The Lincoln Theater in Damariscotta is home to the MidCoast Film Fest, whose second season was postponed to this year. Photo courtesy of Andrew Fenniman

Starting a new film festival is tough. Starting one, putting on a promisingly successful first-ever program, then being shut down for an entire year by a global pandemic is beyond tough. It’s the sort of sucker punch that would send the average nascent film festival founder scurrying away in understandable defeat. But Maine is tough. And, when we’re talking about the Lincoln Theater’s MidCoast Film Fest, we’re talking midcoast tough. Not that being forced to skip the all-important second season of this brand new Maine film festival didn’t hit Lincoln Theater Executive Director Andrew Fenniman hard. 

“We were pretty lucky,” says Fenniman of the Lincoln’s March 2020 temporary closure. “We’d planned pretty conservatively for a number of years, building up something of a nest egg. Plus, we’ve got a very generous community in Damariscotta behind us.” Fenniman notes with some pride that that’s allowed the shuttered Lincoln Theater to continue to pay its all of its nine employees through this godforsaken year, and left the Lincoln in a good position to reopen. Sometime. 

“We’re getting ready to reopen,” says Fenniman confidently of this gem of an independent Maine movie house. And while the theater’s calendar page is currently empty, Fenniman says that – once regulations, vaccinations, and medical professionals give the qualified all clear – the Lincoln will be ready for this new world of theatergoing. “We’ve taken steps to make things as safe as we can,” says Fenniman, and he’s not kidding. 

A new advance ticketing system automatically spaces out seats and acts as built-in contact tracing for patrons. That means that there will be fewer people in each showing. (Fenniman pegs maximum capacity at just 42.) And the high-ceilinged Lincoln has installed both a new air-filtration system and an MIT-designed monitoring app that estimates the amount of time that system can safely accommodate each night’s socially distanced crowd. (Although Fenniman says that, unless the Lincoln starts booking movies with runtimes of a full week or so, it should be fine.) Add to that plentiful hand-sanitizing stations, ramped-up cleaning procedures and a mandatory mask mandate (meaning the Lincoln is foregoing the lucrative concessions sales), and it certainly sounds like the Lincoln staff is doing its due diligence. As for the possibility of following Maine venues like the Portland Museum of Art or Apohadion Theater in offering up virtual screenings, Fenniman cites the Lincoln’s traditional in-person vibe, saying, “The Lincoln’s a special place where people come together. That’s a core part of what this theater is. (Of course, you still need to make your own informed decisions about when the time’s right to resume moviegoing.) 

Still, wouldn’t it have been easier to just fold all that MidCoast Film Fest money and energy into making this venerable arthouse theater COVID-worthy? “There was really no consideration of it,” Fenniman says of the possibility of calling off the festival for the second year in a row (or forever). “We really wanted to keep it going – nobody feels like MidCoast has gotten enough of a shot yet.”

And MidCoast Film Fest’s first shot was a good one, drawing respectable crowds to the Damariscotta area and the festival’s unique roster of “true life” films (either documentaries or films based on a true story). “We had a number of the filmmakers who came, everyone had fun, there was a good variety of films, from all over the U.S. and places like Spain and France,” says Fenniman. “I’m really proud of the breadth and quality of films we brought in,” Fenniman boasts, noting that the 2019 MidCoast Film Fest received over 100 submissions, which is not too shabby for a festival’s first year.

That said, the 2021 MidCoast (currently scheduled from July 23-25 at the Lincoln), would like Maine (and other) filmmakers to know that this year’s submissions are still wide open. “We carried over some submissions – mainly shorts, as it turns out – from the (canceled) 2020 festival, which is great,” says Fenniman. “But we’re really looking for more features, plus we’ve kept the submission fees very low to attract more filmmakers.” 

The MidCoast Film Fest’s submission deadline for its second season isn’t until June 2, so here’s a call to all filmmakers who’ve managed to keep working on your dream (true) stories through all of this. Submission guidelines can be found through indie submission platform Film Freeway, or at the MidCoast Film Fest website. So get cracking, while we all keep our fingers crossed that 2021 is a very, very different year for filmmakers and filmgoers than 2020. 

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

Comments are not available on this story.

filed under: