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.