THE RESCUE chronicles the 2018 rescue of 12 Thai boys and their soccer coach, trapped deep inside a flooded cave. E. Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin reveal the perilous world of cave diving, bravery of the rescuers, and dedication of a community that made great sacrifices to save these young boys. Credit: Courtesy of National Geographic

From a 12,000-square-foot waterfront boathouse to the comfort of a viewer’s own living room, the Camden International Film Festival will be screening a robust program of documentary films across a multitude of in-person and virtual venues this weekend.

The 17th annual festival, organized by the Points North Institute, returns for a second year in a hybrid model due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This year, the in-person options will be a little more robust thanks to eased pandemic restrictions. An online streaming option will also be available. Last year, the festival’s slate of films could only be watched online or at the organization’s recently built drive-in theater.

In addition to the drive-in and the traditional venues the festival partners with — the Camden Opera House and the Strand Theater — the Points North Institute will also be utilizing a boathouse at Journey’s End Marina in Rockland as a third indoor theater where films will be screened.

“We knew we needed a venue that was a bit outside of the box, that provided more than just a screening venue and also didn’t feel like you were going into a small enclosed space,” Points North Institute Executive Director Ben Fowlie said.  “That was one of our priorities this year, was just to bring the cinematic exhibition back safely,”

This year’s festival features 37 feature-length films and 33 short films from about 30 different countries. The in-person festival kicks off Thursday night and runs through Sunday. The online festival will also open Thursday but will run until Sept. 26 to give people more time to watch the films.

In order to attend the in-person festival, event organizers have required proof of vaccination. Masks will be required for everyone attending an indoor screening at the festival. Capacity within the Camden Opera House and the Strand Theater is also being limited to 30 percent.  

The festival has also limited the number of passes available for the in-person festival. In 2019 the festival drew close to 3,500 people. This year, only about 700 people in total will be attending in-person, though the online aspect will allow more people to attend virtually.

A large portion of attendees will be filmmakers and accompanying guests, artists involved with Point North Institute’s programming and others involved in the filmmaking and festival organizing process. About 250 passes are being sold for general admission, though only about 30 passes are left.  As of Tuesday, about 200 online passes have been sold, Fowlie said.

Anyone attending the festival from out of state will be required to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test 72 hours prior to arrival. Additional testing will also be done over the course of the four-day festival.

While restrictions on indoor events have eased, Fowlie said the organization wanted to be mindful of keeping their audiences safe.

“We want our audiences to know that we’re taking this very seriously. We will be monitoring the situation on a day to day basis. We have turned filmmakers away because they aren’t vaccinated,” Fowlie said. “There have been hard decisions that have already had to be made in terms of prioritizing the safety of the community.”

While there is no overall theme for the films being screened at this year’s festival, Fowlie said he thinks audience members will be able to come away from many of the films with metaphors that they can relate to the challenging times society has endured in recent years.

One of these films is “The Rescue,” from National Geographic Films and Oscar-winning directors Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi. The film details the story of the 2018 incident in which a dozen teenage boys and their soccer coach were trapped inside a flooded cave in Thailand. It took about two weeks and the help of thousands of people to rescue the group.

“[We] tried to find some uplifting stories about triumph and people coming together and trying to solve problems because it just seems like that’s something we’re missing right now,” Fowlie said.

Four films included in this year’s in-person festival line-up will not be available to online festival goers due to licensing restrictions.

Among these in-person only films is filmmaker Robert Greene’s latest “Procession,” which premiered at the Telluride Film Festival earlier this month and was recently sold to Netflix. The film explores the stories of six survivors of childhood sexual abuse by Catholic priests.

“It’s a profoundly moving film about processing trauma,” Fowlie said.

The full roster of films for the upcoming festival — and where they will be screened — can be found on the Points North website.