Bucks Harbor lobsterman Wayne Robinson in a scene from “When The Chevy Breaks,” a film made by students at UMaine Machias. Courtesy of Alan Kryszak

Two new Maine-made documentaries are screening on Thursday. While that might create a conflict for curious viewers looking to see what two talented Maine-based filmmakers are up to, the films are different – and far away – enough from each other that there shouldn’t be much overlap in the audiences. Or so you’d think.

Alan Kryszak, who teaches filmmaking in the University of Maine at Machias’ Interdisciplinary Fine Arts Department, is premiering “When The Chevy Breaks (How Small Towns Fix Big Problems)” at 6 p.m. Thursday at the University of Maine at Machias Performing Arts Center. As with his previous film on the immigration debate in Maine, “Who Made You In America?” Kryszak sent his student filmmakers out into their Down East communities to talk to Mainers – this time, about a problem they personally have had to solve in the course of their lives and/or how Down East residents approach problem-solving generally.

Whittled down from some 90 hours of interviews, “When The Chevy Breaks” finds Mainers responding with a variety of inspiring anecdotes. A Lubec woman explains how the unexpected departure of the fishing town’s brining shed (it literally floated away to Canada) led to her publishing a book on the subject. A Maine seafood company’s ingenuity led to “salmon on a stick,” a delicacy that can be eaten while walking the county fair. A couple’s devastating loss of their historic home to a fire was met with community love and support. A veteran opened a computer and video game system repair shop in a shed-like building on his rural property. A middle-aged couple shows how being taught to catch elvers has allowed them to discover a new living, providing Maine eels to places as far away as China and South Korea.

There’s an unassuming shagginess to “When the Chevy Breaks” that harmonizes with the unassuming can-do spirit of its subjects. At one point a hitchhiking taxidermist in Eastport talks about his plan to hike to the top of Mt. Katahdin despite having lost a leg to gout. And the film is bookended by footage of Machias’ Margaretta Days Festival, an annual celebration where re-enactors play out a historic Down East Revolutionary War battle, when local settlers and native people joined to repel a British ship. Providing echoes of what one interviewee calls the area’s “ethic of self-sufficiency,” the humble festival’s eager participants relish in a long-ago event where the image of a small town solving the problem of a massive empire’s warlike presence still engenders civic pride. Still, there’s a thoughtfulness to the film, as when a local boat-builder ruminates in his one-person home shop, “Bootstraps – that’s kind of a mythical thing anyways. Because everyone needs help.”

“When the Chevy Breaks” posits that for Mainers, running from your problems isn’t an option. But Portland-based filmmaker Benjamin Keller’s “Just One Step,” screening at 7 p.m. Thursday at the University of Southern Maine’s Talbot Auditorium in Portland, puts forth the idea that a lack of running might just be the problem in the first place. An appropriately energetic examination of the sport (or hobby, passion or obsession) of quickly putting one foot in front of the other, “Just One Step” juxtaposes interviews with running enthusiasts, colorful footage of runners doing their thing in all manner of races and environments, and scientists who make enough of a case that the simple act of running improves your life that you might just be tempted to dig those old trainers out of the closet.

Taking the long view of an activity that, let’s face it, modern people have much less practical use for than when we had to catch our dinner (or become something’s dinner), Keller’s documentary celebration fairly sprints by, keeping pace with a jaunty score from Portland musician Samuel James (who can be seen doing his daily run as onscreen graphics and an offscreen professor explain just what beneficial physical and chemical processes are going on in Sam’s mind and body). The film brings together disparate running advocates who cite everything from the Bible to mental health studies to meditation techniques to the biochemical processes unleashed by running to extol the virtues of hauling ourselves off of our couches and hitting the road.

As one particularly no-nonsense academic puts it when discussing animals deprived of regular exercise, “They’re smaller, they’re dumber, they’re more aggressive and they don’t fit in socially.” Jeez, no pressure there, doc. On a more positive note, a marathon champ explains that his lifelong love of running stems form a desire to “want to be part of a group that is positive and wants to be a part of a positive type of lifestyle.” And sure, for counterbalance, Keller does linger over shots of extreme runners collapsing on the ground while someone else has to take off their sneakers for them, but “Just One Step” is a fun and informative (if sedentary) celebration of the simple, attainable joys of movement.

“When the Chevy Breaks (How Small Towns Fix Big Problems)” screens at UMaine Machias’ Performing Arts Center on Thursday at 6 p.m. The film is 80 minutes, and the screening is free and open to the public.

“Just One Step” shows at USM Portland’s Talbot Auditorium on Thursday at 7 p.m. The film is 81 minutes and tickets are $10 in advance, $15 on the day at justonestepmovie.com.

Dennis Perkins is a freelance writer who lives in Auburn with his wife and cat.


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