COA student Navi Whitten contributed his short film “The Baker, Agnes” to the film festival at Reel Pizza. PHOTO COURTESY OF NAVI WHITTEN

Maine International Film Festival serves up tasty smorgasbord

BAR HARBOR — What’s great about film festivals is that they offer moviegoers a wide variety of subjects, cinematic styles and genres in a compact format, often with an opportunity to hear some of the directors talk about their process.

The Maine International Film Festival, which ran this past weekend at Reel Pizza Cinerama, is a good example. MIFF-by-the-Sea offered about 20 feature length and short films in three days. While some of the movies were created by Maine filmmakers or were shot in Maine locations, the “I” in MIFF was well represented with stories set in Estonia, Turkey, Africa, the Himalayas, Canada and Cambodia.

The distressing thing about film festivals is that, like a great buffet, one can only manage so much. I had only enough appetite to see about a dozen, concentrated on Maine connections. The ones I did manage to see all or part of were truly a mixed bag, at times mystifying, moving, fascinating, informative, annoying, enlightening and entertaining.

Film director and writer Robert J. Mrazek and his wife, Carolyn, were special guests at the MIFF screenings at Reel Pizza last weekend.  PHOTO BY NAN LINCOLN

Film director and writer Robert J. Mrazek and his wife, Carolyn, were special guests at the MIFF screenings at Reel Pizza last weekend.

In the entertaining realm was a MIFF audience favorite “Astrea,” a post-apocalyptic tale about a girl (Astrea) and her older brother traversing the country to get to New Brunswick, Canada, where the girl believes her grandmother and another brother have survived a deadly plague that has wiped out 99 percent of the world population. The siblings get sidetracked from their sojourn in Northern Maine where they meet another couple of survivors. “Astrea” was well directed, acted and beautifully shot, and it did leave us caring about all four characters and the outcome.

“The Congressman,” written and directed by former democratic Congressman from Long Island, N.Y., and part-time Monhegan resident Robert J. Mrazek, has a more plausible message at its heart. And it features some familiar movie stars. Treat Williams plays Maine congressman Charlie Winship, George Hamilton plays a nefarious lobbyist, and several other recognizable professional actors fill smaller roles.

The fact-based story involves the fight of Monhegan fisherman to keep big fishing corporations out of their traditional waters, which natives only harvest in the winter months. They invite Rep. Winship out to Monhegan in the hope of persuading him to champion their cause. A little romance between Winship and an island woman also is thrown into the mix, as well as an on-the-mark dig at the neo-conservative political right wing and media, which zealously champion all the symbols of patriotism without any understanding of what the symbols represent.

In addition to an insider’s knowledge of politics, Mrazek clearly has read his Kipling, and one of the most entertaining interludes in the film, if an obvious reimagining of “Captains Courageous,” is Winship’s rather prissy assistant being shanghaied onto Sea Hag, a working boat where he learns first hand the hard-knock life of a fisherman – or in this case, a colossal, in every sense of the word, fisherwoman named Big Maggie. If they ever make a movie about her, I want to see it.

A young filmmaker who understands the importance of keeping the momentum going is Peter Logue, a Mount Desert Island High School graduate who produced the Gott’s Store Commercial with the Barn Arts Collective.

Logue’s documentary short “Outrunning Parkinson’s” concerns Cranberry Island resident Michael Westphal’s determination to run a full marathon despite having the titular degenerative nerve disease. Not only are the people in his film largely on the move as Logue gives us glimpses of their daily lives, his camera also is in constant motion. It follows alongside Westphal at work and during his training runs and keeps a few paces ahead of him as he competes in the actual marathon. Logue explained, after the viewing, that he had someone drive him in a golf cart to get these shots.

Westphal fell twice in the last mile of the race, but he picked himself up and continued to the finish line. As we watched the runner go down from Logue’s head-on angle, we all gasped and moved forward in our seats in an automatic reflex – as if we were reaching out to catch him before he hit the pavement.

College of the Atlantic faculty member Nancy Andrew’s feature-length film entry “The Strange Eyes of Dr. Myes” was, alas, more mystifying than magical. With a nod to “The Fly,” the classic horror flick about a scientist who gradually transforms into an insect, the film was too earnest to be a spoof and too ridiculous to be taken as a serious scary movie. Some of Andrew’s signature animation techniques were fun to see, and the whole thing was appropriately weird. But it also was disjointed and seemed to have little regard for continuity and cohesion.

Among the impressive short films were Navi Whittens’ portrait of a local bagel maker, “The Baker, Agnes” a well-crafted cinematic biography of a rather eccentric but beloved Bar Harbor character. Others included Amelia Foreman-Stiles “Diving Blindfolded” a clever mix of animation, still photos, video with a poetic personal narrative relating the dissolution of her marriage and subsequent divorce and healing, and Steven Bernard’s tribute to Winter Harbor firefighters, “Volunteer Dragonslayer.”

All the young filmmakers in this category seem to have an innate understanding of how to capture a moment and tell a story visually, which bodes well for the future of this industry.

Nan Lincoln

Nan Lincoln

The former arts editor at the Bar Harbor Times writes reviews and feature stories for The Ellsworth American and Mount Desert Islander.

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