The acting in “Counterfeit Grit” makes it one of the most promising films ever produced by the Southern Maine Community College program. Photos courtesy of Corey Norman

Let the Maine Mayhem begin. 

Always one of the most surprising and entertaining movie events of the year, the 12th annual Maine Mayhem Film Festival is coming to Portland’s Nickelodeon Cinema on Wednesday, May 11. The result of a semester of hard and productive work by students of Southern Maine Community College’s Communications and New Media department, the five short films represent the first big-screen efforts of some of Maine’s most promising aspiring filmmakers. 

Under the tutelage of SMCC associate professor Corey Norman (himself an accomplished Maine moviemaker), these young filmmakers must pitch, write, cast and produce a finished film as the culmination of their studies. And, luckily for us, Norman has maintained Maine Mayhem as a public celebration of all that hard work, with the annual program of student-made shorts providing Maine moviegoers with an always-intriguing sneak peek at what the next generation of Maine actors, directors and film professionals can do. 

“It’s interesting, every year they go in different directions,” Norman said of the eclectic quintet that make up this year’s Maine Mayhem offerings. “I’d say this year involves heavier content than we’ve had in years past. We’re running more of PG-13 to R rating than we have in the past. There’s some really great, unique content.”

Norman’s not kidding, as he happily outlines the plots of this year’s films. 

In “Weightless,” people carry around their doubts and insecurities in the form of balloons.

“Weightless,” directed and produced by Skye Doyle is, according to Norman, “a very stylized look at depression and the weights that we all carry in life.” Explaining that Doyle’s conceit involves a world where the issues we all carry manifest physically as clouds of trailing balloons, the film, says Norman, takes the concept of “emotional baggage” to new and interesting places. 

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“Ember’s Night Out,” produced and directed by Chase Carus, perhaps accounting for that R rating Norman was talking about, follows a dominatrix who, paid in fake money by a client, sets out to rob him in retribution. Said Norman, “This is a very strong LGBTQ+ film, both in terms of crew and in representation. In the last half-decade, we’ve started to get stronger in terms of representation of that community. What I really like about ‘Ember’s Night Out’ is that it’s representation without pandering. I call it the Ellen Ripley scenario. In ‘Alien,’ you’ve got this great female protagonist, but it’s never really talked about during the movie.”

Things get darker still in producer and director Noah Anderson’s “Prey,” a post-apocalyptic tale where a cult seeks out sacrifices in their pursuit of immortality. Said Norman of the film, “Eventually, every cult gets found out – secrets necessary for the continuation of an institution finally come out, and this is the aftermath. This movie has stylized, gorgeous cinematography and really strong performances.”

“We’re Not Out of the Woods Yet” is a Coen Brothers-style film about a couple who comes across a crime scene while on vacation.

Up next is the darkly comic “We’re Not Out of the Woods Yet,” directed by Kyle Brunelle and produced by Brunelle, Joshua Hagin and Joseph Puleo. “It’s a Coen Brothers-y story about a husband and wife who stumble upon a crime in progress and wind up getting away with a bunch of money they should not have taken. It’s quirky, tongue-in-cheek – again, very much in the style of a Coen movie.”

Closing out this year’s Maine Mayhem is a film Norman calls, “one of the strongest films we’ve ever had,” in the Maine-centric crime story “Counterfeit Grit.” Produced by Devin Poitras and Gavin Chambers and directed by James Redpath, the appropriately gritty short follows the rise of a drug dealer. “Think ‘Scarface,’ but on a more local level,” promised Norman of the film. “The acting here is superb. I think this is going to have a life on the festival circuit.”

For Norman, each Maine Mayhem marks yet another year of watching his students mature as artists – and then set out into the larger moviemaking world. After the pandemic shut Maine Mayhem down two years ago, last year it incorporated two years’ worth of students’ films on the biggest of screens, as safety protocols saw the fest head to the (sadly now-shuttered) Saco Drive-In. “It’s good to be back home,” Norman said of Maine Mayhem’s return to the Nickelodeon.

As for that real world, Norman is proud of how his filmmaking students rolled with the considerable punch of a two-year pandemic, praising the ingenuity and adaptability of aspiring moviemakers up against even more obstacles than usual.

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“I’m always blown away,” beamed Norman. “Safe-set protocols found their way into the curriculum because of this. In this new world, they learned how to continue with productions in a safe way. If there’s one plus side to all this, it’s that it’s really forced folks to be even more aware of general set safety, and to work around necessary restrictions.”

Restrictions and obstacles are part of every filmmaker’s life. The ambitious and inventive young filmmakers of this year’s Maine Mayhem are proof that Maine filmmakers can take whatever the world throws at them – and turn it into art. 

The 12th annual Maine Mayhem Film Festival takes place on Wednesday, May 11, with screenings at 6:30 and 9 p.m. Tickets are $11. 

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


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