Slip on your shades and pass the popcorn. Lewiston is officially going Hollywood. While you may not glimpse Hilary Swank in a backless Guy Laroche gown at Flagship Cinemas June 22, you will have an opportunity to attend the eagerly awaited premiere of “Cleophas and His Own,” a feature-length film honoring legendary artist and Lewiston native Marsden Hartley.

Free and open to the public, this initial screening will be introduced by Lewiston Mayor Lionel C. Guay and the film’s director and star, Michael Maglaras, who portrays the complex and enigmatic Hartley in the film.

“The people of Lewiston should be enormously proud that their friends and neighbors can turn out a feature-length film of this quality,” Maglaras said. “Within a sixty mile radius of where the premiere will be taking place, lives nearly every single person who either acted in this production or worked behind the scenes.”

The movie is a faithful adaptation of Hartley’s posthumously published poem, “Cleophas and His Own.” The screen translation has been a labor of love for Maglaras and his wife, Terri Tempelton, who also appears in the film and serves as its executive producer. The couple fully dedicated themselves to their dream project after Maglaras was well received reciting excerpts from “Cleophas” at a Phillips Collection reading in Washington, D.C., in 2003.

“It became an obsession in the back of a Washington, D.C., taxi cab,” Maglaras said of his notion to transfer “Cleophas” to the screen. “It was at that moment that I decided that the world needs to see and hear this great artist’s narrative work. From then on, things started to happen as if we were lead around by this wonderful, long magnet connected to the soul of Marsden Hartley.”

Born in Lewiston in 1877, Hartley uprooted himself from his Lincoln Street neighborhood at age 14 and scoured the globe in search of artistic fulfillment and personal acceptance.

In 1935, Hartley befriended Francis Mason’s family in Nova Scotia and became particularly enamored of Mason’s two adult sons, Alton and Donald. “I think what any artist searches for is a place that they can feel is home,” said Tempelton. “In this case, home was a circle of friends that felt like family, as well as inspiration.”

In September of 1936, Hartley was devastated when the Mason brothers and their cousin drowned in a tragic boating accident. “In October, Hartley began writing the great text – he was hot and flushed with the passion and tragedy of this terrible moment. The biggest challenge that I had with this film was to stay absolutely true to that,” Maglaras said. ” In writing his poetic tribute, Hartley would assign pseudonyms to the Mason family, renaming the patriarch Cleophas.

According to Maglaras, Hartley completed “Cleophas and His Own” while summering in Corea, Maine, in 1940. “Hartley completed the typescript and it was discovered in a dresser drawer in his room a couple of days after he died in 1943,” Maglaras said. “The manuscript was then donated to the Bienecke Library at Yale where it languished until it was rediscovered in 1982.”

“Hartley’s text had laid itself out like a screenplay,” said Maglaras, who hired storyboard artist Jay Piscopo of Portland to create a visual counterpart to Hartley’s epic ode.

“One of Hartley’s strengths as a painter is his iconic and direct use of symbolism,” Piscopo said. “As I storyboarded, I thought a lot about the settings and how Hartley would have painted them. … Michael was very sure of his vision; yet, at the same time, he was open to different opinions and ideas.”

Maglaras searched for local talent to serve the film in varying capacities as director of photography, editor and producer and ultimately found all three in the form of Waterville native Geoffrey Leighton, whose own production facility, Leighton Images, is based in Durham.

“This is a very exciting project in that the photography had to evoke the time period around Hartley’s death yet also had to serve as a visual frame around the many Hartley paintings used in the film,” said Leighton. Besides turning his cameras on some of Maine’s most scenic locales, including Peaks Island and Wolfe’s Neck Woods State Park in Freeport, Leighton captured the “Cleophas” sequences in classic black and white while allowing for vivid bursts of color whenever Hartley’s images appear in the film.

“As a producer, it was my challenge to bring together the crew and cast that could realize Michael’s vision and it was all accomplished with professionals from Maine,” Leighton said.

One of the objectives in producing the film is to inspire viewers, “to become more aware of the kind of person that can come from a town like Lewiston,” Tempelton said, noting, “Hartley would have been considered very much an odd duck in this community but at the same time, he was someone with enormous talent and amazing curiosity,”

Although Maglaras plans to host screenings of “Cleophas and His Own” outside of Maine, the first-time director believes it was important to return to where it all began. “As Hartley was someone who had been formed by Lewiston, we felt it was very important to premiere the film in his hometown. This way, it all comes full circle.”


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