WATERVILLE — The 19th annual Maine International Film Festival kicks off its 10-day run here Friday with about 100 international and independent films to be shown at both Railroad Square and the Waterville Opera House.

The festival, which runs through Sunday, July 17, brings thousands of film enthusiasts to the city from all over the world not to only see movies and take part in question-and-answer sessions, but also to attend receptions and social events and rub elbows with directors, producers and actors.

Opening night Friday will feature a 6:30 p.m. showing of “Seasons” at the Opera House. The experiential film by Jacques Perrin and Jacques Cluzaud affords moviegoers a view of the world as it existed before human beings inhabited it, according to festival program Director Ken Eisen.

“It’s specifically the European world, northern Europe, with forests populated by animals,” Eisen said Thursday. “It’s a truly astonishing experience. It should be a really amazing way to kick off the festival. A really unusual film.”

Before the screening, Eisen will join festival director Shannon Haines, as well as Uri Lessing, president of the Maine Film Center board of directors, and Eisen’s wife, actress Karen Young, in welcoming guests to the festival. Young is the festival’s shorts programmer.

“I’m very excited about the festival,” Eisen said. “I’m very, very excited about the people who are here and pretty thrilled with the lineup overall.”

The film festival is a project of the Maine Film Center, of which Haines is executive director. Haines said the World Filmmakers Forum, which brings together filmmakers from around the world for screenings, discussion of their works and talks about filmmaking in general, is a particularly compelling aspect of the festival.

“This is the second year we’re doing it,” she said. “We have filmmakers coming from four different countries — Brazil, South Africa, Mexico and Uruguay — and they will present films throughout the festival. The filmmakers are coming over the course of 10 days and they will have showings of at least one film each.”

Two of the filmmakers are already here, from Brazil. They call themselves VJ Suave and they perform digital animation and projection on the street, according to Haines. Film festival officials saw them on YouTube, contacted them and asked them to come to the film festival, and they agreed.

The showing of “Seasons” on Friday will be followed by an opening night party at 8:30 p.m., which this year is being held for the first time on Castonguay Square downtown, catered by Silver Street Tavern and featuring the band Bella’s Bartok. At 8:30 p.m., VJ Suave will hold an outdoor performance that includes mounting a projector on a tricycle and projecting images onto buildings, Haines said.

Saturday will feature audiovisual works from 2 to 9 p.m. at Common Street Arts downtown as part of MIFFONEDGE, which continues daily throughout the festival. The event will pay tribute to animation pioneer Robert Breer and highlight contemporary work by Kelly Gallagher and Dustin Grella. Two live-action works by Stephanie Maxwell will be screened and VJ Suave will supplement the video installation with mobile projections along city streets.

Robert Benton, an Academy Award-winning director and screenwriter whose films include “Bonnie and Clyde,” “Kramer vs. Kramer” and “Nobody’s Fool,” will be given the festival’s Lifetime Achievement Award at 6:30 p.m. Sunday at the Opera House, following a showing of “Nobody’s Fool,” written by Maine-based Pulitzer Prize-winning author Richard Russo. Russo will be on hand to help present the award to Benton, with whom he has worked closely over the years. Benton and Russo co-wrote “Twilight,” a 1998 film starring Paul Newman, Susan Sarandon and Gene Hackman.

Russo is a former Waterville resident and Colby College professor who won the Pulitzer for his novel “Empire Falls,” which he dedicated to Benton. The 2005 film “Empire Falls,” starring Newman, Joanne Woodward, Ed Harris and Helen Hunt, was filmed mostly in Waterville and Skowhegan. A party for Benton will be held at 9 p.m. Sunday at Holy Cannoli downtown.

Actor Gabriel Byrne will receive the festival’s Mid-Life Achievement Award July 15, also at the Opera House. Byrne, nominated this year for a Best Actor Tony Award for the revival of Eugene O’Neill’s “Long Day’s Journey into Night,” has performed in more than 35 films, including “Miller’s Crossing,” “Stigmata,” “Excaliber,” and “Louder than Bombs.” Byrne also won a Golden Globe Award and was nominated two years in a row for an Emmy Award for Lead Actor in the HBO television series “In Treatment.” A party for Byrne will be held at 9 p.m. Friday, July 15, at Amici’s Cucina restaurant downtown following a 6:30 p.m. showing of his film “The Usual Suspects” at the Opera House.

The Lifetime and Mid-Life Achievement awards have been given to many actors, producers, directors and writers over the years. Winners include Harris, Glenn Close, Sissy Spacek, Jonathan Demme, Keith Carradine, Bud Cort, Walter Hill, Terrence Malick, Thelma Schoonmaker, Lili Tyler, Arthur Penn, Michael Murphy, John Turturro, Karen Black, Malcolm McDowell, Peter Fonda and Jos Stelling.

Golden Globe-winning actress Lori Singer will have a special career retrospective recognition during the festival. Her films, including “Footloose,” “Trouble in Mind,” Short Cuts” and “God Knows Where I Am,” will be shown during the festival.

Other festival highlights include a Re-Discovery films program, to feature digital restorations of movies including “Heaven Can Wait,” “A Touch of Zen,” “Ossessione,” “Chimes at Midnight” and “Blood Simple.”

The festival’s centerpiece film will be the world premiere of a 35 mm restoration of “Peyton Place” at 6 p.m. Wednesday at the Opera House, accompanied by a new short film, “On Location in Peyton Place.”

The closing night film, “Little Men,” will be shown at 7 p.m. Sunday, July 17, at the Opera House, with a closing party to follow at 9 p.m. at Mainely Brews Restaurant & Brewhouse.

“Music and the Classic Shorts Silents: Charlie Chaplin and Felix the Cat Take a Walk Together” will be shown Sunday; the Maine Student Film & Video Festival will be held July 16; PechaKucha Night, Waterville, Volume 21, is scheduled for July 14; and Maine Short films will be shown starting Monday and continuing through July 17.

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

Twitter: @AmyCalder17

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