Posted by: Sally Ingraham | September 15, 2009

MIFF by-the-Sea

The Maine International Film Festival came to Reel Pizza Cinerama this past weekend, and it was one of the most enjoyable events that I have had the opportunity to be involved in since I started working there. It was four days filled with films – Maine-made, international, avant-garde fiction, and documentaries. In addition to the films that were part of the main event (which took place in Waterville in July,) we also played some late-night specials – films by local filmmakers and ImproVision (where we play the odd B movie and a group of actors improvises the script and sound effects, without prior knowledge of what the film is!) Attendance wasn’t outrageous, but it was just enough that everyone considered the event to be worth it – hopefully MIFF by-the-Sea will become a regular occurrence.

I spent much of the weekend working, but I managed to squeeze in seeing 4 of the films, and all of the late-night specials.

Ghost Bird detailed the true story of the search for the assumed extinct Ivory-billed Woodpecker. No one has seen one in over 60 years who can provide conclusive evidence, but sightings of the bird continue to be reported. The film was of special interest to me because my father went down to the swampy forests of Arkansas in 2004 or 2005, I can’t remember which, as part of a team that was following through on the latest, and most exciting sighting. The film provided a balanced look at all the different sides of the story – the tirelessly optimistic bird-watchers, the hopeful community of the small Arkansas town, and the disappointed but realistic scientists who couldn’t accept the inconclusive evidence. The music was excellent – the score was written and performed by Zoe Keating, a cellist and composer that I love – and the story was fast paced but thorough. I have to give the director, Scott Crocker, a big thumbs up!

The most fun of the films I saw was Automorphosis, a documentary by Harrod Blank about art cars. It contained some of the most amazing looking cars – and artwork – that I’ve ever seen. Cars covered in bent forks, or pennies, or cameras, cars built to look like yachts, or a cathedral on wheels, a telephone car, a car with a huge collection of whistles and horns fixed to it, the shark car, the hamburger car – and each car driven by a character equally wild. I spent most of my viewing experience laughing, and left the film with a huge sense of wonder at the unique creativity of a very interesting group of people. And yes, I did kind of want to start gluing things to my own car!

Bonne Annee was the least accessible film I saw, but I still really liked it. A work of fiction by Alexander Berberich, it takes place in an unnamed Latin American city, and follows a couple of hit men through a fateful night. It was soooo sloooowww, and to many people that killed it for them. But I knew in advance that the film employed a technique pioneered by Alfred Hitchcock in Rope (which I now need to see) – the “long take”. The film was a series of scenes, each one composed of a single continuous shot, carefully composed. Hardly anything happens in the film – the hit men, one American and one French, spend New Year’s Eve pondering their lives, considering new starts, and waiting of the phone call that will send them into action. I have an excellent attention span, but even so I felt that I should have been hard pressed to stay interested. However, perhaps because of the books I’ve spent all year reading – slow, intricate stories – I was caught in a spell and fascinated by the film.

I think we are going to bring Necessities of Life back for an actual run at the theater, because the audience response was so good. Directed by Benoit Pilon, it is the story of a Inuk man who catches tuberculosis, and is taken from his home on Baffin Island to Quebec City for treatment. It is based on events that occurred during the 40’s and 50’s during the TB epidemic that broke out in the Inuit population. On the outset the film seems to be a classic example of culture shock, and cultural insensitivity. However, even though he never learns to speak French, Tivii finds sympathy and friendship in fellow patient Joseph and nurse Carole. He begins to improve rapidly after a young Inuk boy, orphaned and sick as well, is transferred to be in the same sanatorium with him. Tivii gains a sense of purpose through teaching the boy about his native culture and traditions. The film made me cry about 8 times, but I never felt manipulated or “tear-jerked”. Pilon has crafted a lovely story about human connections, and I heartily (although with tissue in hand) recommend it.

Last night at the closing party hosted by The Lompoc Cafe, surrounded by friends and strangers, watching odd shorts and clips projected onto a little stained screen, I felt very happy and grateful that I live in a community that can pull off events like MIFF by-the-Sea, even though Bar Harbor is tiny and a tourist town and full of the usual nonsense. If you’re in Maine around this time next year, be sure to stop by the movie theater with the silly name – Reel Pizza Cinerama – and eat a pizza, sit on a couch, drink a beer, and watch great movies with me!


  1. This sounds like an awesome event! To be honest, I have this weird phobia about art cars – there are a lot of them in Portland I really strongly dislike them & kind of want to scrape everything off of them every time I see them. Totally irrational; I can’t explain it. For that reason I’m both repelled and attracted by this documentary – I’ve heard really good things from other people as well, so maybe I should face my fears and gain some appreciation of the art-car subculture. 🙂

  2. I’ll see you there!

  3. Sarah, so glad you continue to keep us “posted” on your moviegoing experiences and not just books (though I love those as well, of course). You always seem to watch such cool stuff. Thanks for the info!

  4. Emily – There were definitely cars in the film that I thought were incredibly tacky and annoying, but they were balanced by cars that were real works of art. I hope you do check it out. 🙂

    Julie – Yay!! Can’t wait.

    Richard – I’m constantly amazed and delighted that there are so many interesting movies out there, in spite of all the run-of-the-mill Hollywood stuff. Glad you enjoy my random thoughts! 🙂

  5. […] an extension of the Maine International Film Festival which takes place in Waterville in July. Like last year, there was a collection of Maine-made films, international offerings, and documentaries. I got to […]

  6. […] good batch of international/independent films. (For past MIFF-by-the-Sea movie reviews see here and […]

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