Camden International Film Festival: An Autumnal Retreat for Documentary Lovers

Camden International Film Festival: An Autumnal Retreat for Documentary Lovers

Imagine Telluride. Except in Maine. In the fall. With
foliage. And documentaries only. And without the Donner Party-style travel
arrangements. What you have is the Camden International Film Festival, which
over this coming long weekend (September 26-29) is going to subject its patrician, New England Presbyterian
audience to tales of Indonesian genocide, Afghanistan war crimes, lobster
atrocities and Michelle Bachmann.

And, actually,
only part of that is true.

The movie menu
does include, respectively, “The Act of Killing,” “The Kill Team,” “Night
Labor” and “Caucus,” as well as a catalog’s worth of movies that constitute
an overview of 2013 in nonfiction filmmaking. But the crowd doesn’t fit
anyone’s outdated stereotype.

“We have a
sophisticated, knowledgeable audience,” said Ben Fowlie, who founded the
festival in 2005. “A lot of them have been coming from the beginning and at
this point they really know about documentaries.” The way he likes to think of
the festival, Fowlie said, is as a kind of retreat (see: Telluride). Intimate
audiences, small-town sensibility but also a coming together of filmmakers and
industry  — via Camden’s Points North
Documentary Forum and its subsets, including the Ports North Documentary Pitch,
the New York Times Op-Docs Pitch (for short films) and various seminars and

These will include “Documentary 101” with Robb Moss, filmmaker and
Harvard professor whose students have included some of the more successful
documentarians working today, including Nina Davenport (“First Comes Love”) and
Josh Oppenheimer (“The Act of Killing”). Another must-see will be “Shaping the
Narrative,” a master class with master editor Jonathan Oppenheim.

It’s significant
that Camden is home to more than second homes and doc fans (the local theaters
regularly program docs and the local press covers them more avidly than
narratives). The Camden Conference, a conclave on world affairs, is situated
there every year; also, Pop Tech, a conference on change and technology. The
Farnsworth Museum has the largest single collection of work by Louise Nevelson,
as well as a significant number of paintings by three generations of Wyeths. 

For all the efforts Fowlie and company have made in cultivating a documentary
audience, they may well be the beneficiaries of shifting demographics, too. More
people may be moving into cities these days, but that doesn’t mean money and/or
education are necessarily following. The culturally astute can live almost
anywhere these days, by virtue of technology. And this means life in
America will be having any number of unforeseen consequences, some of them good
for film festivals.

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I had the opportunity to spend two weeks at the peak of the fall season taking documentary workshops at the film school dedicated to that form in Camden about fifteen years ago. I still remember that trip as one of the most idyllic I've ever taken and encourage everyone to go. The people, the place, and the time of year plus the added bonus of a collection of thought-provoking docs to talk about over lobster and beer into the wee small hours…what could be more fun?

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