The Strand Theatre in Rockland.
The Strand Theatre in Rockland.
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Points North Institute will present the 14th annual Camden International Film Festival (CIFF) from Thursday through Sunday, September 13 to 16, at venues throughout Camden, Rockport and Rockland. This year, the program includes 37 features, 43 short films, one episodic series and 20 virtual reality and immersive experiences from over 30 countries.

Since its founding in 2005, CIFF has become known in industry circles as one of the top documentary film festivals in the world, and many of the features are coming straight from other notable film festivals on the fall circuit, including Toronto, Telluride and Venice.

“Years ago we were having a harder time pulling together some of the heavier films that were premiering at the major festivals and now we’re seeing that a third of our slate is coming from Toronto and half of our slate is making U.S. or North American premieres,” said Points North Institute Executive Director and CIFF founder Ben Fowlie. “So it’s really exciting to be able to show that kind of work in an intimate setting like Camden, where it’s accessible for the audience to really engage with the work. When films like these are at Toronto, it’s really difficult for the general audiences to get into them.”

Filmmakers from Russia, Syria, Hungary, Australia, UK, Germany, Sierra Leone and Spain will be in attendance for nearly all the screenings. The program will kick off at the Camden Opera House on Thursday with Oscar-winning director Morgan Neville’s “They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead” about the final years of legendary director Orson Welles and his unfinished film that had been locked away in a vault until now. Morgan is coming off the success of his blockbuster “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” about the life of Mr. Rogers, which was released earlier this year.

Fowlie says one of his favorite films of the festival is Alex Holmes’ closing-night film “Maiden,” which tells the story of how Tracy Edwards, a 24-year-old cook on charter boats, became the skipper of the first-ever all-female crew to enter the Whitbread Round the World Race in 1989 and proved to the world that women could prevail in a male-dominated sport. Another notable film is Jimmy Chin and E. Chai Vasarhelyi’s “Free Solo,” a portrait of free soloist climber Alex Honnold as he prepares to achieve his lifelong dream: climbing the face of the 3,200-foot El Capitan in Yosemite National Park without a rope. 

This year, half of CIFF’s selections across every category are directed by women and half the films are by first- or second-time filmmakers, said CIFF programmer Samara Chadwick. Hungarian director Dorottya Zurbó’s “Easy Lessons” chronicles the life of Kafia, a teenage Somali refugee living in an orphanage and adapting to her new life in Hungary.

“It’s a beautiful film,” said Chadwick. “It’s a portrait of her daily life, but it’s very tender and incredibly well-shot by a very young female director.”

The festival also features Sundance winner Alexandria Bombach’s “On Her Shoulders,” which tells the story of Nadia Murad, a 23-year-old Yazidi woman who survived genocide and sexual slavery committed by ISIS. Chadwick said one of the films she is most excited about is filmmaker Gabrielle Brady’s “Island of the Hungry Ghosts” about the annual migration of red crabs, which is juxtaposed with a high-security detention center where thousands of asylum seekers are being detained indefinitely on the same island in the Indian Ocean.

“It’s just a very gentle parallel between humans who don’t have freedom of movement and these crabs who everyone stops to brush across the road,” said Chadwick. “But it’s done through the eyes of this social worker conducting therapy sessions with the refugees.”



 




CIFF will be showing two films about the commodification of art. “The Proposal” follows conceptual artist Jill Magid as she seeks to create an exhibition inspired by Mexican architect Luis Barragán, but one woman in Switzerland owns Barragán’s entire professional archive and won’t let anyone have access to it. Filmmaker Nathaniel Kahn will present “The Price of Everything” about the way the financial system has coopted high-end art collecting.

The fesival will feature a retrospective of three films by Russian filmmaker Vitaly Mansky, who is living in self-exile in Latvia. Mansky’s “Putin’s Witnesses” features his up-close-and-personal “home movie” footage of Russian President Vladimir Putin during his rise to power in late 1999. Academy Award-winner Alex Gibney is returning to the festival to bring his latest film “Divide and Conquer” about the “story of our current moment in American life — told through the triumph and precipitous downfall of Roger Ailes, founder of Fox News.” The festival will also feature a “secret screening” of a film on Friday at 9 p.m. at the Strand Theatre. Filmgoers will be required to sign a nondisclosure agreement before they go in to see the film stating that they won’t publicize what they saw. The film is only described as an “explosive media revelation that many powerful people, globally, would prefer had remained a secret.”

Several short films and one feature by Maine-based filmmakers will screen at the festival. Adam Mazo and Ben Pender-Cudlip’s “Dawnland” explores the state of Maine’s shameful history of removing Native American children from their homes to “save” them from being Indian and the state’s first-in-the-nation “truth and reconciliation commission” to come to terms with the state’s past. The directors and members of local Wabanaki tribes will be on hand for a discussion after the film. A showcase of short Maine films will also be free and open to the public. “Good News,” directed by Christoph Gelfand and Caroline Losneck, tells the story of Portlander Edgar Gatto, owner of Good News Thrift shop — “a place where conflicts in America play out around politics and poverty, homelessness, opioid addiction, and cities in transition.” David Conover’s “Underwater Rockland” provides a seldom-seen view of Rockland Harbor.

And once again this year, CIFF will present “Storyforms,” an exhibition of immersive documentary experiences and art installations featuring 30 virtual-reality and augmented-reality installations, 12 works of 360-degree cinema, a series of large-scale slow cinema projections, a monofilament light sculpture, and an audio-haptic installation on the Village Green in Camden that transforms trees into a medium for recorded sound. One of the highlights of Storyforms, which will be held in the yellow barn across the street from CMCA, on Winter Street in Rockland, is conceptual artist Asad Malik’s “Terminal 3,” an interactive, augmented-reality documentary that “explores contemporary Muslim identities in the U.S. through the lens of an airport interrogation.”

The Points North Pitch

On Saturday morning at the Camden Opera House a handful of aspiring filmmakers will pitch their works-in-progress to a panel of industry insiders for a chance to win awards to help fund their films. This year, the Points North Pitch received 250 submissions for just six slots in what the organizers describe as the “crown jewel” of the festival. The event, which is sponsored by Showtime, is free and open to the public and will also feature master classes, roundtables and panels. Points North Institute Program Director Sean Flynn said that the pitch is an opportunity for festivalgoers to see the long and arduous process filmmakers go through in not only making the film but also securing funding from the industry gatekeepers.

“It’s also a very uplifting experience because the audience that shows up is really there to try to create a community of support around these projects,” said Flynn. “And a lot of the filmmakers we’ve had who have come back after pitching here really feel like it’s kind of a homecoming for them because this was the place where it all kind of started to take off.”

Three films being screened at the festival this year — “The Feeling of Being Watched,” “América” and “Dawnland” — and the short “Baby Brother” participated in past Points North Pitches. In “The Feeling of Being Watched,” a 2016 Points North winner, director Assia Boundaoui uncovers tens of thousands of pages of FBI documents that prove the Muslim-American neighborhood outside Chicago where she grew up was the subject of one of the largest pre-911 counterterrorism investigations ever conducted in the U.S., code-named “Operation Vulgar Betrayal.”

“There’s still a very strong investigative tradition in documentary and it’s almost more important than ever because we’re seeing a lot of the major mainstream journalistic outlets in decline,” said Flynn. “So documentaries are a place where some of that work can be pursued over many years.”

To purchase CIFF passes and for a schedule of film screenings and all the other events, visit pointsnorthinstitute.org/ciff/.