More than 80 motion pictures have been set in Maine since the first in 1910. To celebrate the state’s Bicentennial, the Maine Film Center (MFC) and 19 other arts and education organizations and independent cinemas have joined together to present “Maine in the Movies” (www.mainemovies200.com), from March 5 through 15, a statewide, 17-city festival of 35 films set in Maine.
“Maine is a state of mind and imagination whose enigma and beauty have, from the very beginning, inspired writers, visual artists, and their natural descendants, filmmakers,” said Mike Perreault, MFC executive director.
“Maine in the Movies” will showcase screenings for all ages, some accompanied by discussions with knowledgeable guests. A complete schedule follows.
Over the course of the festival, audiences will see an expansive, sometimes unfamiliar, often surprising vision of Maine: fanciful and funny in some cases; down to earth and culturally revealing in others. A perfect example of the latter is Academy Honorary Award recipient Frederick Wiseman’s epic portrait of Belfast, Maine (1999).
“We're lucky such a great filmmaker as Fred Wiseman chronicled our community two decades ago so all who view the film now can better know what's transpired here since," said Mike Hurley, owner of Belfast’s Colonial Theatre where the film will play March 7.
Among the festival’s films are those from the earliest days – Jean the Match-Maker (1910) and Way Down East (1920) – to the most recent – The Lighthouse (2019) and Blow the Man Down (2019) – as well as classic dramas, family movies, thrillers, fantasies, musicals, and comedies like Peyton Place (1957), Andre (1994), Dolores Claiborne (1993), Aquaman (2018), Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Carousel (1956), and How to Marry a Millionaire (1953), the first film made in the CinemaScope process that ushered in the wide-screen era.
Most were based on literary works, including many by such famous Maine authors as Stephen King (The Shawshank Redemption, 1994), Laura E. Richards (Shirley Temple’s Captain January, 1936), Richard Russo (Empire Falls, 2005), Elizabeth Strout (Olive Kitteridge, 2014), and E. B. White (Charlotte’s Web, 1973 and 2006).
Premiere of 75th Anniversary Restoration Starts Festival
Opening the festival on March 5 at Waterville Opera House is the premiere of the Academy Film Archive / 20th Century Fox 75th anniversary restoration of Leave Her to Heaven (1945), based on the novel by Ben Ames Williams, the prolific writer who lived in Searsmont and set many of his best-known works in the state. Before the screening, Tim Williams will discuss his grandfather’s literary legacy and life in Maine.
Two Classics Animate Maine
“Few people know about all the movies set in Maine or how they’ve depicted the state's unique qualities,” Perreault said. “For example, most are surprised to learn Bambi is a Mainer.”
Two animation classics merge in a Maine meadow in a memorable scene from The Iron Giant (1999) when the massive alien encounters a tiny fawn, an allusion to Bambi (1942) by Giant director Brad Bird, a devoted disciple of Disney’s legacy.
Damariscotta artist Maurice “Jake” Day worked at Disney during the film’s development and interceded with Walt Disney to transfer the Black Forest setting of Austrian writer Felix Salten’s novel to the Maine North Woods. Disney sent Day back to his home state to sketch and photograph the landscape, vegetation, and animals of Baxter State Park for reference in the film’s design. But Maine’s other connections to the film don’t end there, which The Free Press writer Andy O’Brien will reveal at the March 8 screening in Damariscotta.
In transposing The Iron Giant to America from the book’s original UK setting “Maine seemed perfect because (director Brad Bird) wanted an area that felt remote and wild enough for a giant robot to be able to hide,” said Allison Abbate, the film’s producer and now executive vice president of Warner Animation Group. “We also took an amazing research trip before we started production and fell in love with the wild and untamed landscapes we saw as we traveled down the coast.”
Women’s History Month Screenings
Perreault said that two films logically needed to be shown in proximity. To mark Women’s History Month, a double feature of Hedy Lamarr’s The Strange Woman (1946) – introduced by Bowdoin College Cinema Studies head Tricia Welsch - and Bette Davis’ A Stolen Life (1946) – introduced by author Mark Griffin - have been scheduled for March 11, in Brunswick (4:00 p.m.) and Freeport (7:00 p.m.), respectively. In the same year, Davis and Lamarr – persistently independent actresses who fought the male-dominated movie industry for more substantive roles – each produced their own starring vehicles set in Maine.
A Stolen Life was the only film Davis produced, and it was her decision to set in Maine a story previously told in a British film. Her connections to the state were numerous, including living in Cape Elizabeth during the Fifties with her husband, All About Eve co-star Gary Merrill, who’d attended Bowdoin. Lamarr chose as her production The Strange Woman, another novel by Searsmont’s Ben Ames Williams, set in the 19th century Bangor logging industry.
Vampires in Bucksport
“We know a lot about Maine movie history,” said David Weiss, executive director of Northeast Historic Film, “but until we started preparing for this event I admit we didn’t know that Bucksport is the model for Collinsport,” vampire Barnabas Collins’ home in the cult Seventies television series Dark Shadows. The first of several feature-film spinoffs, House of Dark Shadows (1970) will screen in Bucksport on March 12.
World’s Most Famous Dog Came from Maine
Weiss continued, “However, we did know a lot about Maine’s oldest narrative movie, Jean the Match-Maker, featuring the first certifiable animal movie star: Jean, the Vitagraph Dog. Before Rin Tin Tin, Lassie, and Toto, Eastport-born Jean was the most famous dog in the world. She and her owner, trainer, and eventual director – Robbinston native Laurence Trimble – made 25 silent films together.”
Jean the Match-Maker was thought lost until a print was discovered in the New Zealand Film Archive and restored by the Library of Congress. A new musical score has been commissioned from Los Angeles-based composer Mikel Hurwitz specifically to accompany the film’s 15 screenings across the festival’s schedule.
“Maine in the Movies” is organized by Maine Film Center and co-presented with Colonial Theatre and Waterfall Arts (Belfast), The Gem Theater (Bethel), Harbor Theater (Boothbay Harbor), Alamo Theatre and Northeast Historic Film (Bucksport), Bowdoin College Cinema Studies and Eveningstar Cinema (Brunswick), Lincoln Theater (Damariscotta), Arts & Culture Alliance of Freeport and Nordica Theater (Freeport), Temple Cinema (Houlton), Bates College Rhetoric, Film & Screen Studies (Lewiston), Waterman’s Community Center (North Haven), Spotlight Cinemas (Orono), Maine Historical Society and Maine Publishers & Writers Alliance (Portland), Strand Theatre (Rockland), Spotlight Cinemas at the Strand (Skowhegan), Opera House Arts (Stonington), The Waldo Theater and Medomak Valley High School (Waldoboro), and Colby College Cinema Studies, Waterville Opera House, and Railroad Square Cinema (Waterville).
Perreault said, “It’s a powerful message for young filmmakers, like those attending the Maine Student Film and Video Conference on April 4th, to see Maine as a place of inspiration and as a creative incubator for storytelling and film production.” The Maine Film Center brings independent film to Maine through the Maine International Film Festival, an annual 10-day event that attracts filmmakers and film aficionados worldwide; Railroad Square Cinema, the only Sundance Art House cinema in Maine; and by organizing exhibitions and educational opportunities, such as "Maine in the Movies" and the Maine Student Film + Video Conference. The Maine Film Center is a division of Waterville Creates!. Its mission is to educate, entertain, and build community through film and art.