Independent Film: Head to Camden or your couch for a non-fiction film festival

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The Camden International Film Festival is always an inspiration, but watching festival founder Ben Fowlie and his team go through two full seasons of adversity and come out better than ever before deserves a standing ovation.

Thankfully, the Standing Bones are in the works for this year’s 17th CIFF, as the increasingly influential non-fiction film festival begins – online and in person – on Thursday.

“This is our first major in-person event in the era of COVID,” said Fowlie, festival leader and executive and artistic director of presenter Points North Institute, with great pride.

And the pride is justified, as this year’s CIFF isn’t just bringing the best of documentary filmmaking back to Maine (alongside the filmmakers and industry professionals who have made Camden a hotspot of non-fiction films every year. year), but it comes back even better, just getting it right.

“After Last year, we learned a lot about creating the virtual component, ”Fowlie said of the predominantly virtual event of 2020.“ We learned how to create a strong online festival forum, we built all of our muscles and developed activities we do throughout the year. “

Fowlie might also mention that, faced with the unprecedented hardships of an ever-devastating pandemic, the Points North crew built directly an outdoor drive-in (the Shotwell, which will be one of CIFF’s four screening sites this year) from scratch.

Yet, as Fowlie notes, a film festival is meant to be a common and shared experience, and the CIFF team has gone through another year of COVID-related uncertainty to deliver a vibrant, safe and decidedly in-person festival for 2021.

“We asked, ‘What is the heart of the organization? ”Said Fowlie. “It’s about bringing people together from across the country and becoming part of a community that has been so supportive over the years. For filmmakers, it’s about not being tricked into sharing your film with audiences after, in some cases, four or five years of production.

Plus, as longtime movie fan Fowlie admits, this year’s festival is all about “the sheer desire” to return to CIFF as it is meant to be.

“Movies are not meant to be consumed on a laptop by yourself in a living room, or heard through headphones while you do the dishes. There is kinetic energy that is really important. And the theater-deprived masses say, amen.

Yet COVID is not gone, and, thanks to a certain segment of the population still indulging in maskless and unvaccinated irresponsibility, CIFF has put in place a rigorous set of attendance instructions (mandatory masking and proof of vaccination, contact tracing, limited participation) to ensure the safety of participants.

And while this was all a bummer we all had to get used to, CIFF also found a way to make the security and in-person screenings truly impressive by adding its new screening location, the 12,000ft Journey’s End. squares. A fully ventilated and majestically high-ceilinged boathouse on Rockland’s waterfront, this year the venue will host some of the festival’s most visually exciting selections, handpicked to take full advantage of the location’s dimensions.

Fowlie explained that Journey’s End features “surround sound, a massive screen, lots of airflow and 40 foot ceilings” and “mimics the drive-in experience, but indoors, and with a deck. wraparound exterior for audience members to share their thoughts on what they saw. Honestly, it sounds like Heaven Heaven in person.

Of course, Camden is all about the movies, and busy Fowlie shared some thoughts on the 2021 films he’s most excited for attendees to experience (either in person or through the ever-flourishing CIFF virtual festival) .

A scene from “Faya Dayi” about Ethiopian youth. Photo courtesy of Merkhana Films

Noting that this year’s festival has received the most submissions in its illustrious history, Fowlie directs audiences to “” by director Jessica BeshirFaya Dayi», A portrait of Ethiopian youth making their way through a repressive regime.

“Cinema is an art,” Fowlie said, “and every once in a while you find work that just does something completely different with the language of film. This film upsets the form, his artistic choices draw the story. In person, it should be a mind-blowing experience.

Fowlie, while typically in conflict over playing favorites, is also enthusiastic about Robert Greene’s searing, gorgeous beauty. “Procession, recounting the makeshift family formed by survivors of abuse by Catholic priests, who create scenes based on church rituals as a way to reclaim their childhood.

“It’s about trying to find the essence of reality, so to speak,” Fowlie said. “It’s a powerful and emotional experience that is only reinforced when an audience sees it together.”

He is also quick to recognize the tireless efforts of Program Director Sean Flynn and Senior Director of Arts Programs, Mara Bresnahan, not only to help organize CIFF’s ever-impressive and eclectic slate, but to lead projects through to Points North’s efforts to reach a larger and more diverse audience. communities and filmmakers.

Like the filmmakers themselves, CIFF staff have suffered greatly over the past two years. For Fowlie, it’s a testament to the resilience of both groups that this year’s Camden International is promising viewers its most ambitious program yet.

“The world is in a mess right now,” he said. “What we can always rely on when we think about the films we showcase at CIFF are the intimate little stories, the films about tragedy and loss. These are things we can all relate to in our own way. We’ve all had a traumatic experience together, and these films all offer avenues or channels for people to explore these emotions in different ways.

That said, Fowlie also promises attendees the kind of diverse and surprising variety of cinematic achievements that has become the hallmark of Camden. “The diversity of work that we’ve seen this year is truly overwhelming, and it’s great to bring it back to the public in Maine in a broader and more exciting way.”

The 17th Camden International Film Festival returns live and in person, Thursday through Sunday, in venues ranging from the Strand Theater to Camden Opera House to Shotwell Drive-In and the all-new Journey’s End. Online screenings of this year’s films will also run from the start of the festival until September 26. For tickets, schedules, movie information, COVID rules, directions and more, go to pointsnorthinstitute.org/ciff.


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