WATERVILLE — The 21st Maine International Film Festival opens Friday featuring about 100 American independent and foreign films, a world filmmakers forum, a Maine shorts program, a tribute to legendary director Hal Ashby and awarding of the Lifetime Achievement Award to actress Dominique Sanda.

The festival, expected to draw about 10,000 film enthusiasts to the city for its 10-day run, will take place at Railroad Square Cinema and the Waterville Opera House and affords attendees discussions and dialogue with producers, actors, directors and others in the film industry.

Opening day features a 6:30 p.m. showing at the Opera House of “The Bookshop,” a film produced in the United Kingdom and Spain, directed by Isabel Coixet and featuring Emily Mortimer, Billy Nighy, and Patricia Clarkson. Set in 1959 in England, the story follows a free-spirited widow, played by Mortimer, who opens a bookstore in a conservative East Anglian coastal town. The movie garnered Best Picture, Best Director and Best Screenplay accolades at the Goya Awards, the annual awards ceremony in Spain. An opening night party, open to the public, will follow at 9 p.m. Friday downtown in Castonguay Square, catered by the Silver Street Tavern.

The festival is a project of the Maine Film Center. Presenting sponsors are Colby College and Waterville Creates!

“We are ready to kick off the 21st annual Maine International Film Festival,” festival director Mike Perreault said Thursday. “It’s the 10 best days of the year, as far as I’m concerned, and we’re ready to welcome 10,000 people.”

Sanda, whose films include “The Conformist,” “1900 (Novecento),” and “The Inheritance,” will receive her award at the showing of “The Garden of the Finzi-Continis,” to be shown at 6:30 p.m. Sunday at the Opera House. A party for Sanda will follow at 8:30 p.m. at Itali-ah Market and Restaurant on Main Street.

Festival programmer Ken Eisen said he can’t wait for audiences to meet Sanda and see some of her finest films.

“The most exciting thing of all for me is the presence during all of MIFF of our glorious Lifetime Achievement Award winner, Dominique Sanda,” Eisen said Thursday. “She is the pre-eminent European movie actress of her time, and the movies she’s been in are among the most important and just plain terrific in my movie-going life, and that of anyone else seriously interested in film in the past 50 years.”

Sanda has co-starred in films with Paul Newman and Robert De Niro and been directed by some of the greatest directors ever, including John Huston, Bernardo Bertolucci, Robert Bresson and Vittorio De Sica, according to Eisen.

Sanda joins past honorees including Ed Harris, Keith Carradine, Malcolm McDowell, Sissy Spacek, Bud Cort, John Turturro, Peter Fonda, Lauren Hutton, Thelma Schoonmaker, Lili Taylor, Arthur Penn, Terrence Malick, Jos Stelling and Walter Hill.

Eisen said he is as excited about this year’s lineup of films as any in the 21 years of the festival.

“There are films from 33 countries, which I believe is a record,” he said. “Over half of our features are by female directors, which was not anything I aimed for, but was delighted to find it happened to come out that way … and I think the range of what’s on the program is also greater than we’ve ever had before, from a ‘aww, isn’t that the cutest thing’ documentary about guide dog puppies, ‘Pick of the Litter,’ to important new films that we think could be awards season contenders, such as ‘The Children Act’ with Emma Thompson, and ‘Say Her Name: The Life and Death of Sandra Bland.'”

Passes and individual tickets to films may be ordered by calling 866-811-4111. Individual tickets cost $10 except for Centerpiece Gala and Lifetime Achievement Award screenings, which cost $14, and opening and closing night showings, which cost $12. Tickets may be obtained online at miff.org; advance tickets may be purchased at Railroad Square from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. during the week and noon to 7 p.m. on weekends.

FESTIVAL HIGHLIGHTS

Highlights of this year’s festival include the two-hour Maine Shorts Program, to be shown at 3:30 p.m. Saturday at the Opera House and repeating on July 21. Ten films will be screened. The animated shorts will be screened at 12:30 p.m. at the Opera House, prior to the Maine Shorts, and will be repeated at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at Railroad Square.

“It’s our largest ever Maine Shorts Program,” Perreault said. “I’m so excited to say we’re putting our best foot forward and highlighting Maine voices on the big screen and telling Maine stories.”

The World Filmmakers Forum to be held over several days features groundbreaking films from Argentina, Brazil and Mexico — works that have not been seen in the U.S., according to Perreault. Filmmakers include Alana Simoes, Santiago Gallelli and Juliana Rojas. A World Filmmakers Forum party will be held from 7:30 to 10 p.m. Thursday at 18 Below, a restaurant on Silver Street downtown.

MIFFONEDGE Volume 6, an exhibit at Common Street Arts in The Center at 93 Main St., will be open noon to 7 p.m. Saturday through July 21 and features a suite of immersive sensory experiences including a trip through a virtual reality forest.

Brazilian new media artist duo VJ Suave returns to the festival as part of MIFFONEDGE with a virtual reality exhibit, “Floresta Encantata”; and Maine artist Susan Bickford will present “(Stillness) 18,” in which participants are asked to meditate on the nature of water as they explore a cycle of reversing falls, according to Perreault. The Children’s Discovery Museum also will present a series of pop-up art activities.

“I’m also really excited about the Hal Ashby section,” Perreault said of the famed director of films including “Harold and Maude,” which starred Bud Cort, a prior festival guest.

“It’s a small part of our program but includes some really incredible films, including ‘Bound for Glory,’ which won two Oscars,” Perreault said. “We’re also going to be showing ‘Being There,’ which is another great Hal Ashby classic that is really timely today.”

Making it in Maine Day July 21 will include the Maine Film Forum at Common Street Arts, featuring filmmakers, festival leaders, representatives of the Maine Film Office and educators from around the state. The event, to be held 9 a.m. to noon, will include a special presentation on the history of women in film by Andi Isaacs. A student filmmakers reception will be held at 2:30 p.m. at Jorgensen’s Cafe on Main Street.

The 41st annual Maine Student Film and Video Festival will be held at 12:30 p.m. July 21 at the Opera House.

The festival’s Centerpiece film, “7th Heaven,” produced in 1927, will be shown at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Opera House with Mark Tipton and Les Sorciers Perdus performing a live, newly composed score. A reception will be held at 8:30 p.m. at Amici’s Cucina on Main Street downtown.

The closing night film at 7 p.m. July 22 at the Opera House is “Support the Girls,” a 2018 film. A party will be hosted at 9 p.m. at Portland Pie Co., also on Main Street, to mark closing night.

Fifty filmmaker guests will attend this year’s festival, attending screenings, engaging with audiences in question-and-answer sessions and attending receptions, many of which are free and open to the public, according to Perreault.

“We hope that everyone will come down and celebrate film and filmmaking with us at the festival,” he said.

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

Twitter: @AmyCalder17