Maine takes a starring role as film festival rolls to an end

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Julia Haltof chats with Anna Gravel and Ranin Brown before the premiere of the movie “Island Zero” at the Emerge Film Festival. Haltof was on the crew of the movie and Gravel was on the cast.

Director Josh Gerritsen and Producer Mariah Klapatch discus their movie “Island Zero” with Emerge Film Festival moderator Allen Baldwin after the movie’s premiere at the Community Little Theatre in Auburn on Saturday afternoon.

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There are some drawbacks to making a horror movie in Maine.

For one, “it’s really hard to play dead in the cold,” Joanna Clarke, who played Jessie in the well-received “Island Zero,” told a crowd Saturday at the Emerge Film Festival.

And even on a cold spring day, when you burn down an old house with cameras capturing every flickering flame, “you’d be surprised how hot it is,” Director Josh Gerritsen said. “Part of my camera actually melted.”

But it all worked out well for the low-budget movie written by the director’s mother, bestselling author Tess Gerritsen. The work was shown to the public for the first time Saturday at Auburn’s Community Little Theatre.

“I couldn’t have dreamed of a better showing,” Josh Gerritsen said, even if people sometimes laughed during scenes he had approached with “a very serious mindset.”

“Laughing is a good way to try to forget you’re scared,” Gerritsen said. He said he was “surprised in a good way” that the audience chuckled at times.

Festival organizers enjoyed it as much as the audience, naming the movie the best Maine film in the three-day event that drew healthy crowds to a number of showings.

Producer Mariah Klapatch said she’s hoping to parlay the $400,000 movie’s solid appeal into more festival bookings — one in Austin, Texas, appeared to be shaping up within minutes of the credits rolling — and then to regular theaters in the fall.

The big hit at this year’s Emerge Film Festival, though, was “Property of the State,” a drama set in Ireland screened Friday night at The Dolard & Priscilla Gendron Franco Center in Lewiston.

It captured both the Best Feature award and the top prize as the Best in Festival. Its director, Kit Ryan, was honored as best director.

Zac Willson of Sabattus, who’s been going to the festival for three years to catch a range of films, said “Property of the State” was extremely good but also hard to watch because it was so painful.

The best documentary went to “Peace, Love & Zoo,” Reginald Groff’s work on a colorful artist and recovery guru.

Named the best short film was “Johnny Physical Lives” by Joshua Neuman, a little gem that Auburn’s Chris Cifelli said turned the story of a cancer-stricken brother into a kind of old-fashioned VH1 “Behind the Music” production with chemotherapy doubling for a rock star’s descent into drugs. Cifelli said it amounts to “a great memory for his family.”

Tapped as the best emerging filmmaker was Emily Dynes’ “St. Elmo,” a short about a man suffering a devastating loss.

Cifelli said it’s a great feeling to see such an array of movies that will mostly never make it into any multiplexes. He said it’s enjoyable to see flicks such as “The Avengers” on the big screen, but it’s also nice to get a taste of some of the work done for smaller audiences.

Willson said he was impressed with “Tatara Samurai,” set in Japan, which makes a case for peace while showing a lot of fighting.

“It’s a really cool movie,” he said.

Seeing so much “is kind of being part of the ultimate experience,” Willson said, especially because directors and others connected to the movies are often there to answer questions and talk about their craft.

Take “Island Zero,” for example.

Shot on the Maine coast in March 2015, which proved milder than its makers expected and forced them to get along with less snow than they’d planned, the movie tells the story of a fictional Tucker Island 40 miles offshore.

The basic premise that kicked off the whole idea, Gerritsen said, was a simple question: “What if you lived on an island and the ferry never came back?”

Without giving too much away, it turns out there are mysterious creatures gobbling up fish and lobsters in the Gulf of Maine who eventually get around to snacking on islanders. It wasn’t the best time to be stuck on a remote island with no route for escape.

Most of the actors and crew were from Maine, Gerritsen said, and he loved the “rugged outdoors” look available on Monhegan and Islesboro islands.

Joseph Klapatch, the producer’s father, got the chance to play a minor character named Arthur, who quickly winds up as a smear of blood on the side of his fishing boat.

Before his demise, however, he had a few lines in a diner that he repeated over and over for the cameras for about an hour, Klapatch said. Until he watched a private screening last fall, Klapatch said, he had no idea what the final film would look like or how he’d fit in.

But, he said, he really enjoyed it.

Mariah Klapatch said she loved having her dad in the movie and getting to make a film in her hometown of Camden.

She said she’s always had filmmaking in her blood, recalling that she would shoot shorts with a video camera in middle school that had to be meticulously worked out ahead of time, since there was no way to edit the footage.

The filmmakers said they were glad they could work together so well and stay true to their vision for the movie. Klapatch said they kept it “free of BS.”

Gerritsen said the warm applause from strangers made him happy.

“There is so much energy here and we feel so welcome,” he said.

Clarke said she is grateful she got the chance to be in her first feature right in her home state. Still, she’s got the itch to head for Hollywood.

Though she wants to be in Los Angeles, she said, “I might as well be in this L-A” for now, as she watched herself on the big screen with an appreciative audience.

Karen Carberry Warhola, director of the Maine Film Office, said she’s happy so many could participate in “a great event” over the weekend.

She said she was especially thankful that filmmakers who shot in Maine were “bringing your film back so we can see it.”

• Best Emerging Filmmaker

Emily Dynes, “St. Elmo”

• Best Director

Kit Ryan, “Property of the State”

• Best Maine Film

“Island Zero”

• Best Short

“Johnny Physical Lives”

• Best Documentary

“Peace, Love, & Zoo”

• Best Feature

“Property of the State”

• Best in Festival

“Property of the State”

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