickets ($12 in advance, $15 at the door) are available at statetheatreportland.com. To keep tabs on Harrigan’s film, she suggests checking out the Twitter hashtag #LaynieNeedsALight.

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

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