The Maine International Film Festival deserves praise for giving screen time not just to big-name national and international features, but also short works by emerging Maine filmmakers. In this year’s Maine Shorts program (in which this writer’s short film, Carrying Place, also appears), nine films range from the silly to the elegiac.
The program includes a number of animations, opening with a College of the Atlantic animation class’s claymation redo of the South Korean music video “Gangnam Style.” In Moses Bastille’s lovely and unearthly The Dark Sea, a stop-motion animation made with cut-out paper puppets, a diver descends into a magical undersea realm of giant squids. The film’s eerie imagery is beautifully scored with ambient, underwater sounds punctuated with piano. Cut-out art also creates the world of S.L. Benz’s The Digger, the tale of an elderly widow’s vast stores of clutter, and how her granddaughter confronts them once the woman has passed. The black-and-white illustrated cut-outs are a playful medium for the house and the things that come to fill it, evocative of childhood and fairy tales, which make all the more striking the coda’s full-color photographs of her collection. And in Conceptionfinal, an abstract visual ode of digitally altered hands, leaves, and lights unfolds to music by Sigur Rós.
Satire enters the program in Mike Robida’s narrative comedy Vanilla. The film opens as its young dude protagonist (Derek Brigham) wakes, rises, and is kept by voiceover commands to a strict diet of yogurt, apathy, and the most tedious of the Warhol films. What will his overprotective internal psychiatrist say about the potentially disastrous excitement of a phone call from a girl? This black-and-white work, with clever absurdist touches to its set design (a small landscape of plastic water bottles; sticky labels identifying parts of the furniture) takes a deadpanned dig at the travesty of living safely.
Two documentaries explore traditional ways of work that are disappearing from Maine and beyond. Erin Murphy’s Something Different follows the operator of the nation’s last surviving hydro-powered gristmill, Groves Mill, in Pennsylvania. The camera lingers on the worn antique equipment grinding wheat and corn (picking out as it does some priceless text on the machines, like “Invincible Sack” on a packaging machine) and Murphy captures the very forthcoming mill operator in both earnest and quirky moments — look for his explanation of why, in this business, you need a good thumb.
Mainers are seen at both work and play in the gorgeously shot The County, in which directors Michael Ferry, Christopher Giamo, and Kelsey Kobik lovingly present a year in Aroostook Country. The four-season landscapes of the film are magnificent as it follows the potato crop from blossoms through to harvest, then plunges us into the area’s stark winter, with the lights of men and women at night on dogsleds traversing a huge, dark snowfield. At one point, in voiceover, an aging woman farmer registers both joy at her place here and a twinge that her own children have opted not to farm. But the film also offers a hint of hope in the voiceover of a teenager who says he’d like to take up farming, and who talks with endearing candor: “I am young, so I might hate it later. But probably not.”