A scene from last year’s Maine Outdoor Film Festival, the first held on the Eastern Prom in Portland. Photos courtesy of Maine Outdoor Film Festival

From MIFF right into MOFF, Maine’s movie summer is back in full swing.

Just as the 24th Maine International Film Festival closes out its yearly parade of fine films and filmmakers visiting the state, the 10th annual Maine Outdoor Film Festival is taking over Portland (or at least the Eastern Prom).

All next week, this cinematic celebration of all things outside will set up its big temporary movie screen on the rolling grass of the Prom, giving Maine moviegoers and lovers of all things outdoorsy a truly impressive array of short films and features from moviemakers who’ve taken their cameras to some of the most amazing places on Earth, including, naturally, right here in Maine. 

“Portland’s a great place to have a film festival,” says MOFF director Nick Callanan, “and, with everything that’s happened, we were thrilled to step into the void a little bit, especially in summer.”

Indeed, after more than a year where group movie experiences have been limited to the number of people you can fit on your couch, Maine Outdoor Film Festival’s bucolic setup seems the perfect way for Maine film fans to finally come together. 

The screenings, every night from Thursday through Aug. 8, essentially represent an entire Portland outdoor summer recreation program, something Callanan credits to the receptive help of the city of Portland (and especially city booking coordinator Claire Norton).

“I literally can’t give Claire enough credit,” says Callanan warmly, “Her facilities department, half of them have been furloughed because of COVID, but she was amazing. We’re really looking forward to partnering with the city, and a lot of different city organizations and nonprofits, to let our city shine a little bit.”

And shine is the right word, as the MOFF screening nights (all named after different Maine rivers, for added outdoorsiness) look to lure movie fans to the cooling fresh air of a Maine night with the warm and entertaining glow of some 66 disparate films, all extolling different aspects of the outdoor experience. As with any outdoor summer event in Maine, the usual contingencies apply. Attendees should bring a chair or blanket to sit on, along with whatever brand of bug spray they favor. Because the screenings are between two ballfields at the end of Montreal Street, where pets aren’t allowed, leave your four-legged friends at home, but outside food is welcome, and Callanan promises that Portland’s finest food trucks are already circling to provide some unique and tasty refreshments. Says Callanan: “Portland is just a great entertainment and recreation hub, and we’re excited to be part of it.”

The screenings happen between two ballfields at the end of Montreal Street.

Of course, any in-person gathering in these days of COVID is going to have to make accommodations to the pandemic that’s still hampering our collective fun. MOFF guidelines state that this year’s festival “will follow the letter and the spirit of prevailing safety guidelines, including crowd limits, social distancing and face mask recommendations,” as is only responsible. Still, the wide open spaces of the Eastern Prom are calling to those of us whose experience of seeing a movie with friends has been limited at best for the past 18 months. Plus, as Callanan notes with obvious relief, conditions are better than they were last year, when the now 10-year-old festival made its first move to Portland. The festival went on as planned then, but it wasn’t the big kickoff Portland event MOFF had hoped for (and, frankly, deserved).

“This year,” says Callanan, “we’ve got 19 hours of films over 11 screenings, we’ve got filmmakers coming in to attend – it’s just a really cool feeling.”

Of the festival’s 66 films, Callanan is proud that fully a third are home-grown, with Maine filmmakers toting their cameras to some of the state’s most beautiful and fascinating outdoor locations. “I will say that the quality of the Maine submissions has just increased every year,” says Callanan, “It’s just so awesome that we can be a platform for young Maine filmmakers to put their work out there.” 

As to the films themselves, Callanan explains that curating a viewing for 11 different audiences out of 66 films of varying lengths and subject matter is a challenging but rewarding task for him and the MOFF staff. “We had north of 160 submissions this year, and our volunteer screening committee did yeoman work in selecting the best. Then we want to create a balance for each night – we don’t want to bait-and-switch with an all conservation-themed night when people want a mix of everything from profiles, to trip reports, to conservation and activist pieces.”

Looking over the Maine Outdoor Film Festival offerings, it’s clear that Callanan and crew had plenty of variety to choose from. The unifying theme of “outdoors” encompasses a lot, and Callanan was kind enough to spotlight some of his favorites. 

“The Sea Farmers,” a short about two Maine women working to break into aquaculture, will have its world premiere at the festival on Aug. 7.

“The Sea Farmers,” from Portland filmmakers Nathan Golon and Emilie Silvestri of GoodFight Media, follows two Maine women working to break into the tough but lucrative aquaculture trade (farming oysters, in their case). Says Callanan of the world premiere short (showing in the Sheepscot Program on Aug. 7), “It’s a really heartwarming film about two women struggling against the old-boy network of aquaculture, and emerging perhaps stronger for it.”

“The Long Game” switches to a profile of Maine athlete Ryan Dunfee, whose long and painful recovery from a terrible accident becomes an inspiring tale of perseverance and courage. “It’s one of the most inspirational things I’ve ever seen,” says Callanan of the five-minute film from Maine’s Herman Mantis Inc. (screening as part of Thursday’s Kennebec Program). “The film really gives Ryan the space to articulate his thoughts and motivations in getting back out there.”

Switching gears entirely, there’s also the righteously ticked-off “Juniper Ridge Landfill Megadump – Part 1,” an exposé about environmental injustice right here in Maine. From Maine’s Sunlight Media Collective, the 16-minute short probes deep into the titular dump, where a greedily exploited loophole in the laws against bringing out-of-state toxic waste to Maine sees 200,000 tons of such environmentally unsafe junk brought to the titular Alton landfill. As Callanan notes, the film seeks to highlight ongoing legislation to shut down the pipeline of municipal sewage and other nastiness from away. (Screening as part of Saturday’s Saco Program.)

Tongans try to find sustainable ecotourism swimming with endangered whales in “Faka’apa’apa,” screening Sunday.

And that’s just the tip of the trail when it comes to the truly bountiful hiking pack of this year’s MOFF. A glance through the festival’s offerings promises everything from a story of an Indigenous people’s attempt to harness potentially destructive tourism for the good of their ancestral land (“Aguilucho: Dance of the Harpy Eagle,” Aug. 7’s Sheepscot Program) to the similar attempt by Tongans to find sustainable ecotourism swimming with endangered whales (“Faka’apa’apa,” on Sunday’s Mattawamkeag Program).

There’s a Belfast woman living with goats (“The Goat Lady”), a Vermont woman combining passions for social justice and ultra-running (“Running Through Barriers”), and a Colorado fly-fishing guide coping with mental illness (“If I Tell Them”). Continuing the Maine-made trend, there are films about biking the many picturesque trails of the coast (“Ride Maine: Cape Elizabeth”), a young Maine lobsterman dealing with Maine’s globally warmed waters (“The Gilded Trap”), and what Callanan terms the straight-up “cinematic eye-candy” of Somewhere Studios’ “Acadia” and Roger McCord’s “The Light of Lubec,” a strikingly beautiful portrait of Maine’s West Quoddy Head lighthouse.

And those are just the outdoor attractions, as this year’s MOFF also includes a number of indoor feature film screenings, hosted in some suitably Maine-centric locales. “The River Runner” screens on Aug. 2 at Portland’s own Urban Farm Fermentory, depicting one man’s quest to paddle the four great rivers stemming from Tibet’s sacred Mount Kailash. On the following night, the same location hosts a double feature of “The Last Lightkeepers” (about the preservation of New England’s stalwart lighthouses) and “Following Lines,” which travels along with six canoeists in search of Quebec’s Inuit ancestry. On Aug. 4, the Gulf of Maine Research Institute is where you can find the thought-provoking “The Long Coast” by midcoast filmmaker Ian Cheney, about how adaptive and industrious Mainers are facing the ever-evolving challenges of making a livelihood from the unforgiving Maine ocean.

Like any film festival worth its sea salt, there’s far more to the 10th annual Maine Outdoor Film Festival than any one article can lay out. (Callanan also urges everyone to check out another world premiere in Portland filmmaker Anna Wilder Burns’ “Ability,” about Team USA paracyclist Clara Brown.) As Callanan notes – and we can all wearily agree – it’s been a long and difficult year-plus, and a night (or a week’s worth of nights) in the great outdoors watching movies about the great outdoors sounds almost too good to be true.

For this year’s lineup of Maine Outdoor Film Festival’s films, and to purchase individual tickets ($15) or the ever-thrifty festival pass ($110), visit the MOFF website, maineoutdoorfilmfestival.com. In the event of a rainout, the schedule will be pushed back a day.

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

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