The wandering spotlight will be lighting up Damariscotta as it moves from Lincoln Theater to the streets around it as movie fans begin arriving for the first MidCoast Film Festival. The excitement begins Friday, July 26 with an opening night party and two films, and continues through Sunday, July 28.
Andrew Fenniman of Lincoln Theater has had a film festival on his mind for going on two years now. Fortunately for film fest fans, over the years Fenniman and summer resident Matt Swollon became friends. Last year Swollon asked Fenniman if he’d be interested in starting a new film festival to hold at the theater. Four years ago, Swollon founded the South Orange and Maplewood (SOMA) Film Festival in Maplewood, New Jersey 35 minutes outside New York City.
According to the Maine Arts Commission website there were already 16 film festivals in the state. What was going to make this one stand out? After looking at what was happening, Fenniman and Swollon decided complementing but not competing with the established festivals was number one.
“Then we looked at what wasn’t happening and talked about what we could do that would appeal to the Midcoast of Maine,” Fenniman said. “People in the Damariscotta community love history – documentaries, historical fiction … and that became our theme: All films had to be based on a true story or event. This was going to be a huge endeavor! But also a very exciting one.”
The two men created http://midcoastfilmfest.org and a Facebook page, MidCoast Film Fest. Then it was time to visit FilmFreeway, a website used by filmmakers to submit films and where film festival producers go.
Submissions for the first MidCoast Film Festival began being accepted in January. And, to Fenniman’s amazement, almost 100 filmmakers – in the U.S., Europe and the Middle East – submitted work. Program director Swollon narrowed the field down to 16.
“For a first year that was really exciting,” Fenniman said. “I was afraid we wouldn’t get any response. Some of the films chosen are Maine made, for some of the films the Festival marks their world premiere.”
What were they looking for, beyond the historical criterion?
“You have to understand your demographics,” Swollon shared. “One person’s Shakespeare is another person’s “Weekend At Bernie’s ...,” he said, laughing. “But, seriously, we tried to find high quality production value – no camera tilts, bad lighting … And the story had to be engaging and not necessarily about a well-known subject or event. For example, one film is ‘Kennedy’s Last Speech.’ I didn’t know that President Kennedy’s last speech was at Amherst for the groundbreaking of the Robert Frost Library.
“All of the films had to have great stories. Another film, ‘PescaMore,’ is an Italian film making its U.S. premiere, about fishermen in one small village ... the film is so well made, so beautiful … Italians have an eye. This is so subtle, very few words, but beautifully shot.”
Added Fenniman, “The scenery, the story … the subtitles that exude sensuality. It’s absolutely stunning.”
The 16 films run the gamut in length from 72 minutes to just over three minutes. In addition to the U.S. premiere, there are six Maine premieres and two New England premieres.
The first night of the event, Friday, July 26 will be a magical one. Fenniman decided to make the night the annual membership shindig. “I thought it would be great for the members to be able to look back and say ‘I was there when it all began ...’”
However, the first night is by no means limited to Lincoln Theater members. So – got tickets? This opening night reception begins at 7 p.m. and will be catered by Stone Cove Catering. At 8 p.m. two films will kick off the festival: at just over three minutes “Go, Go, Go!” that includes a cast of 30 huskies; and “Sea Change,” a 75-minute historic self-shot adventure, with eight GoPro cameras capturing the harrowing 6,689-mile journey of Afrikaners, Vasti Geldenhuys and Riaan Manser as they attempt to cross the Atlantic Ocean from Morocco to New York in a rowboat.
The full schedule can be found on the MidCoast Film Festival website and on Lincoln Theater’s site, www.lcct.org
“There are a lot of great filmmakers out there and we want to support them,” said Swollon whose SOMA Film Festival’s slogan is “Putting independent film first.”
“The hardest part of putting a film festival together is marrying content and imagery. Some good films we had to say good-bye to because they fit better singularly. For example, the Italian film has been paired with a film from Iran about a day in the life of the Kurds.
“Then there’s ‘Brave Girls’ about three women from India trying to break the cycle of early marriage and other traditional expectations that is paired with ‘Kani Spring’ about three sisters forced into sex slavery that break free of ISIS,” Swollon said.
“There’s no money in making films … these people, these independent filmmakers are doing it purely from passion.”
Festival goers will be able to meet some of the filmmakers over the three-day event, including Rick Groleau whose film “Making Cape Point” is scheduled for Saturday, July 27 at 2 p.m. He has written, storyboarded and produced over 100 interactive features for “Nova,” “The American Experience,” “This Old House,” and “Mystery.” Since 2013 when he submitted his first short film, Groleau has had three other films shown at 12 festivals and has won Best Feature, Best Maine Film, and Best of Festival awards.
Filmmaker Nick Paonessa will bring the audience “Jack.” The L.A.-based actor and director is known for “Leatherheads” (2008) and “The Metrosexual” (2007).
Fenniman had been thinking about starting a new festival over the years when thinking about new ways to expand what Lincoln Theater offers its patrons. “You have to think about what will appeal to different people and how to distinguish yourself. People tend to be going to film festivals and as the industry continues to change … maybe this is the future.”
Don’t miss being part of history … Lincoln Theater history, Maine film festival history, so you, like the theater members, can say “I was there.”
Tickets for an entire MidCoast Film Festival pass are $75 and $60 for theater members. The opening night party and screening are $30, but free to LT members with advance reservations. Saturday and Sunday day passes are $25/$20 LT members; and individual screening tickets are $10/$8 LT members, and will be available to buy 30 minutes prior to screening.
All tickets and passes are available in advance through the Lincoln Theater office at 2 Theater St. in Damariscotta: firstname.lastname@example.org or 563-3424.