Thanksgiving has taken on a poignant edge these past few years. A holiday that’s all about togetherness has found us trying to pretend that family group Zoom calls are as good as the real thing. A holiday that’s about being thankful for what you’ve got has, for so many of us, become a wrenching annual reminder of what we’ve lost, and what we’re still missing after nearly two full years of a devastating pandemic. 

Well, Thanksgiving is still coming, and, dammit, we here at the Indie Film desk are bound and determined to not let the still-lingering disruption of a worldwide pandemic rob us of our annual tradition of publicly appreciating those hardy (but not foolhardy) Maine film folks who’ve weathered this unprecedented storm with ingenuity, courage and even a little grace in the face of a deadly and dangerous pandemic. 

First up in this hunt for silver linings is the resilience and sheer Maine stubbornness of film festival organizers. From the Maine International Film Festival, to the Maine Jewish Film Festival, Camden International Film Festival, Maine Outdoor Film Festival, the Midcoast Film Festival, and SMCC’s student-showcasing Maine Mayhem festival, the already hard-working (and overworked) staff of these vital annual Maine movie events have now had to contend with nearly two full seasons worth of unthinkable disruption. And while all of these cinematic celebrations were hit hard by the need to suddenly factor a life-threatening infectious disease into their already complex planning, every single one of them found ways no not only persevere, but to thrive. 

Speaking to organizers, these past two years have been genuinely inspirational. In-person events are impossible? Organizers built up smooth-running online screening hubs, and brought even more filmmakers into contact with Maine audiences online. (At the same time, finding new audiences attracted by the accessibility of virtual screenings.) Hell, the Points North Institute (which brings us the stellar nonfiction-based Camden International Film Festival each year) even built its own drive-in theater from scratch as a way to preserve some semblance of that in-person community feeling. As one movie’s famous line once put it, “Life finds a way.” So do Maine people who really love film, and care about making Maine a true film fan’s destination. 

Speaking of Maine film folk who had to scramble for cinematic survival in this new abnormal, I’m thankful as heck to Maine’s independent theater and screening space operators and programmers. As we all know all too well, movies became, for many of us, not just a pastime or a hobby, but an essential component in our mental health strategy. Portland venues like The Apohadion Theater, Space and PMA Films (under the guidance of local film programmers like The Apohadion’s Greg Jamie and PMA’s Jon Courtney) not only continued to bring in some of the most challenging and effectively diverting films they could get their hands on, but transformed their business model entirely. Setting up virtual video stores of current, often out-there releases and rare revivals for online screening gave us – in our individual self-imposed isolation pods – a continuity of arthouse movie experiences to choose from. It wasn’t easy, and I can’t over-stress how much their efforts to keep Portland weird meant to me, personally. With most theaters gingerly and responsibly opening back up to in-person presentation once more, these virtual screenings are receding for the most part, their reliably entertaining and, to lots of Mainers, deeply essential job well done. 

And, finally, let’s hear it for the filmmakers. After all, none of us exhibitors, audiences, organizers, or (most important) local film writers would have anything to do without them. At the start of this pandemic (which seems like 40 years ago or so now), I worried that the resulting shutdowns, lockdowns and slowdowns would make it impossible for a lowly film columnist to track down a Maine movie story every week. I needn’t have sweated that, since, as is their Mainers’ way, Maine filmmakers proved once more that actually making a Maine independent film is perfect training for when everything goes shockingly and thoroughly off the rails. 

I found filmmakers making thrifty and opportunistic use of suddenly emptied public places to shoot in hitherto unavailable locations. Filmmakers using their enforced idleness to come up with an entire, statewide series of COVID safety guidelines for in-state filming. Directors dusted their hands and honed their skills, producing finished-against-all-odds personal projects and innovative indie movies that proved just how motivating and creatively fruitful isolation, necessity, and a little bit of fear can be. Talking to these Maine filmmakers – always fighting an uphill battle at the best of times – ply their art and turn out exciting, challenging work in this, the worst of times, was inspirational. And I thank each and every one of them for the inadvertent pep talks. 

So, as the pandemic continues to grind on (largely at this point due to the selfishly irresponsible not taking a free, life-saving and society-reopening vaccine), remember to spare some gratitude – and take some lessons – from all those film-obsessed folks in your communities. As the days get shorter and our seasonal affective disorder tag-teams against us with our pandemic blues, be thankful that nothing, and I mean nothing, can stop Maine’s independent film community from lighting up the darkness. 

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

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