WATERVILLE — The 14th annual Maine International Film Festival overcame losing a popular venue to draw nearly 8,000 people, who watched more than 100 films screened since July 15.

While attendance dropped slightly from last year, festival director Shannon Haines called the number of filmgoers this year a major success, especially since it was the first time without screenings in the Waterville Opera House, closed because of renovations.

People still flocked to films during the 10-day festival, which screened a record number of films at Railroad Square Cinema and Colby College, she said Sunday before the festival’s closing ceremony.

The 325 seats in the college’s Given Auditorium couldn’t replace the opera house’s 750 seats, but the festival screened its highest number of films this year to give the audience more choices, Haines said.

Dan Marra and his wife, Barbara Leonard, are veterans of all 14 festivals.

The couple from Winslow said the caliber and selection of films this year made up for losing the opera house.

Marra watched 20 films and Leonard caught 9, saying a film they watched Sunday afternoon about a forgotten Native American language being rediscovered won her vote for “best of fest.”

The couple watched one film each at Colby College this year. They called the college’s auditorium a nice venue with plenty of space, but they also talked about missing the atmosphere of the opera house.

“There’s just something lovely about being in that historical building,” Leonard said, leaving the Railroad Square Cinema.

Festival programmer Ken Eisen called the attendance figures this year remarkable because people had to adjust to the new venue.

This year, a total of 7,009 admissions were counted by the end of Saturday, compared to 7,800 at the same point last year, according to Haines.

The total attendance this year will be announced today, but organizers believe it will be close to 8,000, she said. She said more than 8,500 people attended last year.

This year, like past years, the festival drew filmmakers and tourists to Maine from across the U.S., as well as many other countries, Haines said.

But Haines spoke with some business owners who say fewer people spent time shopping and eating at restaurants in downtown Waterville, where the opera house is located just off Main Street.

“The downtown community suffered a little bit,” Haines said.

Joel Johnson and his wife Alice have attended all 14 festivals.

This year, the couple from Augusta found themselves going to fewer restaurants than in past years, when they would sneak out between films to downtown eateries.

Eisen praised the college for opening its auditorium to help screen the nearly 120 films screened this year. The ability to show the record number of films helped keep attendance figures from dropping off significantly, he said.

“To me it was the strongest program we’ve had,” he said, referring to the quality and variety of films.

The audience favorite this year was “Stella,” a French film by director, screenwriter Sylvie Verheyde about a child growing up in Paris.

Second place went to “In Good Time, The Piano Jazz of Marian McPartland,” a film by Maine-based director Huey.

The audience awarded third place to “Sarah’s Key,” a French film by Gilles Paquet-Brenner about an American journalist living in Paris.

David Robinson — 861-9287

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