WATERVILLE — While waiting for the opening ceremony of the Maine International Film Festival on Friday, Melissa Bastien gathered with a group of friends to kick off an annual tradition of film, food and fun with old friends.

She said the group started out years ago attending a few films but now takes in a week of screenings.

“It was more hit or miss when it first started,” she said. “Now we’re here because we can’t stop ourselves.”

Nearby Jean Bourg agreed, saying MIFF was both a chance to enjoy the arts and an excuse to enjoy downtown Waterville’s restaurants with friends.

“It’s one of our favorite summer festivals,” she said.

The friends from Unity were among thousands expected to attend the 17th annual 10-day festival at the Waterville Opera House and Railroad Square Cinema.

The festival opened with the public premiere of “Boyhood,” which was filmed over 12 years, the actors aging with their characters. The film by Richard Linklater has already received acclaim from movie critics at The New York Times and National Public Radio and has been screened at a number of film festivals. After MIFF, it opens in theaters July 18.

David Greene, president of Colby College, addressed the crowd of attendees before the screening and said MIFF was a deserving venue for the groundbreaking film.

“Where else could you premiere such a work but Waterville, Maine?” he said.

“I’m actually saying that without sarcasm,” he followed up, after the audience laughed at the remark.

Before the start of the opening film, outgoing Waterville Mayor Karen Heck addressed the audience for the last time in her official capacity.

“This is my absolute favorite job as major,” she said. “It’s kind of bittersweet because it’s my last.”

Heck, a longtime advocate for the arts, said she is proud to promote the film festival as part of the Greater Waterville arts community.

Ken Eisen, program director for the festival, encouraged festival-goers to attend not only movies they are drawn to on the schedule, but also a few that sound like they don’t have much potential.

He said the independent film festival is a chance for attendees to be “shaken off their perches” and tossed out of their film comfort zone.

“You’re going to find something that knocks you out,” he said.