Camden and Rockland team up for a four-day cinematic celebration of documentary film on the foggy coast of Maine, with food & wine, music, and community events – a great excuse for a weekend away.
Small Towns, Big Films
I love sitting in the dark with a bag of popcorn, and this year I am lucky enough to have four days at Camden International Film Festival (CIFF), now in its 8th year and more popular than ever. The convivial opening night crowd is eager, greeting each other and each film with affection and enthusiasm. Although there is rain in the weekend forecast, this crowd is warm and sunny.
As film-goers are seated for opening night, CIFF nails “festive” with music by the Toughcats, a tuneful mash-up of harmony, bluegrass, and a wonderful hint of Klezmer. Colin Gulley plays his banjo with a bow, a first for this newly minted Toughcats fan.
The opening night film, Betting the Farm, has been awarded major grants from well-known funding organizations Chicken and Egg Films and the LEF Foundation and is a dramatic and unsentimental look at a breakaway group of dairy farmers right here in Maine. It is the festival’s first-ever sold-out opening night screening, replete with directors, producers, and the film’s Maine “all stars.” Betting the Farm is a raw look at a struggling industry and the courageous and self-sacrificing Maine farmers who stage what we hope is a daring industry rescue. The film left me with a serious takeaway imperative: Find MOO (Maine’s Own Organic) milk, buy MOO milk.
Every day begins with a series of short films and is very well attended – no, it is crowded. I go to the shorts all three mornings and see remarkable stuff. Favorites include: I Beat Mike Tyson, The Gambling Man, and The Love Competition. A fascinating short called CatCam is a crazy look at the world through the eyes of a cat, filmed by a cat – yes, by a cat.
“Wonderful Work!” says Ben Fowlie, the founder and director of the festival, in his curtain speech, and he’s not kidding. When he asks if the filmmakers want to say a few words, they call back, “We love you Ben!”
Venues include the Strand Theater and Farnsworth Museum in Rockland, and Camden Opera House and the old but still serviceable Bayview Cinema in Camden. Nearly 70 documentary features and shorts are shown over the four days. Audiences are engaged in relaxed, informal settings for Q&A with visiting filmmakers. Fowlie keeps several surprises up his sleeve each year, like the three “secret screenings” during this year’s festival.
The Festival closes with a free community screening of Chasing Ice, a fragile, haunting look at climate change through time-lapse cameras in a brutal Arctic setting – undeniable evidence of our changing planet. Astonishing, revelatory work. Fowlie was surprised at the near sellout crowd for Chasing Ice. “Camden Opera House seats 514, and we were up around 500 – and this is after the weekenders are gone; after the filmmakers and special guests. I am amazed.”
“Taste what the area has to offer!” says Fowlie, and he’s right. The culinary artistry of the mid-coast is a huge festival draw. Sitting at the bar at In Good Company in Rockland with a plate of stuffed roasted peppers and a minerally Italian verdicchio is a first-night pleasure. The chef’s starter menu is a longtime favorite – her small plates and sturdy wine list sway.
I also thoroughly enjoy Camden’s Café Miranda where I reflect on the cinematic wonders at a small corner table over a robust hot slurry of roasted gorgonzola and garlic. I dip baguette, sip and think. Miranda’s signature meatballs are an astonishingly light, flavorful combination of pork and veal, and the wood-fired pizza is legendary. In late afternoon, this end of town fills with a beautiful haze of woodsmoke, a sign of good things to come.
Dolcelinos by Swan’s Way are the official festival dessert, made with Maine milk and cream. Don’t miss the lemon ginger, wow, it’s beautiful. And Cellardoor Winery’s Bettina Doulton proves her unflagging support for CIFF yet again, with sponsorships, signature wines and special events. Doulton represents the kind of magical community spirit that makes this festival so successful.
The Camden International Film Festival offers a perfect opportunity for foggy coastal walks, high tides and big moons, gallery hopping, musical interludes, exquisite mid-coast flavor and a four-day celebration of extraordinary international documentary film. In my world, doesn’t get any better.
Elizabeth Margolis-Pineo is a freelance writer and creator of EpicuriousTravelers.com.
Ah, Rockland. This lovely seaside town on Penobscot Bay in Maine has both the salty soul of a working waterfront and a nifty hipster vibe. “Rock City” could be the poster child for the creative economy’s power to heal and restore, with a vibrant museum and gallery scene, amazing restaurants, bustling boutiques and enough lobster and lighthouses for the tourist crowd.
Galleries and Museums
Galleries and studios open their doors each month to First Friday Art Walks, as does the venerable Farnsworth Museum. Their current exhibition, Jamie Wyeth, Rockwell Kent and Monhegan, runs all summer. Wyeth’s connection to Monhegan dates back to trips with his father Andrew in the 1950s, and his association with Rockwell Kent goes back nearly as far. The exhibition features works from the craggy Maine island that inspired them all.
The Island Institute’s high-end crafts support local artisans, and their Archipelago Gallery shows works exclusively by Maine artists. Henry Isaacs’ Lessons from an Island is up through July. Be among the first to see the latest works by Eric Hopkins at his gallery on Winter Street. Don’t miss Harbor Square Gallery’s rooftop garden with contemporary sculpture and stunning views of Rockland’s breakwater and lighthouse, Owls Head, and Vinalhaven. Climb the stairs and prepare to be dazzled.
The historic brick downtown offers Fiore olive oils and vinegars flavored with herbs and citrus-try the blood orange. Rockland’s witty Wine Seller says, “If it tastes good it is,” and holds monthly tastings to prove it. My retail therapy of choice is Caravans on Main Street. Tourists and locals shop ‘til they drop at the quirky, locally owned Grasshopper Shop where you can find everything from wind-chimes to woodenware.
Where to Stay
The Old Granite Inn is a favorite B&B and a perfect base to explore Rockland’s arty ambiance. Overlooking the harbor, the inn’s contemporary style blends family antiques and mid-century modern furniture. Bright paintings and books line the living room, which opens onto an airy, Bauhaus-y dining room. Upscale and uncluttered guest rooms have great views of Rockland Harbor, free WiFi, and fireplaces.
Breakfast at the inn is fresh and locally sourced-savor Joan’s “egg nests” topped with lobster, her sweet Maine blueberry crepes, or Ed’s cheesy strata. The aroma of coffee from Rock City Roasters will summon the sleepiest guest to the table. This environmentally certified inn is both family- and pet-friendly. Best of all, innkeepers Ed and Joan are friendly, savvy, and genuine.
Music and Theater
Check out the historic Strand Theatre, whose summer happenings include a music series for First Friday art walks. July 6 brings the Sweetback Sisters’ swinging brand of honky-tonk rockabilly all the way from Brooklyn. August 3 will bring the Occidental Gypsy quintet, pioneers of up-tempo gypsy-pop. Concerts are free and family-friendly, with sustenance, beer, and wine for sale.
Bay Chamber Concerts summer series brings Movies and Music to the Strand Theatre with three classic silent films and original scores performed live. Jazz royalty returns with the Brubeck Brothers and their combination of Brubeck classics and new works. Concerts continue through August at the Farnsworth’s beautiful Wyeth Gallery with works by Schubert, Beethoven, Haydn, Rameau, and Handel.
Enjoy music three nights a week at Rock City Cafe & Bookstore, Rockland’s unofficial Town Hall. Don’t miss their mussels-and-beer tastings. And I’m really looking forward to the North Atlantic Blues Festival, two days of great music and a seaworthy pub-crawl overlooking the harbor-“blues with a view.”
Bike past lakes, lighthouses and lobsterboats with Rockland’s Lobster Ride and Roll, capped by a lobster roll lunch. Get a prime spot on the mile of Rockland’s breakwater for a bird’s-eye view of the Windjammer Parade and see the whole fleet. Endless fresh lobster plus maritime displays and cruises rock the Rockland Lobster Festival each year. The Boats and Harbors show has 70 boats in the water and 150 exhibitors on land and boasts the “world championship boatyard dog trials.” Seriously.
What to Eat
In Good Company restaurant is an elegant spot for a casual upscale meal or special occasion. Diners are bathed in candlelight and tantalizing aromas from the kitchen. Chef Melody Wolfertz’s go-to summer preparations include a Lobster Cobb salad and her delicate crab and white-bean gazpacho. I’m a glutton for her “molten” baked Brie in all its seasonal variations.
The magical farm-to-table flavors at Primo are definitely worth the splurge. Locally foraged and farmed, Primo has been winning awards and turning heads for 13 years. Set against the craggy Maine coast, chef Melissa Kelly makes magic with sunchokes, beets, ramps and herbs, herbs, herbs. Try the wood-fired pizza with roasted garlic, grilled Vidalias, herbs, fresh cheeses and arugula. Maybe they’ll throw on a little house-cured prosciutto. This food is as tasty as it is gorgeous.
Despite all its sophistication, Rockland manages to feel authentic, not gentrified – as different as starfish and Starbucks. For a daytrip or weekend, Rock City rocks.
For more information check out the Rockland Event Calendar
Elizabeth Margolis-Pineo is a freelance writer and creator of EpicuriousTravelers.com.