CAMDEN – There was never any doubt where all the hip people were Thursday night.

With their trendy fashion choices and utterly nonplussed attitude about the misty fall weather, they came by the dozens from across Maine, across the United States and around the world to experience the growing enthusiasm associated with the Camden International Film Festival.

Now in its seventh year, this boutiquey little festival is on the verge of growing up. This year’s festival, which runs through Sunday, will screen about 60 films, all through the lens of nonfiction storytelling. Between 5,000 and 6,000 people will attend screenings at venues in Camden and Rockland, said the festival’s founder and director, Ben Fowlie.

The festival has earned its reputation as a go-to event in the documentary film world, said Ryan Harrington, director of documentary for the Tribeca Film Institute in New York.

“I work in the hub of independent film in New York City. While New England is so close to us, there still remains such a divide. This festival gives me a chance to connect with filmmakers I otherwise would not be able to connect with,” he said. “Everybody is very accessible here. But how could you not feel at home at this place? It’s so beautiful, and the fresh air is not so bad.”

Therein lies the attraction.

The Camden festival stands on its own with its lineup and casual attitude. But by having it in a town like Camden, with its glorious waterfront and attractive downtown framed by a technicolor fall landscape, the festival is an easy sell.

It’s still relatively small and manageable, and it attracts filmmakers, directors, funders and producers from the spectrum of the documentary world. Industry leaders from HBO, A&E, PBS and other outlets are in town this weekend, looking at films and making connections.

Given the buzz, Fowlie’s pitch line seems to be working: “You can leave here with a relationship as opposed to a business card.”

Along with the Maine International Film Festival in Waterville and the Jewish Film Festival in Portland, the Camden festival is helping to establish Maine as an important outpost for independent film, said David Redmon. His Gouldsboro-based company, Carnivalesque Films, is making a movie tentatively titled “Downeast,” about the resurgent Stinson sardine cannery in Prospect Harbor.

Still a work in progress, “Downeast” will get a screening this weekend as part of the festival’s Made in Maine Showcase.

“We have a film here, but even if we didn’t have a film, we would come here because it’s nourishment,” Redmon said during a VIP reception at the Camden Opera House.

The success of the festival lies on the shoulders of Fowlie, a 30-year-old Camden native. He began the festival as a community event, and hired high school friends and town buddies to help out. He runs it that way still, and as successful as the festival has become, it hums along with a relatively small budget of about $250,000. MaineToday Media, which published The Portland Press Herald, is one of this year’s sponsors.

“Its reputation is known,” Fowlie said on the sidewalk outside the Camden Opera House. “People are interested and curious.”

The biggest issue that Fowlie faces is growth. With 60 or so films on the schedule, the festival is about one-third bigger this year than it was last year. Fowlie is concerned about growing too big too fast, for fear of losing the small-town charm.

“It’s an interesting question, and one that we have talked a lot about,” he said. “We want it to be a quintessential Maine event. … We want to keep that small-town feel, but it’s already recognized as a important film festival.”

To reinforce the local nature of the event and help keep it connected to the town, Fowlie has offered free admission to the community for Sunday night’s closing event. He wants to retain local charm at all costs.

Kerry Hadley, manager of the Camden Opera House, said the festival fits well into Camden’s larger marketing strategies. This weekend is especially busy in town — hotels are booked solid up and down the coast — with a book fair, a wine festival and the popular Harbor Arts festival downtown.

The film festival has helped establish Camden as a leading place for meaningful cultural dialogue. Camden also hosts the annual Camden Conference, which explores international affairs, and Pop! Tech, which probes new and world-changing ideas. Every other year, it hosts the Juice Conference, which is dedicated to the creative economy.

Combined, the events give Camden a big-city, sophisticated feel with small-town appeal, Hadley said.

Filmmaker Odette Scott was chatting about the festival with Tom Dayhoof of Camden, a film buff. She was telling him about her latest project, about a visual artist in Mississippi with ALS.

She grew up in Pennsylvania, and for the past five years has been making films in China. She called the festival “my favorite festival in the U.S. It’s just the right size. It’s not too big yet. It’s not like Sundance. It’s also a nice place to come to visit.”

“Plus the locals are pretty cool,” Dayhoof quipped. “And humble.”

Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or at:

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Twitter: pphbkeyes