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In all that fresh air, Maine Outdoor Film Festival ripens and grows

A screening on Portland’s Eastern Prom at a previous Maine Outdoor Film Festival. Photo courtesy of MOFF

When it comes to the glories of nature, no place beats Maine. Whether you’re a skier, hiker, swimmer, surfer, climber, rider, walker or runner, our state has you covered. Of course, if you’re more about sitting back and appreciating Maine’s rugged and multifaceted splendor (rather than getting all sweaty and exhausted in it), then the Maine Outdoor Film Festival is just the summer fun you’ve been waiting for.

Taking place over the next three weekends, the Maine Outdoor Film Festival offers up enough big-screen natural beauty, adventure and fun, from Maine and around the world, to satisfy even the most gung-ho of outdoorsy types. And, for the rest of us, it’s a lovely and relaxing way to experience the Maine outdoors the way we like it – sitting comfortably under the Maine night sky, breathing some fresh air and watching other people do all the exciting and strenuous stuff.

Over 11 nights in three choice Portland locations, the festival’s 70 films feature a dizzying array of nature, adventure, and environmental-themed short films. Curated with an eye toward variety, each night’s screening packs in a rich mix of styles and themes, a vital formula that MOFF director Nick Callanan proudly says offers something for everyone.

“It’s a balance of pacing and content, so one night won’t be all skiing, or fishing,” he said. “Our programming committee works really hard to balance the type of activity, so it’s not all wicked heavy conservation. Even though a lot of work we received this year centered on climate change as the huge issue it is.”

Kicking off this year’s MOFF (the 11th season, and the third since bringing the festival to Portland), Thursday’s Katahdin Program, for example, serves up an exciting roster of tones and themes. Taking place at the Gulf of Maine Research Institute on Commercial Street, the first night starts suitably with “Blessing of the Creatures,” a short film from Maine’s Marty Pottenger and Vera Francis, in which Passamaquoddy singer Francis recites an ancient Passamaquoddy blessing for all the creatures of the Earth, including humans.

A scene from “Keep It a Secret,” about an unlikely Irish surfing competition, held just as 1972’s Troubles plunged that country into sectarian violence, playing the first night of the festival. Courtesy of the filmmaker

“The Pace of Snow,” which follows, shows a grieving woman’s journey for healing via a snow-biking trek through Alaska. “Mardi and the Whites” provides a unique look at hiking while Black, following a young woman through her experiences de ella as “the only Black person on the mountain.” The Gardiner-set “Keystone: Voices of the Little Fish” is next, looking at how one Maine community is trying to restore an ecosystem by creating fishways around three local dams. And the night finishes off with the rousing and thought-provoking “Keep It a Secret,” about an unlikely Irish surfing competition, held just as 1972’s Troubles plunged that country into sectarian violence.

And that’s just the first night.

“We’re spreading the festival over three weekends this year,” said Callanan. “Some people said that weeknight screenings were easier to attend, so we listened and scheduled some that way. Portland doesn’t really have a film festival in the summertime, and each year we’ve gotten a little more keyed in to what people want. MOFF is something a lot of people have come to know about, and as we grow, it’s amazing to see the city and the people take some ownership and pride.”

There’s certainly plenty for Callanan and the MOFF team to be proud about. Apart from an expanding number of submissions and accepted films this year, the Maine Outdoor Film Festival is constantly innovating in order to offer Maine film fans the richest (and most fun) experience possible. In addition to the films themselves, MOFF this year is presenting filmmaker panels with participating directors and subjects, something Callanan is especially excited about.

“We’re so proud to be able to do that,” he said. “It shows the filmmaking community trying to make each other better here in Maine.”

“Skin Swimmer,” about a Vancouver woman training to swim a mile in 3 degree water, is screening as part of Friday’s program. Courtesy of the filmmaker

There’s also Aug. 13’s MOFF Field Day, a free daytime event outside Aprés on Anderson Street where, in addition to food trucks, craft beers, all-important cooling stations and other activities, festival partner Maine Outdoor Brands will be holding a “yard sale ,” offering great bargains on gear for those who’ve been inspired by the festival to head out into the Maine outdoors for real. Said Callanan: “It’s a nice way to say thank you to the sponsors, and for people to engage and have some fun.”

And while there’s plenty of fun to be had all throughout the Maine Outdoor Film Festival, MOFF has always engaged responsibly and thoughtfully with all elements of our relationship with the environment. As Callanan said, climate change is first and foremost on the minds of filmmakers whose main focus is nature – and what we’re doing to it.

“All artists feel they have to do something,” he said in addressing the upswing in environmental-themed submissions. “A perceived void of effective leadership, oil companies and politicians being intentionally obstructive over something scientists have been sounding the alarm on for 40 years – filmmakers figure, ‘I’ve got a camera, I’ve got editing equipment, I can at least do something.’ When people go to watch a film, they trust in that film, make a pact with the filmmaker to go on a journey with them. It’s what I love about running a film festival. If filmmakers can connect with an audience, and audiences are better for having heard what the filmmaker has to say, it’s amazing.”

The good and hardy people of the Maine Outdoor Film Festival know that there’s a unique and rewarding bond between us and our surroundings, one that only strengthens the more we engage with them. To that end, as ever, a portion of MOFF’s annual proceeds go to Brunswick-based nonprofit Teens to Trails, whose mission to bring Maine middle and high school students into contact with nature seeks to kick-start that fruitful partnership sooner rather than later.

“Unsinkable Ships,” by Moroccan-born, Portland-based filmmaker Lamia Lazrak, illuminates the unique lives of those who choose to live on Maine’s islands. Courtesy of the filmmaker

But that relationship takes countless forms, with this year’s films allowing filmmakers from Maine and the rest of the world to express their individual experiences and insights. Callanan is especially excited for people to see the short film “Unsinkable Ships” (showing Aug. 13 as part of MOFF’s White Cap Program), in which Moroccan-born, Portland-based filmmaker Lamia Lazrak uses the works of the late Buckminster Fuller to illuminate the unique lives of those who choose to live on Maine’s islands.

“The filmmaker’s not from Maine, but she’s able to bring a voice to Maine people through her skills as a filmmaker,” Callanan said. “I lived on an island here, and I recognize a lot of the characters. Lamia brought honor to these islanders in a way not many storytellers could – it’s a beautiful ode to islanders.”

Just to pick another personal favorite, Callanan also can’t wait for people to see Jeshua Soucy’s “A Painting from the Earth” (showing on Aug. 11 as part of MOFF’s Doubletop Program).

“It’s not a film about an outdoor adventure, but a connection to the outdoors,” he said. “The painter, Nathan Allard, uses natural materials to create this painting of a log cabin, and it’s so creative in the shots that its 15 minutes feel like two. I was captivated the whole time.”

He’s similarly thrilled for audiences to see “We Are Like Waves” (Saturday, as part of the Cadillac Program), about a young Sri Lankan woman overcoming prejudice and sexism in her quest to carve her own path as a surfer.

This year’s Maine Outdoor Film Festival has also added a new venue to its ambitious, three-weekend celebration of all things outdoors. In addition to the Gulf of Maine Research Institute (Thursday through Saturday), and the ever-sprawling and gorgeous Eastern Promenade (Aug. 4-7), MOFF’s third weekend will be hosted by East Bayside establishment and gourmet adult beverage gathering place Aprés from Aug. 11 to the festival’s closing night on Aug. 14.

“Mandatory Gear” tells the story of an ultramarathon relay team that turned on its head a competition’s rule to have at least one woman by opting to have three women and one man. Courtesy of the filmmaker

It’s there that MOFF closes this year’s festival out with the cheekily titled “Mandatory Gear,” about an ultramarathon relay team that subverts a competition’s “mandatory one woman” requirement by fielding a team consisting of three women and one man.

Said Callanan of the victorious squad, “The nickname for the one woman on these teams is that she’s the ‘mandatory gear,’ but they flipped it and crushed everybody. Despite the efforts of the conservative right, a lot of formerly oppressed communities are feeling empowered and using their voice.”

The Maine Outdoor Film Festival is a gorgeous, thrilling, fun and thought-provoking banquet of cinematic riches for Mainers looking to experience some vicarious outdoor excitement. Of course, there’s an online streaming pass available, too, if even the thought of heading out into nature to watch some great movies seems a little too stressful. Nobody’s judging.

Dennis Perkins is a freelance writer who lives in Auburn with his wife and cat.


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