Camden Maine, a tranquil, picturesque harbor in mid-coast Maine coast is « must » destination for any traveller. Meandering streets lead down to rustic piers where traditional schooners anchor, islands float on the distant horizon, and grand mansions proudly survey the Penobscot Bay.
Camden is an authentic quaint Maine village where fine dining, culture, and local color have found the perfect blend and any visitor would gladly pause and fall under it’s charm.
Indian summer decided to visit midcoast Maine during the Camden International Film Festival; both a bane and a blessing for the event. Golden sunlight , tantalizing ocean fragrances and the autumnal palette in all it’s splendor, made retreating into a dark movie theatre for entire days at a time, a challenge. However the Strand Theatre, a brick building built in 1923, charmed the public as they settled into a comfortable atmosphere from time’s past. As I entered the Strand I picked up a flyer from the festival organizers promoting how much « happier outside » we would all be (www.happieroutside.com/CIFF), an invitation to explore the Camden hills. I settle into my seat, in the dark.
I was consoled knowing that for the CIFF’s tenth year anniversary they had selected a wide variety of captivating documentaries from around the globe. The local founder of the festival, Ben Fowlie, was once again proud to have offered to his growing audience -over 7.500 attendees this year, a great variety of images spanning four continents.
With more than 70 films in competition, the CIFF has become a key event for filmmakers and professionals from the industry, to gather and exchange, to network, and discover new trends in the Documentary film making world. Telluride, Sundance, Sunnyside of the Docs, all are acclaimed International festivals, but none can boast the intimate family feel of CIFF. Nearly every screening I attended over the four day period was full with CIIF volunteers kindly turning away the latecomers. Emotions ran high, and laughter and tears drifting out of the cinemas was commonplace. Where else can you travel in less than four days, from Bugarat-France, to Isolete-Brazil, NYC, Libya, Buthan, Congo, Belgium, India, Vietnam, Mongolia…
Leaving Camden, following the final festivities Sunday night, I was a changed person. I had cried with « Alive Inside », realizing the impact of Music on Alzheimer’s sufferers, I had travelled to Buthan following the life of future monk Peyanghi with « Happiness », I was intrigued by the media’s nonsense in covering the end of the world in Bugarach, impressed by the Unesco team’s courage in fighting against rebels in Congo with « Viranga », amused by « The Hermit » of North Pond, Maine, and filled with music from « The Rise of James Brown » biopic, the « Unlocking the Truth » musical story of Malcom and Jarad, along with the various live musical venues preceding many films during the festival.
With over 12 countries represented, CIFF is an important place for professional filmmakers to meet their peers and develop opportunities through the various workshops and initiatives that Point North documentary forum organizes.
I became more aware of the complexity of American documentary filmmaking after attending the various workshops and masterclasses organized during the documentary film forum. As we sat during the various pitches of films in progress from dozens of filmmakers, I reflected on previous conferences I had attended in my past, addressing the complexity of international co-productions necessary for producers confronted with challenges of national budgets. These international projects are ambitious, demanding, and help cultivate new forms of writing, providing broadcasters with the best source of programs. CIFF helps that fragile equilibrium between the story of the doc, it’s audience, and provides resources to filmmakers to further their artful and ambitious projects.
The average budget of a documentary ranges from $ 300.000 to a million dollars and can be much higher for industry leaders. Some of the films screened during CIFF were produced with less than 50.000 dollars and could definitely hold a candle to the big players.
I often smile to myself when I interview the public following a screening, the reactions often being quite polar and realize how subjective film critiquing is. Following the 3 series of shorts that began every morning, a group of us would gather to discuss the films and no one opinion was shared.
Comme toujours, the shorts were my favorites…an art form in itself.
Amused by the very serious topic of Alan Magee’s « Party line » commenting on the universally recognized fact of total surveillance, intrigued by the artistic approach of « The Murder Ballad of James Jones » by Jesse Kreitzer, Chicago’s blues man murder story, and emotionally impressed by the unavoidable identification of the docu-fiction « Notes of blindness » from Peter Middleton and James Spinney using images from John Hull’s diary as he grew blind.
Sustainability and ecosystems were also represented with the wonderful « Seeds of Time » of Sandy MCLEOD and Bridget Bisaw’s « Growing local » helping us understand the ecosystems of the food industry and the vital importance of the battle to protect our food system.
Lena Friedrich and Aitor Mendilibar, Director and producer of The Hermit :
MM : What do you think is your greatest challenge as a filmmaker?
Documentary filmmaking can be described as an infinite succession of challenges, from the early stages of development up through the final stages of promotion. But then, one shouldn’t be scared of challenges. The obstacles and limitations you encounter can be blessings in disguise for the film. So, I would say, the biggest challenge is to approach limitations as a source of creativity rather than a source of frustration. Good luck with that!
MM : What did you like / Dislike about CIFF ?
CIFF was stimulating, informative and really fun. I was thoroughly impressed by the program and the Points North forum. And whether it’s because Camden is a small town festival or because of the programmer’s personalities, I found the atmosphere to be extremely friendly. We met a ton of interesting people and it didn’t ever feel like networking. It felt more like being at a friend’s house, only this friend owns the biggest estate in the world and throws awesome screenings and parties.
The powerful « Alive inside », from Michael Rossato Bennet closed the festival and was the last screeening ever in the Baiview st cinema, , adressing the importance of Elder care and the fight against Alzheimer using music in nursing homes. One of the many films touring as part of the initiatives of « Aging in Maine », a new statewide CIFF program that presents documentary films to local communities.
The CIFF is one of the rare places in America where a young filmmaker from Europe, Africa, or Canada can come with a film or project, obscure or trendy, and there will be a captive, appreciative audience with professional feedback available from peers. Many young filmmakers shared the same opinion : « it’s fantastic to be here, to project ourselves in this world of story making using media, to learn little tricks and secrets from fellow filmmakers, talk to them after the films during the Q & A».
Perhaps next year, the festival will attract a greater diversity, Latino, African, Asian, filmmakers…even more color…the strength of any Documentary film festival relies on the diversity of it’s sources.
A mariage to Remember , the second film of Banker White regarding (after the acclaimed The Genius of Marian), was a also a poignant short about the intimate family portrait that explores the heartbreak of Alzheimer’s disease. Filmed over 5 years the film follows his mother Pam’s decline and the challenges his father Ed, faces transitioning from primary partner to primary caregiver. Caring for someone with Alzheimer’s is a long and humbling experience. Ed is loyal husband with a strong sense of duty and these extraordinary qualities challenge his wellbeing as he devotes himself to his wife in this new and impossible situation. Interviews between father and son become opportunities to reflect and grieve and while also helping them connect through the most precious gift of all: our memories
2014 Camden Internation Film Festival :
. Films submitted: over 600
. Films selected: nearly 70
. 150 filmmakers and industry leaders
. 12 countries represented
. Attendance of the festival this year: 7500+
2014 awards :
. Harrell Award for Best Documentary : VIRUNGA by Orlando von Einsiedel
. Special Jury Mention : THE IRON MINISTRY J.P. Sniadecki’s
. Emerging Cinematic Vision Award : APPROACHING THE ELEPHANT by Amanda Rose Wilder
. Camden International Film Festival : WILD HOME by Jack and Robert Schurman
. Camden Cartel Award : THE LAST DAYS OF PETER BERGMANN by Ciaran Cassidy
. Camden Cartel Honorable Mention : SANTA CRUZ DEL ISLOTE by Luke Lorentzen
. Al Jazeera’s AJ pitch contest award : EMOTIONAL ROBOT by Jillian Schlesinger, Pettengill’s HALL OF THE EVENING STAR and Patel’s POWER GIRLS.
The Jurys : Susan Margolin (President, Docurama), Banker White (Filmmaker, THE GENIUS OF MARIAN) and Cecily Pingree (Filmmaker, BETTING THE FARM), Gabriele Caroti (Director, BAMCinematek), Lyda Kuth (Executive Director, LEF Foundation) and Sam Morrill (Creative Relations Lead, Vimeo) awarded the Special Jury Mention to Jean-Francois Caissy’s GUIDELINES, Ann and Dick Costello, AJ+’s Jeff Seelbach, Tribeca Film Institute’s Ryan Harrington and filmmakers Margaret Brown and Rebecca Richman Cohen.
Photo credits : Alban & David Lyman – Courtesy of CIFF
Published in the Fall Edition of Movie Maker Magazine : 2014 Coolest Film Festivals
More info about the festival @ http://camdenfilmfest.org