This year’s Maine International Film Festival will hold screenings outdoors at the Skowhegan Drive-In Movie Theatre at 201 Waterville Road. The film festival is being dedicated to people of color who have lost their lives at the hands of racist violence.

As protests continue across the country over the police killing of a black man, the Maine Film Center has decided to dedicate the 23rd annual Maine International Film Festival this summer to people of color who have lost their lives because of racist violence.

The announcement by the Waterville-based center comes amid worldwide protests against police brutality following the death of George Floyd, a black man from Minneapolis who died May 25 while being arrested by Officer Derek Chauvin.

Protests have been held across Maine, including in Waterville this week.

The festival lineup was selected before a wave of protests began last week. It features films that speak to relevant issues in today’s America, according to Ken Eisen, program director for the festival.

Ken Eisen, program director for the Maine International Film festival.

“We didn’t change the programming to fit this,” Eisen said Thursday. “All of the features were selected before the events of the last week.

“The films that were selected reflect the commitment we have to feature black filmmakers, which is something we do anyway, but three out of the nine feature films at the festival deal directly with these issues that have arisen.” 

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the festival this year sill screen its features at the Skowhegan Drive-In Movie Theatre to abide by social distancing guidelines set by the state and the Center for Disease Control & Prevention.

The festival, known as MIFF, is typically held at the 810-seat Waterville Opera House and Railroad Square Cinema, which has three screens, in Waterville. The drive-in theater at 201 Waterville Road can accommodate about 350 cars.

The centerpiece of the festival, which will run from July 7 to July 16, is the world premiere of “American Thief,” a thriller directed by Miguel Silveira that takes place during the 2016 presidential election.

In the festival’s final feature, “The Last Shift,” a white, Midwestern, working-class man discovers unsettling truths about himself and the world around him when he starts training Jevon, a bright, young black man who will replace him at a fast-food restaurant.

Along with featuring multiple works by black creators, festival organizers are in the process of finding a charity that supports the training, development, production, funding and distribution of black films and filmmakers.  Attendees if MIFF will have opportunities to donate online and at the box office.

“We as a staff feel really strongly that as an organization, especially in light of COVID-19, many exhibitors are not even able to share films at all,” said Mike Perreault, executive director of the Maine Film Center. “It presents us with a great responsibility to bring light to these issues, and we wanted to do our part to make a statement and support the work of black filmmakers.”

Because of the location change, festival organizers have had to reduce the number of films that will be screened.

“We usually present about 60 features each year at MIFF,” Eisen said. “This year, with our slimmer program, I am thrilled to be able to share some of the absolute best of the best that we usually show: 10 carloads of films that our audiences can truly discover — almost all are major premieres — for themselves.”

Part of the festival will also be available online for audiences to stream.

The festival is a project of the Maine Film Center, a local nonprofit that seeks to educate and entertain through art and film. The center also operates Railroad Square Cinema in Waterville.

The full lineup and tickets information for the film festival can be found at miff.org.

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