LEWISTON — For moments during last year's inaugural Lewiston-Auburn Film Festival — beneath the weight of 100 movies, a gala awards dinner and a growing audience — Josh Shea wanted only to survive.
"At some point you ask, 'When are the professional film police going to show up and shut us down?'" said Shea, the festival's director. "I think we had the mentality of 'Let's just see if we can pull this off.'"
This year's festival, kicking off this coming Friday with a concert by "American Pie" singer-songwriter Don McLean, is even more challenging.
LAFF 2.0 is scheduled to last three days instead of one. There are more venues, more sponsors and this year's 80 or so movies were culled from a pool of entries twice as large as last year.
"I don't feel like we're trying to get away with anything," Shea said. "This year, I think the professional film police will show up and have a great time."
With days to go, the all-access VIP tickets are long gone, sold out with six weeks to spare. The opening night concert is inching toward a last-minute sellout and passes for Saturday's screenings — when most of the films will be shown — are going at a fast pace.
"I expect over 1,000 people here on Saturday," Shea said.
Attendees will be spread out across the downtowns in Lewiston and Auburn. Venues will include DaVinci's Eatery, the Community Little Theater, the Franco-American Heritage Center, Free Grace Church, the Lewiston and Auburn public libraries, the Androscoggin County Chamber of Commerce, the Lyceum Gallery and She Doesn't Like Guthrie's cafe. Details, including a full schedule, are available at the festival's web site (www.lafilmfestival.org/).
Each venue will be aided by a slew of festival volunteers, each wearing a blue T-shirt with the festival's logo.
"We really couldn't do it without them," said Molly McGill, the festival's volunteer coordinator. "They are an extension of us, because we can't be at all nine venues."
In all, 55 people have signed on to give their time. Their payment is the T-shirt and entry into the festival when they're not working.
With their help, the venues will operate according to a strict timetable. After all, most attendees plan to follow their cinematic tastes to two or more movie sites.
"You want to make sure it goes right," said McGill, who is working with Shea on the last-minute details. "Are we stressed? Yeah. We're totally stressed. We're rushing around. We're doing lots of things. Everyone's got five jobs to do."
It's such a lot of work, Shea expects that next year's festival may have its own paid staffer.
Currently, the festival is run out of Lewiston-Auburn Magazine, where Shea is the publisher and McGill serves as managing editor.
"I know the leaps and bounds this is professionally taking," Shea said.
One big key is the wider pool of movies that Shea and company had to pick from. Last year, 180 submissions led to about 100 movies chosen and screened. This year, about 400 movies resulted in about 80 official screenings.
"I look at what we're offering and I think, 'Man, I wish I could have only watched these," joked Shea, who personally watched about 80 percent of the submissions. "The quality and variety of movie this year is exponentially better than last year," he said. A couple of the films — including the comedy/horror film "You Can't Kill Stephen King"— are negotiating for nationwide release.
"A movie that debuts here may be known by everybody in America six months from now," Shea said.
One of his favorites is a romantic comedy titled "A Schizophrenic Love Story."
The story is about a man with schizophrenia who imagines three companions: the Virgin Mary, Albert Einstein and a vampire. When he begins falling for a neighbor, he must decide whether to maintain his imaginary delusions or go on medications that will rob him of his mentors but better equip him for a romance.
"As far as heartwarming comedy, to me, that's the best film of the festival," Shea said.
Both the the love story and the horror movie have been nominated for the festival's top prize. Awards will be handed out on Saturday night at the awards dinner planned for the Hilton Garden Inn. The event will include performances by Buckfield duo Audiobody and the Maine Music Society's Androscoggin Chorale.
Sunday will feature a panel discussion with filmmakers and the winners of the seven award categories, which include best Maine film and people's choice picks.
When it's all over, Shea hopes people feel that they got their money's worth and then some.
"There are people who can come and watch light and fluffy movies all day, he said. "And there are people who will come and watch deep documentaries that tackle the worst of our societal ills.
"We have high brow, low brow, all brows," he said. "I'm optimistic that we'll be walking away with a little bit of money, a nest egg for next year."
"In the end, though, this is bigger than just watching movies," said Shea, who also serves as an Auburn city councilor. Folks will come from as far away as California. Some may come further."
This is about bringing people to town who might otherwise never come here," he said.
Of the 80 films making the cut at this year's Lewiston-Auburn Film Festival, 24 have a Maine connection — either filmed here (all or in part), made by a Mainer or reference the state.
Below are brief looks at four of those films.
"Colony Collapse" and "Kids of the World"
Award-winner back with two more
Lewiston filmmaker Craig Saddlemire took home one of the top prizes from last year's inaugural festival, winning Best Maine Film.
This year, he is returning with a pair of films.
"Colony Collapse" is a contemplative, seven-minute short that suggests what Lewiston might look like after a climate change.
And "Kids of the World" is a 15-minute film that stirs several children's stories together in a piece set in Lewiston's Kennedy Park.
"I've been making movies here a while and it's really thrilling to have a local venue to show these films," said Saddlemire, who also serves as a Lewiston city councilor.
It's appropriate that he describes his work as "community film."
Saddlemire shot most of "Colony Collapse" during the early-morning hours of a snow storm, wandering Lewiston's empty downtown with a camera.
The end product, intercut with a few summer images, is otherworldly, particularly since the snow footage appears to run backwards. Rather than falling snow, the flakes rise like ashes.
The movie, which has been nominated for a People's Choice award in the experimental category, is scheduled to be shown at 2:15 p.m. Saturday at Free Grace Church, 160 Canal St.
By contrast, "Kids of the World" is a bouncy film filled with dialogue.
This time, Saddlemire surrendered much of its writing and acting to the kids themselves. He filmed them in the downtown park for two weeks.
"The kids defend themselves on their own terms," he said. "I asked them, 'What kind of movie would you like to star in?'"
The result will be shown at 1:15 p.m. Saturday at Free Grace Church.
Both films are also part of Saddlemire's homework.
Though he lives full time in Lewiston, he is a student at the Vermont College of Fine Arts. The films are part of his work toward a master of fine arts degree.
Saddlemire, who last year chronicled the work of local performers with mental illnesses in "The Rehearsal," said he plans to continue telling Lewiston's stories even after he is awarded his degree.
"We need stories told about all of our communities," he said.
"You Can't Kill Stephen King"
Horror/camp combo cops King's killings
LEWISTON — A pair of buddies occupying themselves on a rainy day led to this year's most talked about festival entry, "You Can't Kill Stephen King."
On the way to his family's camp on a western Maine lake, lawyer Monroe Mann was telling his friend, stand-up comic Ronnie Khalil, about how King also had a home on the lake and knew many of the neighbors.
The next day it rained. And the guys began writing a screenplay.
Five years later, the result is a 98-minute-long film that its makers hope works as a both a straight horror film and a campy homage to Maine's most famous writer.
The story focuses on a bunch of college friends who go to Maine looking for King. During their quest, there are romantic twists and sudden, grisly deaths. And each death mimics a death in King's literary world.
"It's a ridiculous concept," said Khalil, who is from Los Angeles and both co-directed and co-stars. "For me it's a fun campy film."
A trailer for the film sets the tone with its tagline: "Every so often a horror film comes around that breaks all the rules by not breaking a single rule."
The commercial promises chills, sex and gore.
Mann, who also co-directed and co-stars, said the film was a challenge to write, largely due to its setup. Eventually the pair brought in a third writer, Bob Madia — whom they found on the Internet — to ensure that they got all the King references correct.
"I've always been a fan, but we needed a superfan," said Mann, who lives in New York.
The movie was shot on location at Mann's own camp in 2010. Its first public showing will come at the festival on Saturday at 1 p.m. at Community Little Theatre's venue on Academy Street in Auburn.
Only 10 to 15 people have seen the movie so far.
King has not seen the film, but he has read the script, Mann said.
"He turned it down," Mann said. But Mann was heartened by the fact that news of the film popped up on King's own site on the "unofficial news" page.
"We hope he likes it," Mann said.
TV pilot mystery uses area locales
SABATTUS — A little 31-minute movie, created as a pilot for a TV series, will be among the local productions to premiere next weekend.
It's called "The Associates."
"We haven't actually pitched anything yet," said Colby Michaud of Sabattus-based Praxis Production Studios. "The select few people who have seen it say they liked it, but they want to know what happens next."
The story focuses on a guy who becomes desperate after learning that his daughter is terminally ill, said Michaud, who wrote and directed the movie. The man, played by local stage actor John Blanchette, then kidnaps three people.
The reason he kidnapped the trio and what happens to them is left uncertain, said Michaud, who shared producing duties with Praxis partner Chad Sylvester.
The film will be shown Saturday at 11:30 a.m. at DaVinci's Eatery in the Bates Mill Complex in Lewiston. Several scenes for the movie were also shot in the mill complex, though in a vacant area.
Other locations included The Gym in Lewiston and Fielder's Choice Ice Cream in Sabattus.
"I used to work there," Michaud said of the ice cream stand on Route 126. These days, Michaud, 21, is a student and producing online commercials and other video projects with Sylvester.
And he's proud that his project was picked among so many that were submitted to the festival.
"It's awesome," he said.
Teen writes, directs and stars in silent film
NEW GLOUCESTER — A piece of Grace Powell's college application will soon have an audience.
The 18-year-old senior at Gray-New Gloucester High needed to create a short movie for her applications to film programs at Emerson College in Boston and Concordia University in Montreal.
The result was a six-minute silent film, "Ouija."
Powell wrote, directed and starred in the film that will get its first public showing at the Lewiston-Auburn Film Festival. It is scheduled to be screened at 10:30 a.m. Saturday at She Doesn't Like Guthrie's cafe, 115 Middle St., Lewiston.
"It's going to be exciting because this is a big deal for me," Powell said.
The film grew out of her own love of the 1920s, silent films and silent film star Louise Brooks.
"I just love the beginnings of cinema and the way of telling a story without words," she said.
Her story focuses on a young soldier's wife who is recently widowed. She tries to communicate with her dead husband through a Ouija board.
"It's a sad film," said Powell.
Apparently, it is also quite effective, impressing the admission staffs at both Emerson and Concordia.
"So far, it's working," Powell said. "I got in both."