Portland Maine Film Festival

Tyler Johnston, (background) founder of the Portland Maine Film Festival and Malachi Whitten (foreground), two-time winner of the Golden Lobster for Best Student Film.

New faces & a familiar winner

Story and photos by Timothy Gillis

The end of the Portland Maine Film Festival brought with it a familiar winner in the Student division, and several new faces to the local film scene.

Malachi Whitten, a 16-year-old student from Casco Bay High School, won a Golden Lobster last year for Best Student Film with “Recur,” about a dream that keeps returning to a guy who dies each time.

His entry this year, called up “Wake Up” is a “surreal, psychological thriller about a man stuck in a recurring cycle of running from himself in the dream world.” Whitten may seem to work with a finite canvas, but the judges loved his work again this year, and he won his second Golden Lobster.

Whitten, whose family is from the Caribbean, says he doesn’t hold auditions for his films. “I just see who’d be best for the shot. I have a few friends I use,” Whitten said. “I’m having one friend grow a beard and stay up late to look tired.”

Tyler Johnston, founder of the Portland Maine Film Festival, showed his powers of adaptation when his festival kicked off last Thursday night.

He was with John Cahall, co-director of programming and operations, finishing up a few hors d’oeuvres at the Think Tank, before their festival’s opening films at the Maine College of Art across the street. When they went to Osher Hall at MECA to begin screening, the room they’d reserved was already occupied by thirty some-odd students and their teacher. Johnston and Cahall both had Gan as a teacher themselves, and instead of disturbing his class, they took their film crowd back to the Think Tank and watched the opening night’s films there.The mix-up didn’t seem to bother the organizers, and the rest of the four-day schedule seemed to go off without a snag.

Some new faces were in town for the festival. Doug Zogby, of Zogby Entertainment, has been at his Presumpscot Street locale since just October 1, but his company is already jumping into the film fray. Zogby, who is from Phoenix, Arizona, was joined by Roberto Mendoza, a photographer from Oklahoma (originally from Portland) and Laurie Notch, who has been in Portland the last six years.

They specialize in commercial training videos, especially those that use “machinima,” which is high-tech video animation.

“Younger generations don’t want lectures. We’re using video to get the message across,” Zogby said.

Film fans at a pre-festival soiree

Krystal Kenville, a local director, producer, and actress, who also handles casting and location setting, donned yet another hat for the festival, and was one of the five listed jurors. (There were also five secret jurors.)

Kenville, who was field producer recently for a Biography channel crime series, said the film talent in Maine is an “untapped resource” and compares favorably to the talent she worked with when in Los Angeles.

“There are infomercials produced out of Maine, and no one realizes,” she said.

Johnstone and Cahall said they are planning next year’s festival already.

“We want to open up the submissions as early as possible, and then stop admissions two months in advance of next year’s festival,” Cahall said. “This year we only had 20-30 days at the end of submissions.

One of those submissions may well come from an LA transfer named Bobby Divito, who was at the festival with Jason Spooner, the popular local musician who was college roommates with Divito, of Back Roads Entertainment. Divito is an actor who spent four years as Jerry Stiller’s personal assistant, from 1999-2003. “I wanted to quit after one year,” Divito said. “He had four others all quit in the year before me.” He worked on the set of King of Queens, as Stiller’s rehearsal partner and dialogue coach. His mother passed away in 2002, and shortly after her death he realized that, despite all the gloss and glamour of LA, he missed being back in Maine.

“I started to miss my home, my family,” Divito said. “I realized that, with the advent of technology – what it costs now to shoot and distribute film, I could be almost anywhere and produce my own TV shows. That’s one of the main things I learned from ‘King of Queens,’ it’s all about the script.”

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