“Louse up your hero. Get him thrown in jail if possible. Have him arrested for stealing a horse or something. Heroes shouldn’t be holier-than-thou and namby-pamby. Heroes shouldn’t be clay statues, but they should have feet of clay.” — John Ford

We’ll never know how legendary filmmaker and proud son of Portland John Ford would feel about the bronze (not clay) statue of him that sits, in his trusty director’s chair, in the city’s Gorham Corner. Erected in 1998, some quarter-century after Ford’s death at the age of 79 in 1973, artist George Kelley’s suitably relaxed yet imperious three-dimensional portrait (complete with ever-present pipe in hand) of the director of such all-time American classics as “The Quiet Man,” “My Darling Clementine,” and “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” came about thanks to, of all things, the complaints of a tourist.

Linda Noe Laine was a New Orleans philanthropist and friend of Ford and his wife, Mary. Visiting Portland in tribute to her late friend (born here as John Feeney in 1894), the socialite was aghast that the city of such an important figure’s birth had seemingly forgotten that John Ford was born to Irish immigrants there, starred on the Portland High football team, and then followed the track of his filmmaker brother, Francis, all the way to Hollywood and eventual legend. So she made a stink, calling on then Portland mayor Jack Dawson and eventually donating hundreds of thousands of dollars to make the John Ford statue the fitting tribute it remains to this day.

There will be a free screening of John Ford’s “The Quiet Man,” starring John Wayne, in Monument Square on Saturday. Photo courtesy of the Maine Film Center

Those and many others are the sort of stories Mainers will learn at the fourth-ever John and Francis Ford Film Festival, taking place from Friday through Sunday. Naturally, John Ford’s rich, storied and decidedly Portland-flavored life and career is just the sort of local subject the Maine Irish Heritage Center can sink its teeth into, with the Portland institution celebrating its 20th anniversary (and the 50th anniversary of Ford’s passing) with a wide-ranging celebration of the careers of both John Ford and his lesser-known but, in some ways, equally important older brother.

“We were doing interviews during the pandemic,” said Maine Irish Heritage Center treasurer and festival organizer Jean Haney, “and we came out of those with so much content about John Ford. And a main thread was just how consequential Francis Ford was to John Ford’s career. John followed his older brother out to Hollywood, where Francis had already established himself as a director in silent films. Actually, in a world where we binge-watch all the time, Francis was instrumental in creating film serials, where people would come back each week to see the next installment. He was sort of the father of the binge-watch.”

Francis Ford. Courtesy of Maine Irish Heritage Center

Again, these are the sorts of things you learn talking to historians, with the Maine Irish Heritage Center’s ambitious plans for this installment of its ongoing celebration of John Ford screening not only some of John’s most beloved and crowd-pleasing films (the three already mentioned, plus Ford’s classic 1950 Western “Wagon Master”), but also several recently restored and rediscovered films from Francis Ford.


“So much of what John Ford is famous for shows up in Francis’ films,” said Haney. “Vast landscapes, silhouettes in doorways – in so many ways, Francis’ career and his influence on his brother are genuinely underappreciated.” Haney and Ford family historian Mike Connelly note how the young John worked on Francis’ successful silents in a number of roles (on and off screen) before returning the favor by putting Francis in his own films in myriad small but pivotal parts. As Connolly notes, “In ‘The Quiet Man,’ there’s an old codger who, hearing about the big fight (between John Wayne and Victor McLaglen), rises from his death bed to watch. That was Francis.”

The John Ford statue at the corner of Pleasant, Center and York streets in Portland’s Old Port. Photo by Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

As with so much of Ford’s outsized legacy, the battles between the Ford brothers have passed into legend. And, as dedicated truth-seeker and historian Haney explains, sometimes the legend is just too good to let the simple truth of brotherly love get in the way. For example, there’s the famous story of how John got revenge on his brother for making him (then acting as Francis’ stunt double) perform a dangerous stunt by, years later, tying now-actor Francis onto a burning hay wagon in John’s 1939 “Drums Along the Mohawk.”

“Some of that antagonism is exaggerated,” maintains Haney. “Francis, by all accounts, was a gentle and kind man who took care of his family. And while John was something of a cranky hothead, the brothers were much closer than people realized.”

John Ford, far right, on the set of “The Quiet Man.” Courtesy of Maine Irish Heritage Center

That brotherly bond is only reinforced in this year’s John and Francis Ford Film Festival, as John Ford’s features are being paired with a selection of Francis’ far lesser-known films in double features. The State Theatre opening night showing of John’s “Wagon Master” is preceded by Francis’ 1911 silent “When the Tables Turned.” Saturday’s free outdoor screening (in Portland’s Monument Square) pairs John’s beloved “The Quiet Man” with Francis’ “The Bandit’s Wager.” And Sunday’s screening of John’s 1962 film “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” at Damariscotta’s Lincoln Theater has a lead-in from Francis’ 1912 film “The Post Telegrapher.”

It’s a fittingly suitable, even touching, way for the festival to pay tribute to two brothers who, each in their own way, made the American cinema what it is today. “There’s a very real sense that, if Francis hadn’t established himself in Hollywood, John never would have followed, and never would have had the legendary film career he had,” said Haney.

John Ford, right, directing on the set of “7 Women.” Courtesy of Maine Irish Heritage Center

In addition, both Ford brothers will be represented by some of their perhaps less-known works at the festival’s symposium at the Portland Museum of Art all weekend. There, film scholars, Ford enthusiasts, and esteemed historians will follow screenings with discussions on Ford-related themes. The keynote speaker is famed John Ford biographer Joseph McBride (“Searching for John Ford: A Life”), with Saturday’s showing of John’s final film, the 1965 box office flop “7 Women,” a perfect subject for rediscovery and reevaluation. Starring Anne Bancroft as a hard-drinking, non-religious doctor sent to help a convent full of Catholic nuns in rural China, Haney said of the film, “It’s no wonder it was a total flop. Bancroft’s sassy female doctor doesn’t care about religion or norms and only cares about taking care of people. In 1966, I imagine people were appalled. Nowadays, it’s like, ‘You go, girl.’”


A scene from “My Darling Clementine.” Kobal Collection/20th Century Fox/Courtesy of Maine Irish Heritage Center

Similarly, Sunday’s showing of John’s classic Western about the Gunfight at the OK Corral, “My Darling Clementine,” is followed by the 2021 documentary “The Taking,” which examines how Ford’s favorite filming location of Monument Valley is actually a hotbed of conflicting interpretations of the cinematic Old West.

“The panel after that one is led by Maine filmmaker Scout Tafoya, who’s young and a big admirer of Ford,” said Haney. “But the film juxtaposes this place that filmmakers set up as an aspirational symbol of freedom with the issues surrounding the area’s Native people.”

Portrait of John Ford seated, with film stills tacked on the wall behind him. Inman Collection/Courtesy of Maine Irish Heritage Center

Indeed, Monument Valley is sacred Navajo land, the co-optation by white filmmakers something the infamously crusty Ford was all too aware of. For all Ford’s disdain about higher meanings in his movies (“It’s no use talking to me about art. I make pictures to pay the rent”), Ford was frank about America’s history of racist genocide toward its original inhabitants, once stating, “We’ve treated them badly. It’s a blot on our shield; we’ve robbed, cheated, murdered and massacred them, but they kill one white man and, God, out come the troops.”

A great film festival digs deep. Even a festival centered on one illustrious figure (or one such figure and his unjustly overlooked brother) makes room for nuance, discussion and fresh discovery, all while putting the art front and center where it belongs. As Mike Connolly states concerning Portland’s uniquely prestigious artistic legacy, “We have two statues to artists here in Portland, a poet and a filmmaker. Longfellow was the most widely read and published poet of the 19th century and John Ford, who I call a visual poet, is the most prolific artist of the 20th century. And we have statues of both – that speaks well of the city of Portland.”

With the Irish Heritage Center running this year’s John and Francis Ford Film Festival, there are films – and tales – aplenty for attendees to enjoy, all in celebration of two Portland brothers whose imprint on American film is as indelible as John Ford’s sternly weathered statue. For complete listings of the films and speakers, check out the Maine Irish Heritage Center’s website, maineirish.com, and the John Ford Festival page. Tickets and festival passes (always the right choice) can be purchased there.

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