WATERVILLE — The Maine International Film Festival ended its 10-day run Sunday night to a packed Waterville Opera House, speeches, thank-yous and a big reception at Mainely Brews Restaurant downtown.

About 500 film enthusiasts crowded the Opera House for a 7:30 p.m. showing of the closing night film, “The Third Man,” recently named the Best British Film of All Time by the British Film Institute.

Ken Eisen, a festival founder and its current programmer, jokingly announced he had prepared a 5,000-word treatise to describe the film, written by Graham Greene and released in 1949. The black-and-white film about a novelist who travels to postwar Vienna and winds up investigating the death of an old friend is directed by Carol Reed and stars Orson Welles, Joseph Cotten, Alida Valli and Trevor Howard.

“Introducing ‘The Third Man’ is like introducing Shakespeare,” Eisen said, to laughter. “What is there to say? It speaks for itself. I hope you love it half as much as you ought to. I’m sure you will.”

Eisen, festival director Shannon Haines and technical director Alan Sanborn prompted a long standing ovation, yells and whistles from the audience as they walked onto the stage prior to the screening.

Sanborn announced that the films “Astraea” and “Come to My Voice” tied for first place for audience favorite. “Learning to Drive” and “Samba” tied for second, and “Au Bord du Monde” placed third. “Astraea” is about a teenage girl who leads her brother though a devastated America after an epidemic nearly wipes out the human race. “Come to My Voice” tells the story of a Kurdish girl and her grandmother who try to free the girl’s father from a Turkish prison. “Learning to Drive” is about a book editor who develops an unusual friendship with a man who gives her driving lessons. “Samba” portrays a romance between a dishwasher and a caseworker. “Au Bord” is a film that gives a voice to the homeless in Paris.

Haines reported that festival officials heard from visiting filmmakers that the Waterville festival was the most welcoming of all those they had attended and the audiences were the smartest and most engaged.

This was the first year the festival featured the World Filmmakers’ Forum, which brought filmmakers from Turkey, Afghanistan, France and Mexico and was funded by the National Endowment for the Arts. Haines said she plans to make it her personal quest to find funding each year so the forum may continue.

“Tonight really is a celebration, and we have a lot of thank-yous to hand out,” she said.

The festival staff and sponsors received accolades, as did Haines herself; she was presented with a bouquet of flowers.

“This festival would not begin to exist without her,” Eisen said. “She is freakin’ unbelievable.”

More than 100 films and about 70 filmmakers from all over the world were featured at the 18th annual film festival, which opened July 10 and attracted more than 9,000 admissions, according to festival publicist, Craig Lyons.

AUDIENCES THRILLED

Earlier in the day Sunday, the parking lot at Railroad Square Cinema was full as moviegoers filed in and out of the three theaters there to see the final films of the festival.

Joel and Alice Johnson said that by the end of the day Sunday, they would have seen 32 films during the 10 days.

“My favorite is ‘Hilda,’ but I think ‘Learning to Drive’ and ‘The Cut’ come to mind,” Joel Johnson, 61, said. “Those were all some of the favorites that many people really enjoyed.”

“Hilda” is a Mexican-made film about the wife of a gardener who becomes a maid for a lonely, bored housewife with a wealthy husband. “Learning to Drive” features Patricia Clarkson, the book editor who develops an unusual friendship with her driving instructor, portrayed by Ben Kingsley. “The Cut” follows a man’s journey through the Ottoman Empire after he survives the Armenian genocide of 1915.

The Johnsons, of Augusta, have attended all 18 festivals, they said.

“I think each year the selection has gotten better,” Joel Johnson said. “When it first started, you could see everything that was good. Now it’s difficult to put in all of them.”

Alice Johnson, 65, called this year’s fest “fantastic.”

“We have been able to see all the good films, which is an excellent yardstick for a festival,” she said. “My favorite is ‘Come to My Voice.’ I also thought ‘States of Grace’ and ‘The Cut’ were amazing, and I just walked out of a film that made me sad and very happy — ‘Omo Child: The River and the Bush.’ It was very powerful.”

Ellen Richmond, owner of the Children’s Book Cellar in downtown Waterville, said she loves the festival. She and RE-BOOKS owner Robert Sezak have sponsored four films a year at the festival for several years, and this year they sponsored “M*A*S*H,” “The Third Man,” “Fall” and “Imitation of Life,” Richmond said.

“Fall” was shown for the first time in the U.S. Thursday night at the Opera House, where actor Michael Murphy, the film’s star, received the festival’s most prestigious award, the Mid-Life Achievement Award. The film is about a lonely, aging priest in a small Canadian parish near Niagra Falls. Murphy, 77, who lives in both New York and Cape Elizabeth, has worked with directors including Woody Allen, Robert Altman, and Oliver Stone and Elia Kazan. He attended the festival with his friend Kathryn, Altman’s widow.

Richmond said she enjoyed “Tumbledown,” the opening night film, as well as “Learning to Drive,” and expected to have seen 14 films by the end of the day Sunday. She said the film festival has had its ups and downs over the years, but this summer’s event has been “super, unbelievable.”

“There hasn’t been anything I didn’t like, and some films I liked more than others,” she said. “MIFF is such a great thing for Waterville — for the restaurants, for the stores.”

People from all over hear the name “Waterville” and mention the film festival, according to Richmond.

“It’s a good thing,” she said.

Inside Railroad Square, festival venue manager Serena Sanborn Phipps said the 2015 festival drew crowds.

“I think this year has been really smooth, and for staff it’s been pretty flawless, which is great; and in fact, it has probably been one of the best years for the number of guests and how delightful the guests have been. We had 70 filmmaker guests, writers, producers, actors.”

Sanborn Phipps said she especially loved the festival’s World Filmmakers’ Forum.

“It was lovely, and I heard from more than one participant that that was the favorite part of the programming,” she said.

The festival was probably one of the best so far in terms of number of people coming to see films, according to Sanborn Phipps.

“The Opera House sold out the first night, and the middle-of-the-week centerpiece film, ‘The Congressman,’ was packed. Our crowds have been great.”

Amy Calder — 861-9247

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Twitter: @AmyCalder17