Organizers were busy at the Skowhegan Drive-In on Monday afternoon, preparing for the first night of the 23rd annual Maine International Film Festival.

The festival, also known as MIFF, begins Tuesday night and is being hosted at the drive-in this year because of social distancing restrictions brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.

Nonetheless, organizers are eager to get the festival started.

“This will definitely be a MIFF to remember,” Mike Perreault, executive director of the festival, said as he was setting up at the drive-in on Monday. “We’ve sold a good number of tickets online, and we know a lot of pass holders are eager to get their passes at the box office and enjoy, so we’re planning for a pretty close to full, if not full, drive-in theater, which is the way MIFF should kick off.”

The opening feature will be “Heroic Losers,” an Argentinian comedy-drama directed by Sebastian Borezensztein.

Ten features will be screened at the drive-in this year, each beginning at 8:45 p.m. A portion of the festival will also be streamed online.

The festival, a project of Waterville-based Maine Film Center, is typically held at the 810-seat Waterville Opera House and the three-screen Railroad Square Cinema, also in Waterville.

The drive-in theater, located at 201 Waterville Road in Skowhegan, was opened in 1954 and accommodates about 350 cars.

The change of venue is especially exciting for Kristina Cannon, executive director of Main Street Skowhegan, a nonprofit organization aimed at revitalizing the town.

“I’m really excited about welcoming people into Skowhegan,” Cannon said during a phone call on Monday. “The folks in Waterville have really been great to work with, and they’ve been excited about promoting the area so we’re ready for the festival.”

Cannon said that in preparation for the 10-day festival, local restaurants and retailers are “gearing up” for an influx of customers.

Alan Sanborn, co-founder and manager of Railroad Square Cinema, loaded the drive-in’s projector on Monday afternoon and reminisced about the special memories he has of that venue.

“I’m particularly excited that we’re here at the drive-in,” Sanborn said. “I love the drive-in. I used to come here every year when my kids were growing up and I remember thinking, ‘You know, this might be the last time you ever get to go to a drive-in.’ But here we are, 40 years later, and it’s still going strong, so I’m super excited to show movies here.”

Because of the pandemic, staff is taking extra precautions to ensure the health and safety of themselves and moviegoers, according to Julia Dunlavey, assistant executive director of the Maine Film Center.

“We brought a whole bunch of stuff up here today,” Dunlavey said. “Before this we did a huge Walmart run and bought a ton of Lysol, wipes, hand sanitizer, just to make sure our staff are safe and everyone is safe.”

Programs are carried to the ticket booth Monday as preparations are made for the Maine International Film Festival at the Skowhegan Drive In movie theater in Skowhegan. The festival runs July 7-16. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel Buy this Photo

This year will be Dunlavey’s first time attending the festival as she joined the Maine Film Center in May.

“This is my first MIFF and it’s not the kind of MIFF I thought I was going to plan,” Dunlavey said. “But I’m super excited, and I think we really pulled it off. To go from being completely shut down, wondering if this is actually going to happen and then this just popped up and we made it work.”

Perreault said that festival organizers are especially excited for opening night since Railroad Square Cinema had to close down in mid-March due to the coronavirus.

“We’re super excited about getting to show films again,” Perreault said. “And to greet people that we haven’t seen in a while. I’ve spoken to a number of our patrons over the phone over the last few months, and everyone is just really excited to go to the movies again in whatever way they can.”

Tickets and schedules for the festival are available on miff.org.

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