Dispatches from MIFF: Part 2

Ken Jones

  • OnScreen Chief Film Critic

In Part 1, I shared the first day of my experience at my first film festival, the Maine International Film Festival in Waterville, ME. Sunday consisted of 4 films spread over nearly 12 hours. On my Monday, my second and last day of the festival, the screenings did not start until 3pm. Having my early afternoon free, I ventured across the Kennebec River for a lunch at an establishment called Big G’s Deli. The emphasis was on the big. The sandwich I got was basically the size of two whole sandwiches. They had giant whoopee pies and cookies, but I was too full to try them. After that, I made my way back to the Waterville Opera House for my first film of the day and the one I was looking forward to the most…

Day 2 (Monday July 18th):

The Trip To Spain (3:30pm)

Anyone who has seen The Trip or The Trip To Italy knows that these are very funny British films. Across the pond, they have aired as a TV series on BBC and are then edited into a film. Michael Winterbottom is the director of the series, with Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon starring as fictionalized versions of themselves. As much as I enjoyed the previous two films, I might have laughed the hardest at this one. The format is exactly the same, in which Steve and Rob spend a week driving from location to location and sampling some of the best food in the region to write about for a newspaper. This time, it’s Spain. The food looks amazing, and made me hungry even though I had a full stomach. They poke fun at all kinds of stuff here, including the critical success of Coogan’s Philomena. And of course there are impressions galore of Michael Caine, Al Pacino, David Bowie, and Mick Jagger. In one particularly funny bit, a conversation about the Spanish Inquisition turns into a mock game show. Coogan and Brydon are wildly entertaining together and I hope they keep making more of these in the future. This releases in August and I would expect to see it appear for streaming on Netflix within the year.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Nobody’s Watching (6:15pm)

I went into it a little let down, because I found out after I had reserved bought my ticket in advance for this screening that they were holding a screening of Prisoners at the same time and they would be presenting Roger Deakins with an award afterward. Deakins is a phenomenal cinematographer, and that would have been cool to be on hand for. But Nobody’s Watching ended up being a real delight. It’s a tale about an Argentinian actor named Nico who was famous for a role on a soap opera in his home country trying to make it as an actor in New York City. Struggling to make ends meet, he spends his time as the manny to his friend’s baby son. Lacking any connections, his acting career is floundering, and the stereotypes he struggles with in casting calls do him no favors. Also, part of the reason he is in New York and not Buenos Aries is that he had a bad break-up with Martin, the producer of the soap he was on. The film explores the isolation of the immigrant experience. It’s a personal, intimate film in a giant city. Guillermo Pfening, the actor who portrays Nico, won a Best Actor award at Tribeca for his performance in this film. After the film ended, the director, Julia Solomonoff, participated in a Q&A session with the audience that was very illuminating and engaging, and she talked at length about how her experience of splitting time between Buenos Aries and New York informed the story and how she didn’t want to make a film about all immigrants, but to tell an individual’s story.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Strange Weather (9:30pm)

The last film of the night was Strange Weather from director Katherine Dieckmann. It stars Holly Hunter as Darcy Baylor, a woman who discovers new information about her son’s suicide from 8 years ago that sends her on a road trip to confront someone. That someone is a former friend of her sons who stole his business model and turned it into a multi-million dollar chain of hot dog restaurants. Accompanying her along the ride is her neighbor Byrd, played by Carrie Coon. Hunter is such a great actress and she so rarely gets a chance to carry a film anymore, but here she shines. Darcy comes across as someone who has been spinning her wheels for the past 8 years, unable to completely move past the loss of her son and do something with the rest of her life. Her experience here provides the impetus for that to happen. Carrie Coon, best known for HBO’s The Leftovers and, most recently, season 3 of Fargo on FX, is also a terrific actress. A large portion of this film is Holly Hunter and Carrie Coon on a road trip, and anyone who appreciates good actors can’t be too disappointed in that scenario.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed my trip to Waterville for MIFF. I wish I had been able to stay for a few more days. I fully intend on attending next year and hopefully for several days. Everybody knows about Sundance, SXSW, TIFF, Tribeca, and other famous festivals, but look locally and you might discover a film festival in your own neck of the woods. And if you have a love for film, check them out; you’re almost guaranteed to discover something that you can enjoy.