An advertising card for the June 16 and 17 Silent Film Festival displayed in front of the Colonial Theater on Water Street in Augusta where the movies will be shown. Steve Collins/Sun Journal

AUGUSTA — In the early days of movies, when the spotlight had not yet firmly focused on Hollywood, film crews sometimes settled in unlikely places to make moving pictures.

They made cowboy flicks in Philadelphia, dramas in Ithaca, New York, and “north woods” stories in Maine.

Eleven black-and-white movies shot in the Pine Tree State between 1910 and 1925 will be featured at the Silent Film Festival next weekend at the historic Colonial Theater in Augusta.

Six of them were made nearby, featuring scenes in Augusta, the Belgrade Lakes, the Kennebec River and nearby forests. One even cast former Gov. Percival Baxter in a bit part after he grew curious watching some moviemaking taking place next door to the Blaine House.

“I tried to do as many Maine-oriented films as possible,” said festival organizer Edward Lorusso of Belgrade, a film historian, writer, producer and composer who gathered the movies for the festival.

The Augusta area films “are coming back to the theater where they probably made their debut,” Lorusso said.


Making that possible is the ongoing renovation of the 1913 theater that began in earnest in 2015. If all goes according to plan, the work should be done in 2026.

Much work remains to finish the renovation of Colonial Theater in Augusta, but Silent Film Festival organizers said they plan to repaint the old screen in time for the June 16 and 17 event. Steve Collins/Sun Journal

Meanwhile, though, the faded grandeur of the theater remains a stellar spot for what will likely be a small festival showing up some of the silent era gems that survive. The festival begins at noon on both Friday, June 16, and Saturday, June 17.

Kathi Wall, executive director of the theater, said the event will be “a wonderful opportunity” for people to get acquainted with an art form that many have never seen.

“There’s not a bad seat in the house,” Wall added.

Kathi Wall, executive director of Colonial Theater, is pushing to complete the theater’s renovation by 2026. Steve Collins/Sun Journal


To get a taste of what those early Maine movies are like, let’s take a look at a black-and-white short film titled “Caught in the Rapids,” filmed in 1921 by Edgar Jones Productions’ Holman Day Series and offering viewers a movie “full of romance and spectacular stunts,” according to The Leavenworth Times in Kansas.


The 22-minute film opens with a card reading: “With June’s glorious sunlight dancing on the ripples, and love’s glory surging in his heart, the hardy son of the backwoods hastens to keep his tryst.”

Then it cuts to Jones paddling down a river. His character’s name is Octave Lapierre, “woodsman and sweetheart.”

Edgar Jones, playing Octave Lapierre, rows toward his sweetheart in “Caught in the Rapids,” a film he produced and in which he co-starred.

He’s heading to see Elise Cormier, played by Edna May Sperl, “a winsome sprite of the woods and the belle of Boisvert,” a small Maine community that’s never shown.

When Lapierre approaches on the river, Cormier is picking flowers until she spots him. She jumps up smiling and waving.

Lapierre gives her a pearl necklace. He tells her a thousand oysters gave up their lives for each pearl that he found. She offers him a kiss for each dead oyster – then clarifies they’ll come at the rate of just one per day.

Charlie Bredlow, played by Carlton Brickert, arrives shortly after. He’s a chauffer for someone rich who’s vacationing in Maine and clearly has a soft spot for Cormier.


Before too long, it’s clear the woman prefers the big city visitor to the backwoods sweetheart. She plans to marry Bredlow and move away to the city, something she said all the girls from Boisvert do.

But when Cormier paddles across the river to pick a big batch of lilacs, she forgets to throw the paddle back in her canoe, loaded down with the cuttings, and the current carries her downstream to a set of rapids, probably in Ripogenus Gorge, on the West Branch of the Penobscot River.

Cormier is thrown into the water and winds up clinging to a rock, her life in peril.

In a scene from “Caught in the Rapids,” actress Edna May Sperl, playing Elise Cormier, is trapped on a rock in rapids on the West Branch of the Penobscot River.

But Lapierre comes to her rescue and delivers her safely to shore, where the lovelorn hero rejects her willingness to return to him.

“I will not steal your love and joy and hopes,” Lapierre tells the woman he loves, who quickly winds up with his rival.

Wall and Lorusso said they’d love to get a bunch of lilacs together to fill the Colonial with the right scent during the short film. But with all the pieces they need to put together for the festival, it’s unlikely they’ll have the chance.


Edward Lorusso of Belgrade, a film historian, writer, producer and composer , gathered the movies for the Silent Film Festival slated for June 16 and 17 at Augusta’s Colonial Theater. Steve Collins/Sun Journal


The earliest Maine movie that’s part of the festival, “Where the Winds Blow,” is a 15-minute reel from 1910 shot in the Portland area by the Lubin Film Co.

A story of love lost and found, among its stars is Jean the Vitagraph Dog, perhaps the first of the many canine stars in American movies. Jean, a Scotch collie, was born in Eastport and had roles in at least 10 movies in 1910 alone, most of them shot along the Maine coast.

A 1912 film called “Just Maine Folks” follows. Also filmed in the Portland area by the Lubin Film Co., it tells the story of two “sparking” rivals seeking the hand of a rich widow who “shows little favor,” according to the (Pennsylvania) Butler Citizen’s account of the movie.

“On Dangerous Ground,” a 1917 film, offers “a thrilling and unusual story,” according to a vintage review in The Baltimore Sun. One of its stars, Gail Kane, played a mysterious woman involved in secreting papers out of wartime Germany. She ultimately married an Augusta businessman and lived the rest of her life in Maine’s capital.

Next on the festival agenda is a 1919 movie titled “Out Yonder” a tale of “stormy coasts and sunny hearts” that features a lighthouse keeper’s daughter named Flotsam, played by Olive Thomas. Here’s a clip from the film:



In 1919, Jones, an actor turned producer who got his start playing cowboys in Westerns filmed in Philadelphia, set up a little studio in Augusta, where he hoped to take advantage of Maine’s scenery.

Lorusso said Jones, “a control freak,” put together a remarkably professional outfit that didn’t hesitate to trek out into the woods.

At the time, a surprisingly hopeful Lewiston Evening Journal wrote that some people “believe this state will someday be second only to California as the great moving-picture studio and playground of the world.”

The festival will show the oldest surviving movie by Jones’ company in Augusta, “Border River,” which premiered on July 29, 1920, at the Colonial Theater.

Jones plays a Canadian Mountie who is searching for an outlaw who happens to be the brother of his sweetheart, played by Evelyn Brent. The Wilmington Morning Star in Delaware called it a “dramatic gem” as it hailed the quality of Jones’ north woods productions.


Another 1920 film, “A Knight of the Pines,” stars Jones and Sperl. Filmed in the winter in the Augusta area, Lorusso said you can see how cold the bundled-up actors are by their breath clouding in the frigid air.

“It is a great story of daring and danger, amid surroundings that are entrancingly beautiful,” the Journal News in Hamilton, Ohio, wrote.

That will be followed by “Cupid, Registered Guide” and “Caught in the Rapids,” both based on stories written by Holman Day, a writer who lived for many years at the corner of Goff and Court streets in Auburn.

Day and Jones had a falling out about this time that left Day with control of the production company.

The Auburn author “sort of took control of the business,” Lorusso said, while Jones “took off into the sunset.”

Day brought in new actors for “My Lady of the Pines,” which will also be shown. It is a 1921 movie rooted in one of Day’s stories that features rival gangs of lumbermen fighting over forest land. It also featured 15-year-old Mary Astor, who went to become one of Hollywood’s big stars.


Astor also starred in “Brother of the Bear,” which includes both a tamed bear and footage of the old Belgrade Hotel.

Astor did not look back at either film with fondness, recalling in later life that Maine was “a remote, miserable place to work.”

The final Maine movie slated for the festival is “Lazy Bones,” a 1925 romantic drama set in tiny Milo.

The festival will conclude each day with a famous silent-era comedy. Saturday it will be Charlie Chaplin’s “The Gold Rush” and Sunday, it will be Buster Keaton’s “Seven Chances.”

Wall said she hopes that seeing the old films will inspire some creative Mainers.

She said she would love to have eager film fans try to produce their own silent movies that could perhaps be shown in a future festival.

After all, Wall said, with all the chaos and chatter these days, it’s clear that “people should be more silent.”

Tickets to the festival may be purchased online for $30 a day or $50 for both days. The theater is located at 139 Water St. in Augusta. For more information, call (207) 620-6029.

The Colonial Theater on Water Street in Augusta features an art deco exterior and an interior that’s undergoing renovation to restore its grandeur. Steve Collins/Sun Journal

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