WATERVILLE — A man donning a black mask and with moss growing on his clothes removes screws from an old wooden coffin standing upright against a tree in the forest.

The coffin cover falls away and out glides a beautiful, blonde young woman dressed in linen and wearing ballet toe shoes.

Her name is “Elysia,” and she is entering the afterlife for a day to reconnect with her mother.

What follows is a mesmerizing journey through the woods and fields of New Sharon, Maine, as Elysia searches for her mother and greets those she had known in young life.

“Really, the film is about my relationship with Maine — my childhood, my memories of it,” said Noah LePage, who wrote the screenplay “Elysia,” and directed the short film. “It’s about the memories we cling to when we think of life and death.”

LePage, a native of New Sharon now living in Brooklyn, New York, was speaking Saturday in the lobby of the Waterville Opera House about his 24-minute film which was screened minutes later as part of the Maine Shorts Program in the 21st annual Maine International Film Festival.

His was the first of nine shorts shown to an audience of about 75 film enthusiasts, including those who directed, starred in or produced the works. The shorts program was sponsored by David and Lisa Lessard.

All the films have some connection to Maine, according to Karen Young, programmer for the festival’s shorts programs, including animated shorts, which were shown earlier in the day, and international shorts, to be shown at noon Sunday at Railroad Square Cinema.

On Saturday, shorts topics ranged from LePage’s “Elysia,” whose exquisite cinematography of the Maine woods and performances by Elysia Roorbach in the lead role and Robin Lisherness, who portrays her father, are compelling.

Other shorts included “Invisible Hands,” an 18-minute documentary directed by Grace Yu which follows art handlers at the Colby College Museum of Art as they prepare, behind the scenes, for exhibitions; “Popul(asian): 356,” a documentary by Annie Lee that asks Colby students what it means to be Asian at the college; and “The Ten Mile Yard Sale,” a documentary by Mark Cooley and Derek Ellis about the annual lawn sale that stretches from Cornville to Skowhegan which drew raucous laughter from Saturday’s audience.

“They’re so important because every director starts with a short film,” Young said of shorts before the program Saturday. “There’s not a director that didn’t start with a short film.”

Doing a short film is where a director learns to tell actors and crew what to do — and being a good director takes experience, according to Young.

LePage, writer and director of “Elysia,” graduated this spring from New York University, where he majored in film and technical production.

“Elysia was my thesis film for undergraduates studies at NYU,” he said.

LePage grew up in New Sharon, graduated in 2014 from Mt. Blue High School in Farmington where he made films, and continued to do so after enrolling in NYU. One of the films he made as a teenager, “Home,” was, like “Elysia,” filmed in the woods behind his New Sharon home and was the film that got him into college, he said.

He made “Elysia” as he was dealing with deaths in his family and change. Roorbach, whose father is author Bill Roorbach, and whose mother, Juliet Karelsen, also appears late in the film, was a friend of LePage’s and he had previously directed her in a play.

“She came into my head when I thought of the role of Elysia,” he said.

Lisherness, of Strong, also is a friend and fellow thespian with whom LePage acted in “A Christmas Carol.” When he was writing “Elysia,” he had Lisherness in mind for the part, he said. Though Lisherness is a longtime community theater actor and director who taught English and theater at Skowhegan Area High School for many years, he had never appeared in a film. Lisherness is as natural onscreen as he is on stage. Like Lisherness, LePage learned to love the stage while in school.

“I was into theater when I was growing up — acting, especially,” LePage said. “Then I started watching film when I was in seventh, eighth grades. I realized film is a perfect combination of everything I’d been interested in. I kind of get to do it all with film.”

LePage said he plans to go to France for a year and make movies.

“I made a movie in France two years ago and will make another one in September,” he said.

The Maine and international shorts programs will be shown again July 21 as part of Making It in Maine Day, a daylong celebration of Maine-made and Maine-associated films. The 41st Annual Maine Student Film & Video Festival, a free event that celebrates the best in student filmmaking achievement, will be featured, as will the Maine Film Forum, sponsored by the Maine Film Office. The forum is an educational and networking event for guest filmmakers, film festival leaders, educators and representatives from the Maine Film Office. A presentation on the history of women behind the scenes in Hollywood will be on tap and those attending will take part in learning and discussion sessions.

“Making It in Maine Day is a celebration of all-things-film in Maine, from reel to reality,” said festival Director Mike Perreault. “Bringing together filmmakers, educators who teach and use filmmaking in the classroom, and leaders of the festivals that exhibit these works in Maine is a unique experience that can only be found at MIFF.”

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

Twitter: @AmyCalder17

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