Indie Film: The Camden Film Festival is back in full force, and more global than ever

Zarifa Ghafari in ‘In Her Hands’, on view at this year’s Camden International Film Festival, with co-director Taman Ayazi in attendance. Courtesy of Netflix/CIFF

“Documentary is an art form with unlimited potential.”

Ben Fowlie knows that better than anyone, and I always look forward to hearing him pitch the idea. As Executive and Artistic Director of the Rockport-based Points North Institute, Fowlie was instrumental in transforming that organization’s annual Camden International Film Festival into a vital and growing destination for the world’s top non-fiction filmmakers. boldest and most innovative in the world since 2005.

Now gearing up for the 18th season of CIFF (which will run in venues in Camden, Rockport and Rockland – and online – September 15-18), Fowlie took an hour out of his busy schedule before the festival to give Mainers information about this year’s films. , the role of documentary film in understanding our world and his vision of Camden International as a global film hub.

“This year feels bigger and more robust,” Fowlie said. “The pandemic has meant that the last few years have been a bit smaller, but this year’s slate of movies has reverted to 2019 numbers. Also, the biggest change this year is that, by far, it’s the most ambitious festival from an international point of view.

With dozens of filmmakers coming to Camden from places like Bangladesh, South America and all over Europe, the festival continues its mission to provide an immersive, interactive and dynamic experience for audiences looking to delve into the wide array of styles and themes on display. .

“We celebrate documentaries of all shapes and sizes,” Fowlie said. “And although we want to push the envelope, it’s a festival – they’re supposed to be festive. We want to present work that fundamentally resonates with audiences, but also engages in conversation and inspires audiences to think more deeply about who is behind the camera and what the film’s relationship is to the community.

That community aspect is something that Fowlie says has been “a cornerstone and foundation of who we are,” with this year’s CIFF impatiently dismissing some of the strictest COVID-related restrictions festival organizers put in place. place responsibly for the last two festivals. (Points North built and operated a fully-equipped movie theater – the ever-successful Shotwell Drive-In – so Mainers could have a communal viewing experience, should anyone need further proof of Fowlie’s dedication. and his team.)

Speaking of the pandemic guidelines adopted for last year’s festival, Fowlie says with justifiable pride: “Last year we were looking at the barrel of another big wave, so we dedicated ourselves to providing a safe environment. We limited the capacity of each site, and it worked organically and quite nicely. Tracing showed no new cases coming out of the festival, as far as we could tell, even though we had over 1,000 in-person attendees.

And while the pandemic is not (emphasis by still-masked author), Maine’s robust vaccination numbers and dwindling new COVID cases will see CIFF once again welcome an even larger number of Maine movie-hungry moviegoers.

“We’re going with a desire to maintain our safety record,” Fowlie said, “and since we understand that people’s comfort levels are different, there will be plenty of options. Full immersion is one way, but the people can choose to visit the Shotwell for the drive-in experience, and there’s also our virtual component for those who are still comfortable watching our movies at home.

As always, there will be a plentiful selection of films for Camden International audiences to choose from this year. (And here I’m going to give everyone a hint: festival passes are the best option, with CIFF’s new six-pack of discounted tickets a respectable second.) One of the highlights of my year of writing movies is listening to Fowlie get excited as he reviews some of his favorite films at each year’s festival, so let the man do the talking.

“CIFF is really a collaborative exploration of what we mean by documentary,” he said in the preface. “There is no doubt that we live in bizarre times, with many challenges, and much of this work does. They’re opening those conversations – about the environment, about Indigenous rights. It’s political disruption, but in a way that’s not so direct, but subtle. They allow audiences to dive into the movies as a movie, but some want to delve deeper.

‘Cowboy Poets’, shown at this year’s Camden International Film Festival, might change your mind about what cowboys stand for. Photo courtesy of CIFF

As an example, Fowlie cites filmmaker Mike Day’s feature film “Cowboy Poets,” about the National Cowboy Poet Gathering.

“It’s fascinating in that it contradicts assumptions about what we think cowboys represent,” he said. “It’s an environmental film, set in the American West, listening to some of the most eloquent and profound writers you didn’t know talk about maintaining some sense of connection with Mother Nature and the earth. they need to make a living. It’s beautiful and, like all CIFF alum Day’s films, completely immersive.

Shifting gears, Fowlie is also thrilled to present Tamana Ayazi and Marcel Mettelsiefen’s feature ‘In Her Hands’, which explores the aftermath of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan through the eyes of Zarifa Ghafari, who at 26 is become one of those war-torn women. the country’s first female mayors.

“I’m excited for a number of reasons,” Fowlie said. “First, it’s about the ripple effects of last year’s decision to leave Afghanistan, and how quickly we seemingly forgot that history as a country. The film is a stark reminder of those who stay or leave but have to deal with the trauma of forced displacement. Zarifa Ghafari was a young woman focused on promoting women’s rights and education in remote areas. When the Taliban returned to power, she made the decision to leave the country, while her bodyguard, whose support for her put him on the Taliban’s radar, chose to stay. It’s set against the backdrop of a tumultuous time, and the fact that co-director Tamana Ayazi (who will be in attendance) is from the same community where Ghafari was mayor makes the film that much more insightful.

After scanning CIFF’s offerings with boundless curiosity, I couldn’t help but ask Fowlie about Charlie Shackleton’s “The Afterlight.” Part archival exercise to memorialize long-dead actors from around the world, part performance art, the film sees the British filmmaker assembling clips of actors from some 14 countries, their cinematic efforts to long ago unearthed and reassembled in a new form.

However, as part of Shackleton’s message, the resurrection will be short-lived, as the filmmaker has only released one 35mm print of the film, which will be screened at screenings until the single print breaks down. ultimately unplayable.

“I don’t know what state he’ll be in, but that’s part of the excitement,” Fowlie said. “There is a guiding thread in his work – the power of the archive, how it can be manipulated by the editor to tell a different story than you expected. The Strand Theater is one of the few places that still has a 35mm projector, and this is the first 35mm film CIFF has screened since our first year.

Plumbing the archives produced another Fowlie favorite in French-Senegalese filmmaker Alain Gomis’ “Rewind & Play,” a shrewd and insightful assemblage of raw footage from a controversial French TV interview with jazz great Thelonious Monk in 1969.

“It’s an experimental film that shows, through archival footage of this interview, how even a legendary figure like Monk would be forced to answer questions that have nothing to do with his creative process. I left feeling edgy, but still excited to think about how the project would re-examine an issue like race relations through abstract snippets of archival footage. It stuck with me in terms of subtlety and impact to let the archives speak for themselves. The beauty of the work lies in the editing, the discovery of these extracts and the real story they tell.

And that’s all just scratching the surface of this year’s Camden International Film Festival. There are documentaries on everything from a restless Saudi filmmaker meeting a Japanese monk listening to heavy metal (“Crows Are White”) to indigenous peoples of Brazil fighting to protect their land (“The Territory”) to a baseball portrait. native Maine-born player Louis Sockalexis (“Deerfoot of the Diamond”) to a fond look at the life of cult independent filmmaker Robert Downey Sr. (“Sr.”). Additionally, Fowlie swore me to secrecy about the September 15 festival screening, described in the film’s notes as simply “A new film from an Oscar-winning director.” (You want to check this one out.)

The world is huge and complicated. Artists see it in a way others don’t. A major documentary film festival is an opportunity to peek through the eyes of dozens of unique and talented filmmakers and see the world in a new light. Said Ben Fowlie of CIFF’s ongoing mission, “It is our interest and our desire to defend the work that we have painstakingly curated, to say, ‘Let’s do everything we can to make sure these projects leave CIFF with confidence, a little momentum in their approach, and the promise that these filmmakers will be paid for their hard work.It is also to push the industry to take risks on artists who take risks.

Tickets and film information are available at Come on, take a risk.

Dennis Perkins is a freelance writer who lives in Auburn with his wife and cat.

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