WATERVILLE — The crowd at this year’s opening film in the Maine International Film Festival was slightly smaller than last year’s record-breaking attendance for “Tumbledown,” but the enthusiasm was as large as ever as hundreds crowded into the Waterville Opera House for the opening night film, “Seasons.”

“We’re so glad you’re here,” said Uri Lessing, president of the Maine Film Center board of directors as he welcomed Friday night’s audience at the opera house. “We’re just so ecstatically glad.” “Seasons,” a documentary tracing the history of wildlife in the post-Ice Age era, was the opening film at the Opera House and one of the first to play in the 10-day festival, which runs through July 17 and features nearly 100 films. Venues include the opera house and Railroad Square Cinema.

The festival, which is in its 19th year, bills itself as representing “the best of American independent and international cinema” and traditionally also highlights films that are set in or produced by filmmakers from Maine and elsewhere in New England.

“It’s so exciting,” said Janet Preston, 54, of China, who was attending Friday’s opening night film with her daughter, Beth Preston, 24. “It’s great to have films that no one has seen before.”

“They tend to be about things other than what Hollywood cares about, and it’s nice to have something to do in Waterville,” said Beth Preston, of Waterville.

Many festivalgoers at Friday night’s opening were regulars to the celebration, though ‘Seasons’ also attracted new festival goers who were excited to attend their first film.

Eleven-year-old Bella Smith, of Hallowell, said she was excited to see “Seasons” because of the animals and was attending with her great-aunt Jane Chase, of Whitefield.

“Bella is a great animal fan, so we’re hoping this movie is as exciting as what we’ve read about it,” said Chase as the pair headed in to see the film.

“I love the film festival,” said Larry Sterrs, chairman of the board of Waterville Creates!, a nonprofit group dedicated to the arts in Waterville that is also a partner in putting on the festival. “I like the fact that there are so many choices. There are so many things you can choose to watch and see.”

The great variety of films in the festival was also something that festival Programming Director Ken Eisen reminded Friday’s audience of in his opening remarks.

“Everybody has their own festival. You cannot see every film in the festival, I’m happy to say,” Eisen said. “One of the nice things about that is you can make your own festival. You guys are all programmers and you get to program your own festival by choosing what you go see.”

In other opening remarks Friday night, Festival Director Shannon Haines also welcomed the crowd and thanked the festival’s many sponsors.

“We have another amazing festival this year,” Haines said. “We have nearly 100 films from all over the world — short films, long films, documentary films, narrative films. The best independent, international and classic films.”

Haines also described the guests at this year’s festival as some of the “most amazing and diverse assortment we’ve had yet.”

In addition to hosting the second annual World Filmmakers Forum with filmmakers from four countries, the festival this year also will honor three-time Oscar winner Robert Benton with the Lifetime Achievement Award and actor Gabriel Byrne with the Mid-Life Achievement Award.

“The people are the best part,” said Nico Shultz, 23, of Waterville, a festivalgoer who in the past has worked on the technical crew. “The people who run it know so much about what they’re doing with the films they pick. The community is also really great. I can always walk out of a film and have a meaningful conversation with other people. I can honestly say that Waterville is one of the most thoughtful and insightful independent film communities I’ve seen across the country.”

Rachel Ohm — 612-2368

[email protected]

Twitter: @rachel_ohm

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