Have you ever had that strange experience when you catch your reflection in an unexpected window or mirror and it takes a second or two to realize that it’s actually you? It suddenly hits you, “That’s me. That’s who I am.” No posturing, no posing or even bracing. It’s just your true self, reflected back to you in a way you did not expect.

That happened recently on a community level. Instead of a mirror, it was in the reactions of Emerge filmmakers and audience members as they reflected back, time and time again, the true sense of Lewiston-Auburn to us all.

It happened as the very first filmmakers arrived in L-A.

Ross Morin, a filmmaker and professor of film studies at Connecticut College, arrived with director Evan Clar at the filmmakers’ lounge at the Hilton Garden Hotel to receive their Stella Artois swag bags and itineraries for the weekend and immediately expressed glowing accolades. Morin, who is an alumnus of Edward Little High School, said, “Congratulations on this festival. Emerge has transformed my hometown.”

Morin and Clar’s short film, “Cigar Man” starring Steven Culp, screened at Emerge.

It happened on the opening night as we gathered at the Woman’s Literary Union for a filmmakers’ reception and Jules Patry of DaVinci’s Eatery said, “This is my first time here. I can envision throwing dinner parties at this mansion.”

And then, as the filmmakers and Karen Carberry-Warhola of the Maine Film Office streamed in and requested impromptu tours to scout the Foss Mansion as potential locations for upcoming film projects.

It happened the next morning as filmmakers from around the globe visited local classrooms at five area high schools. Students had the opportunity to spend time listening to filmmakers, watching trailers and making connections. Class times ran way over, students lingered, eager to learn more. And the filmmakers reflected back that our students and their teachers are engaged, articulate and inspired.

One went so far as to say, “I honestly believe the future of film is in their hands.”

It happened at five venues across the Twin Cities where filmmakers and their audiences gathered to appreciate and discuss the art form.

This year we screened more than 50 extraordinary films and we built audiences for each and every one.

I attended the “War & Conflict” Short Film Block at Guthrie’s Independent Theater. It was standing room only. We created the hashtag, #fillthefranco, and we did just that for three screenings, “Child of Grace,” “Bluebird” and “Honor Flight.”

It happened on the final night during the 2015 EFFy Awards gala as Jim Lounsbury, writer and director of “Love is Now,” declared that Newcastle, New South Wales, Australia, and Lewiston, Maine, would forever be sister cities.

Over and over again throughout Emerge, I witnessed those reflections from filmmakers from as far away as Australia and as close as Portland. I noted the extraordinary reaction of the Emerge Board of Directors and league of volunteers as they realized that crystallized moment — “This is who we are.”

We are appreciative of the arts. We are cultured. We are generous. We are proud. We are hip. We are diverse. We are hospitable. We are more than we knew.

What happens next is up to us. L-A is at a tipping point. Our energy and momentum have projected us to a place with a revitalized downtown with bustling restaurants, a growing art scene with an appreciative audience and a creative economy that supports advertising agencies, independent theaters, film production studios, craft movements and much more.

The new leadership at Lewiston-Auburn Economic Growth Council and the Androscoggin County Chamber of Commerce is energized and ready to launch new ideas. Our renaissance is now.

Last year we emerged. This year we evolved.

Laura Davis is president of the board of directors for the Emerge Film Festival.


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