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Camden International Film Festival: through the eyes of a student

The Camden International Film Festival is held annually at designated locations in Camden and Rockport, Maine. Photo by Hannah Noriega.
The Camden International Film Festival is held annually at designated locations in Camden and Rockport, Maine. Photo by Hannah Noriega.

One of Maine’s many cultural highlights took place recently at locations in both Camden and Rockport, Maine. The Camden International Film Festival (CIFF) celebrated its 12th year this past week.

Originally developed in 2005, CIFF is one of very few existing small town festivals featuring documentaries. This year, the festival has been combined with the Points North Institute, a collaborative teaching institute that pairs mentors and filmmakers

The festival took place over the course of four days. This year they screened over 35 feature films, more than 20 short films and more than ten Storyforms. A short consisted of any film under approximately 35 minutes, whereas a feature averaged 90 minutes. After each feature film there was also an open question and answer session with the director, which was very useful, especially when trying to learn new techniques.

This was the first time Storyforms had ever been showcased at the Camden festival. Storyforms are interactive and immersive media. In this way, the festival sets out to present new technologies to the public. Certain films were presented through interactive virtual reality systems, while others were through non-linear films. Here the audience would have the ability to determine the next part of the story by popular vote.

On opening night on Sept. 15, the feature chosen to kickstart the festival was “RATS” directed by Morgan Spurlock. Spurlock is best known for his popular documentary “Supersize Me” detailing the hazards of the McDonald’s restaurant chain and the fast food industry in general.

Originally inspired by the New York Times bestseller “RATS” by Robert Sullivan, this film details the growing epidemic the rat population poses in New York City as well as other major cities around the world. This documentary shocked everyone with scenes of hundreds of rats crawling through sewers and in and out of garbage bags. Even worse than this were the disease ridden body parts viewers were exposed to and the gruesome ways other countries attempt to eradicate the rat threat.

Other films that were showcased consisted of topics such as the United States’ secret nuclear mishaps, which actually occurred on U.S. soil, as well as a story about autism and how one young man and his family overcame the difficulties the condition causes within a family. There was also a film that discussed bird movements and another featuring color guard teams, along with a movie that attempts to answer the question, “What makes someone truly happy?”

One of the most intriguing films dealt with a controversial topic here in the States. “National Bird” directed by Sonia Kennebeck followed three characters who were deemed ‘whistleblowers’ after they described their experiences working with unmanned military drones. For those who had little to no knowledge of what the drone program was before this, they may have found the mental toll that this program has on workers very interesting. They only have a series of unclear images from the drones to determine whether or not to pull the trigger. The film also made audience members aware of how many innocents are at risk through this program and what kind of mistakes have been made with the use of these drones before.

Other films included, but were not limited to, dealing with immigrants, watching people attempting a high dive, a 360-degree tour of Chernobyl today and rebellious uprisings. However, these are not the only topics explored by these filmmakers, including closer to home settings and events from the shooting in Newtown, Conn. to the life of television writer and producer Norman Lear.

One of the Storyforms also discussed the Maribor uprisings. The people of Maribor, a city in Slovenia, revolted against their area’s elected official. As an audience member I was able to vote at certain points in the film as if I were a filmmaker on the scene of Maribor. I could choose to interview people to learn more, leave the peaceful protestors to follow violent ones, watch secret footage taken by police, or to follow certain characters around. This type of film experience was very informative in that it showed us how one chooses to perceive a story. Each decision we made determined what parts of the film we would be allowed to see. Each decision created a new story.ciff

The collection of films gathered over the past year for this festival succeeded in impressing audience members. The wide variety of genres and styles truly captured the essence of the documentary style in both fun and innovative ways. It also allowed us to have a great insight into the art of filming.

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