The Sanford International Film Festival might have been inspired by a disaster, but with this year’s event running from Wednesday to Saturday, it’s now a full-fledged Maine success story.

After the sudden and shocking implosion of the Lewiston-Auburn Film Festival in 2014, SIFF was birthed in a hurry to save some local films and filmmakers from undeserved obscurity.

“Basically there was this local student film from Sanford that wasn’t going to get shown so people thought, how do we salvage this?” That’s the first-year Sanford International director, Brian Boisvert, who takes over this year from the founder and filmmaker, James Harmon. “Now this is our sixth year, and since, we’ve grown into a place to highlight a lot of great local films and movies from around the world.”

Boisvert, who’s been involved with the festival from the start, joined the all-volunteer staff right after seeing an indie film in that first year that convinced him that making sure that small, independent films don’t just vanish is a worthwhile endeavor. “That first year I saw this amazing film (New Hampshire native Aaron Wiederspahn’s “Only Daughter”). It was a late showing and there were only 12 people in the theater, and every one of us was in tears. I thought, ‘No one’s ever going to see this film. It’s just going to disappear.’ And I thought about providing a venue for the best of the best, and for people in southern Maine to see these films.”

Joining SIFF’s panel of volunteer judges in the festival’s second year, Boisvert now heads the selection team as the growing festival continues to receive more and more short and feature film submissions from Maine and around the world. “This year we got 678 submissions and there are 67 represented in the festival,” said Boisvert. “It’s definitely the hardest part of the process. Making any cut is painful. Even if the film just isn’t right for us, we know that the filmmakers have put their blood, sweat and tears into it.”

Blood, sweat and tears also were shed by Boisvert and his four other judges this year as they watched what he estimates to be over 300 hours of content in the six months leading to this week’s event and found themselves having to make some wrenching choices. “We wound up taking just 10 percent,” he said. “And the hardest thing to do was to look at the 20 percent that would make a really great festival and know we had to cut that in half.”

As for the select few that made the cut to get into this year’s SIFF, Boisvert is especially enthusiastic for attendees to see opening-night films “The Worry Doll,” from Pennsylvania filmmaker Brendon Lay, about a young woman searching for her estranged sister in the dangerous drug underworld, and, from New Hampshire director Adam Newman, the creepy houseguest thriller “Scarlet Cay.” “These are two really special features,” said Boisvert. “I think people are really going to enjoy those.”

Noting that the schedule includes both a Grindhouse Wednesday and a marathon, 12-hour Horror Friday, Boisvert admits that grittier fare has become the festival’s “most popular” aspect. “In general, horror seems to be a very big deal on the festival circuit, so we tend to get a lot of horror, thriller and supernatural content, so we’ve split those off into two separate nights,” he said, adding that as a horror fan himself, “It’s not hard to judge.” Still, there’s plenty of diversity – of subject and point of origin – in this year’s lineup, with Boisvert very excited to show off a pair of films from Iran.

“The Man in the Mask” is a documentary about Portland-based actor Kip Weeks after his role in the horror film “The Strangers.”

“We keep getting better and better submissions from Iran,” said Boisvert. “There’s one film ending our Horror Friday called ‘Sluggish Life’ (from Iranian director Mohsen Mehri Deravi) that’s what I like to call a real mind(expletive). I don’t want to give anything away, but it’s about a man who surrounds himself with eggs, and it’s so unusual, you just have to see it.” In addition, Boisvert is happy to have the documentary “The Man in the Mask,” from directors Jess Barnthouse and Stacy Buchanan, about Portland actor Kip Weeks and his attempts to get back into the business after not being invited to reprise his role as the terrifying lead baddie in the 2008 Universal Pictures home invasion chiller “The Strangers.” (A role coincidentally taken up by fellow Maine resident, actor Damien Maffei.) “It’s about Weeks trying to navigate the independent film map and find his way back into films,” Boisvert said.

For festival-goers, Boisvert is also thrilled that SIFF has some fancy new digs. The main screening venue is now the new Sanford Performing Arts Center, located at the new Sanford High School. “It’s a wonderful auditorium,” Boisvert said. “It seats 800-plus people with state-of-the-art sound and projection. We’re thrilled.”

In addition, Boisvert is excited for people to experience one of SIFF’s most unique features, the winner of last year’s Script to Screen screenwriting competition. Selected last season to be filmed by a group of Maine film professionals (led by Harmon), “Staring Down a Barrel” is a bank robbery thriller written by uber-local screenwriter Manley Irish of Springvale. “We get screenplay submissions and select one,” Boisvert said, “then, over the summer, James and a local team film the script. It’s something unique to us, and something fun for everyone involved.”

For plenty of Maine film fun happening through Saturday, head down to the Sanford Performing Arts Center and, for Horror Friday’s 12-hour marathon, Smitty’s Cinema on Main Street. For more information, including showtimes, reasonably priced tickets and festival passes, and descriptions of this year’s eclectic lineup of films, check out and

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

Comments are not available on this story.

filed under: