There’s this moment at the movies when you’ve settled into your seat, your popcorn propped up on your lap, and the trailers have just finished, when the lights drops. A brief blanket of darkness and anticipation settles over you and swiftly gives way to the glow on the screen. That instant in the dark is full of tension, but it’s also a transition when our minds turn off our daily realities and open up to the possibilities of cinema. I love that moment.

I got to experience that moment again and again and again over the last week and a half as I set out to see as many movies at the Maine International Film Festival as I possibly could.

At least for the past year, I’ve been a pretty frequent moviegoer. Just ask the folks at Railroad Square. My last challenge had been to see all the films nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture at the theater before the ceremony. I nearly succeeded, but I did have to watch “Dunkirk” on my laptop, which, as it turns out, was not the ideal way to view a World War II drama that relied heavily upon movie theater magic (or really just surround sound speakers) to be worthwhile.

Nine films are a lot to see, even spaced out over a couple of months.

For my inaugural MIFF experience, I was going to try to more than double that in a matter of just 10 days.

I started strong with the opening night film, “The Bookshop,” starring the wonderful Emily Mortimer, whom I would pay to read to me every night before bed, if only I could afford her. The film was quirky and heartbreaking, and it made me want to curl up in a fleece blanket with my favorite novel.

On the second day, Saturday, I saw four films in a row. The day was a disorienting one. You start to lose your feel for time after sitting through a few films, and you go outside thinking it should be 10 p.m. and the sun is still out. Also, I understand that watching movies is the opposite of hard labor as you are just, you know, sitting in a cushioned chair; but, seeing so many films is an emotionally and mentally draining experience (especially if it’s a foreign-language film from the ’70s and you really just don’t get what’s going on).

I kept going, day after day, film after film, taking in the sweet and moody cross-country trek of “Thrasher Road,” the coming of age story about a middle-age woman finding her voice in “Puzzle,” the intoxicating melodies and melancholy of “Blaze,” the trauma and surprisingly biting humor of “The Miseducation of Cameron Post,” the exhaustion of being a woman in America in “Support the Girls,” and others just as affecting.

But I did hit a wall. I didn’t see as many films as I could have because of whatever reason I had for staying home (a girl’s gotta sleep, people). I finished the 10-day stretch having seen 13 films, though I should stress the quality of my experience over the quantity of movies I consumed. Every film was good and different, and perhaps not something I would have seen otherwise.

In my everyday life, I most likely would not have chosen to see a Spanish language documentary about two adopted boys from Russia, but “Mi Hermano” was so sweet and gentle. You got to see the forming of a family and the unique bond of chosen brotherhood.

Similarly, “The Queen of Fear,” from Valeria Bertuccelli, an Argentine actress who starred, wrote and directed the film, was one of my favorite films I’ve seen this year. Her performance was so captivating and layered. And if it hadn’t been showing at the festival, I probably would have never seen it.

On top of seeing these films, I also got to meet and speak with some of these filmmakers. Documentarian Alana Simoes told us about what the boys in “Mi Hermano” are up to now; and one of the producers of “The Queen of Fear,” Santiago Gallelli, gave us the context of Bertuccelli’s career in Argentina and some insight into what was going on between scenes.

I met and interviewed the lovely Dominique Sanda, an acclaimed French actress who was honored with the festival’s Lifetime Achievement Award. She was humble, kind and down-to-earth. I’ll always remember how she threw her hands up in the air and exclaimed when I informed her that France had won the World Cup earlier that day.

While I was watching “Thrasher Road,” a story of a road trip taken by an estranged father and daughter, I realized that the lead actress, Allison Brown, and the writer and director, Samantha Davidson Green, were sitting right behind me. It was interesting to hear how they reacted to different scenes. At some points their laughter was louder than that of anyone else in the theater, and I wondered what was going on while they were filming those moments that made them laugh so loudly.

But what I think I’ll take away the most from my marathon MIFF experience is the reminder of how special it is just going to the theater. Sure, I could watch a million films on my laptop at home. I could microwave a bowl of popcorn (or pour a glass of wine) and sprawl out on the couch with a blanket. It’s comfortable, but it’s not the same. I like the community a movie audience makes — our shared investment in the film, how we all feed off of one another’s reactions. And then there’s that moment that I love — the suspense that builds as the lights dim. You just can’t get that when you click play on a remote.

Emily Higginbotham — 861-9239

[email protected]

Twitter: @EmilyHigg

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