WATERVILLE — Director Louise Milne and producer Sean Martin went through a list of festivals last year and decided, based on timing and curiosity, to premiere their new entry in North America at the Maine International Film Festival.

This year, the Scottish filmmakers are back with a world premiere of their latest film, “The Druids: Travels in Deep England.” This time, “it was a really informed choice,” Milne said.

When Milne learned of the MIFF deadlines, she accelerated work on mixing the film’s sound. Milne and Martin will both present the premiere screenings tonight and Friday.

“We came here for the first time last year and I just thought this was a terrific film festival,” Milne said Wednesday. “It’s an incredibly well curated collection of films and it really does have an international film quality. I thought it would be real neat to have the world premiere here; it was totally deliberate. This is kind of a good kick-off for us, because it’s in the States, and it’s also the world, American premiere. We’ll also have a European premiere, somewhere like Amsterdam.”

A handful of other films are being shown publicly for the first time at this year’s festival in Waterville: “The Acceptance,” “In Good Time,” “Finding Donn Fendler,” and “The American Folk Festival.” Such screenings, however, aren’t always considered “world premieres” like Milne’s film, according to festival programmer Ken Eisen.

“Sometimes we host world premieres that we can’t and don’t officially advertise as such because the term ‘world premiere’ is sought after by some high-profile festivals … for whom it’s a matter of prestige,” Eisen said, such as those in Toronto and Sundance. “For us, it’s not. We just care that the film is good. Hence, sometimes we call the screening a ‘sneak preview’ or ‘work in progress’ showing, to avoid getting in the way of a film’s chances for recognition elsewhere.”

In other cases, films are premiering for the first time in a geographic region, but they’re not necessarily advertised that way. And many of the short films at MIFF have never been publicly screened before.

At the 2001 MIFF, festival-goers were treated to a “sneak preview” of “In the Bedroom,” a film that starred Tom Wilkinson and Sissy Spacek (that year’s recipient of the festival’s Mid-Life Achievement Award). The film already had its first screening at Sundance, but its showing at MIFF was the second public screening, and it went on to gross $35.9 million in domestic ticket sales.

Milne and Martin plan to show “The Druids” at a few more U.S. film festivals, but deciding to premiere it at MIFF was an easy choice. They like the variety of films, directors and styles, and the opportunity to meet and speak with filmmakers and fans.

Milne said the genesis of the new film began while she helped Martin, for a separate project, shoot a modern pagan ritual at a stone circle near the Bristol airport in England. It was near Halloween, and afterward Milne visited a nearby tiny village and its pub, called “The Druid’s Arms.”

“After the ceremony all the Druids, still in costume, were in the pub having their lunch and so I got to talking to a few of them and I thought, ‘This is a fascinating bunch of people; this is a real cross-section of modern Britain.'”

Among the robed Druids was a drug counselor, a shepherd, a professor of history, a science fiction author, a New Age shopkeeper and a computer programmer.

Despite the celebratory ritual, these people were far removed from the historical Druids and Celtic priests who battled the Romans 2,000 years ago and of whom very little is actually known. The people Milne met in the pub seemed a culmination of many movements — from the New Age spiritual movement, to the sustainability “green” movement, to a mainstream fascination with both fantasy and nature.

The ones who take being a Druid seriously must study for eight years to earn membership to the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids, Milne said.

“So not everyone who shows up in the robes at the circles during the solstice is a totally qualified Druid,” she said. “They go there and they celebrate the passing of the year, of being part of the great ordered cosmos. They certainly believe in the spirit of the Earth.”

Milne set out in her film to investigate these people and the popularity with Druidic beliefs, particularly its interest in Somerset, England — the West Country that “likes to think of itself as the mysterious waste, where King Arthur was from.”

“I thought, ‘Why has this become so popular? What it is it about this that appeals to such a wide cross-section of modern British people, and what does it tell us about modernity, about the 21st century, that all these guys — men, women, children, ordinary people — come along as well?” Milne said. “I found myself completely charmed by these people. What I try to do in the film — it doesn’t mock them at all, but it does maintain a little sort of distance from the things they say. They themselves don’t take themselves too seriously. They’re very normal, sane people.”

Milne think “The Druids” has a lot to offer MIFF goers.

“I hope they will be intrigued by these characters and to some extent entertained by them and emphasize with them,” Milne said. “And by the end of it, what initially looks quite eccentric is in fact much more central to the way that we think now than anyone might suspect. So, I think maybe it will be a revelation about your own essential paganism.”

Scott Monroe — 861-9239

[email protected]

FILMS PREMIERING AT MIFF

The Acceptance

The Druids

In Good Time

Finding Donn Fendler

The American Folk Festival

“The Druids: Travels in Deep England”

Tonight, 6 p.m. & Friday 9:15 p.m.

Railroad Square Cinema

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