MAINE’S GREAT FILMMAKER JOHN FORD HONORED FEB. 1-10 WITH STATE-WIDE FESTIVAL MARKING 125TH ANNIVERSARY OF HIS BIRTH
More than a dozen arts and education organizations and independent cinemas in nine Maine cities have teamed for John Ford | 125 Years (www.Ford125.com), a Feb. 1-10 state-wide festival of screenings and related programs marking the 125th anniversary of the birth here of America’s most celebrated filmmaker.
Winner of four Academy Awards as Best Director – a standing record – Ford was born in Cape Elizabeth, Feb. 1, 1894. He grew up in the Munjoy Hill part of Portland, the son of Irish immigrants when “no Irish need apply” was a prevalent New England sentiment. The experiences of his immigrant roots permeates the characters, music, sensibilities, and sentiments of his films.
Ford directed over 140 silent and sound films covering a diverse array of subjects and categories, an incredible number compared to the output of today’s directors. While he was said to introduce himself with “My name is John Ford; I make westerns,” none of his four directing Oscars (or two other Oscars for documentaries) was in the genre for which he became most famous.
“Consciously or not, many filmmakers today have been influenced by Ford; his westerns in particular are touchstones for cinematic language and storytelling,” said Mike Perreault, executive director of Maine Film Center (MFC), which organized the event.
In addition to MFC, festival participants include Maine Historical Society; Abbe Museum; Farnsworth Art Museum; Waterfall Arts; the Alamo, Colonial, Criterion, Eveningstar, Lincoln, and Strand cinemas; Waterville Opera House; and the cinema studies departments at Bates, Bowdoin, and Colby Colleges.
“Ford’s a towering Maine figure so we all agreed this milestone shouldn’t pass without recognition from his home state,” Perreault said. “Another MFC program is our annual Maine Student Film & Video Conference, which brings together 250 middle and high school filmmakers and educators. It’s powerful inspiration for these students to learn that such a historic filmmaker emerged from right here in our state.”
Ford made nine pictures in Arizona’s Monument Valley, single-handedly establishing that location as synonymous with Hollywood westerns. Three of these Monument Valley westerns – generally considered among his best – will play on consecutive days during the festival: The Searchers (Feb. 2, Rockland), Stagecoach (Feb. 3, Bar Harbor), and My Darling Clementine (Feb. 4, Brunswick).
All four films for which Ford won the Oscar as Best Director are included in the series: The Grapes of Wrath (Feb. 5, Lewiston), The Quiet Man (Feb. 6, Damariscotta), How Green Was My Valley (Feb. 8, Belfast), and The Informer (Feb. 9, Waterville).
During World War II, Ford was a commissioned Naval Reserve officer supervising a team of filmmakers in the OSS Field Photographic Unit and overseeing production of more than 80 training and documentary films, including two Oscar winners he directed: December 7 (with Gregg Toland) and The Battle of Midway (on which Ford earned a Purple Heart while personally photographing the actual fighting). Shortly after his discharge from active military service Ford made They Were Expendable (Feb. 7, Bucksport) about PT boat warfare in the Pacific, produced with extensive Navy Department support. Ford’s screen credit: “Directed by John Ford, Captain, USNR.”
Closing out the festival on consecutive nights in Waterville, Feb. 9-10, are two films each presenting the same story but from very different perspectives: Ford’s The Informer (Feb. 9), based on Liam O’Flaherty’s novel of the same name, set in 1920s Dublin during the aftermath of the Irish Civil War, and Jules Dassin’s Uptight (Feb. 10) which transfers settings and characters from O’Flaherty’s book to the 1960s Black Power Movement.
Ford was generally condescending of being portrayed as anything other than just a movie director, but this simple description is betrayed by the breadth, substance, style, and scale of his films. The New Yorker’s Richard Brody says Ford was also “the greatest American political filmmaker.” Within Hollywood Ford was considered a staunch “Roosevelt Democrat,” but in 1947 Ford referred to himself as a “Maine Republican.” Regardless of political affiliation, John Ford | 125 Years will revisit Ford’s most seminal works and offer audiences the opportunity to re-examine his films in the context of today’s cultural and political landscape.
Author Stanley Crouch writes that “Ford was surely patriotic but not in a simple way; his best work always contains a celebration of the nation and its mythologies as well as its inherent troubles. Ford understood that America’s essential anti-aristocratic attitude was good as long as it was heroic and possessed of a sacrificial sense of duty.”
John Ford | 125 Years is a project of Maine Film Center, made possible by support from all of the participating organizations and Unity Foundation, Camden National Bank, Portland Press Herald, Sun Journal, and Morning Sentinel.
John Ford | 125 Years Schedule and Program
A complete up-to-date schedule can be found at: www.Ford125.com Each screening will be accompanied by a discussion specific to that film.
Friday, Feb. 1, 4:00 pm – Maine Historical Society, Portland
“Meet John Ford”– A multi-media introduction to John Ford’s life and career, beginning with his youth in Portland as a son of Irish immigrants and star athlete on the winning Portland High School football team; his short stint on a sports scholarship at University of Maine (where he later received an honorary doctorate); ultimately following his brother to Hollywood. Presented by Michael C. Connolly, author of Ford in Focus and professor of history and political science, St. Joseph’s College.
Saturday, Feb. 2, 5:30 pm – Strand Theatre, Rockland
In association with Farnsworth Art Museum
The Searchers (1956) – Generally considered Ford’s greatest film and the quintessential American western. Michael Komanecky, chief curator of Farnsworth Art Museum, will discuss contemporary Maine artists John Ford and painter W. Herbert “Buck” Dunton who each went west about the same time (California and New Mexico), both making their names with vivid depictions of the American West.
Sunday, Feb. 3, 3:00 pm – Criterion Theatre, Bar Harbor
In association with Abbe Museum
Stagecoach (1939) – Ford struggled for nearly a year to get the movie made but it became a hit, making John Wayne a star and reigniting Hollywood’s excitement for a previously moribund genre. Cinnamon Catlin-Legutko, CEO of Abbe Museum, will host a post-screening discussion about media reinforcement of ethnic stereotypes and why enduring public fascination with the Wild West continues impacting Native Peoples.
Monday, Feb. 4, 7:00 pm – Eveningstar Cinema, Brunswick
Presented by Bowdoin College Cinema Studies
My Darling Clementine (1946) – An elegy to the waning days of the Old West and precursor of films like Once Upon a Time in the Westand The Wild Bunch, TV’s Deadwood, and even the smash video game Red Dead Redemption 2. Hosted by Tricia Welsch, director, Cinema Studies Program, Bowdoin College.
Tuesday, Feb. 5, 7:00 pm – Bates College (Muskie Room 201), Lewiston
Presented by Bates College Rhetoric, Film & Screen Studies
The Grapes of Wrath (1940). Three modern issues – climate, migration, and economic inequality – permeate Ford’s masterful adaptation of John Steinbeck’s Pulitzer Prize winner about Okies escaping the Dustbowl drought and economic deprivation during the Great Depression. Hosted by Jonathan Cavallero, associate professor, Rhetoric, Film & Screen Studies, Bates College
Wednesday, Feb. 6, 6:00 pm (panel), 7:00 pm (screening) – Lincoln Theater, Damariscotta
The Quiet Man (1952). A beloved movie, this was Ford’s auteurproject; he struggled for years to get it made and received his fourth directing Oscar for his efforts. Andy O’Brien, editor of The Free Press, will moderate a pre-screening conversation with historians of Ford and the Irish in Maine: Michael C. Connolly (author of Ford in Focus) and Matthew Jude Barker (author of The Irish of Portland, Maine).
Thursday, Feb. 7, 7:00 pm – Alamo Theatre, Bucksport
They Were Expendable (1945). Film critic Don Druker wrote that “Ford poured his accumulated emotions about World War II – a combination of personal bitterness and benign acceptance of duty – into this moving account of the fortunes of a PT-boat squadron as its ranks are thinned out up to the retreat from the Philippines.” Introduced by Joe Mosier, US Navy Master Chief (ret.) and maritime historian.
Friday, Feb. 8, 7:00 pm – Colonial Theatre, Belfast
Presented with Waterfall Arts
How Green Was My Valley (1941). Winner of Best Picture, Ford’s emotional story about a proud coal-mining family in Wales at the turn of the twentieth century resonates today in any community experiencing change: those who stay and those who go, legacy industries in transition, labor rights and discarded workers, the haves and have-nots, young people opting out of the traditional family trade. Introduced and discussed by Michael C. Connolly, author, professor, and historian whose academic focus includes John Ford, labor movements, and maritime issues.
Saturday, Feb. 9, 7:00 pm – Waterville Opera House, Waterville
Presented with Colby College Cinema Studies
The Informer (1935). Set in 1920s Dublin, Ford’s adaptation of Liam O’Flaherty’s novel about the aftermath of the Irish Civil War earned him his first Oscar as Best Director.
Sunday, Feb. 10, 7:00 pm – Waterville Opera House, Waterville
Presented with Colby College Cinema Studies