LEWISTON — Father and son zombie-killing, demented Disney characters, ax-swinging madmen. Things got freaky Friday night on Lisbon Street.
It’s the Lewiston Auburn Film Festival, of course, with a preview of things to come in April. When an event begins with a man teaching his kid how to exterminate the undead, you know it’s going to be good.
That was Bill McLean, producer, writer and star of the feature film, “How to Kill a Zombie,” which when you get right down to it, is just a film about a dad trying to bond with his boy. Over zombie-killing.
“I guarantee you,” McLean said, “if you like to laugh, you want to see this film. It was as close to a family film as we could get with zombies.”
In the movie trailer, one of more than a dozen shown at the preview, the strapping McLean looks menacing in fatigues and a slightly Mephistophelian beard. Here’s a hint for movie buffs: He looks pretty menacing off screen, as well. It’s a look on which he capitalized when starring in “You Can’t Kill Stephen King,” which was awarded Best Feature Film at the 2012 L-A Film Festival.
“It was my first chance to play a bad guy,” McLean said. “I really enjoyed it.”
It’s tidbits like like this that make the film festival special. Here, ordinary folks could walk around the Skye Event Center on Lisbon Street and listen to groups of writers, directors, producers and actors engaged in gossip. They talked about techniques and told funny stories about mishaps on their sets. They commiserated about small budgets and production schedules. They sounded like typical working folks except, you know. They’re the rising stars of film.
“That’s really the festival experience,” said LAFF Director Joshua Shea of Auburn. “Here are the filmmakers. Here are the stars. People can hang out with them and ask questions. People who have never been to the festival don’t need to be scared. We have funny films, we have drama, we have action. We have pretty much every genre covered. You’re going to see some major stars that you’ve only seen on TV.”
Les Stroud, for one. The famed producer and host of “Survivorman” was at the festival last year and he’ll back back for this one.
And writer, actor and director Mike Miclon, host of this year’s event as well as star and director of the historical farce, “Richard3” (that’s “Richard Cubed”) which will make its world premiere at this year’s festival.
“I’m pumped,” Miclon said Friday night. “The film festival is always fun, period. But when you have a film in it, it’s just amazing.”
Remind Miclon that his movie will premiere in just a month and he smiles. The smile is a bit strained. After all, that means just 30 days or so to put on the finishing touches. Brutal edits, final tweaks, last-minute everything. It’s the kind of pressure that can unnerve the steeliest of filmmakers. And while Miclon admits he has battled nerves in the past, there’s something different about “Richard3” (that’s “Richard Cubed,” remember.)
“This is the one project on which I’ve savored every single second,” Miclon said. “It’s been so much fun. I’m still laughing even after the edits.”
“Richard 3” is a comedic retelling of Shakespeare’s “Richard III.” Parts of it were filmed in Buckfield and other parts of the state. Miclon wrote the screenplay, which was adapted from his Monty Python-inspired stage production. He took on the role of director and cast himself as the humpbacked anti-hero.
Those in the know expect “Richard3” to be a big success. That’s no surprise to Shea . Many of the films that come through the festival go on to earn national and international acclaim. He knows it, the filmmakers know it and anybody who regularly attends the festival knows it. And yet, Shea said, there’s still that misunderstanding about the films that make up the festival.
“We still fight the stigma that, because we’re not a movie theater, these must not be very good films. They must be high art,” Shea said. “Of course, that’s not true. It’s not amateur art. These are some really good movies and if we can get a bunch of people in the room to see that, hopefully they’ll go out and tell other people all about it.”
Two films featured at this year’s event were also featured at the Sundance Film Festival.
On Friday night, it was movie trailer after movie trailer as more and more people came through the doors. While they watched, patrons also browsed the extensive list of items being sold in silent auction: art, gift baskets containing bottles of fine bourbon, certificates to restaurants and other local businesses. Money raised at the door and at the auction will be used to bring the stars, both established and aspiring, back to Lewiston at the start of April.
McLean, who turns out to be an easygoing guy in spite of the scary beard, will be back with an entourage because the making of “How to Kill a Zombie” was a family affair. His wife Tiffany directed and his son Benjamin wrote the original draft. At the age of 18, no less.
Which means Benjamin will probably be back for many more film festivals in coming years.
“He’s been watching me for a lot of years,” Bill McLean said. “And apparently he’s been paying attention.”
The Lewiston Auburn Film Festival is scheduled for April 4-6. More information, including a list of films and movie trailers, can be found at lafilmfestival.org