WATERVILLE — Catherine Eaton is drawn to the exquisite, raw beauty of the Maine coast from a place deep within her soul. Maine is a place she would live forever if given only one choice.

“It’s where my soul lives,” she said.

The actor, director, writer and producer’s connection to Maine is fierce. She spent rich summer days at her grandparents’ house in Hull’s Cove on Mount Desert Island as a child, returning year after year to the state even after they died. She remembers going back as a young woman to their house — then emptied — where she would sleep on the floor and cook from a camp stove. She continues to visit Maine every year.

It is, in part, that deep connection to the state that prompted Eaton to create “The Sounding,” a film shot partly on Monhegan Island, off the Maine coast, that will be the opening night feature Friday at the 20th annual Maine International Film Festival.

“The Sounding,” which Eaton co-wrote, directed and stars in, is about a woman, Olivia, who is raised by her grandfather on an island. Mysteriously, Olivia has never spoken, though she has the ability to speak.

An artist and lover of William Shakespeare’s works, she begins to talk — but only in the language of Shakespeare — after her grandfather, Lionel, loses his voice at his deathbed.

The psychological mystery then takes on a life of its own, with memorable characters and a compelling plot with twists, turns and surprises, as Eaton explores questions about language, communication, embracing differences and the independence of the human soul.

The film, released this year, opens at 7 p.m. Friday at the Waterville Opera House, with a reception to follow in Castonguay Square, which is downtown, next to City Hall.

“I do feel incredibly, incredibly honored,” Eaton said Tuesday in a phone interview from her home in New York. “I feel so grateful and I’m so excited to show the film with Maine audiences.”

The 10-day film festival is a program of the nonprofit Maine Film Center and brings about 100 independent and American and foreign-made films to the Opera House and Railroad Square Cinema. Thousands of film enthusiasts from all over the world come to Waterville to view the films, interact with filmmakers, attend parties and receptions and learn about the world of film.

Festival founder and programmer Ken Eisen said “The Sounding” resonates with Maine, with life and with the beat of a different drum and is a haunting story of a woman who chooses to speak only in her own way.

For Eaton, it represents a labor of love.

“I’m very proud of how it came out,” she said. “It’s visually extremely beautiful. I had an incredible team, and everyone on Monhegan was amazing. Maine is a very important place for me and a huge part of my growing up. It was an enormous part. It was really important that the film be evocative of and have that special kind of Maine beauty that I haven’t found any other place in the world.”

GENESIS OF ‘THE SOUNDING’

It was by what turned out to be a stroke of fortune that “The Sounding” was filmed on Monhegan, rather than on another island.

Originally, it was to be shot on an island off Deer Isle, but shortly before filming was to start — and after cast and crew flights were booked and plans laid — the location fell through.

“I had to find a new island with five days to go,” Eaton recalled. “It was crazy. It ended up being a huge blessing, because Monhegan was incredible. In the end, it was a gift.”

Eaton co-wrote “The Sounding” with her partner in life and work, Bryan Delaney. Harris Yulin plays Olivia’s grandfather, Lionel, in the film; Frankie Faison plays his attorney; and Teddy Sears is Michael, a neurologist whom Lionel calls to the island to serve as an advocate for his granddaughter after he dies.

In some ways, the mysterious, raven-haired, blue-eyed Olivia is Eaton, a classically trained actor and lover of Shakespeare who has acted in every play he ever wrote, starting with “The Taming of the Shrew,” which she performed in the eighth grade. She recalled being spellbound by the bard’s dialogue as she spoke it aloud for the first time.

“I’ve been in love with Shakespeare since I was a child,” she said.

The idea for “The Sounding” came to Eaton while she was working as an actor in Los Angeles several years ago. She was doing well, had a great manager and was enjoying the work. But circumstance would draw her back to New England — Vermont, in particular — where her mother lived. Her mother had fallen and broken her ankle. Eaton’s brother was married and working and her sister was in college, so Eaton became her caregiver.

“I went back home,” she said. “Six months later I was still there, working on a farm to help pay the bills and not acting. I came home one day from working on the farm, covered in mud and muck. Vermont has a wonderful art scene, but at that time it was not sustainable for an actor.”

She had dinner with her mother that night and afterward picked up one of her several volumes of the complete works of Shakespeare and started tearing out pages.

“I had an incredible desire to be surrounded by language and poetry,” she recalled. “It wasn’t sad — it was impulsive. By the morning, the house was completely covered by these pages.”

Eaton started to think about what would happen if someone chose the language of Shakespeare as his own, single language.

“I was in modern America, craving that language and that sound and that poetry.”

She started to write a play and created a one-woman show from it. Her mother’s health improved and Eaton moved to New York, put her play in a drawer, forgot about it and started acting again.

She met Delaney, a full-time writer from Ireland. He asked if she had ever written anything and she told him about the play.

“He kind of did some work on it. I shaped it and re-wrote it and we did Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, Europe, Ireland, New York.”

The play was 75 minutes long and a denser version of what would become the screenplay.

“It was full of Shakespeare — loads of it,” Eaton said.

As a filmmaker, one of her goals is to raise questions, and “The Sounding” does just that. Storytelling, she said, also increases empathy; and as we watch stories unfold, part of our imagination expands.

“I want to tell compelling stories that raise more questions than they answer, ultimately,” she said.

Writing, directing and acting in a film is hard work but creatively rewarding, according to Eaton.

“There’s a real gift to it, but the biggest challenge is the hours,” she said. “It’s relentless. You dream about it. You get very little sleep.”

“The Sounding,” produced by Eaton, Caitlin Gold and Jessica Gale, is a life-affirming piece for Eaton, who said the characters Olivia and Michael go on an incredible journey and, in the end, Olivia holds true to who she is — and Michael recognizes that.

After Waterville’s showing, both Friday night and 12:30 p.m. Saturday, Eaton will take the film to Rangeley, Bar Harbor and then Monhegan.

Her visit to Waterville will be her first, and she is excited at the prospect.

“I’m so honored to be at the festival,” she said. “They’ve been so incredible to me and so supportive of the film.”

EARLY INFLUENCES

Eaton moved around New England as a child, attending schools in Vermont from the third grade on.

“Most of Mom’s family lived in Vermont until very recently,” she said. “I had six uncles and aunts and Mom was a child of seven.”

After school, Eaton attended Cornell University, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in international law. Interested in international relations, she has always wanted to change the world, she said, with a laugh.

She went on to earn a master of fine arts degree from the University of Minnesota, in association with the Guthrie Theater — one of the top theaters in the country for classical work and new plays — and took the last MFA class there, she said.

Eaton has performed on Broadway, across the U.S., as well as in movies and television where she has appeared in “All My Children,” “Person of Interest,” “Training Day,” and other shows.

She also is a freelance producer for Madison Square Garden, including Radio City Music Hall, and was part of the Emmy Award-winning team for Bloomberg Television’s investigative report “Deadly Brew: The Human Toll of Ethanol.”

“The Sounding” won the festival grand prize at the Arizona International Film Festival; a best feature award at the Palm Beach International Film Festival; a best feature and audience choice award, as well as best style and new voice award, at the Brooklyn Film Festival; and best Minnesota-made feature at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Film Festival. It also won New American Visions Audience award at that festival.

Eaton is working on various projects including a television show she has written, which is getting some traction. She said she would love to perform in a television show herself.

“A film is one and a half to two hours, and it takes a very long time to get a film made,” she said. “With a television show, you have the opportunity over time. You’re in people’s homes and you have the opportunity to develop long-term relationships with the audience, and that’s really exciting to me. I’m a really immersive, creative person. I love going down the tunnel with something and really immersing myself in that world.”

More information about “The Sounding” is available on its website, thesoundingfilm.com

Tickets for MIFF’s opening night cost $12 and are available at www.miff.org or by calling 866-811-4111. Tickets also will be available at the Opera House box office two hours before the show starts.

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

Twitter: @AmyCalder17