WATERVILLE – The 14th annual Maine International Film Festival overcame the loss of a popular venue and attracted nearly 8,000 people to its screenings of more than 100 films since July 15.

Although attendance fell slightly from last year, festival director Shannon Haines said this year was still a major success, especially since it was the first time without screenings in the Waterville Opera House, which is closed for renovations.

People still flocked to the 10-day festival at Railroad Square Cinema and Colby College, Haines said Sunday before the festival’s closing ceremony.

The 325 seats in the college’s Given Auditorium couldn’t replace the opera house’s 750 seats, but the festival screened a record number of films this year — 120 — to give the audience more choices, Haines said.

Dan Marra and his wife, Barbara Leonard, are veterans of all 14 festivals. The couple from Winslow said the caliber and selection of films this year made up for losing the opera house.

Marra watched 20 films and Leonard caught nine. She said a film they watched Sunday afternoon about a forgotten Native American language being rediscovered won her vote for “best of fest.”

“We Still Live Here (As Nutayunean)” told a moving story that just stood out from the rest, she said.

Marra reeled off a list of films he thought should be recognized. “There’s a lot of good films. It’s hard to vote for just one,” the 50-year-old attorney said.

The couple watched one film each at Colby College this year. They called the college’s auditorium a nice venue with plenty of space, but they also talked about missing the atmosphere of the opera house.

“There’s just something lovely about being in that historical building,” Leonard said as she left the Railroad Square Cinema.

She said the festival should keep screening some films at the college in Waterville, however, because it can help people discover the Colby College Museum of Art.

Festival programmer Ken Eisen called the attendance figures this year remarkable because people had to adjust to the new venue. “We got out to a little slower start at Colby than we expected because people were used to the opera house,” Eisen said.

The total attendance will be announced today, but organizers believe it will be close to 8,000. Haines said more than 8,500 people attended last year.

This year, as in past years, the festival drew filmmakers and tourists to Maine from across the U.S., as well as many other countries, Haines said.

The audience favorite this year was “Stella,” a French film by director-screenwriter Sylvie Verheyde about a child growing up in Paris. Second place went to “In Good Time, The Piano Jazz of Marian McPartland,” a film by Maine-based director Huey Coleman.

The audience awarded third place to “Sarah’s Key,” a French film by Gilles Paquet-Brenner about an American journalist living in Paris.

Haines said the festival hopes to return to the opera house next year if renovations are finished in time, while keeping a few screenings at Colby College.

Morning Sentinel Staff Writer David Robinson can be contacted at 861-9287 or at:

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