WATERVILLE — Actor Michael Murphy received the Maine International Film Festival’s prestigious Mid-Life Achievement Award on Thursday night at the Waterville Opera House to loud applause and a standing ovation.

Murphy, whose long, illustrious career includes working with directors Robert Altman, Woody Allen, Oliver Stone, Elia Kazan and P.T. Anderson, received the award following a screening of his new movie “Fall,” shown for the first time in the U.S.

About 350 moviegoers packed the Opera House for the 6:30 p.m. premiere of “Fall,” a 2014 film in which Murphy plays a lonely, aging Roman Catholic priest in a small parish near Niagara Falls. The film, set in Canada, netted Murphy a Canadian Screen Award nomination for Best Actor and was nominated for best picture, cinematography and set design.

Murphy arrived in the Opera House lobby just before Thursday’s screening with his family and Altman’s widow, Kathryn, who has attended previous festivals.

Festival Director Shannon Haines and festival founder and programmer Ken Eisen presented Murphy with the award, given to a person who has made significant contributions to independent film.

Murphy, 77, stepped onto the stage to receive the award, a moose statue dressed in green priest vestments and carrying a censer.

The audience stood, clapped and howled as Murphy accepted the moose, crafted by Haines’ mother, Laurel McLeod, and he hugged both Haines and Eisen. He said it was thrilling to have such a turnout for the premiere of “Fall,” which he did not think will get distributed in the U.S. and which he referred to as “Ingmar Bergman meets Catholicism.” His comment drew laughter.

“I’m very, very appreciative of this moose and that green outfit, and I want to thank you all so much for showing up and sitting through this long, long movie,” he said.

Murphy spoke about the making of the film and about the influences that helped him to carve out his role as Father Sam Ryan, whose life is spiraling down and whose church is waning, with fewer and fewer parishioners attending Mass. Murphy, whose character speaks Latin, said he had a lot of preparation for the role, having served as an altar boy as a child and having attended Catholic school for 12 years. Filmmaker and screenplay writer Terrance Odette, he said, worked together with Murphy to hone the script, which underwent many iterations.

“He was a good guy,” Murphy said of Odette. “He sat down with me and we got that script to where I was comfortable with it.”

Murphy said he was very interested in the priest character, which is not unlike that of other men who grow old and face loneliness and decline.

He also spoke of working with Altman, with whom he started his career.

“He got hold of me right out of college,” Murphy recalled. “He didn’t say much — he just let me do it and do it and do it. He was brilliant.”

The annual film festival draws thousands of movie enthusiasts to Waterville from all over the world during its 10-day run, which ends Sunday night. About 100 independent American and foreign-made films are shown at the festival, which also features parties and receptions and draws directors, producers, writers and musicians who interact with moviegoers and hold panel discussions about films and filmmaking.

Murphy joins the roster of previous festival achievement award winners Glenn Close, Keith Carradine, Ed Harris, Peter Fonda, Jonathan Demme, Sissy Spacek, Terrence, Malick, Jos Stelling, John Turturro, Bud Cort, Walter Hill, Lili Taylor, Malcolm McDowell, Jay Cocks and Thelma Schoonmaker.

Murphy, who lives in New York and Cape Elizabeth, has appeared in more than 100 films and television productions, playing opposite Allen in “Manhattan” and “The Front.” Those films, as well as “Away from Her,” are being shown at the 18th annual festival.

Murphy also appears in “The Year of Living Dangerously,” “Batman Returns,” “Salvador,” “Magnolia,” “M*A*S*H” and “Nashville,” and has narrated several “American Experience” television series documentaries.

He told Thursday’s audience that whenever he worries about what to do next or what he is going to do, he comes to Maine to “cool out and not worry about anything.”

“I’ve been a semi-resident of Maine 35 years and it really has played a huge, huge role in my life,” he said.

He had great praise for the Maine International Film Festival.

“I do want to say that this is a fantastic organization — what they bring to this town,” he said.

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

Twitter: @AmyCalder17

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