Shotwell Drive-In in Rockport, constructed by Points North last summer, kicks off its season on Thursday. Photo by Anna Finocchiaro

When Camden International Film Festival founder Ben Fowlie said that he and his fellow Points North Institute colleagues had to “think outside the box” when it came to continuing their movie mission during the pandemic, he’s not kidding.

After all, the box of an enclosed movie theater was exactly the sort of viewing option that COVID-19 took down first. And last year’s edition of the acclaimed and influential CIFF was transformed from a week-long community gathering of the best nonfiction filmmakers in the world and thousands of eager moviegoers, into a still-exciting but unprecedentedly virtual festival that people watched largely alone on their computers. 

But nothing says ingenuity and hope more than a Maine film festival faced with an obstacle, and nothing represents those qualities better than to see a huge, crystal-clear movie screen glowing in the dark, the glittering picture beamed brilliantly from a lighthouse right in the middle of a Maine summer night.

That’s the Shotwell Drive-In, the Rockport outdoor movie venue constructed by Points North last summer in order to bring some light to the lives of Maine movie lovers on the site of an abandoned elementary school right off of Route 1. Back this week for its second full season of outdoor movie magic, the Shotwell begins again on Thursday with a screening of the magical French documentary “The Truffle Hunters.”

“It’s a feel-good documentary that feels like a narrative film,” Fowlie said of the award-wining (and universally acclaimed) story of a group of old men and their trained dogs searching deep into the Piedmont, Italy, countryside in search of the elusive and lucrative white Alba truffle. Said Fowlie of this choice to kick off Season 2 at the Shotwell, “It’s almost too surreal to feel real, and with the connection to foraging, to mushrooms, and the Midcoast foodie scene, we thought it was a great pick.”

“After all,” added Fowlie, “Mainers really love mushrooms, and dogs.”

With a June schedule for the venue already set with old and new cinematic gems, Fowlie explains that this unexpected adjunct to Points North’s already multifarious film ventures has seen the organization (and Fowlie himself) learning whole new arenas of the movie business.

“I wasn’t expecting to be running a weekly venue,” said Fowlie of last year’s can-do experiment in drive-in screening. “We didn’t have things up and running until mid-July last year, and it was all about learning on the fly.”

That’s no joke, either, as Fowlie outlined everything from forging new relationships with theatrical distributors to modifying the housing for the delicate and precious projecting equipment (which, again, sits in a lighthouse, for added Maine flavor) to, you know, actually constructing a lighthouse in the Rockland countryside.

“I was in the hardware store buying pressure-treated wood and people were shocked when I said we were opening the drive-in in just a few weeks,” Fowlie said, with understandable pride. 

Ready for a full 2021 season, the Shotwell Summer Series is stocked with an outstanding mix of documentaries and features, crowd-pleasers and the sort of adventurous, challenging nonfiction films that are Fowlie and CIFF’s area of unique expertise. There’s Questlove’s rousing new music documentary “Summer Of Soul (…Or, When The Revolution Could Not Be Televised),” about the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival, which featured performers as iconic as Nina Simone, Sly and the Family Stone, and B.B. King. Fowlie says of the documentary, “It’s got a real ‘get out of your car and dance on the rooftop’ kind of vibe,” perfect for the screening’s holiday weekend July 3 date.

Similarly, the Shotwell is showing a gloriously restored version of D.A. Pennebaker’s “Monterey Pop,” with the seminal rockumentary being screened on June 17, not-so-coincidentally the exact date the legendary music event was staged in 1967. And the following week, on June 24, the Shotwell joins in Maine’s celebration of Pride with a showing of director Jennie Livingston’s enduringly popular “Paris Is Burning,” the 1990 documentary about New York’s influential and fabulous drag ball culture. Says Fowlie of the Shotwell’s partnership with OUT Maine, “We’re very mindful of the calendar, and how we can best bring the community together each week.”

Fowlie teases that the Shotwell’s summer and fall schedule will have much, much more to entice Mainers, vacationers and from-awayers, pointing to last year’s poll which found that, “overwhelmingly,” attendees wanted some Wes Anderson on the bill. (Anderson’s typically cinematic and lovely New England-set “Moonrise Kingdom” screens on June 12.)

In addition, the first month offers films as varied as the Anthony Bourdain documentary “Roadrunner” (July 1), the searing doc “The Oxy Kingpins” (about the corporate interests behind the nation’s opioid epidemic) on June 10, and the thrillingly eclectic all-Maine showcase of “Maine Street USA,” which sees filmmakers from all over the state crafting short but revealing glimpses about life in Maine. Plus, both “The Oxy Kingpins” and “Maine Street USA” showings are free to the public. (The Shotwell only holds 85 cars, so Fowlie urges booking tickets ahead.)

As for Fowlie and the Shotwell, while programming a completely new type of Maine movie experience is exciting, the busy Maine movie maven is hoping that all this summer buzz will carry over to the fall, when the Camden International Film Festival returns once more. Taking place from Sept. 16-26, this year’s CIFF will see the acclaimed festival return to in-person greatness, with Fowlie touting the off-year addition of new venues, filmmakers in attendance from all over the world, and a continuation and expansion of all of Points North’s renowned programs for documentary filmmakers and enthusiasts alike. 

“Energy is building for the big show in the fall,” said Fowlie. “CIFF is back in a big way this year, and, considering everything, we’re looking like the biggest documentary festival in the world in the last 18 months or so. It’s going to be a busy summer in Maine, and we know people are bursting at the seams to get a little piece of paradise, so here’s to the momentum starting on June 3 and building all the way up to Sept. 16.”

For the initial month’s-worth of the Shotwell Summer Series’ offerings, check out the Shotwell Drive-In’s website. (Fowlie has to be cagey about some big bookings coming later, but promises a “lighthouse fright nights” showing of the 2019 Maine coastal horror “The Lighthouse,” among others.)

Tickets are $20 for however many people fit in your car, screenings start at dusk (check the website for times) and there will be some family-friendly screenings later in the season as the sun goes down a little further from the kids’ bedtime. 

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


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