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“Hell and Back Again” Isn’t the Only Winner at Maine Doc Fest

"Hell and Back Again" Isn't the Only Winner at Maine Doc Fest

Non-fiction took center stage over the weekend in Maine with the 2011 Camden International Film Festival.

Danfung Dennis’s opening night film “Hell and Back Again” took home the Herrell Award for Best Documentary at the event, while Isabelle Lavigne and Stéphane Thibault’s “At Night They Dance” received a special mention. Alma Har’el’s “Bombay Beach” took home the fest’s Cinematic Vision jury prize, with Sofie Benoot receiving a special mention for her film “Blue Meridian.” Jesse Epstein and Hannah Rosenzweig pocketed $1,000 from the fest’s “Points North Pitch” contest for their project “Mosquito,” but there were far many more winners at the end of the four day festival.

The festival, which spans across a series of small towns on the coast of Maine, has proven itself in its seventh year to be a valuable venue for local Mainers and documentary filmmakers and professionals to gather, network and, of course, eat lobster. Under the guidance of its founder and director Ben Fowlie, the festival has “borrowed” some of the most popular features of other documentary festivals while tailoring programming and community outreach to its enthusiastic local audience.

David Wilson, a co-founder of Columbia, Missouri’s True/False documentary festival, brought his popular Campfire Stories — a storytelling event where documentary filmmakers tell the story of the best scene they didn’t have a camera to shoot — to the festival’s closing night festivities (held at a local winery). New York’s experts at outdoor screenings, Rooftop Films, came to help with the closing night event, a screening of Jarred Alterman’s “Convento,” and the festival continued its collaboration with other documentary institutions by screening an omnibus of films about Roland Barthes’ “Mythologies” made by Brooklyn’s documentary collaborative UnionDocs. Representatives from POV, HBO, Tribeca Film Institute, and Chicken + Egg Pictures were a part of the festival’s filmmaker forum.

The festival should be proud of its attention to the local community it serves; screenings, even those early in the day on Friday, were full. The fest’s Founder and Director Ben Fowlie told iW, “Camden is a town of about 3500 people. There’s only about 15,000 people in a 30 mile radius — when you have an event this large in a small town, it’s hard for it to get lost.”

“There’s two colleges we partner with for a media class — University of Maine and Unity College — sending almost 100 students. I think it’s really motivating and inspiring experience working with artists and filmmakers – many of them just a few years older than they are. For regional festivals, it’s a great way to guarantee an engaged audience. Before, they were very noticeable in the screenings, filling up 60 or 70 seats in every screening. Now that the festival’s gotten much larger, they’re a part of the fabric of this much larger community.”

And that much larger community came out in droves for a work-in-progress of Ashley Sabin and David Redmon’s new film “Downeast.” In the film, a sardine packaging plant that had provided employment for a large portion of the small town’s population is forced to close its doors and a lobster processing plant buys the building. Currently, most lobsters get sent to Canada for processing, and it is the goal of this factory’s owners to bring more business to Maine. The film is told through the town’s aging — but incredibly charming — population affected by the plant’s closing and their quest to get a local government grant to facilitate the hiring of unemployed community members. The filmmakers, who just returned from Toronto where they debuted their film “Girl Model,” humbly presented their 70 minute work-in-progress to the audience. When the credits rolled, the local Mainers gave the filmmakers and one of their subjects, entrepreneur Antonio Bussone, a standing ovation.

The filmmakers are currently living in nearby Gouldsboro, editing in a room they have rented from Bussone that is in the packaging facility (Sabin noted that candles do not get rid of the stench of lobster bait). They told the Camden audience they intend to make three films during their time in the small town. They will finish “Downeast” while working on another film that Sabin described as “more textural,” exploring the sensory experience of the small lobster fishing town and a third film shot in one take that explores the process from beginning to end.

Sabin and Redmon’s film and the community’s enthusiastic response to the film was surely a highlight of the festival, but the event is an invigorating experience all around. Fowlie evaluated this year’s edition: “It’s been a great culmination of everything we’ve been working on. It all came together beautifully. It was great to have bigger, engaged, enthusiastic audiences.

“It’s definitely got it’s own vibe going on now.” Indeed it does.

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