LEWISTON — Local backers who had been working to save the Lewiston Auburn Film Festival, scheduled to begin in less than two weeks, said Sunday they have given up.

“We cannot legally take over someone else’s company,” said Sandy Marquis, a former shareholder of the festival and one of local residents trying to save it. “There are so many unknowns when it comes to contracts. We cannot take over these contracts without knowing what is outstanding. There is debt involved, people that must be owed money. But we have no idea who is owed what or who has been promised what.”

Marquis, who helped run the film festival last year but sold her shares in the corporation last November, said a group of local residents have been working to save the festival since founder Joshua Shea was arrested last week and charged with downloading child pornography.

“Believe me, if there was a way to make this happen, we would,” Marquis said Sunday. “There has been an outpouring of support for the festival, which has been fantastic. But the only person that can do anything is Joshua Shea. I wish he would man up and say something.”

Time is running short. The festival is scheduled for April 4-6.

Shea, 38, was released from the Androscoggin County Jail on Thursday on $500 bail on the condition that he have no contact with anyone under the age of 18. Detectives seized Shea’s computer for analysis at the computer crimes unit. The Maine Department of Public Safety said initial inspection of the computer showed hundreds of images of child pornography.

Shea, a former Auburn city councilor, was president and owner of Lewiston/Auburn Magazine and one of the founders of the Lewiston Auburn Film Festival.

The magazine’s board of directors announced Friday that Shea had been fired from his job of publisher and president.

But Marquis said Shea appears to be the only person with any say about the film festival.

Marquis said the group met for several hours Saturday afternoon in the offices of the Androscoggin County Chamber of Commerce, trying to figure out what they could do to keep the festival on track.

“I have no idea what was going on, and neither does anyone else,” Marquis said. “I don’t know what has been promised, and Joshua Shea is the lone officer. He’s the one that’s been doing the contracts; he’s the one making the promises. So you do you continue a film festival that’s under the control by someone else?”

Chip Morrison, president of the Androscoggin County Chamber of Commerce, agreed.

“I completely understand people’s reticence in getting in the middle of something 10 days before it’s supposed to come off,” Morrison said. “Nobody knows who has tickets — there is a whole variety of things going on here.”

But Morrison said the stigma of Shea’s arrest may be too much for many people to overcome.

“People don’t want their names affiliated with it,” Morrison said. “There is a taint. Several people have said that to me. They don’t want to be affiliated with something that has his name on it at all.”

Amid uncertainty about the future of the festival and silence from Shea, the only voice that can provide answers, some films decided to pull out.

Corey Norman, director of “Hanover House,” announced Sunday night that he will be withdrawing his film, along with Bill McClean and his film, “How to Kill a Zombie.”

“The fate of the festival is not looking good,” Norman said.

He said he and McClean spent the day reaching out to other directors in an effort to find an alternate venue to showcase their work. “Filmmakers need to band together and move on,” Norman said.

Norman said he has teamed up with Saco Drive-In Theater owner Ry Russell to stage an alternative event on May 9-10. Norman said it’s a shorter slot for the single venue, but he’s very thankful for Russell’s involvement.

Norman said he is standing by those who wanted to see his film 100 percent and has sought assurances that those who paid to see it will be refunded. He said he has even contacted his lawyer to see to it.

“I’m really hoping everyone stays true, and everyone who paid to see the movie gets refunded,” he said. 

Norman wanted to be clear to the people of Lewiston and Auburn.

“Bonfire Films does not view the film festival as anything bad,” he said, expressing his support for the communities involved.

In a situation where so many people are being made to suffer, Norman said, it’s too bad that “one man’s transgression affected so many.”

“Whether allegations or truth, it affects us the same way,” Norman remarked. “We’re officially moving ahead.”

Some directors, unaware of the circumstances surrounding the festival, were still planning to move ahead.

Hanover House was nominated for Best Feature; Best Actress, Anne Bobby; Best Director, Corey Norman; People’s Choice; and Best Maine Film.

McClean’s “How to Kill a Zombie” was nominated for People’s Choice and Best Maine Film awards.

Jason Michael Brescia, director of “Bridge and Tunnel” said Sunday night he hadn’t heard of any potential problems with the festival.

“We haven’t heard anything, and we will continue to follow the story and plan as if it’s going on,” Brescia said. “Hopefully the event continues, because I’m sure it’s great for local economy.”

Brescia said he has a contingent of more than 10 people planning on attending from New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and California.

Brescia said he plans to stay the course.

“We never looked at the festival as being about the festival director,” he said, adding “it’s about the community in which the festival occurs and the films involved.”

Brescia said he’s not going to dive into personal matters until there’s more clarity on the situation.

The world premier of “Bridge and Tunnel” is slated for the festival and has been nominated for several awards: Nominee for Best Feature; Best Screenplay; Best Actor, Arjun Gupta and Ryan Metcalf; Best Actress, Annet Mahendru; Best Director, Jason Michael Brescia; and Best Film in Festival.

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