“Sunner” is among the Maine-made movies screening at the Maine International film Festival in Waterville. Photo courtesy of Henry Spritz

The opening film for the 25th Maine International Film Festival (running from Friday through July 17) is the raucous, joyous and exuberantly musical Moroccan film “Casablanca Beats,” about a musician rallying the downtrodden youth of Casablanca to shake off their restrictive existence and sing.

I can’t think of a better way to kick off this first, full-fledged festival after two years of scaled-back and COVID-restricted Maine Internationals. Neither can MIFF Executive Director Mike Perreault.

“It’s such a cool and perfect way to open,” said Perreault. “It’s musical, international, it’s followed by a free concert by (Talking Heads tribute outfit) Start Making Sense at Waterville Rocks right after. It’s just an awesome, fun night of film and music, bringing life to downtown Waterville.”

Maine International has a right – if not a duty – to celebrate this year. Apart from this being the momentous 25th annual Maine International Film Festival, it also marks a return to, if not normalcy, at least a more normal (meaning exceptional, exciting and eclectic) return to pre-pandemic Maine cinematic glory.

“It’s a milestone, and we’re getting to do it in the right way,” Perreault said of the 10-day, 100-film festival. “There was a lot of hope that we’d be able to get back to our traditional format this year. We were lucky, but we were also strategic. After two years where we pivoted based on what was safe and desirable for our audiences, it seems like the world has decided to accommodate that.”

(Just a note that, while MIFF venues Railroad Square Cinema and the Waterville Opera House no longer require masking or proof of vaccination, the pandemic isn’t over. Use your head, people.) There’s also a healthy selection of on-demand films as part of MIFF’s virtual program, while the outstanding Skowhegan Drive-In is hosting outdoor screenings, including the chance to see David Lynch’s typically dark and trippy “Lost Highway” this Saturday and on Thursday, July 14.


Still, it’s undoubtedly a time for celebration, especially if you’re a Maine film fan. Maine International represents the best Maine has to offer, in terms of movies from around the state and around the world, and as Maine’s premiere opportunity to meet and interact with some of the most illustrious figures in the movies. As noted (excitedly) in this column a few weeks back, MIFF’s ever-coveted Midlife Achievement Award is going to festival guest, the great Debra Winger. In addition to offering screenings of Winger-starring films such as “Mike’s Murder,” A Dangerous Woman,” “The Lovers” and “The Sheltering Sky,” Winger will be the guest at a party in her honor on July 15. (A ticket from any MIFF Winger film gets you in the door at Waterville’s Front & Main.)

In addition, MIFF is hosting acclaimed Mexican filmmaker Tatiana Huezo, with a retrospective of her films (many dealing with themes of women facing human trafficking, cartel violence and civil war), and a reception/party for Huezo at Front & Main. And, with this being the last year MIFF hosts films at the current location of irreplaceable Waterville movie venue Railroad Square (relax, it’s just getting new digs at the under-construction Paul J. Schupf Art Center), MIFF is throwing another party to celebrate Railroad Square’s indefatigable owner Alan Sanborn on July 16. As part of Sanborn’s much-deserved Lifetime Achievement Award, he got to pick a film to screen for us. He chose “Chinatown.” No complaints there.

Of course, we’re all mostly here for the movies, and with a full 100-film complement to choose from, the only drawback is having to choose. (Here’s where I say that festival passes – $250 for a full, $100 for a partial pass – are the way to go.) There’s something for everyone to love, pretty much wherever you turn at MIFF. Personally, the old film geek in me is excited for revivals of Jean-Jacques Beineix’s gloriously cinematic 1981 crime thriller “Diva” and the resurrection of long-lost 1984 indie drama “Vengeance Is Mine.” That film stars Brooke Adams and is directed by Michael Roemer, a visionary indie filmmaker (“The Plot Against Harry,” “Nothing But a Man”) whose career has been infamously snake-bit by film industry nonsense.

“Hopeful: The Story of MaineWorks” is a documentary playing at the Maine International Film Festival. Photo courtesy of Thomas Hildreth

Maine films are strongly represented, as always, with Perreault claiming proudly, “That’s my personal passion, and we have some very strong Maine features this year, just really spectacular productions produced in really difficult conditions.” Perreault cites Henry Spritz’s Beflast- and Sanford-shot coming-of-age film “Sunner” and the documentaries “Hopeful: The Story of MaineWorks” and “Elizabeth Bishop and the Art of Losing” as Maine movies he’s especially excited for MIFF attendees to see.

In addition, Perreault lauds the efforts of Patrisha McLean, founder of Maine-based domestic violence nonprofit Finding Our Voices, who’s bringing a trio of films to highlight the ongoing problem of domestic violence in Maine.

We’re excited to partner with Finding Our Voices,” said Perreault. “They do such important work, especially in light of the pandemic, when domestic violence increased, and it was harder for people suffering from it to raise their voicers and get help.” MIFF is screening the feature “And So I Stayed” (about women in prison for killing their abusers) on July 16, alongside two short, Maine-made documentaries from Finding Our Voices and a post-film discussion.

A great film festival brings you the world, as seen through multiple and diverse eyes. The Maine International Film Festival is a great film festival. For a full list of this year’s films, and to purchase individual tickets, festival passes and virtual screenings, head over to miff.org. The festival is truly the most important event of the Maine movie season. See you there.

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

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