The Maine International Film Festival is still slated for July but may operate differently due to the restrictions brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.

“We’re proceeding subject to the guidance of medical professionals and any mandates that may be put into place,” said Mike Perreault, executive director of the Maine Film Center and the film festival. “We’re predicting it’s not going to be exactly the same festival that we’ve offered for the last two decades because of how circumstances have changed.”

The festival, which will celebrate its 23rd year this summer, is a project of the Maine Film Center, a local nonprofit that aims to educate and entertain through art and film. The center also operates Railroad Square Cinema in Waterville.

Ken Eisen, the festival’s programming director, said it’s too early to know if the festival will need to be changed but that organizers are considering options such as restricting audience sizes for screenings or postponing the festival altogether if needed.

It’s too early to know. MIFF is three months away and things are changing so rapidly,” Eisen said during a phone call on Saturday. “And obviously we’re not going to have the festival in the normal way if it’s going to harm someone.”

But unlike other events that have moved to an online format, Eisen said that’s not in the cards for MIFF.

“The one thing we can’t consider doing is screening the festival online,” Eisen said. “We believe films need to be presented in a theatrical setting and it’s not the same just watching them at home.”

The festival is hosted at the Waterville Opera House which seats 810 and at the three theaters at Railroad Square Cinema.

The restrictions issued by Gov. Mills to help mitigate the spread of the coronavirus included a two week closure of nonessential businesses and a 30-day stay-at-home-order, set to expire on April 30.

This week Mills announced the state would extend its state of emergency until May 15 which would allow the governor to extend the stay-at-home order if needed and implement new restrictions if the virus continues to spread.

The extension was issued on a day that confirmed COVID-19 cases in the state topped 700 and a 20th death was announced.

As of Friday afternoon, there were 827 confirmed cases of COVID-19 statewide and 29 deaths.

“All options are on the table, but we haven’t fully decided what to do yet because the situation has been changing so much,” Perreault said. “I know people will be very anxious to get out of their homes and that’s the magic of MIFF. We build community through the festival, and we want to do that as ethically and practically as possible.”  

The lineup for the festival is still in the works and is expected to be finalized in the beginning of June. Last year’s festival screened 100 films including “Blow the Man Down,” which was shot in and around Harpswell, Cundy’s Harbor, Bailey Island, Orr’s Island and Phippsburg.

In an update released to film center members, Eisen said organizers have been hard at work viewing movies to screen at the festival.

“(W)e film programmers for the Maine International Film Festival (currently still scheduled for July 10-19) have been frying our eyeballs with films we’re considering as festival selections,” Eisen wrote.

Perreault said the support the film center has gotten from the community during the pandemic has been remarkable.

Our community has been so so supportive of the Maine Film Center, Railroad Square and MIFF over the last month,” Perreault said. “Just with renewing memberships, buying memberships … that support is so critical to the work we do as a nonprofit so we want to acknowledge how great everyone has been.”

Updates and information about the film festival can be found on its website, miff.org.


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