WATERVILLE — The 16th annual Maine International Film Festival enters the digital age as it opens Friday at Railroad Square Cinema and the Waterville Opera House.

About 80 of the 100 films being shown during the 10-day run are digital as opposed to the standard 35 mm, according to the festival’s technical director, Alan Sanborn.

The cinema’s change to digital in April was difficult and took a lot of getting used to, he said, but the bugs appear to be worked out.

“The transition was a bit nightmarish at times,” he said.

Sanborn, one of the founders of Railroad Square 35 years ago, was in the projection room at the cinema Thursday, where films were being brought in for the festival. The carrying cases for digital films are much smaller and lighter-weight than those for 35 mm and take up a lot less space, as does digital projecting equipment.

“It’s kind of a whole new ball game and a lot of procedures to work out,” Sanborn said of digital projection. “This is the biggest change in the motion picture industry since sound. It’s all new equipment. You can’t use any of the old equipment. All of the procedures are different.”

The festival’s opening tonight will feature a special guest: Academy Award winning director, producer and screenwriter Jonathan Demme, who won the festival’s Mid-Life Achievement Award in 2002.
Demme will present his latest film, “Enzo Avitabile Music Life,” a documentary about a gathering of world musicians in Naples, Italy. The film screens at 7 p.m. in the Opera House following brief speeches by festival officials and Waterville Mayor Karen Heck.

The festival draws thousands of actors, filmmakers and movie enthusiasts from all over the world to Waterville every July.

Audiences get to meet filmmakers, who typically discuss films before or after screenings, and socialize with them at festival receptions.

New to the festival this year is a ticketing system whereby festival-goers may buy individual show tickets in the Railroad Square lobby well in advance of screenings.

“Before now, people have only been able to buy tickets online or at the venue shortly before show times,” said festival director Shannon Haines.

Haines was in the Railroad Square lobby Thursday, where she said preparations for the fest were going well. Printed programs arrived Thursday, and festival enthusiasts were streaming in to pick them up and buy tickets.

“Our technical team is testing them (movies) all out to make sure that they play and everything is working appropriately,” Haines said.

The Opera House was being set up as well, and officials were testing sound equipment there, she said.

It was about 26 hours before the festival opening, and Haines said officials were “pretty ready.”

“It always feels like this flurry of activity and we’re all running around crazily, but the curtain lifts and everything starts and we have no choice — we have no more time,” she said.

Dozens of volunteers have been working behind the scenes, arranging travel and lodging for visiting filmmakers and in some cases, lining up child care for them.

“We have a great hospitality team,” Haines said. “We try to make people feel welcome.”

She pointed to gift bags that are given to special guests, including actors and filmmakers. The bags are filled with all sorts of mostly Maine-made products, including baseball caps, coffee, soap, tea, spices, olive oil and vinegar and maple popcorn donated by businesses. The large canvas tote bags are donated by L.L. Bean.

Festival Intern Sarah Eisenstark was running the box office Thursday, working kinks out of the new electronic ticket machine.

“It’s going well,” said Eisenstark, 18, of New York City. “We were running into a couple of problems, but I think all of them have been solved.”

A sophomore at the State University of New York, Buffalo, majoring in environmental studies and minoring in French, Eisenstark said this summer is her first at the festival and her first visit to Waterville.

“This is very satisfying,” she said of her internship. “I’ve met some really cool people.”

Outside the cinema, Deb DeLong, 52, of Waterville, got out of her vehicle and was heading in to buy tickets for members of her family who live in Aroostook County to see “Hermythology” and “Lost on a Mountain in Maine,” two films-in-progress to be shown at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday and 3:30 p.m. Sunday, July 20, at the Opera House.

“Hermythology” is about Christopher Knight, also known as the North Pond Hermit, who was arrested in April after allegedly living in the woods in central Maine for nearly three decades while stealing supplies from local camps. “Lost on a Mountain in Maine” is about the true story of Donn Fendler, who was lost on Mount Katahdin for nine days in the 1930s, when he was 12.

“My family is very interested in the hermit story,” said DeLong, a Clinton Elementary School teacher. “My nephew actually won a bookmark contest about Donn Fendler.”

DeLong’s father and her nephew Holden Stoutamyer, 10, of Mapleton, who won the bookmark contest, met Fendler when he visited as part of the contest, she said.

Amy Calder — 861-9247
[email protected]

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