Phoebe Parker will direct a film for this year’s Damnationland festival. Photo by Phoebe Parker
Asked about her career since moving to Maine in 2015, Topsham filmmaker Phoebe Parker takes a moment.
“Let’s see, this year … I’ve done set design for a play, acted in a play, done weddings with another photographer, made video interview-style commercials, done wardrobe, was script supervisor on a commercial (with zero experience doing that), I’m creating a photo library for the town of Brunswick, I’m editing health insurance commercials.”
Reflecting for another moment, Parker sums up, “When people ask what I do – I do a lot.”
Parker’s not kidding. A glance through her professional website shows off Parker’s excellent eye in photographs from her extensive travels and right here in Maine, and her forays into documentary filmmaking, among other professional services. Her first short film, “Nat Bell, Logger,” was completed soon after Parker relocated to Maine from Los Angeles, while her second, a short about young girls at a Maine mountain biking camp called “Fly Girls,” received an audience award from the Maine Outdoor Film Festival.
Parker is skilled in several art forms, including photography, as seen here. Photo by Phoebe Parker
As Parker puts it when referencing her wide-ranging artistic work, “I think life is really about play, and as an artist, I’m intrigued by so many different things and art forms. Ultimately, it’s all to do with the experience of being human.”
Or, in the case of Parker’s as-yet-untitled film premiering in this October’s Damnationland, the experience of being a human-sized mosquito monster coping with grief, love and horror. But let’s back up.
“I grew up in Texarkana, Texas, which is an environment where going into the arts was not considered a legitimate career,” Parker said.
Pulling up stakes for a place where the arts are definitely career material, Parker found herself in L.A. at the age of 24, where she, despite a self-described crippling fear of embarrassment and a lifelong case of “imposter syndrome,” dove into professional acting.
“I was in L.A. for 12 years,” she said, “and while I wouldn’t say I had a ton of success, I enjoyed myself.”
Traveling to Boston for a women-in-comedy festival saw Parker take a day trip to Portland, and like so many from-away folks, Maine got its hooks into her. “I thought, ‘Hey, Portland’s awesome!’” recalled Parker, whose decision to make the cross-country move was cemented by the proximity to Portland-based Salt Institute for Documentary Studies. Which (temporarily) shut its doors right as Parker arrived in 2015.
But Maine has a way of keeping you around, and Parker, discovering that she actually liked places with winters and variable weather, stuck it out, eventually graduating from the revitalized Salt Institute in 2017. Meanwhile, Parker found herself inadvertently networking her way into the Maine theater scene, via a fortuitous craving for a signature Maine sandwich.
Matt Delamater and Phoebe Parker in Nick Payne’s “Constellations” at Space Gallery in 2017, directed by Sean Mewshaw. Photo by Sean Mewshaw
“I met (Portland actor) Matt Delamater (‘Tumbledown,’ ‘The Tender Bar’) at Eventide Oyster Company because I really wanted a lobster roll,” laughed Parker, as she recalled how that chance meeting saw her booking her first three Maine acting jobs. “I booked two plays without auditioning and thought, ‘I like it here!,’” says Parker, “That would never happen in L.A.”
But about that mosquito-man?
“As for Damnationland, they reached out to me because – I don’t know.” As Parker recalls, Mackenzie Bartlett and Allen Baldwin (co-producers of the annual all-Maine, all-weird short film festival) perhaps knew Parker had helped out on another Damnationland film in 2018, but their invitation to be one of the directors in this year’s post-COVID resurrected Damnationland still scared her – which meant she had to accept.
“For me, life’s about putting yourself in situations to be brave,” Parker said, “to say, ‘Here’s this opportunity that scares me, which means I should do it.’ They invite you, and you’re so flattered and honored, but I didn’t think I was going to have time, so I decided to do it anyway. I was absolutely right about not having the time, by the way.”
Parker’s contribution to this year’s Damnationland draws inspiration seemingly from another of Maine’s signature features – the mosquito. (Look, if Maine has lobster rolls, it’s gotta balance out the good with the bad.) Spinning a tale of a magic spell gone wrong, a love spell gone very wrong, a vengeful shopkeeper and an unlikely rom-com-style interspecies love story, Parker promises that her Maine-set film of Frankenstein-esque tragicomedy will be just as bizarre as that description suggests.
“It wasn’t something I had in my mind to write,” she said of her contribution, which is filming now in preparation for Damnationland’s Oct. 27 State Theatre premiere. “It’s sort of typical of my art in that it’s intuitive and then, later, I realize, ‘Oh, that’s what I meant.’ It’s campy, and it will look low-budget on purpose, because it’s a ridiculous story.”
Perhaps (OK, definitely). But Phoebe Parker is effusive about how supportive and collaborative she’s found the Maine film (and theater and photography) community since moving here from entertainment hub Los Angeles.
“Moving here to Maine, I really think a smaller market is what I needed,” said Parker. “I felt like I could thrive here. I’m still a small fish, but I’m in a pond now, instead of the ocean. Plus, there’s such a community here, that it feels like I got really lucky. I loved L.A. and feel like I am who I am because of my experiences there. Still, there’s such a vibrant community here and so much to do. There’s such a spirit of collaboration. People will come to you and say, ‘Do you want to come on and do this,’ and, even if it’s something you haven’t done before, if they decide they like your energy and your artistic vision as a person, they’ll give you a shot. None of this would have happened in L.A.”
As Parker puts it, succinctly, “Maine’s pretty easy to fall in love with.”
Look for Phoebe Parker’s tale of insectoid love and loss in this year’s Damnationland. And check out her many other artistic pursuits at phoebeparkerphotography.com.
Dennis Perkins is a freelance writer who lives in Auburn with his wife and cat.
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