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 typically brings more than 10,000 people to Waterville, screens films at both the Opera House and Railroad Square Cinema. 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’s director, said 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.

He said there were a number of “great returning guests” this year, including Brazilian new media artist duo VJ Suave, who are at the festival as part of MIFFONEDGE with a virtual reality exhibit, “Floresta Encantata.”

“The Bookshop,” 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, an 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. 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.

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.”

All told, this year’s festival is presenting about 100 American independent and foreign films, hosting a world filmmakers forum and a Maine shorts program, offering a tribute to legendary director Hal Ashby and bestowing the Lifetime Achievement Award on French 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 can be contacted at 861-9253 or at:

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