LEWISTON — Organizers estimated that as many as 1,000 people attended the Lewiston-Auburn Film Festival on Saturday, surpassing expectations and encouraging thoughts of future events.
More than 100 films from local, American and international filmmakers were showcased in 13 locations around the Twin Cities, culminating in an awards gala at Fuel restaurant.
The festival screened work in several categories, including short film, feature film, documentary and experimental, at 10 venues.
While hundreds of attendees had bought festival passes ahead of time, by 9 a.m. Saturday morning the festival’s ticket office (Antonio’s New York Deli and Bakery) was crowded with many more trying to get the red bracelets that gave them access to the venues.
“All the bracelets we purchased," said festival board member Joshua Shea, "Some of which we thought we’d use next year, are gone. My thought is that we’re looking at 800 to 1,000 people.”
Shea, the driving force behind the festival, said he conceived the idea last year and had been working intensely over the last nine months to accomplish it. The project gained momentum in August 2010, when L/A Arts and the Maine Public Broadcasting Network joined Lewiston-Auburn Magazine (published by Shea) to produce the festival.
But, he said, he did not imagine the event would draw in crowds like those that packed venues on Saturday. At She Doesn’t Like Guthries, where experimental films were screened, attendees were lining the walls by noon. At Lewiston Public Library’s Callahan Hall, where documentaries were screened, the organizers struggled to bring in enough chairs. By 2:45 p.m., when the film "There Is My Home: Somali Bantu Farmers" began, there was hardly room to stand.
Fish Bones American Grill, where short films were screened, “was standing-room-only for quite a bit,” said Molly McGill, who handled media relations for the festival. The Hilton Garden Inn, which showed feature films, maintained “a healthy crowd,” she said.
“I’ve lived in this community for 25 years, and I love it, and I feel like there is this enormous potential here,” Jane Costlow of Auburn said during a break between experimental film screenings at She Doesn’t Like Guthries. Costlow said she had been to the festival’s fundraising dinner at the Bates Mill Atrium and had gone to test screenings for some of the films. She had also tried to buy tickets for the awards gala, she said, but they were sold out.
Joyce Morin of Lisbon came to the festival to see only "PAL Hop Days," Bill Maroldo’s homage to Lewiston’s 1960s music scene. Morin’s brother, Ronny, was in The Royal Knights, one of the local bands featured in the film.
To decide which films to include in the festival, organizers used a “numerical judging system,” factoring in “technical quality, casting and story line” among other characteristics, McGill said. Nominees for a People’s Choice Award, voted on by festival attendees, were chosen in four categories: short film, experimental, feature and documentary.
Twenty-six of the 110 films screened during the festival were from Maine filmmakers, Shea said, while more than a dozen were made by foreign filmmakers. Ehab Morsi, a Syrian filmmaker who had six one-minute films in the festival, flew all the way to Maine to be in attendance.
Taylor McIntosh, an Edward Little High School alum and Keene College film student, had two films in the festival. His experimental film "Motion Picture" won the People’s Choice Award for its category.
“I guess I was trying to show how framing something in a certain way can change your view of it,” he said of the film.
Greg Bergeron of Auburn, whose experimental film "Caterpillar" was shown during the festival, was glad to see how much support the film festival received. “It’s a different community here” than in Boston or New York, he said, and the success of the festival suggested the emergence of a unique artistic community.
Craig Saddlemire of Lewiston won the award for Best in Maine for "The Rehearsal: One Week Before Inspired Voices 2010." He also showed an experimental film, "Cat Window," which takes place almost entirely in Lewiston.
“The more people can commit to the community that they’re in, the more diversity we have and the more stories we have to tell,” Saddlemire said.
In general, filmmakers seemed energized by the success of the festival, McGill said. “We want independent filmmakers out there to know that there is that support ... to help them keep doing what they’re doing."
Thirty-five volunteers, including Don Libby of Auburn, helped organize and run the event. Libby, who has worked with Community Little Theatre and the Freeport Community Players, expressed satisfaction with the current artistic climate of the area, though he suggested that more could be done. “Encourage it,” he said, “and maybe we’ll be the next big film festival, like Cannes.”
In the afternoon, before the showing of "PAL Hop Days" at the Franco-American Heritage Center, Shea was thinking about next year.
“We thought it was really important to show that there are so many fantastic local filmmakers doing great work," he said. "We’re not going to limit ourselves. We have a long-term plan to make this one of Maine’s premier film festivals.”
Awards for People’s Choice:
Documentary: "There Is My Home: Somali Bantu Farmers of Lewiston, Maine" (Amy Brown, New York)
Experimental: "Motion Picture" (Taylor McIntosh, Auburn)
Short: "The Bully" (Jared Kimball, Portland)
Feature: "Scooter McGruder" (Bill McLean, Monmouth)
Best in Show: "The Third Letter" (Grzegorz Jonkajtys, Los Angeles)
Best in Maine: "The Rehearsal: One Week Before Inspired Voices 2010" (Craig Saddlemire, Lewiston)
Executive Producer Award: Donato Corsetti