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Ten years, a wave

The Camden International Film Festival's journey from provincial to premier
By CHRISTOPHER GRAY  |  September 26, 2014


Art and Craft

I first made it up to the Camden International Film Festival in 2009. The event was turning five years old. It lived up to whatever expectations one might have for a fledgling regional arts event.

The opening night film, A.J. Schnack’s Convention, played to a scanty audience with a high median age on a Thursday. On Friday, I saw a couple of lumpy but interesting character studies at Camden’s Bayview Street Cinema; the venue hummed, but the Main St. walking traffic didn’t hint there was anything special happening in the area. The crowds got bigger and more interesting as the weekend hit. A lot of them showed up to see one tremendous film, Michael Palmieri and Donal Mosher’s October Country, and stayed for a wearying string of environmental treatises. Two warned about the perils of overfishing, and one was narrated by Ted Danson, which I guess was a selling point. A good party or two let us drown those thudding fears of collapse. Under the circumstances, this seemed like a net positive for the area’s film culture.

As it turns out, 2009 wound up being the year CIFF began a quick and striking evolution into a major stop on the documentary festival unit, not to mention an appealing destination weekend for regional culture vultures. “Five years ago, when we were still developing our local audience,” festival founder Ben Fowlie diplomatically recalled over the phone last week, “it was still a pretty radical idea for people to even consider coming up from Portland for a weekend of documentaries.” For a while, “it was happening, and it was a great event,” Fowlie said. “And then we added Points North, which was a half-day session. It was barely even a forum, but we called it one anyway.”

The Points North Documentary Forum, an opportunity for filmmakers to pitch their prospective works to a collection of prestigious industry funders, piqued the interest of younger and more far-flung filmmakers. Hundreds now apply to take part in the program and the pitch session, which is open to the public. It lasts through half the weekend these days, as five projects helmed by a few dozen filmmakers compete for cash and networking opportunities. (Three Points North Pitch alums, including J. P. Sniadecki, will be screening films at CIFF this year. Sniadecki’s The Iron Ministry is reviewed alongside this article.) The Al Jazeera America offshoot AJ+ is sponsoring a parallel pitch session at CIFF this year, as they seek short works to feature on their website.

Points North and its affiliated programs have played a major role in establishing CIFF as an institution that can bolster young artists. CIFF Managing Director Caroline von Kuhn, a fixture in the New York festival world (and a filmmaker herself), is in her second year as a full-timer at the festival. “I came three years ago to see what it and Points North were all about,” she said. “The focus of this festival is so much about how to support filmmakers, but there are just as many people who have no connection to filmmaking that want to attend a master class. To see these young filmmakers pitching in front of heavy hitters, and to have local audiences just as invested in these projects” convinced von Kuhn that CIFF was something special, and worth signing on to.

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  •   TEN YEARS, A WAVE  |  September 26, 2014
    As the festival has evolved, examples of Fowlie’s preferred breed of film—once a small niche of the documentary universe—have become a lot more common, a lot more variegated, and a lot more accomplished.
  •   GIRLS (AND BOYS) ON FILM  |  July 11, 2014
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  •   CHARACTER IS POLITICAL  |  April 10, 2014
    Kelly Reichardt, one of the most admired and resourceful voices in American independent cinema, appears at the Portland Museum of Art Friday night to participate in a weekend-long retrospective of her three most recent films.
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    Throughout its two volumes and four hours of explicit sexuality, masochism, philosophical debate, and self-analysis, Nymphomaniac remains the steadfast vision of a director talking to himself, and assuming you’ll be interested enough in him to listen and pay close attention.

 See all articles by: CHRISTOPHER GRAY