The first film ever shot in Maine was at one point thought to be lost forever. That was until 2010, when a tinted nitrate print of the 1910 film “Jean the Match-Maker” was found in the New Zealand Film Archive and restored under the direction of the Library of Congress.

Colorized postcard image of “Jean the Vitagraph Dog” from Maine, who starred in silent movies seen around the world. Image courtesy of Maine in the Movies

When Mike Perreault and Tom Wilhite of the Maine Film Center were organizing a film festival to celebrate the state’s bicentennial, they decided to honor Maine’s oldest film and its history by commissioning a new score for the film and screening the movie nearly 20 times over the course of the Maine in the Movies film festival.

“Tom (Wilhite) was a former executive at Disney so he has a lot of Hollywood connections,” Perreault said. “So we connected with a composer out in Los Angeles, Mikel Hurwitz.”

Hurwitz has composed scores for television movies, feature length films, documentaries and commercials and studied under Academy Award winning composer Danny Elfman, who created scores for films such as 1989’s “Batman” and “The Nightmare Before Christmas.”

“Jean the Match-Maker,” which was shot in Portland during the summer of 1910, was originally a completely silent film. This is something Hurwitz said was common for that time period.

“The original film was silent. I never heard music synced to it,” Hurwitz said during a phone call Wednesday. “It was common in the era of silent films for a musician to sit at a piano and come up with a score as it screened to accompany the film. … The reason that all started is because the film projectors were really loud and it took people out of the film experience.” 

The score Hurwitz created for use at the film festival used a live octet comprised of a string quartet, a piano, a clarinet, a flute and a bassoon. It was recorded five days before the festival launched March 5.

“I thought it was important to pay homage to the film and the era, how things might have sounded back in the day if there was a small ensemble that played along,” Hurwitz said. “So I decided to do a score of all live instruments as opposed to using synthesizers.”

The film stars Jean, a black and white collie that became the first animal movie star — before Lassie, Toto and Rin Tin Tin debuted. Jean belonged to Laurence Trimble, who was born in Robbinston and made 60 films before moving to Britain in 1913, with more than a dozen featuring Jean. In his lifetime Trimble made more than 100 movies.

It’s a story that’s humorous and lighthearted. … It’s a really unique experience,” Perreault said. 

Hurwitz’s score reflects the film’s whimsy.

“It’s a light and cute film, so I used a couple of those themes and kept it pretty traditional,” Hurwitz said. “It’s fairly classical, an early romantic era of classical music in terms of melody driving the music, fairly simple harmonic language and not too rhythmically complex and playful in order to bring the film to life.”

Hurwitz has composed scores for other silent films.

Typically I work on newer projects,” Hurwitz said, “but a couple years back I toured, doing live performances where I’d compose a score over a silent film that was screened while I played.” 

Hurwitz was unable to make it to Maine to see his creation on the big screen, but he said he hopes there will be another Maine in the Movies festival next year so he can attend.

“I loved it (the project). I wish I could’ve seen it in theaters,” Hurwitz said. “I’m really happy with how this turned out … hopefully next year there’s another one (festival) so I can make it out.”

The festival was organized by the Maine Film Center in collaboration with 19 other arts and education organizations and independent cinemas. Thirty-five films shot or set in Maine were chosen to screen in 17 cities over the course of the 10-day festival.

“Jean the Match-Maker” is a 13-minute single reel film and has been paired up to screen before films that are under two hours such as “Wet Hot American Summer,” “Blow the Man Down,” “Whales of August” and “The House of Dark Shadows.”

Perreault said the response from movie-goers at the festival has been overwhelmingly positive.

“People are really interested to see the film,” Perreault said. “And what I think is really amazing is that though it’s a silent film and completely visual, we have children come and watch it and are completely transfixed with what they’re seeing. You’d think they’d need more stimulation than a silent film can give, but no, they’re fascinated.”

The project was sponsored by First National Bank, for which Perreault said the film center is “incredibly grateful.”

Remaining screenings for “Jean the Match-Maker” can be found on the film center’s website — mainefilmcenter.org.

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