MIFF WEAVES FESTIVAL WITH THREADS OF REFLECTION, RESTORATION AND THE FRESHEST MATERIALS TO BE FOUND
by Carol Patton ~
This year once again the Maine International Film Festival created a giant interwoven puzzle to be enjoyed piece by piece by everyone who made the trek to Waterville. For ten days in July Festival Director Shannon Haines and Festival Programmer Ken Eisen created a mix of screenings and events that offered universal appeal and were extremely well attended.
The festival screened over one hundred independent films to 8,500 guests in attendance,that’s up from last year. Fifty filmmakers were in attendance to meet and greet and give Q&As. Audience favorite this year is BOTSO, a world premiere about the astonishing life of Wachtang “Botso” Korishli – musician, sculptor, and beloved teacher to generations. Announced second is TU SERAS MON FILS (YOU WILL BE MY SON), a film that makes a battle for control of a vineyard seem utterly fascinating; and third favorite this year SWEET DREAMS, featuring a group of women, sixty strong, pounding out rhythms of power and joy in the Rwandan countryside.
The festival is well regarded, highly supported and it’s what many Mainers do the last two weeks in July every year.
I find the festivals techniques for interlacing the links of Academy Award winning Keith Carradine’s Mid-Life Achievement Award with the pre release screening of AIN’T THEM BODIES SAINTS then expanding that scope to include a tribute to Robert Altman screening a collection of Altman’s film that frequently included Carradine in many of his great ensemble casts. Keith along with Rooney Mara, Ben Foster and Ben Affleck turn memorable performances in AIN’T THEM BODIES SAINTS due to release in August.
Many of Carradine’s collaborations with Altman dovetailed with Carradine’s unforgettable roles in movies that included NASHVILLE, THIEVES LIKE US and McCABE AND MRS. MILLER along with two Alan Rudolph directed films CHOOSE ME and THE MODERNS. Every tribute film screened to packed houses and we’re followed by engaging Q & A’s. It was here I discovered that most of the actors in the great NASHVILLE ensemble cast wrote and performed their own music including actress Karen Black as Connie White. Keith Carradine won his Oscar for the song “I’m Easy.” Today the film is still timely.
Eisen then follows this very thread to Celebrate Robert Altman whom many believe was simply the greatest American film director ever. Altman passed away seven years ago.
Described as inimitable, literally, unique, brilliant, idiosyncratic, kaleidoscopic, hilarious, fierce, nonpareil and no wonder when you consider commercial hits like M.A.S.H., GOSFORD PARK through the eighties when he was quite ostracized from Hollywood, but, his work still became critically praised. Films like NASHVILLE and THE PLAYER. And so much more including SHORT CUTS, A WEDDING, 3 WOMEN, KANSAS CITY, A PRAIRIE HOME COMPANION and THE LONG GOODBYE. Forty years later McCABE AND MRS. MILLER screened at the festival, remains ahead of its time.
Celebrating Altman began with screening six of his films in 35mm as they were intended. The salute was punctuated with the revealing documentary on the making of SHORT CUTS, said to be his greatest film. Director/Producer Mike Kaplan was on hand to enhance our understanding of Altman with LUCK, TRUST & KETCHUP: ROBERT ALTMAN IN CARVER COUNTRY. Best of all it brought out special guest Kathryn Altman, Michael Murphy, Allan Nicholls and Mike Kaplan who with Keith Carradine were available for many spirited Q&As and grand sessions of story telling much to the delight of every audience.
The festival expanded the Altman/Carradine tapestry even further with the addition of SHORT CUTS actor/vocalist and jazz great “Annie Ross Live in Concert” at the Waterville Opera House. Afterwards the living legend, an elegant octogenarian, attended MIFF’s Celebrating Altman Party at 18 Below on Silver Street. Mrs. Altman and the full Altman collaborative gang were present and many more grand stories of filmmaking gone by spilled over throughout.
So good to know that everyone is invited to every party! In addition to Opening and Closing Night Parties, their was mingling at parties for Jonathan Demme, the aforementioned Altman Celebration and, of course, for Keith Carradine after receiving MIFF’s Mid-Life Achievement Award presented at the Waterville Opera House at the screening of NASHVILLE. There were eight parties in all featuring locally prepared delicious food.
Special guest Oscar winning screenwriter Ernest Thompson, his lovely wife Kerrin and Morgan Murphy were among the guests at the party as were the full compliment of Altman’s band of brothers with Mrs. Altman. Thomson was on hand to premiere his film TIME AND CHARGES. Known throughout the region Thompson set his ON GOLDEN POND right there in Belgrade County; it’s where he grew up.
TIME AND CHARGES was filmed in New Hampshire with Whitebridge Farm Productions and partner/producers Morgan Murphy and Lori Gigliotti Murphy involving over 500 local residents. The film was very well received at the Waterville Opera House. Known for his ability to create rich dialogue, Ernest, as those of you who attend IMAGINE’s “Imaginnaire” Awards Gala know, is an amazing communicator and entertainer. He was joined on stage after the screening by Morgan Murphy for an electrifying and engaging conversation with a very pleased and often amused audience. That afternoon Thompson presented a free workshop at the Waterville Public Library titled “What’s the Story?”
MIFF honors our cinematic past each year with their “Re Discovery” section of the festival offering a dazzling array of classic film, several of which were shown in 35mm many of them sparkling new prints. Among the titles festivalgoers couldn’t wait to revisit were RICHARD III (1955), SAFETY LAST (1923), UN FLIE (1972), LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN (1945) and beautifully restored THE LUSTY MEN (1952) starring Susan Hayward, Robert Mitchum and Arthur Kennedy.
This festival is complex, intriguing, and just an incredible mix of approaches to a very thoughtful film festival. There is something for everyone every minute of the last two weeks in July in Waterville, Maine.
Mark your calendar for next year.
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