Dora Wong, left, and Adelia Scheck work the ticket booth Tuesday for opening night of the Maine International Film Festival at the Skowhegan Drive-In Theatre. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel Buy this Photo

More than 50 cars full of moviegoers headed to the Skowhegan Drive-In Theatre on Tuesday for the opening night of the 23rd annual Maine International Film Festival.

The 8:45 p.m. screening of “Heroic Losers,” an Argentinian comedy-drama, filled the drive-in’s parking slots with longtime festival goers and new attendees, according to Mike Perreault, executive director of the festival.

“It’s great to see so many familiar faces and so many new faces,” Perreault said. “The staff is getting a really great opportunity to reconnect with each other and the community so it’s a pretty special evening.”

“Heroic Losers” follows a group of neighbors in a rural Argentinian town during the 2001 financial crisis as they devise a plan to recover money that was stolen from them by a crooked bank manager.

Alice Johnson and Joel Johnson, of Augusta, have attended the festival for all 23 years and were the sponsors for Tuesday’s feature.

“ (The film) is kind of a mixed bag of things,” Joel Johnson said. “It’s a little bit of a heist movie. They’re playing up a certain aspect of comedy. It’s a wild tale.”

Alice Johnson shared similar sentiments.

“It’s really worth watching,” she said. “Even the trailer is a lot of fun.”

Alice and Joel Johnson first learned about the film when it premiered at the Toronto Film Festival in September 2019.

“We didn’t see it there,” he said. “Basically it was among a group of films that we were trying to fit in and on the last day we had a chance to possibly see it, but we decided to go see something else. So we were very thrilled to see that it was going to be at the festival this year and decided, hey we’ll sponsor it.”

The 10-day festival, a project of Waterville-based Maine Film Center, is typically held at the 810-seat Waterville Opera House and the three-screen Railroad Square Cinema, also in Waterville.

The festival is being hosted at the drive-in, located at 201 Waterville Road in Skowhegan, because of social distancing restrictions brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.

The change in venue is welcomed by Jeanmarie Tekverk, who set up a folding chair and blankets in the bed of her pickup truck for Tuesday’s screening.

“This is pretty standard drive-in movie culture to sit in the bed of your truck,” Tekverk said.

Tekverk, of Waterville, said she and her family are longtime MIFF lovers and are especially grateful that it was able to happen this year.

“We’ve always supported MIFF all the years,” Tekverk said. “It’s wonderful and this is such a great venue. We’re just very excited it was able to be held at all because of COVID-19; we really hope it does well, because we love it.”

Due to the change of venue, the festival’s program this year had to be whittled down to showcase only 10 features, which will be screened at the drive-in each night beginning at 8:45 p.m. Last year’s film festival screened nearly 100 features.

Part of the festival will also be available for audiences to stream online.

This year is the first time Julia Dunlavey, assistant executive director of the Maine Film Center, will attend MIFF.

At the box office on Tuesday evening, Dunlavey was feeling a mix of emotions.

“I’m feeling a lot of things right now,” Dunlavey said. “I’m feeling pretty calm, surprisingly.”

Dunlavey said that although MIFF had to be altered to ensure the health and safety of staff and moviegoers this year, the spirit of the festival is the same.

“I think it’s comforting to know that although this is an entirely new venue and operations are a bit different, it’s still MIFF,” Dunlavey said. “And people know the drill, people know that this is MIFF so I think that’s helpful.”

Tickets and schedules for the festival are available at miff.org.

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