• Sarah E. Mason

Maine in the Movies: 35 Films Celebrating the Pine Tree State, March 5-15, 2020

When you think of Maine, do you think of the movies? Well, you should. The Pine Tree State has been the setting and inspiration for some of the most iconic films in cinema history. Nurtured by its mighty woods, mountains, lakes and rocky coast, its native and visiting storytellers unearth the soul of Maine in songs, novels, poems and cinema.

As part of Maine's Bicentennial celebrations, "Maine in the Movies" film festival, runs statewide across 17 cities from March 5-15, 2020. The festival, presented by the Maine Film Center (MFC) along with 19 other arts and education organizations and independent cinemas, will screen 35 films set in, about and or celebrating Maine.

Gene Tierney and Cornell Wilde, Leave Her to Heaven, 1945

Many of the films set in Maine are based on literary works by such famous Maine authors as Richard Russo, Elizabeth Strout, E. B. White and Stephen King.

"Maine has such a long history of being a storytelling state," said Mike Perreault, Executive Director of MFC. "Sure we are known for Stephen King but we have a huge legacy of other great authors and filmmakers."

After their highly successful festival, "John Ford -125 Years", celebrating legendary director, and Mainer, John Ford, Perreault and his team saw an opportunity to expand to something statewide that would benefit Maine's independent theaters.

"We set the groundwork with the John Ford project because it involved building a coalition of local theaters," stated Perreault. "With 'Maine in the Movies' we were able to take that foundation a step further in a big way expanding to 17 cities."

The festival opens March 5th with a 75th anniversary, 2K digital restoration screening of the Oscar winning 1945 film noir, Leave Her to Heaven, set in Maine and adapted from the novel by short-story writer and Maine-based novelist, Ben Ames Williams. The film stars Gene Tierney, Cornell Wilde, Jeanne Craine and Vincent Price and is directed by John M. Stahl. Leave Her to Heaven was 20th Century Fox's highest grossing film of the 1940s, earning over $5,000,000 at the box office. It was selected for the National Film Preservation in the Library of Congress in 2018. With an introduction by Ben Ames William's grandson, Tim Williams, the film will screen at the Waterville Opera House.

Curating the festival program began with a list of movies that had a connection to Maine whether they were shot in Maine, set in Maine or based on a Maine author's work.

"We flagged some titles that we felt were important to screen but we also reached out to our coalition of theaters to find out what would resonate with their local communities," explained Perrault.

The result is a robust program of films in all genres with something for everyone: Family friendly films like, Andre the Seal and Charlotte's Web, classics like Carousel, How to Marry a Millionaire, Peyton Place, critically acclaimed dramas like, In the Bedroom, and for Stephen King fans, The Shawshank Redemption, Carrie and Dolores Claiborne. There's also several recent films, including 2019's The Lighthouse and Blow the Man Down. Even Aquaman will be there as the half-human/half-Atlantian king is also a Mainer!

Jean the Match-Maker, 1910

The first film shot in Maine, 1910's Jean the Match-Maker, a 13-minute short directed by Laurence Trimble, a Robbinston, Maine native, features the first animal movie star, Jean the Vitagraph dog. Trimble was a writer for New York Magazine when he was sent to cover a story at Vitagraph Studios. Bringing with him his dog Jean, Trimble wandered onto silent film star Florence Turner's set. Serendipitously, the film needed a dog. The duo, Trimble as director, Jean as star, were hired by Vitagraph and went on to make 25 silent films together.

The film was thought lost until it was discovered in the New Zealand Film Archive and restored by the Library of Congress. A newly commissioned musical score from Los Angeles composer Mikel Hurwitz will accompany the film as it tours around the state as part of the festival.

Ed Harris, Paul Newman, William Fichtner, Empire Falls 2005

"What this festival does a really good job at is depicting Maine as a diverse state of imagination," said Perrault. "These films really sparked a dialogue about where we have been and where we are now."

Empire Falls, the HBO 2005 miniseries adapted from Richard Russo's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of the same name, was filmed in Waterville, Maine. Russo wrote the novel while living in Waterville and teaching at Colby College. The story follows Miles Roby (Ed Harris), manager of the diner in a once-thriving, small blue-collar town that never recovered from the shut down of its shirt factory. Despite the star power that filled the streets of Waterville for the production including, Paul Newman, his wife JoAnne Woodward, Helen Hunt, Aidan Quinn, Robin Wright and Philip Seymour Hoffman, the story was a little too close for comfort. At the time, Waterville, like many other Maine towns was itself recovering from massive losses of manufacturing jobs. Between 2000-2003 Maine lost the highest percentage of manufacturing jobs in the United States(1). Waterville was once home to C.F. Hathaway Shirts the oldest shirt manufacturing company in the United States. Amongst its greatest hits--manufacturing uniforms for Union soldiers during the Civil War.

In a 2005 interview for HBO, Ed Harris shared his thoughts on the story, "It's about human beings trying to do their best, it's about progress, you know, it's not about corporate, military-industrial road-building, building cheap houses, building strip malls...that kind of progress. It's about the progress of the human soul and it's rich that way."(2)

In the 15 years since production wrapped in Waterville the town has undergone a stunning transformation thanks to a revitalization initiative in partnership with Colby College. You can read all about it in the Boston Globe article, "Maine city teams with Colby to revitalize a college town".(3)

As part of the festival, Empire Falls will screen at The Railroad Square Cinema in Waterville on March 15th.

A scene from the 1956 20th Century Fox film, Carousel, filmed in Boothbay Harbor

Every festival event is unique, crafted by the individual theaters. Like the Empire Falls event, several of the films will be screened in the communities they were set in or filmed in and some screenings will include special introductions. Also at the Railroad Square Cinema in Waterville on March 12, the 2001 comedy, Wet Hot American Summer, set at a summer camp not far from Waterville. The screening will include a special event, "Wet Hot American Ice Cream Party" with swag bags filled with goodies for your Summer adventures in Maine. In Belfast on March 7, the Colonial Theatre will screen the documentary Belfast with a video introduction from filmmaker, Fred Wiseman, and The Iron Giant with an introduction by famed author and illustrator Chris Van Dusen.

Honoring Women’s History Month, on March 11 the festival will screen Hedy Lamarr’s The Strange Woman at the Evening Star Cinema in Brunswick and Bette Davis’ A Stolen Life at Your Neighborhood Theatre in Freeport.

When asked what he learned about his home state while working on this festival, Perrault said, "Maine is what you want it to be. It's a place where you can create your own adventure. There's no one Maine."

For a complete list of all the programs and screenings for "Maine in the Movies" visit MaineMovies200

For more information about the Maine Film Center and the Maine International Film Festival, currently accepting submissions for its July 2020 festival visit, https://mainefilmcenter.org/



1 - Figures from National Association of Manufacturers

2 - Ed Harris on Having a Good Time Filming Empire Falls

3 - Downtown Waterville Revitalization

Sarah Mason is Executive Producer of The HMC Network and a contributing writer for The HMC and Creative COW.