WATERVILLE — The Maine International Film Festival begins Friday with the opening night film “Tumbledown,” a romantic drama set in the mountains of western Maine near Farmington.

The film, which was written and directed by a pair of Portland-based filmmakers, already had exceeded opening night advance ticket sales by midday Thursday, according to festival organizers. It is one of about 100 films that will be shown at the festival, which runs through July 19.

The festival, which is in its 18th year, is expected to draw about 50 filmmakers and hundreds of attendees to Railroad Square Cinema and the Waterville Opera House over the next 10 days. Preparations were underway most of the week around Waterville, with the box office opening early at Railroad Square, films being screened for sound and picture quality at the opera house and a special art exhibit, MIFFONEDGE, being installed at the downtown gallery Common Street Arts.

“It’s hectic but enjoyable,” said J-sun Bailey, an assistant technical director for the festival, during a break from pre-screening films Thursday afternoon at the opera house. “There’s a good community feeling that you get from being around a lot of people who love film.”

The festival is a showcase of “the best of American independent, international and Maine-made film,” according to Director Shannon Haines. Organizers received 186 submissions this year, from which 24 films were selected, while the remaining films in the festival were selected by the festival staff.

Kate Cone and her husband, Pat Brancaccio, of Waterville, were at the box office Thursday buying their tickets for the festival. They plan to attend at least one film each day with their partial passes, Cone said, pulling out a calendar on which she had written the titles and show times for everything they planned to see. Their plans started with the opening night film, “Tumbledown.”

“It’s going to be fun,” said Cone, 61. “We just thought, ‘Why not throw ourselves into it?'”

“Part of the fun of going to a festival,” Brancaccio said, “is that you go to a lot of different films and run into people.”

In order to be accepted to the festival, the films must not have been shown in Maine before and not have had a widespread cinematic release. Most of the films are recent, having been made within the last two years, although the festival does include a Re-Discovery Films series composed of classic films that have been restored or recently re-released.

Exceptions also are made for films that honor the festival’s Mid-Life Achievement Award winner. The award, which recognizes a person for his or her contributions to cinema, is being presented this year to actor Michael Murphy, who has been featured in movies by directors Tim Burton and Woody Allen, among others.

“Tumbledown,” the opening night film, is one of five feature-length films to be made or set in Maine that will be shown this year.

Written and directed by husband-and-wife team Desi Van Til and Sean Mewshaw, “Tumbledown” debuted at the Tribeca Film Festival in April. It tells the story of a young widow, played by actress Rebecca Hall, who falls in love with a New York writer, played by Jason Sudeikis, when he arrives in her rural Maine town — near the base of Franklin County’s Tumbledown Mountain — to investigate the death of her husband, a folk musician.

Van Til, 38, grew up in Farmington and is a 1995 graduate of Mt. Blue High School. She wrote the screenplay for “Tumbledown” while living in Los Angeles, California, and said the couple planned to move back to Maine for the filming but investors required them to shoot in Massachusetts instead because of better production incentives.

“It means the world to me to share the movie with my home state and the people who inspired me to start writing to begin with,” Van Til said. “We had a wonderful reception in New York City, but I imagine there will be more inside jokes appreciated by the audience Friday night. I’m looking forward to hearing laughs in some places where non-Mainers might not have noticed.”

Festival organizers said Thursday that about 300 tickets had been sold in advance of the “Tumbledown” screening at the opera house, an opening night advance ticket sales record. The opera house seats about 800.

“We think ‘Tumbledown’ is actually the perfect opening night film for MIFF,” Haines said. “It’s almost like a gift for us, because it’s an authentic, well-made film, set in Maine, that will be an audience-pleaser. Really, we couldn’t ask for more in an opening night film.”

For its centerpiece film on Wednesday, July 15, the festival is featuring “The Congressman,” another Maine-inspired film that was shot on Monhegan Island and in Augusta. Created by writer and director Robert Mrazek, the film follows fictional Maine congressman Charlie Winship as he travels to the remote Maine island to escape a series of mishaps including a video that circulates after he fails to stand up and recite the Pledge of Allegiance, an argument with another House member and a confrontation with an angry ex-wife.

Seeing images from “The Congressman,” you can, as programming director Ken Eisen says, “taste the salt in the air,” Haines said. “It’s just such a Maine film, and having the opportunity to show it to a Maine audience before it’s seen anywhere else was too big of an opportunity to pass up.”

In addition to the roughly 100 films set to be screened, the festival includes a number of special events, exhibits and receptions. Murphy, the winner of the Mid-Life Achievement Award, will be honored at a reception on Thursday, July 16, following a screening of the film “Fall,” in which he plays an aging Roman Catholic priest confronted with a man’s recollection of a sexual encounter between them when the man was a boy.

The festival also is hosting its first World Filmmakers’ Forum, made possible through a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, Haines said. The forum will bring four filmmakers from four countries — Argentina, France, Mexico and Turkey — to the festival to present and discuss their films.

Rachel Ohm — 612-2368

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Twitter: @rachel_ohm