I haven’t seen nearly as many films as I would like to have so far at this year’s Maine International Film Festival. But, here’s a quick rundown of those I did see this weekend.
My first movie at this year’s MIFF was “Finding Donn Fendler: Lost on a Mountain in Maine 72 Years Later,” a documentary about Maine icon Donn Fendler recounting his epic story of surviving while lost on Mount Katahdin, and the two filmmakers looking to adapt his tale into a feature film.
It’s less of a standalone documentary and more of a well-crafted DVD extra for the movie that Ryan Cook and Derek Desmond will someday make. It’s a diary, of sorts, chronicling their ups and downs as they try to acquire the rights to Donn’s life story, and develop a friendship with him.
The movie balances both Donn and the filmmakers’ stories well, merging the two when necessary. Watching Donn humbly command the screen is pretty incredible. Although Cook and Desmond are quite young, I believe that this documentary might be a small step into a much larger career for them.
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I had the pleasure of talking one-on-one with Malcolm McDowell, who received MIFF’s Mid-Life Achievement Award this year. I was justifiably nervous as hell – all day. He, of course, was relaxed and a true gentleman.
When the interview was over, screenwriter Jay Cocks and producer-director Mike Kaplan walked in and briefly introduced themselves – it was a pretty surreal moment.
Afterward, I quickly ducked into a showing of “O Lucky Man!” which McDowell referred to as “an unseen masterpiece.” He’s right. It’s a shame that I’ve gone all these years without having seen it. As McDowell had intended, watching it has inspired me to seek out the rest of the “Mick Travis Trilogy,” and all of Lindsay Anderson’s work.
After the screening, McDowell was honored with the award, taking some questions from the audience as well. He talked a great deal about Anderson – their friendship and their working relationship. Some people were just born to tell stories, McDowell is one of them. I don’t think I’ve seen someone work a crowd so well in my life.
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The next day I watched Aleksei Fedorchenko’s “Silent Souls,” a Russian import that has been picked up by Shadow Distribution, and was introduced by festival programmer Ken Eisen.
The best way I could describe “Silent Souls” is as a Russian road trip movie. Of course, unlike American road trip movies, it’s not the least bit funny, and it’s far more poetic than anything Hollywood has spat out in the subgenre recently.
The film’s about Aist (Igor Sergeev), a man looking to preserve the Merjan culture and dig into its origins through his writing. When his friend’s wife dies, the two go on what I’ll call a “road trip” (there it is), to give her a proper Merjan send-off.
There’s a strange beauty to the film, around the culture and customs of the Merjan people, their home, their fascination with water, and their instinct to remain expressionless.
Like a lot of Russian cinema, “Silent Souls” is gray, slowly crafted and moody. It’s certainly not for everyone, but it will find an audience when it is released – no matter how small that audience may be.
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The final movie I saw this weekend was Mike Kaplan’s “Never Apologize,” which is a one-man show starring Malcolm McDowell telling stories about Lindsay Anderson.
The first thing I want to say is that it’s a shame that only 50 or 60 people attended the screening, which was followed by a Q&A with McDowell and Kaplan. The attendance reminded me of a college lecture before spring break. Come on people, this is Malcolm McDowell and Mike Kaplan!
Anyway, it was a joy to see the movie, which was obviously a labor of love for both McDowell and Kaplan. McDowell had covered a lot of the material in “Never Apologize” the night before during the Q&A, but it was still great to watch nonetheless.
Between “Never Apologize” and “O Lucky Man!” it was a wonderful introduction for me to the work of Lindsay Anderson.
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I do have a couple of regrets: I missed the opening night film “The Athlete,” and its rerun at 12:30 p.m. Sunday. Bummer. I also opted to see “Silent Souls” at 3:30 p.m. Sunday, sacrificing a screening of “Taxi Driver.” Also a bummer.
A very special thanks goes out to everyone helping put the festival together this year. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it so far.