In the ninth year of the Camden International Film Festival, the organizers of the festival, Executive Director/Founder Ben Fowlie and his collaborators, seem poised to do something very exciting for the course of documentary film in the United States: provide a model for harnessing local interest in documentary films and turn a weekend of films by the harbor into a year-round devotion to nonfiction storytelling.
The festival, with its Points North Documentary Forum, which is now in its fifth year, has challenged itself to cultivate conversations on process, form, and impact that encourage conversations to extend across Maine and throughout the documentary world.
It will be exciting to see how the festival adapts as the region and the needs of the festival's guests change. The main theater in Camden, the Bayview Street Cinema, will not be back next year, and festivalgoers must plan their days based on the 20 minute drive between the fests main venues in the towns of Camden and Rockland.
Here are the five reasons Indiewire thinks Camden is doing things right: and will grow with grace:
The festival programming is purposeful and smart and is careful to balance formal innovation and provocative stories.
While the festival could arguably be seen as one of the premiere American venues for observational, contemplative nonfiction cinema, the choices of films were diverse. More conventional character studies like "Cutie and the Boxer" (which opened the fest) joined the innovative hybrid "Public Hearing" on the fest's lineup.
They're taking the initiative in facilitating a link between local organizations and films that help those organizations explore their missions.
Recognizing that Maine has the country's oldest population, Camden developed an Engagement Summit that organized films around the theme Aging in Maine. Local organizations joined the people at Working Films to provide a plan to screen these films in a way that would benefit the films and the organizations alike. Points North Director Sean Flynn explained to Indiewire the inspiration for the summit: "I was able to sit in on a summit meeting that Working Films had put together with the directors of 'After Tiller' and some reproductive justice activists around the Missouri area. We were inspired by that model, and we thought, wouldn't it be great if we could do this in a more formalized way, as a part of the festival program." The groups met together to plan screenings at relevant organizations and in relevant communities across Maine of films including the festival's award-winner "The Genius of Marian."
Though the Points North panels look like just any old festival panel discussions, you'd be hard-pressed to find a more engaged festival panel audience in the U.S.
Said Flynn, "This is kind of a place where our industry delegates can come and let their guards down." But that's not the only distinction. The audience at Camden also approaches the forum in a unique way. Flynn continued, "The difference is in atmosphere -- the community itself, the experience of getting here and getting off the grid. It's the intimacy of the rooms where the panels take place. We've tried to encourage that in the ways that we promote events, we want them to be as participatory as possible, and accessible as possible. The audience has become more diversified and national. A lot of our sessions are now attended by a lot of lay audience. The Points North Pitch was attended by over 200 people, at 10AM on a Saturday. There's a lot of community members that might not have anything to do with the film industry on the professional level, but because they've been coming to the festival for years, they engage in a more interested way.
"We don't want to throw four people in a basement on a Saturday morning and not have that conversation get the attention and respect that it deserves. The conversations that happen at the forum complement the conversations that people are having about the films."
From the films to the panels to the parties, there's an attention to aesthetic detail.
There's even a great attention to detail in the documentations of their parties. Here's a look at Jonathan Laurence's video from the fest's Friday night dance extravaganza:
They're making sure they're engaging their audiences in relevant conversations and staying just the right size.
Speaking of a discussion after a screening of "Terms and Conditions May Apply," Flynn said, "We were able to have this really great panel discussion for about 45 minutes following that screening. Our special events are multifaceted but they reinforce each other in unique ways. They build each year and they build a more informed sophisticated audience base in a community that every year gets more and more enthusiastic about supporting the festival. Ideally for us it helps us grow our budget and our staff. So that the festival can continue to experiment and expand within reason. We don't want to become Sundance. That's not the end goal. If we were to do that, that would disconnect us from the foundations that made us what we are. It's got a life of its own. We're seeing major year over year growth. People hear the good word and they want to get up here, whether they're coming from Portland or Boston or LA or wherever they may be"