Maine Mineral and Gem Museum founder Larry Stifler watched “Meteorites & the Epic Story of Our Origins.” Photo by Jen Widor Smith

“In this line of work, you become these miniexperts for this little bit of time, and then you move onto something else.”

That’s Maine filmmaker Jennifer Widor Smith of Portland’s filmmaking collective The Story Board, and her words should ring bells for any other professional filmmakers for whom their chosen career is a seemingly never-ending hustle of finding commercial clients, making professional-quality films to their specifications, and managing to squeeze just a little bit of yourself into the final product. All that when trying to nurture your own creative (nonpaying) work in the barely existent downtime. Luckily, for Smith, sometimes what seems like just another gig-for-hire turns out to be a rewarding, creative experience, right here in Maine.

“Meteorites & the Epic Story of Our Origins” is the 3-minute film Widor made over a period of five years on behalf of Bethel’s Maine Mineral and Gem Museum, the centerpiece of the museum’s already impressive exhibit chronicling the unthinkably vast journey of those little fragments of space, all the way from the Big Bang to the humble patches of Earth where lucky and/or diligent people scoop them up. Her film shows at regular, 30-minute intervals in the museum’s meteorite gallery (or can be played on demand, if you can’t wait for the fun), and complements the museum’s impressive and educational display of actual meteorites and moon rocks. (Smith, now a museum habitué, explains happily that the Maine Mineral and Gem Museum is one of the few such places where patrons can actually touch some of the exhibits.) 

Still, it’s a long way from accomplished professional filmmaker to science-heavy documentarian, and Smith’s journey itself found her discovering that what looked like another ordinary gig turned out to be something exceptionally beautiful, rare and valuable. You know, sort of like finding a meteorite in your back yard.

Filmmaker Jen Widor Smith seeing her show at the Maine Mineral & Gem Museum. Photo by Barbra Barrett

“Oh, goodness, no,” is Smith’s laughing response when asked if she was knowledgeable about the subject of space rocks before she started working with the museum in 2013. Initially approached by the museum planning and design firm Paulus Design Group and its Maine-based owner Jay Paulus, Smith explains, “Jay’s got exhibits everywhere, including the Smithsonian, but he lives here, and is always looking for an opportunity to work in Maine. That’s their thing which I really appreciate — they wanted to represent Maine voices in the exhibit, and to work with Maine-based collaborators.”

Once Smith came on board, that Maine-centric ethos only grew, as “Meteorites & the Epic Story of Our Origins” gathered more and more Maine talent on its trajectory to its final destination as the museum’s showstopper. An immersive, 3-D experience for visitors, the short film is projected on the museum wall (where Smith’s meticulous research into digital mapping alongside the animation whizzes at South Portland’s Sputnik Animation means the celestial action appears to be coming right at you), and on several video screens located around the gallery. The sound follows suit, with Smith praising Portland sound designer Michael McInnis for helping her make it sound as if the myriad meteorites are whizzing by viewers’ heads from all angles. All the while, the narration (written by Smith and her Story Board collaborator Allen Baldwin, with copious and rigorous vetting by the science pros from the museum) provides just the right mix of the awestruck and the educational, with Maine-based actress Denise Poirier (formerly the voice of animated superheroine Aeon Flux) lending some of her own gravitas to the dizzyingly entertaining experience. 

For Smith, this single job expanded into a uniquely rewarding five-year exercise in learning and growing as a filmmaker, and networking with a galaxy’s worth of other hardworking professionals finding their own success stories right here in Maine. Explains Smith of the richness of moviemaking talent all around us, “There’s a reason that people live in Maine. It’s the quality of life that attracts a lot of professionals and experts in their field that choose to live in Maine.” Plus, as Smith puts it about the folks at the Maine Mineral and Gem Museum, “They’re like my family now—my museum family.” 

You can see “Meteorites & the Epic Story of Our Origins” and other sparkly, interstellar wonders at the Maine Mineral and Gem Museum in Bethel. For ticket prices and hours, go to mainemineralmuseum.org or call (207) 824-3036.

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


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