WATERVILLE — The floors have been waxed, the walls painted and staff at Railroad Square Cinema are ready for an influx of movie enthusiasts from all over the world.
 

The 13th annual Maine International Film Festival begins tonight at both the cinema and Waterville Opera House with about 100 U.S. and international films.

Thousands of moviegoers get more than cinema for the 10-day festival run — they are able to meet, greet and chat with film producers, writers and actors, attend parties and receptions and get a close-up look at the world of film behind the camera.

“I think it’s one of the strongest programs to date,” festival Director Shannon Haines said Thursday. “I think we have some really special opportunities at this year’s festival for audiences to see films they would otherwise not be able to see.”

The lineup includes restored prints of “Wild River,” “The Big Country” and “House.”

Screenwriter Jay Cocks, former critic for Time, Newsweek and Rolling Stone magazines, will receive the festival’s Mid-Life Achievement Award on Thursday. Not only will some of his own films be shown during the festival, but Cocks also will present restored films for audiences to enjoy.

“He’ll be here for a good part of the festival and he will be actively participating, which is always fun,” Haines said.

Cocks, who is married to actress Verna Bloom, summers on Mt. Desert Island and has been a supporter and friend of the festival in past years.

The festival opens at 7 tonight in the Opera House with “Get Low,” a film set in a rural southern town in the 1930s and starring Robert Duvall, Bill Murray, Sissy Spacek and Lucas Black.

Spacek received the festival’s Mid-Life Achievement Award in 2001.

Crews on Thursday were readying venues for opening day, with film projectionist Ryan Hedstrom of Limerick working in the projection booth at the Opera House with Larry Shaw, co-owner of Boston Light & Sound.

“We have to test for the sound and we also have to make sure the screen is in good order,” Hedstrom said.

“Get Low” was playing on the large Opera House screen as they worked. Shaw, who works at film venues all over the world, was making adjustments to the sound system.

He is well-acquainted with Waterville, having worked on equipment at Railroad Square Cinema before a fire destroyed the theater many years ago, and returning after a new facility was built. He also has worked on equipment at former Waterville festivals.

“We have a little history with Alan and his pals,” Shaw said, referring to Alan Sanborn, a Railroad Square founder and the festival’s technical director.

Sanborn and his wife, Sam, also a cinema founder and the festival’s advertising coordinator, were at Railroad Square Thursday afternoon where Sam Sanborn was marveling at all the work volunteers had done to prepare the cinema for tonight’s opening.

“It happens by magic: Little volunteers come in the night and when I come in the morning, everything is set up,” she said. “The floors were waxed, the walls were painted. It was as if there were little gremlins that appeared and did everything. It’s great.”

Volunteers, she said, are what make the festival happen. They are coordinated by Julia Sidelinger.

“We have great volunteers and we can always use more,” Sam Sanborn said.

Alan Sanborn said the festival will include a terrific closing night film July 18 titled “Voices Unbound: The Story of the Freedom Writers,” about a group of at-risk students who learned to rise above their circumstances by writing their own stories.

“We looked at it last fall — six of us watching it — and every one of us came out saying, ‘Oh, my Gosh,'” he said. “Everyone was totally moved, inspired. It’s a wonderful film. I can’t say enough about it. I can’t wait for people to see it.”

The festival also will feature actress Julie Hagerty, as well as short films, Maine-made films, student films and “green films.”

The festival is a project of the Maine Film Center and is sponsored by Bangor Savings Bank and Colby College.

This year’s festival is dedicated to the late Beth Eisen, a festival founder and programmer, and wife of festival founder and programmer, Ken Eisen.