Allie Mckenzie and Sophie Ryan co-star with animated character Brad (voiced by Andy Parmley) in Emma Jordan’s “Go To Hell!” Photo courtesy of Maine Mayhem

“You don’t need to go to New York or L.A. to be a professional filmmaker,” says Corey Norman, “Maine Mayhem is evidence of that.”

Norman, a longtime associate professor of Communications and New Media at Southern Maine Community College, knows of which he speaks. Apart from being an acclaimed professional filmmaker himself, with a number of “best Maine filmmaker” awards from Maine publications under his belt, Norman has also shepherded more than a decade’s worth of his students into the professional ranks. And, as Norman says, the annual Maine Mayhem Film Festival is those students’ coming out party.

This year’s Maine Mayhem, consisting of five short films wrapped around by one set of connecting interstitials, will have its grand premiere at Portland’s Nickelodeon Cinema on Thursday with screenings at both 6 and 8:45 p.m. After that, this showcase for Maine’s best and brightest young filmmakers hits the road, with follow-up premieres at Bridgton’s Magic Lantern Theater of Friday and The Bangor Arts Exchange on Saturday. For the first-time directors and their casts and crew, it’s a big night – seeing your work on the big screen, in front of a paying audience no less, is a powerful experience. Of course, as Norman explains happily, you’d better get a move on if you want to share in it.

“This has been our fastest sellout yet,” beams Norman, noting that the 6 p.m. Nickelodeon premiere is already booked solid. “In the past, we’ve sold out, maybe, two or three days beforehand, but this sold out 11 days in advance and the second show is already filling up.”

And while supporters of the six film crews involved inevitably make up part of Maine Mayhem’s audience each year, Norman cites the ever-growing number of Maine Mayhem alumni who come out to show their support, along with other Maine professionals looking for talented newcomers to the Maine film scene. Says Norman, “It’s one of my favorite parts of premiere night, that we get not only the moviegoing public coming out, but also a cross-section of alumni who continue to stay involved and to support the next generation, plus many area professionals scouting new talent.”

A big public screening is suitable reward for what is a notoriously grueling and ambitious, year-long endeavor for these filmmakers. Maine Mayhem starts with a pitch to Norman and a panel of Maine film pros, who evaluate not just the proposed narrative, but also the readiness of the aspiring filmmaker to bring their story to fruition. “They get six minutes to pitch, six to defend,” says Norman of the inevitably nerve-wracking process, “with everyone expected to pitch as if they’re prepared to shoot.” In the end, six films are chosen to go forward, meaning the successful director then must assemble their crew and cast, secure funding and locations, and tackle the myriad technical, dramatic and logistical tasks that go into actually turning out a finished film. As Norman notes, “Sometimes, I have to be teacher, guidance counselor and therapist,” citing his “patented Corey pep talks” for soothing many a self-doubting director.


“That’s always the heartbreaking part,” says Norman of having to whittle all the student pitches down to the six finalists. “But, at the end of the day, it’s not just about doing the work, it’s about learning to market yourself as well. It forces students to go above and beyond if they really want this. I think it takes the emphasis off the grade and on to the making of their film. The ones whose pitches succeed are usually the confident, gung-ho, living, breathing, eating and sleeping Maine Mayhem ones.”

So let’s meet this year’s filmmakers, whose dedication brought them to the Nickelodeon and Maine Mayhem.

Michaella Tillo directing the crew and planning out a montage shot for “The Vase.” Photo courtesy of Maine Mayhem

“The Vase” is directed by Michaella Tillo and produced by Tillo and Christopher Carpenter. The plot: “On Thanksgiving, Walter has to right his wrong of forgetting to deliver a vase to his mom’s friend before his family finishes dinner. When Walter ends up on Warren’s doorstep, this miscommunication for Walter becomes an opportunity for Warren to escape her home life.”

“Shadow Nightmare” is from director Macie Beaudet and produced by Beaudet and John Comeau. Plot: “Riley and George have been friends their whole lives. The problem is, George isn’t real. He’s Riley’s imaginary friend, and he’s not happy that she’s trying to move on.”

“Go To Hell!” is directed by Emma Jordan and produced by Jordan, Griffin Cardale and Gabriel Hirst. “Lydia’s childhood best friend Brad has just been murdered and left by the side of the road. When she makes her way to their childhood clubhouse he is waiting there, incorporeal, and begging for her help. Now, he has nine days to remember who killed him and right his wrongs or he’ll be sent to purgatory… forever.” Norman also promises an ambitious and eye-popping combination of 2-D animation and live action.

“The City of Servers” is from director Elora Griswold, who also produced, and is the sole documentary in this year’s festival. As profiled in this column last week, it’s about how, “Everyone knows Maine is the way life should be, and many people who come to visit Portland’s robust ‘foodie’ scene tend to agree. Yet the working class of Portland – who feel constrained by low wages, limited housing, and gentrification – know the way Portland is marketed is not the way life really is.”


Director and producer Hannah Perry Shepherd’s “The Antique” closes out this year’s Maine Mayhem, promising “a heartwarming story about twin sisters trying to save their family home from foreclosure after their mother dies. The only chance they have is if their mother’s treasured antique is worth anything. During their journey to get it appraised on a famous show, the sisters come to terms with their relationships with a complicated mother and each other.”

The wraparound story, from directors and producers Kira Laine Kennedy and Kayla Harding, is the appropriately thematic “Pitch Fest,” where “two producers spend their day listening to fellow dreamers pitch their idea for the next big film. But unbeknownst to them, they’ll hear the good, the questionable, and even the disturbing, all in the quest to green light the perfect film.”

It’s a typically eclectic, exciting and ambitious Maine Mayhem program, And one that Norman notes, stands out among all other entries in the festival’s 13-year history.

“Every film this year is directed by a woman,” said Norman, crediting this burgeoning female filmmaking phenomenon to “a real demographic shift. When we started, there was not a single female involved. When I started making films some 20 years ago, it was really an old boys’ club in the filmmaking world, but, across the country, the demographics have shifted, along with opportunities and the support structure. We’re really proud to showcase an all-woman program.”

For Norman, Maine Mayhem is a rite of passage for him as well as his students. “As always, the mission is to help students get into the professional community and Mayhem is that next step. I’m always excited to watch the metamorphosis become complete.”

The Maine Mayhem Film Festival is playing at Portland’s Nickelodeon Cinema on Thursday. For tickets, showtimes and other screenings around Maine, check out

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

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