A scene from “Hundreds of Beavers,” screening at PMA Films this weekend. Photo courtesy of SRH

The screening: “Hundreds of Beavers” at PMA Films, 7 Congress Square, Portland; 2 and 6 p.m. Friday and noon Sunday; $6 for the Friday matinee, $10 for the other showings; not rated, 108 minutes. portlandmuseum.org/films

The challenge: There was a time when the technological side of the filmmaking business was an insurmountable obstacle for no-budget aspiring Maine filmmakers. I’m as sentimental about films shot on celluloid as the next aging movie geek, but it has to be said that the widespread availability and relative affordability of digital moviemaking, editing and even distribution has helped movie storytellers of all economic brackets actually realize their visions – and get them seen by the wider world.

The downside? Well, the democratization of filmmaking tech has allowed nearly anybody with access to an iPhone and a YouTube account to get their movies seen. And – I’m trying to be as delicate as possible here – a lot of what emerges is crap.

Before someone snatches my indie movie/lover of fringe cinema credentials away, I’m on record as enjoying crap. It’s just that, with so much of the dreaded “content” flooding the internet (and occasionally sent to my email by local moviemaking hopefuls), the gap between those who can make a movie and those who should make a movie is cracked wide. It’s a numbers game – the more there is, the more crap there’ll be.

That’s the ugly side. The sunny side of accessibility is that it has allowed some truly brilliant and creative minds to break through the old movie gatekeepers’ barriers with fascinating, singular, one-of-a-kind cinematic visions that otherwise would have remained unrealized, tattered screenplays, regretfully tucked away for lack of cash. All my sniping aside, I’ve been privileged to see some truly amazing, no-budget stuff from local filmmakers who, it’s clear, were just waiting for the technology to drop below a certain price point for them to bring their vision to the world.

There are plenty of examples of this sort of scrappy, inventive, against-the-odds Maine filmmaking in the annals of this column. (Go on and read the back-issues if you like.) But sometimes a film comes along from outside of Maine (or “from away,” as we like to disdainfully call it) that lays out such a perfect blueprint for underfunded Maine moviemakers to follow that a Maine screening feels like mandatory viewing.


What it’s about: “Hundreds of Beavers” is a black-and-white, mostly silent comedy about a sometimes-drunk fur trapper (co-writer Ryland Brickland Cole Tews) who attempts to wrest a meager living out of the snowy Wisconsin landscape, only to be thwarted at every turn by beavers. Hundreds of beavers. Human-sized beavers with shockingly devious and violent minds, an elaborately militaristic society and a taste for trapper pain.

The work of Wisconsin-based Tews and director/co-writer Mike Cheslik, “Hundreds of Beavers” utilizes all the low-budget tricks you’ll see in myriad budget-conscious independent efforts. (Also check out their funny and similarly scrappy 2018 comedy “Lake Michigan Monster.”) Tews’ trapper, the aptly named Jean Kayak, battles his beaver nemeses in unapologetically green-screened environments, and the big beaver suits are unabashedly the sort of outwardly cuddly mascot-style costumes you’d see at a mid-range high school basketball game. All through the film, the seams show.

Why it works: What sets “Hundreds of Beavers” apart is that Cheslik and Tews stubbornly build a manic, madly inventive world as if they had millions of dollars to play with. The shimmer of affordable digital effects, masked only slightly by the throwback, black-and-white silent film style, quickly become irrelevant as the sheer scope and proficiency of each comic set piece plays out like the lost work of a silent comedy master. The credits list one Mike Wesolowski as the film’s “gag man,” a specialization not seen since the silent film days, and leading man Tews’ nimble, burly physicality (I’d even compare it to legendary “Evil Dead” star Bruce Campbell) is on full, hilarious display. (The film’s physical comedy virtuosity and pinpoint comic timing is getting compared in big market reviews to everyone from Charles Chaplin to Buster Keaton to Jackie Chan, with its rustic frontier silliness pulling in spiritual connections to “South Park” creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker’s “Cannibal: The Musical.”)

The reception: Honestly, in its premise and overall look, “Hundreds of Beavers” could be an extended entry in a local, 48-hour filmmaking contest. Sure, this version cost some $130,000 to make, but I could see a “Hundreds of Beavers” short popping up in the Maine Film Association’s 72-Hour Winter Film Challenge slate, no problem. (Maybe substituting black bear or fisher cat costumes?) It’s high-concept, low-budget, deeply silly and slyly ambitious, all made under the gun of absent funds and technical limitations. And it’s already reaping awards at festivals all across the globe and has started clawing (or gnawing) back its hard-earned budget in a hard-won theatrical release. So thanks again to PMA Films (and Space, who showed it last month) for adding to the kitty.

The takeaway: Our reach should always exceed our grasp. Hope is what sustains us, while hard work and accumulating skills are what build us the staircase to actually achieve our loftiest goals. Nobody is saying Maine filmmakers should all be working on a beaver-themed niche comedy (although, I’d pay money for an all beaver-costume Maine film festival). But knockabout ultra-indie comedy “Hundreds of Beavers” is another of those unlikely artistic and (almost) financial success stories that can provide one aspirational blueprint to filmmakers looking for a path to their own singular film dreams.

So go see “Hundreds of Beavers,” pick up your tools, listen to your inner weirdness (and ideas of how you could do better) and get cracking on your own movie. Or, you know, just have tons of fun watching a guy get beaten up by people in beaver costumes.

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

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.