As ever, Christmas comes in July for Maine film fans, with the Maine International Film Festival opening Friday and running through July 22, bringing us its traditionally impressive lineup of locally made and international movies, prestigious guests from the film world and more.

MIFF’s 15th season, which boasts “10 days, 100 films, 50 filmmakers,” offers plenty of incentive for Portlanders to make the journey to Waterville.

“It’s only an hour and fifteen minutes north,” says Shannon Haines, MIFF’s festival director. “It’s an easy day trip.”

Of course, for film freaks, MIFF’s roster of films is enough of an enticement. In addition to high-profile crowd-pleasers like the opening-night film “The Oranges” (starring Hugh Laurie and Catherine Keener) and the acclaimed French animated fairy tale “The Painting,” Haines is enthusiastic about a few personal favorites.

“They’re all so good, but I highly recommend ‘Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai’ (from director Takashi Miike),” she said. “It’s a great modern take on the traditional samurai genre. Plus, I’m especially excited for people to see ‘Once Upon a Time in the West’ (1968) on the big screen. We’re partnering with the Film Foundation to show a fully restored print of what might be one of the best movies ever made.”

MIFF’s dedication to presenting the year’s best Maine-made movies continues with screenings of the Vinalhaven-set thriller “Nor’easter,” the apocalyptic supernatural head trip “The Eighteenth Hour,” the documentaries “Hard Water” (about ice fishing) and “Dreamcatcher” (about contemporary dance), the films from this year’s Maine Student Film & Video Festival, and new Maine dramas “Like the Water” and “VacationLand” — among others.

Plus, MIFF continues its legacy of honoring Hollywood royalty with its Mid-Life Achievement Award, which this year belongs to legendary editor Thelma Schoonmaker — who, in a career spanning four decades, has edited every one of Martin Scorsese’s films and won three Oscars.

In addition, this year’s special guests include maverick independent producer Jim Stark (“Mystery Train,” “Cold Fever”) and longtime leading lady Karen Black (“Five Easy Pieces,” “Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean”), who also stars in the Maine-set “VacationLand.”

Each of this year’s guests will be on hand to present films and answer questions from attendees, continuing MIFF’s commitment to providing the public unparalleled access, a quality of which Haines is particularly proud.

“All events at the festival are open to the public — there are no VIP areas,” she said. “We feel like the public should have access to everything.”

Haines suggests that visitors check out the daily Filmmakers’ Lounge at the Mainely Brews Restaurant where, from 4 to 6 p.m. every day, attendees can share a happy-hour chat with many of the festival’s invited movie makers in an informal setting.

“That’s the most exciting part of it for me,” said Haines. “MIFF really is a community event. It’s great to walk down the street after one of the screenings and hear people talking about the movie they saw or the issues it brought up. It’s a really fun time for everyone.”

For a complete list of the films and fun, check out And then get in the car and head to Waterville already.

Dennis Perkins is a Portland freelance writer.