The Waterville Opera House was abuzz with nearly 60 moviegoers on Thursday evening for a screening of the newly restored 1945 film “Leave Her to Heaven” that kicked off the Maine in the Movies film festival.

The 10-day festival celebrates the state’s 200th birthday by screening 35 features shot or set in Maine in 17 cities statewide. It was organized by the Maine Film Center and 19 other arts and education organizations and independent cinemas.

“Leave Her to Heaven” is based on a 1944 novel by Ben Ames Williams, a native Mississippian who spent his summers and falls in Maine. His grandson, Tim Williams, was at Thursday’s screening.

Tim Williams, grandson of Ben Ames Williams, poses with his wife, Liz, at a screening Thursday of “Leave Her to Heaven” at the Waterville Opera House. Morning Sentinel photo by Molly Shelly

Tim Williams, who was born in Portland and lived most of his life in Maine, was invited to Thursday’s screening by the Maine Historical Society that co-presented the event with the Maine Publishers & Writers Alliance and Colby College Special Collections.

Tim Williams provided insight into how his grandfather’s 1944 novel “Leave Her to Heaven” was written.

“He wrote this story coming back from a fishing trip,” Tim Williams said. “His historical novels would take years, but this one he knocked out in just a couple of days. He said, ‘I know what will work’ and he put it together.”

He also provided a touch of irony in a comment on his grandfather’s characters.

“One interesting sidebar is that in a couple of stories like ‘The Strange Woman,’ or ‘Leave Her to Heaven,’ the leading lady would always be an evil woman,” Tim Williams said. “And my grandmother would always get letters all the time saying, ‘you must be a terrible woman, otherwise why would Mr. Williams be able to write about these ladies?’ Meanwhile my grandmother was actually a wonderful woman.”

Willard Carroll, a writer, producer and director with a vast knowledge of Ben Ames Williams, described the area where the movie was shot.

“This movie shot quite a lot on location, a lot of Maine connections, except that it was not shot in Maine,” Carroll said. “The main section was shot in Bass Lake, which is in Yosemite, but does a pretty good job standing in for a Maine lake. You’ll see that the location work in the movie is pretty amazing.”

Following the film, Carroll and Tim Williams spoke with the audience about the film as well as Ben Ames Williams’ work, life and legacy in Maine.

Mike Perrault, executive director of the Maine Film Center, shared his excitement about opening night before the screening.

“I think this is a really amazing way to celebrate our state’s bicentennial,” Perrault said. “And to tell so many stories about Mainers, Maine as a place, whether you’re from here or from away. The best part is that there is something for all audiences in this festival.”

The film festival lineup features movies from all genres and from the last 110 years.

Before the film, attendees heard from Steve Brommage, executive director of the Maine Historical Society.

“There are going to be tons of (bicentennial) activities around the state,” Brommage said. “But I don’t think there could be a more fun way to dive into it (bicentennial) than with this film festival.”

The full festival schedule can be found on the film center’s website — www.mainefilmcenter.org.

Organizations and theaters co-presenting the festival are: The Colonial Theatre and Waterfall Arts, Belfast; The Gem Theater, Bethel; Harbor Theater, Boothbay; Alamo Theatre and Northeast Historic Film, Bucksport; Bowdoin College Cinema Studies and Eveningstar Cinema, Brunswick; Lincoln Theater, Damariscotta; Arts & Culture Alliance of Freeport and Nordica Theater, Freeport; Temple Cinema, Houlton; Bates College Rhetoric, Film and Screen Studies, Lewiston; Waterman’s Community Center, North Haven; Spotlight Cinemas, Orono; Maine Historical Society and Maine Publishers & Writers Alliance, Portland; Strand Theatre, Rockland; Spotlight Cinemas at the Strand, Skowhegan; Opera House Arts, Stonington; Waldo Theater and Medomak Valley High School, Waldoboro; and Colby College Cinema Studies, Waterville Opera House and Railroad Square Cinema, Waterville.


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