WATERVILLE — The Maine International Film Festival opened its 20th year Friday with a showing of “The Sounding,” a psychological mystery about a woman living on an island off the Maine coast.

Portions of the film were shot on Monhegan Island, whose rocky coastline, pine forest and screaming gulls make a stunning backdrop to the film’s central mystery: why its main character, Olivia, suddenly decided to stop speaking despite what her grandfather describes as an “IQ that’s off the charts.”

In an interview this week, “The Sounding” writer, director and star Catherine Eaton described her visceral connection to the Maine landscape. Throughout her childhood, Eaton spent summers visiting her grandparents in Hull’s Cove on Mount Desert Island.

“It’s where my soul lives,” she said.

Festival pass and ticket holders streamed into the Waterville Opera House for the film’s New England premiere, with many excited to see the state’s iconic coastline projected onto a big screen.

Michelle and Don Kruger, of Potomac, Maryland, said they began attending the festival three or four years ago because of the Maine connection that runs throughout the festival’s programming. The Krugers have been traveling to the state since 1976 and spend summers at their camp on Great Pond.

“We just love Maine,” Michelle Kruger, 73, said.

Lise Y. Corbin, 73, a first-time festival attendee, bought a pass to the festival so she could take in the foreign and familiar landscapes in this year’s films. An enthusiastic traveler based in Augusta, Corbin said she looked forward to comparing the European backdrops on screen with her experiences traveling through France, Italy, Germany and other countries.

Asked which film most caught her imagination, Corbin quickly named “The Immigrant,” a sepia-toned story about Polish Catholic immigrant sisters who travel to New York in 1921 in search of a better life. The film, released in 2013, stars Marion Cotillard, Joaquin Phoenix and Jeremy Renner.

Corbin said she gravitates toward stories of immigrants because she came to the U.S. as an immigrant herself. Her parents brought her to the country from Canada as a child, fleeing poverty.

“It’s a transition that only somebody’s whose done it can relate to,” Corbin said.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, Tobi Schneider, 65, marked her 20th year at the festival, where she has sponsored films for many years. Schneider was an attorney in Waterville before retiring. Sponsoring the films once provided good advertising, but Schneider has continued to sponsor films as an enthusiastic supporter of the festival.

“It’s a gem, I think, for Waterville,” Schneider said. “It’s just incredible.”

This year Schneider sponsored “Abundant Acreage Available,” a 2017 film about two siblings who grapple with the death of their father and its aftermath. Schneider said she has long turned to festival director Shannon Haines for advice on which film to sponsor.

The festival, founded in 1998, features nearly 100 narrative and documentary films over 10 days at the Waterville Opera House and Railroad Square Cinema. The festival attracts thousands of film enthusiasts each year from around the country.

The night also featured projections by LumenArrt! a collaborative of Union of Maine Visual Artists who use projected animations and images to communicate about pressing social and environment justice issues. Friday night’s projections focused on climate change and air and water quality in Maine. The group teamed up with Paul Mayewski, of the University of Maine Climate Change Institute, to educate Mainers about air quality in their communities and the rapid warming of Maine’s waters.

Kate McCormick — 861-9218

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Twitter: @KateRMcCormick