WATERVILLE — The 19th annual Maine International Film Festival wrapped up its 10-day run Sunday after having presented a wide selection of Maine-made, foreign and short films.

About 10,000 people attended the festival, which is put on by the Maine Film Center and included about 100 films, panel discussions with filmmakers, art installations and recognition for special guests Robert Benton and Gabriel Byrne.

“Generally we heard from audience members that they thought this was our strongest program to date,” said Shannon Haines, the festival’s director. “It’s always nice to hear that year after year. I also heard from a lot of our festival guests that they really had a wonderful time, and our audiences here have been intelligent and appreciative.”

The festival opened July 8 with the film “Seasons,” the beginning of a weekend that included more than a dozen film screenings at Railroad Square Cinema and the Waterville Opera House.

“What I love about the festival is not just the films, but that you get to meet the actors and filmmakers and talk to them about how they made the films, where their ideas came from,” said Pat Clark, a Unity resident who saw 25 films in this year’s festival. “Everyone is so accessible. It’s great.”

On July 10, the festival honored director and screenwriter Robert Benton with its Lifetime Achievement Award. Benton is known for his work in writing the screenplay for “Bonnie and Clyde” and for directing films such as “Bad Company” and “The Late Show.”

The festival also bestowed its Mid-Life Achievement Award on actor Gabriel Byrne, whose films “The Usual Suspects,” “Louder Than Bombs” and “Miller’s Crossing” all were screened during the festival.

This was the first year the festival honored two recipients with awards. “We’ve never done more than one per year, so it was very unique for us in that way,” said the festival’s programming director, Ken Eisen. “We were truly lucky to have them both.”

“It was such a thrill to see Gabriel Byrne,” said Susan Watts, of Waterville, a festival volunteer who said the chance to see three of Byrne’s films was among her favorite parts of the festival.

“I love the chance to see the filmmakers,” she said. “Often times they’re filmmakers that you might not know beforehand, but you get to see their films and talk to them afterwards.”

One of the most popular and lesser known films of the festival, “Wild Tales,” an Argentinian film that stitches together six story lines under the theme of revenge, was popular with the audience, Eisen said. “I had a lot of people who said they wanted to vote for it for their favorite film, and I had to remind them that they couldn’t because they can only vote for new films,” Eisen said. “That’s kind of the great thing about the festival, though; it sort of obscures time in some ways.”

About one-third of the festival’s films were new films that had not been screened anywhere else, something Eisen said is part of the excitement of the festival. In addition to an emphasis on independent, classic and foreign film, the festival each year also includes films that are made in Maine or in some way feature Maine and the rest of New England.

One of the most popular programmed items this year was a special exhibit by Brazilian filmmakers Ceci Soloaga and Ygor Marotta, collectively known as VJ Suave, who brought a mobile animation show to the streets of downtown Waterville.

The duo, who were part of the film festival’s second World Filmmakers Forum, were also part of the draw behind the festival’s MIFFONEDGE art installation at Common Street Arts, Haines said.

“I think it was the best attendance we’ve ever had at MIFFONEDGE,” Haines said.

The 10-day festival typically drives up ticket sales at Railroad Square Cinema, one of two film venues. Alan Sanborn, theater manager and a co-founder of the cinema, said he is hopeful it also will draw attention to the movie house and keep people coming back for independent films regularly.

“Every year we have people that didn’t know we were here until the festival,” Sanborn said. “I’d like to think people will still keep coming back after it’s over.”

Rachel Ohm — 612-2368

[email protected]

Twitter: @rachel_ohm

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