A statewide film festival showcasing movies shot or set in Maine will kick off Thursday at the Waterville Opera House with a screening of the newly restored 1945 film “Leave Her to Heaven.”

The Maine in the Movies film festival, a celebratory event for the state’s bicentennial, will screen 35 Maine-themed films in 17 communities statewide from March 5 to March 15.

The festival was organized by the Maine Film Center, a Waterville-based nonprofit group, in collaboration with 19 arts and education organizations and independent cinemas.

Mike Perreault, executive director of the center, said the idea for the festival was hatched shortly after last year’s John Ford 125 Years film festival, a 10-day event that screened movies from the Maine-born filmmaker in eight Maine communities.

“Not long after we ran the John Ford 125 Year program, we looked at the calendar and thought, since it was the bicentennial, why not create a wider program, expand it to more venues,” Perreault said. “So we reached out to theaters we worked with — and new ones — and asked about what would be engaging for local audiences.”

Opening night in Waterville will feature a screening of “Leave Her to Heaven,” a 1945 noir film based on the novel by Ben Ames Williams, a native Mississippian who lived in Searsmont and set many of his best known works in Maine.

Before the screening, Ben Ames Williams’ grandson, Tim Williams, will introduce the film and discuss his grandfather’s work and legacy in Maine.

“My grandfather died when I was 4 so I don’t remember him,” Tim Williams said Monday in a telephone interview. “But I have some family stories that I can share, some behind-the-scenes stories, to give a vignette of who my grandfather was. I’m not an expert, but if someone has a question, I can answer it.”

Tim Williams, who was born in Portland and has lived most of his life in Maine, said his grandfather’s love for the state was undeniable. 

“He was born in Jackson, Mississippi, but he spent all of his summers and falls in Union, Maine,” Tim Williams said. “So Maine was his adopted state. He loved it and thought it was the greatest place on Earth. I think that’s why the books he wrote were set in Maine.”  

Thursday’s event is co-presented with the Maine Publishers & Writers Alliance, the Maine Historical Society and Colby College Special Collections.

In his research for the festival, Perreault said he found a minimum of 80 features shot or set in Maine over the past 110 years. The festival lineup includes films from as early as 1910, with “Jean the Match-Maker,” to the latest features, such as “The Lighthouse” and “Blow the Man Down,” both released in 2019.

“We’ve made so many connections putting this festival together it was a process of discovery,” Perreault said. “And I’m really excited for people to watch these films that have showcased Maine over the last 110 years.”

The festival will screen films of all genres for viewers of all ages, according to information from the Maine Film Center. Some movies will be shown in the communities where they were shot or are set, such as the documentary “Belfast,” which will screen Saturday at the Colonial Theatre in Belfast, and “Empire Falls,” which will screen March 15 at Railroad Square Cinema in Waterville.

To mark Women’s History Month, the festival will screen Hedy Lamarr’s “The Strange Woman” and Bette Davis’ “A Stolen Life” on Wednesday, March 11.

The same day, “The Strange Woman” is scheduled for 4 p.m. in Brunswick, to be introduced by Tricia Welsch, head of cinema studies at Bowdoin College, and “A Stolen Life” is set for 7 p.m. in Freeport and will be introduced by author Mark Griffin.

Both films were produced in 1946, a time when the film industry was dominated by men, and have ties to Maine, according to information from the film center.

Other films screening during the festival include “Bambi,” “The Iron Giant,” “Olive Kitteridge,” “Charlotte’s Web,” “The Shawshank Redemption,” “Way Down East” and “Carousel.”

The full festival schedule can be found on the film center’s website — www.mainefilmcenter.org.

Organizations and theaters co-presenting the festival are: The Colonial Theatre and Waterfall Arts, Belfast; The Gem Theater, Bethel; Harbor Theater, Boothbay; Alamo Theatre and Northeast Historic Film, Bucksport; Bowdoin College Cinema Studies and Eveningstar Cinema, Brunswick; Lincoln Theater, Damariscotta; Arts & Culture Alliance of Freeport and Nordica Theater, Freeport; Temple Cinema, Houlton; Bates College Rhetoric, Film and Screen Studies, Lewiston; Waterman’s Community Center, North Haven; Spotlight Cinemas, Orono; Maine Historical Society and Maine Publishers & Writers Alliance, Portland; Strand Theatre, Rockland; Spotlight Cinemas at the Strand, Skowhegan; Opera House Arts, Stonington; Waldo Theater and Medomak Valley High School, Waldoboro; and Colby College Cinema Studies, Waterville Opera House and Railroad Square Cinema, Waterville.  

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