WATERVILLE — The 21st annual Maine International Film Festival kicked off Friday night with a screening of “The Bookshop” before a packed audience at the Opera House.

The 10-day festival, which tends to bring over 10,000 people to the city for a variety of film screenings and demonstrations, shifts back and forth between the Opera House and Railroad Square Cinema. In addition to the screenings and demonstrations, festival attendees also have the chance to have discussions and dialogue with producers, actors, directors and others in the film industry.

The festival is a project of the Maine Film Center. Presenting sponsors are Colby College and Waterville Creates!, which both received a round of applause just before the film started.

Mike Perreault, the festival director, said he was “so excited” for the festival, noting that it will bring more than 100 films and 50 directors from around the world to Waterville.

“It’s an incredible feat of cinematic history,” he said.

Prior to the showing of the film, the Opera House was buzzing with chatting people, many going up to different groups or individuals to talk. As the festival officially commenced, Perreault took the stage to a round of applause, again celebrating the films from around the world that would be shown. He said there were a number of “great returning guests” this year, including Brazilian new media artist duo VJ Suave, who return to the festival as part of MIFFONEDGE with a virtual reality exhibit, “Floresta Encantata.”


“The Bookstore,” set in 1959 in England, is the story of a free-spirited widow, played by Emily 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 followed the screening at 9 p.m. Friday downtown in Castonguay Square, catered by the Silver Street Tavern, with live music from Jelly Sauce.

Before the screening, Shannon Haines, president and chief executive officer of Waterville Creates!, spoke of the arts community in Waterville, soon to be highlighted by the new arts center being built by Waterville Creates! and Colby College, which will become the permanent home of MIFF once completed. Haines said Waterville Creates! is launching a community capital campaign to raise $2 million for the arts center.

“Our institutions are second to none,” she said, listing the Opera House, Colby College’s Museum of Art and the Waterville Public Library, which won the National Medal for Museum and Library Service in 2017.

She praised the community for always valuing the importance of arts, pointing out how community members donated money for renovation of the Opera House and stepped up when the old Railroad Square Cinema burned down.

“I think we can all agree the world needs more of this kind of community,” she said.

Before the screening of the film, programmer Ken Eisen said he was excited about the upcoming festival and said now, all these years later, it’s “more like a reunion than a festival.”


“It’s a really nice occasion,” he said.

Eisen said while there’s still a lot of work that goes into running the festival each year, it’s a fun challenge because there is more for people to do each year. Every year they get more and new connections, many of whom keep coming back, which gives them access to more things.

“A lot of people come to appreciate it,” he said.

Perreault also took a moment to celebrate Uri Lessing, who along with his wife, Lauren, is moving to Iowa. Uri Lessing was president of the Maine Film Center board of directors and was described as “an incredible supporter” of the festival.

Lessing said when he moved to Waterville 11 years ago, he didn’t know anyone, but in that time has come to deeply love the community. He said he will be back every year for the festival. He then took time to recognize those in the audience who have attended every festival since the beginning, as well as those there for the first time.

“This is a film festival like no other,” he said. “It’s not for the producers or the studios. It’s for the audience.”


All told, the festival is hosting 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.

Sanda, 67, follows former supermodel and actress Lauren Hutton, who received the award last year when it was still known as the Mid-Life Achievement Award. A number of Sanda’s films will be shown throughout the festival, including “1900 (Novecento),” a sprawling, five-hour film starring Robert de Niro from 1976, as well as films such as “The Conformist” and “The Inheritance.” Sanda 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.

Other past award honorees include Ed Harris, Keith Carradine, Malcolm McDowell, Sissy Spacek, Bud Cort, John Turturro, Peter Fonda, Thelma Schoonmaker, Lili Taylor, Arthur Penn, Terrence Malick, Jos Stelling and Walter Hill.

Colin Ellis — 861-9253

[email protected]

Twitter: @colinoellis


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