Maine filmmakers have been through a lot the past two years. What’s already a complex, resource-draining, and creatively fraught process of making independent films (in Maine, of all places) has been, in the time of shutdowns, lockdowns and restrictive yet utterly necessary safety precautions, become even more of a grind. And, as filmmakers, writers and other lonely creative types know, it’s the grind that gets you. 

Sometimes what you need is a quick, no-nonsense hard ending date to jolt you out of your doldrums, is what this veteran of surprise deadlines is saying. And, hey, if there’s the promise of some serious cash at the end of it, that’s just extra incentive to crack your knuckles and get rolling. 

Enter the Maine Film Association’s 2022 MFA Winter Film Challenge. 

“At the Maine Film Association, we’re always thinking about how we can help the Maine film scene,” explains MFA Vice President Emma Gregg about this new all-Maine filmmaking contest. Gregg, a six-year Maine resident and veteran of such Maine-set and -filmed productions as “Allagash” and “Blow The Man Down,” notes of her experience in working with Maine filmmakers, “I have never experienced a film scene so giving, with people so excited to be on a project and just being creative.”

Still, as Gregg notes, the pandemic has been especially tough for Maine’s movie community. “Film is such a collaborative medium, and the pandemic has made it so hard for people to connect and to be collaborative. And we’re not out of the pandemic by any means, but we at the MFA thought the Winter Film Challenge would be a way to bring Maine filmmakers together, to make sure that they continue to be supported, and to let the next generation of filmmakers know that this is a potential career, that this is a way people in Maine make a living. Plus, it’s an opportunity to just go out and make a film.”

The rules for the Winter Film Challenge (as outlined on the ever-useful MFA website) should already be familiar to Maine filmmakers who’ve participated in (or at least contemplated joining) the popular annual 48 Hour Film Project. After registering, filmmaking teams will be presented at 8 p.m. Feb. 3, with a film genre, a line of dialogue that must show up in the final film, and a similarly mandatory prop. Then it’s a presumably frantic and fruitful weekend’s work, culminating with whatever crew member who can still walk dropping off a finished short film for the MFA’s judging. 

For Gregg, the Winter Film Challenge is a specifically Maine-focused attempt to inspire local filmmakers from all over the state to exercise their creative and organizational muscles over a three-day sprint. (The Challenge’s hybrid virtual and in-person nature encourages, as Gregg stresses, “filmmakers from Biddeford to Fort Kent.”) That said, Gregg explains that the 72-hour timeline should allow crews to turn in a project with a bit more polish on it (like, 24 hours more polish) so as to really show off what they can accomplish together. Gregg also notes that the props, genres and dialogue provided to filmmakers will have a distinctly Maine spin. “It will all be both Maine and winter-centric,” Gregg assures prospective participants, hinting at the opportunity for some snowy Maine winter scenery and scenarios.

And while creative exercises are fun and potentially inspirational and all, Gregg is happy to point out that this inaugural Winter Film Challenge comes with a few more tangible rewards. For one thing, the resulting films will have the opportunity to be seen on the big screen, as the MFA is planning a screening tour of Maine movie theaters up and down the state. Plus, there’s that prize money, as Gregg notes that the Maine organizations (including Portland’s own Damnationland and Knack Factory, among others)  generously helping sponsor the Winter Film Challenge have ponied up a cool $1,000 grand prize for the best film. Says Gregg of this ever-welcome added incentive, “The MFA is always adamant about paying artists for their work. Filmmakers in Maine usually go into the negative out of their own pocket to make a film. And while a lot of filmmakers are doing it for the art, we also wanted to offer a cash prize.”

For Gregg, this latest innovation in supporting Maine moviemakers is all in a day’s work for the Maine Film Association. “In addition to everything else that we do (seminars, webinars, classes, all-around advocacy for Maine filmmakers), the MFA is all about the ability to connect people in the Maine film industry. To connect people to a team, and to support people making movies in Maine.” (For Maine filmmakers looking for that ever-necessary support and connection, contact the MFA at [email protected].)

Registration, which costs between $100 and $250, for the first ever MFA Winter Film Challenge is now open. Discounted early bird registration runs until Dec. 14, with final registration available right up until the Feb. 3 starting line. The earlier you sign up, the cheaper the registration fee, with a discount for MFA members providing yet another incentive to join. The Challenge is open to all Maine filmmakers, whether working professional or ambitious amateur, from any corner of our great, thoroughly photogenic state, so lace up your snow boots and get ready. Dress in layers. Just a tip. 

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


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