Film Festivals | Interviews

Maine International Film Festival

1 Jun , 1999  

Written by Mary Phillips-Sandy | Posted by:

Joan Phillips-Sandy, director of the Maine International Film Festival, talks about Maine, movies and MIFF with her assistant/daughter, Mary Phillips-Sandy

MPS: Did you ever think there would be an international film festival in Maine, or that you would be its director?

JOAN PHILLIPS-SANDY: The thought had never crossed my mind. Did you ever think there would be an international film festival in Maine, much less in Waterville?

MPS: I can’t say that I did, no. That’s something we deal with: people ask us why we’re in Waterville, not Portland.  The answer is…


MPS: Exactly.

JOAN PHILLIPS-SANDY: The people who were behind this [the Festival Steering Committee] were here. Railroad Square Cinema is here, and the Waterville Opera House, so we have two perfect venues and the people who know how to do it…We’re central. If we were much farther south, we wouldn’t be able to draw from Bangor and the north, which we do.

MPS: Since we’re coming up on the second annual MIFF, let’s reflect. What did we learn from last year?

JOAN PHILLIPS-SANDY: I’m absolutely rethinking my opposition to human cloning.

MPS: Really?

JOAN PHILLIPS-SANDY: Because there needs to be two of everybody. The people who made this happen last year, it would just be wonderful if we had two of each of them.

MPS: And if all of us got paid huge salaries, but that’s another story. What’s the hardest thing about doing MIFF?

JOAN PHILLIPS-SANDY: Well, this year it’s been hard without my assistant.

MPS: Sorry. I had to finish college. I think raising money is hard.

JOAN PHILLIPS-SANDY: It’s hard, and it’s stressful, but on the other hand, the generosity of the community is extraordinary. Sponsors and advertisers are willing to support us. Once I’m actually in the room with the potential sponsor, I enjoy it quite a lot, because I enjoy talking about what we’re doing. I think I dread having to do it more than I dread doing it.

MPS: What’s the most fun part of MIFF?

JOAN PHILLIPS-SANDY: To me one of the most fun things is getting to talk to the people who are there, seeing their reactions to being in the midst of the Maine International Film Festival and seeing how excited people are.

MPS: I like that, and I like getting to meet the filmmakers. One of my favorite parts of the festival last year was the independent filmmaking seminar we had, with ["Good Machine" producer] Ted Hope, and [directors] Rocky Collins and Hilary Brougher. It was so exhilarating to hear these people talking about their work, because it’s what I want to do.

JOAN PHILLIPS-SANDY: And there were lots of good movies, although I didn’t get to see many of them during the festival; I saw them as screeners. All the key staff people were working really hard during the festival itself, right up to the last second.

MPS: What’s going to be different this year? More people?

JOAN PHILLIPS-SANDY: Absolutely. We’re going to have more people. This year we’re truly broadening the international aspect of the festival, with [Dutch filmmaker] Jos Stelling and [Hungarian filmmaker] Ildiko Enyedi coming. And of course there’s still a strong Maine emphasis; there’s a film by two Portland filmmakers we’re planning to have, and we’re hoping to open with a film that was shot in Maine.

MPS: Film festivals fall into two categories: there are the big industry festivals, and then there are smaller, less famous festivals. Of course I never thought about this until we started doing MIFF, because to me a film festival was just a film festival; I never thought there were differences. But they’re two different animals.

JOAN PHILLIPS-SANDY: We’re never going to be an industry festival, and we don’t want to be. We are always going to be a viewer’s festival, an audience festival. And given the programming abilities of our committee, I see extraordinary possibilities for the quality of our festival, as a viewer’s festival.

MPS: These days people don’t go to Sundance to see movies; they go to see movie stars.

JOAN PHILLIPS-SANDY: We’re about movies. We’re not about stars.

MPS: It’s neat when I run into people in town who want to talk about the festival and are excited, even if they aren’t avid moviegoers. The festival is now a part of our community, so maybe we’ll breed some new filmgoers!

JOAN PHILLIPS-SANDY: Last year there were people who came up to us and said, "I hope your film festival goes well." But it’s not ours–it’s Waterville’s; it’s Maine’s. It belongs to all of us.
     So, how do you like working with your mother?

MPS: As a person, you’re great to work with. The fact that you’re my mother simply adds a ninth dimension.

JOAN PHILLIPS-SANDY: I feel the same way about you. Even if you weren’t my daughter, I’d be thrilled with the quality of your work for the festival. The fact that you’re my daughter means you also make breakfast.

MPS: But one of the things that bothered me last year was whenever a newspaper got the idea to do the adorable "mother/daughter film festival" angle.

JOAN PHILLIPS-SANDY: I know; we both hate that.

MPS: Because we’re so different, in so many ways. We just happen to work for the same film festival, that’s all.

JOAN PHILLIPS-SANDY: We have different taste in movies.

MPS: Name your top five.

JOAN PHILLIPS-SANDY: "Casablanca," "Babe"…

MPS: You’re such a sap.

JOAN PHILLIPS-SANDY: I know. So I probably shouldn’t say "It’s a Wonderful Life," should I? "A Christmas Carol" with Alistair Sim. Possibly "The Umbrellas of Cherbourg." What are yours?

MPS: Mine are very different–"Nashville."

JOAN PHILLIPS-SANDY: Oh, "Nashville"! That would have to be in my top five!

MPS: All right. So we both have "Nashville." The rest of mine– "Mean Streets," "Next Stop, Greenwich Village," "The Godfather," "Singin’ in the Rain."

JOAN PHILLIPS-SANDY: Of course! Now we have to redo this! "Singin’ in the Rain" is on mine, too!

MPS: Enough! Where do you see MIFF in ten years?

JOAN PHILLIPS-SANDY: In your very capable hands, dear.

The 2nd Annual Maine International Film Festival will be held July 9-18, 1999, in Waterville, ME. For more information, visit or email

The 2nd Annual Maine International Film Festival will be held July 9-18, 1999, in Waterville, ME. For more information, visit or email