Camden International Film Festival innovates for 2020

How to stage a film festival in a pandemic? Host a drive-in movie theater in Rockport

Tue, 05/12/2020 - 8:00am

    ROCKPORT — Ben Fowlie, executive director of the Camden International Film Festival, and Geoff Parker, multi-media specialist, have been cooking up an idea to keep the popular CIFF on course, despite a pandemic and a through a wave of 2020 festival and conference cancellations.

    Fowlie approached the Rockport Select Board May 11 with proposal to use the empty and former Rockport Elementary School lot, on West Street, for drive-in movie screenings this coming summer.

    Board members are mulling it over, and will take up the matter again in two weeks, at their next meeting. They like the idea, but they want more public exposure to it, and to hear citizen opinion.

    Founded in 2005, CIFF is usually held in September,drawing thousands of attendees to Camden, Rockland and Rockport, to the opera houses, Strand Theater, and other venues, for a full three days of watching award-winning cutting-edge documentaries. CIFF also presents films throughout the year, often at the Camden Opera House, for the local community.

    This year, with COVID-19 tearing at the normal fabric of life, and with the uncertainty of the virus’ path and intensity, Fowlie and the CIFF crew got to brainstorming about how to continue their mission of presenting excellent films, while keeping a safe physical distance around viewers.

    The simple solution is to post the film collection digitally; but, then, there is little opportunity for community interaction. 

    Fowlie, who grew up in Camden and lives in Rockport, has fond memories of going to the old drive-in movie theater in Rockport, which was sited where the Plants Unlimited gardening store and nursery is today, on Route 1. 

    Why not shoot for screening some of the films in an impromptu drive-in? Why not ask the Town of Rockport’s permission to set it up at the RES site? Why not technically refine the system so that people could safely sit in their cars, effectively stream the audio through their individual systems, sprinkle some food trucks nearby, and create a community event, while physically distancing?

    “This is an idea we are really excited about,” said Fowlie, speaking to the Select Board May 11, via Zoom. “It allows us to do what we’ve been doing, to bring community together to watch movies and engage with each other.”

    He projected that the drive-in movie concept would continue through the summer and into the autumn.

    Fowlie said he had been considering the drive-in movie model, adding that it is regaining a footing across the country. It has, he said, a nostalgia effect.

    The CIFF crew has been looking at potential sites throughout the Midcoast, but Fowlie, who lives in Rockport and went to the old West Street Rockport Elementary School, since torn down, said it occurred to him that the space was ideal for presenting films a few times a month.

    “It’s perfect for many reasons,” he said.

    Working with Geoff Parker, who also lives in Rockport, the two produced a schematic (see above graphic).

    If approved, they would build a temporary structure that would house a 30-foot-wide, 18-foot tall screen. The existing level pavement is a bonus, and enables cars to assemble in order.

    Rockport Select Board Chair Debra Hall said the screenings would not result in a “late night type of activity.”

    Board member Jeff Hamilton raised points concerning restroom facilities and maintaining safe distancing, while board member Mark Kelley questioned adequacy of municipal insurance.

    Nonetheless, the board response was warm, and members agreed to take it up once again at its next regularly scheduled meeting.

    “It’s a real day brightener,” said board member Denise Kennedy-Munger. “It lifts my spirits.”

    Reach Editorial Director Lynda Clancy at; 207-706-6657