The Camden International Film Festival will tackle the themes of life, death and transformation in its opening (Thursday, Sept. 29) and closing (Sunday, Oct. 2) films. With locations ranging from the war in Afghanistan and a small town in North Carolina to an artist family’s unusual home in Portugal, the films “Hell and Back Again” and “Convento” will push attendees to consider exactly what life is and how easily it can be transformed.

Opening night at Camden Opera House

The festival will open with the New England Premiere of “Hell and Back Again,” directed by Danfung Dennis. Winner of the Grand Jury Award and Cinematography Award at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival, this film masterfully contrasts the intensity of the frontline with the unsettling normalcy of home. From his embed with US Marines Echo Company in Afghanistan, photojournalist and filmmaker Dennis introduces 25-year-old Sergeant Nathan Harris and follows his life during the war and throughout his recovery after being hit by a Taliban machine-gun bullet.

The film seamlessly transitions from stunning war reportage to an intimate, visceral portrait of one man’s personal struggle at home in North Carolina, where Harris confronts the physical and emotional difficulties of re-adjusting to civilian life. Director Dennis will be in attendance.

Closing night at Cellardoor

The festival will close with a free community screening of “Convento” sponsored by, and presented at, the Cellardoor Winery and Vineyard in Lincolnville. Directed by Jarred Alterman, “Convento” tells the story of the Zwanikken family living in Sao Francisco, a 400-year-old monastery that sits at the convergence of the rivers Oeiras and Guadiana in Portugal, an area that some believe possesses mystical energies. This family of artists embraces and enhances the surrealist storybook landscape where they live. Notably, Dutch kinetic artist Christiaan Zwanikken creates new life in this unusual space, transforming a combination of animal skulls, bones and robotics into new creatures that can walk, talk and fly. Director Alterman will be in attendance.

“We are more than thrilled to be book-ending the 2011 Festival with such powerful films,” said Benjamin Fowlie, founder and director of the Camden International Film Festival.

Fowlie added the festival has always been committed to highlighting new voices in nonfiction storytelling and both Dennis and Alterman have reset the bar for what is typically considered a documentary.

“I don’t think you could find two more different films, but both are similar in their poetic camera work and their ability to completely immerse audiences in the stories that they are sharing. These are two films that people have been talking about all year and I’m very excited to be bringing them both to Maine to continue the conversations,” Fowlie said.

The Camden International Film Festival will showcase nearly 60 documentary features and shorts over the course of the four-day festival, plus several special screenings and events, musical performances and the Points North Documentary Forum. The Points North Documentary Forum consists of workshops and panels and a live pitching session featuring dozens of filmmakers and industry delegates from all over the world.

Now in its seventh year, the Camden International Film Festival is the largest documentary film festival in New England. The remainder of this year’s slate of films will be announced Monday, Aug. 29 — also the last day Early Bird discounts are available for festival passes. For further information about these films or to purchase passes, visit camdenfilmfest.org.

VillageSoup Art/Entertainment Editor Dagney Ernest can be reached at 207-594-4401 or by email to dernest@villagesoup.com.