A compilation of stills from the short film “Fragments.” Photo courtesy of Chris Gervais

Maine filmmaker Chris Gervais’ short film, “Fragments,” begins with a somber graphic reading: 

“On November 2nd, 1995, AA Flight 3447, departing from Miami International Airport, crashed on the outskirts of Owl’s Head, ME — two hours from landing at Bangor Jetport. All 63 passengers and 6 crew perished.”

The 20-minute film then switches among interviews from the Mainers still affected by the crash. An EMT pauses while recalling how the small town ambulance crews were overwhelmed, having to stack bodies atop each other. A young woman ruefully relates her troubled childhood with her flight attendant mother. A pair of area school guidance counselors explain the lingering pain of dealing with so much sudden, shocking grief. A still-irate woman tells how her deceased husband turned out to have an entire other family she never knew about. A mother explains how she’s moved away to escape the memories of her late son and the house they shared. 

As Gervais’ film – announced as an “unaired special produced by WKPN-6 in Bangor” – proceeds, the interviews are interspersed with news footage, archival photos and frantic 911 calls from the incident, producing an intentionally “fragmented” view of a scarring local tragedy and the inescapable aftermath. 

Except none of it happened. 

There was no AA Flight 3447. No 1995 airliner crash at Owl’s Head. And, as Bangor residents know, there is no local TV station WKPN-6. (There is an unrelated Connecticut radio station with those call letters.) What Gervais has done in his self-described “experimental” short film is craft a thoughtful and stylistically ambitious documentary about a Maine disaster that never took place. 

“Big documentaries and specials about disasters always really intrigued me,” said Gervais, “but I always imagine as I’m watching them, ‘Should I be watching this?’” Citing the glut of true crime entertainment in popular culture, Gervais explains that “Fragments” has been percolating in his imagination for a long time, and that the true-life disaster of COVID and its attendant isolation spurred the former Portland-area musician to shift his creative focus.

“I’d directed some music videos in the past, but it was during lockdown that I decided to take my creative energies in a new direction,” he said.

And it’s a strikingly assured and subtly fascinating direction, as “Fragments” mines the familiar forms of processed and packaged depictions of grief for an effectively odd and thought-provoking meta-commentary on our willingness to accept pain as pastime.

“The whole thing is presented as some form of entertainment,” Gervais said of his film, “but is that really supposed to be enjoyable? As the movie goes on, it sort of confronts us with the question of, ‘Is this exploitative? So, why am I watching this?’” 

That’s a great question. As the film goes on and his subjects express a variety of responses to their shared trauma, “Fragments” juxtaposes our desire to empathize, against the increasingly alienating feeling that something in the subjects’ pieced-together monologues doesn’t quite add up. There’s no twist, and Gervais never drops the façade, but little touches throughout hint at another intention humming along underneath. Perhaps it’s the deliberately low-fi aesthetic, with the camcorder-quality image (and an initial, staticky glimpse of a strange TV advertisement), suggesting nothing more than a shelved and abandoned project someone’s found and dusted off, for unknown reasons. 

Gervais, who now lives in Thomaston with his family, says that his relatively recent shift from music to filmmaking is a product of both creative frustration and a liberating discovery of how he truly wants to express himself.

“I started making movies during the pandemic,” said Gervais, late of local bands like KGFREEZE, Nice Life, Dog Park and Wedding Camp, “and, since I wasn’t going to be playing music for a while and since I’ve always wanted to do film, it seemed like the right time.”

With “Fragments” as just Gervais’ third completed short film (check his Facebook page for info on it as well as his shorts “Bet You Don’t Even Sleep at Night” and “I Am the Hand of Death”), the director says that making movies on his own fits his aesthetic perfectly. “I’m having a lot more fun doing this than I was doing music,” laughed Gervais, explaining that “Fragments” is headed onto the film festival circuit, as soon as such a thing opens up once again. Citing experimental filmmakers like Chantal Akerman and James Benning as influences and inspirations, Gervais explains that his solitary filming style is a matter of both necessity and temperament. 

“It’s not like I don’t like them or anything,” joked Gervais of his peers in the Maine film community, “I just haven’t had the time. Plus, I’m a pretty shy person – social anxiety is really bad with me.” Still, for “Fragments,” Gervais had to reach out for collaborators, finding the truly impressive roster of local actors bringing his imaginary disaster victims to life through Facebook pages like Maine Film Community and Maine Theater Collective. Especially effusive about the talents of actress Tirseh Wilder, whose largely improvised monologue closes out the film, Gervais said appreciatively, “Hey, we’ve got some really good people here.” 

And while the general public can’t see “Fragments” just yet (due to festival rules concerning public exhibition), the filmmaker is planning on pairing up some of his shorts for screenings in Portland this fall, perhaps with a live music accompaniment. (You can’t ever leave music behind completely.)

In the meantime, Gervais is up in Thomaston, working mostly alone, completing his next few films.

“I kind of go with the flow,” he said. “I’m working on other projects now, for the year.” Like other such idiosyncratic filmmakers, Gervais says that his newfound passion for solitary craftsmanship suits him just fine.

“My wife asked me what my dreams were for all of this,” Gervais said, laughing, “and I had to say I want to have one of my movies play in festivals around the world and maybe play in some random-(expletive) New York theater for a weekend.”

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


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