A scene from “Late Nights,” about a mild-mannered family man who splits his time between daytime construction worker and nighttime enforcer for the mob. Photo courtesy of Corey Norman

Everybody loves a good comeback story. And while Maine Mayhem might be the name of a Maine-based women’s football team (go Mayhem!), we’re talking about the 2021 return of the original Maine Mayhem here in Indie Film.

That’s the short film festival from students at Southern Maine Community College’s Communications and New Media department, who have been turning out professional-quality movies as part of their final classwork for over a decade.

We’ve been covering the annual Maine Mayhem since its inception, and you might wonder why there wasn’t a big, 10-year anniversary article about the event last year. And thereby hangs a long tale. Oh, wait – it was COVID. The pandemic screwed up the plans of innumerable filmmakers and other movie folk in 2020, leaving the hard-working and harried students (it’s not called Maine Mayhem for nothing) of SMCC professor Corey Norman’s program with films either half-finished or completed with nowhere to show them. 

“Last year was our 10th,” says educator and filmmaker Norman of the 2020 heartbreak. “We were ready to go, with all new venues and big plans. It was going to be awesome.” Instead, like so many educators, Norman was left scrambling to reconfigure essentially everything about his perennially successful filmmaking class – and to scrap 2020’s Maine Mayhem entirely. Well, not quite entirely. 

Maine Mayhem’s 11th season is coming back in a big way, with a May 20 premiere in the great, COVID-safe Maine outdoors, thanks to the fine and local film-friendly people at the Saco Drive-In. Starting at 7 p.m., the gala event will see not just this year’s usual roster of six short films from SMCC’s filmmaking finest, but also three of the completed films that were denied their time in the spotlight thanks to, well, you know. Says Norman gratefully, “Saco was willing to help us in our time of need.”

On the big night, the Saco Drive-In will, indeed, be accommodating some 250 cars of the Maine film faithful, with Norman happily admitting that the event had already sold about 20 percent of those tickets three weeks in advance. (Get your $20-per-carful ticket online at ticketing site Eventbrite.) It’s a perfect way to show your support of Maine’s emerging generation of moviemakers, see some eclectic, energetic Maine short films, and take your own pandemic pod out for a much-needed night under the Maine stars. There’s even an in-car Q&A session after the 2.5-hour program, with the filmmakers eagerly answering your queries right from the comfort of their own vehicles. Such is the ingenuity Norman and his team have had to conjure through this year of shutdowns and Zoom calls. 

As for the films (all made in accordance with strict COVID safety guidelines), Norman was more than happy to give a brief rundown of all nine, calling this year-and-a-half’s worth of student movie output the best Maine Mayhem yet, and citing the mentorship of returning SMCC filmmakers in guiding this year’s students. “These are people who are working professionally in Portland or Boston, coming back to impart some of their know-how to these young kids,” says Norman proudly. “As a teacher, it’s a most amazing feeling.”

So on to this year’s super-sized Maine Mayhem lineup!

Starting with three 2020 films, first up is “Bomb Wedding” from director Aleena Warren. As Norman sums up, “It’s a comedy of errors kicked off when caterers at a wedding start a rumor that there’s a bomb. It’s maybe my favorite of that year, with a great ensemble cast.”

Next is Daniele Amandolini’s “Homecoming,” a “really powerful drama,” according to Norman, of a “recent college graduate who returns to his small-town home for one last weekend before moving to a big city.”

The last of the 2020 holdovers is James Redpath’s “Masterpiece,” where an artist’s grief over his dead wife starts manifesting in his increasingly disturbing artwork. Norman, whose own prolific horror-thriller moviemaking background perhaps inspired Maine Mayhem’s past preponderance of such genre fare to the annual program, notes that this psychological thriller is right up his alley. 

A scene from “20 Minutes,” about suicide helpline worker. Photo courtesy of Corey Norman

Then we’re onto this year’ student films, beginning with “20 Minutes” by Hailey Moore. “Holy hell, the movies are good this year,” enthuses Norman, citing Moore’s wrenching (but oddly beautiful) story of “a suicide helpline worker as she spends the final minutes with a man at the end of his rope.” Norman adds, “It’s about the small but darkly beautiful moments of kindness.”

Marcus Taylor’s “Overnight Deliver-Z” returns to Norman’s genre wheelhouse, an Edgar Wright-style zombie comedy with a message, as a group of essential workers cope with a viral (if zombie-fictional) outbreak at the factory where they toil.

Chad Ackerson’s “Controller,” according to Norman, feels “like a throwback to ‘Magic’ (where Anthony Hopkins played a neurotic ventriloquist), as a reporter “thinks he’s writing a fluff piece on a local ventriloquist when things get weird.” Adds Norman happily, “This one’s definitely a thriller.”

“Late Nights” by Benji Otte recalls a different sort of thriller, as Norman cites the film’s tonal resemblance to Nicolas Winding Refn’s “Drive” in Otte’s tale of a mild-mannered family man who splits his time between daytime construction worker and nighttime enforcer for the mob. Says Norman, “There’s really powerful acting in this one, some of the best we’ve ever had.”

“Freedom,” by director Savannah Green, is “a rom-com geared toward the LGBTQ+ community,” according to Norman, who says of Green’s film, “So often that voice in cinema is heavy-handed. Savannah wanted to create a normal rom-com about heartbreak that just happened to apply to that community.” 

And finally, there’s the festival closer, “Listen to Yourself,” from Sam Martel, which Norman calls, “My favorite of this year’s crop.” Describing it as “a lighthearted but one-sided body-swap movie,” Norman says of Martel’s work, “It’s like ‘Freaky Friday,’ except it’s one consciousness that fills two characters. It’s a quirky, fun, unique take on a classic set-up.”

That’s a veritable explosion of cinematic fun from Maine’s most energetic young filmmakers, all showing on the biggest of big screens, right in the safety of your own car, people. So head on out for a night of local film on May 20, starting at 7 p.m. at the Saco Drive-In. Get your tickets ahead of time, since Maine Mayhem 2021 is essentially bursting at the seams after all this time. 

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


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