Michael Perreault, executive director of the Maine International Film Festival, at Railroad Square Cinema in Waterville on Thursday. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

WATERVILLE — The 24th Maine International Film Festival begins Friday night with this year’s focus on films made, produced or set in the Pine Tree State.

The festival, known as MIFF, aims to bring films from around the world to Maine. It is scheduled to run from July 9 to 18.

“We’re really proud that we have a great focus on Maine,” said Mike Perreault, executive director of the Waterville-based Maine Film Center, which brings contemporary, independent and classic films to central Maine through Railroad Square Cinema and MIFF. “We’re just stunned by the quality of the filmmaking that’s been happening in the state in the past couple of years. We are really just honored to be able to showcase so many of them at the festival.”

Three films in the MIFF lineup for this summer were either filmed or produced in Maine or are set here: “The Catch,” directed by Matt Balzer; “Fighting Indians,” directed by Mark Cooley and Derek Ellis; and “The Bride in the Box,” directed by Doug Bost.

Perreault said other films include ties to the region, including “Bread in the Bones,” which is sponsored by Maine Grains in Skowhegan.

“We’re really excited to be able to offer a festival that is twice the size of what it was last year,” Perreault said, “and to be able to welcome audiences back into Railroad Square Cinema, the Waterville Opera House and the Skowhegan Drive-In.”

Luca Thamattoor, left, Deni Merrill, center, and Erica Lee carry this year’s Maine International Film Festival sculpture Thursday at Railroad Square Cinema in Waterville. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

This year, the festival will show films online and at:

• Railroad Square Cinema, 17 Railroad Square, Waterville.

• Waterville Opera House, 1 Common St.

• Skowhegan Drive-In Theatre, 201 Waterville Road, Skowhegan.

MIFF for 2021 kicks off Friday at the Waterville Opera House, with the New England premiere of “Nine Days,” directed by Edson Oda.

Following the film’s premiere, festivalgoers can walk to Castonguay Square to kick off the Kneeling Art Photography Project, where “live music, impactful photography and projections on the façade of City Hall will light up downtown Waterville,” according to MIFF organizers.

“It’s really about engaging the community to show support and solidarity with your neighbor, especially people of color,” Perreault said.

Erica Lee, left, and Luca Thamattoor, interns with the Maine International Film Festival, test the audio and projection of a film Thursday at Railroad Square Cinema in Waterville. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

Perreault described the project as an “immersive exhibition” that will provide participants opportunity to have their photograph taken and share a statement about why they kneel in solidarity.

The Kneeling Art Photography Project is scheduled to resume at 1 p.m. daily for the length of the festival.

“It’s going to be a really powerful and important social justice program that we’re really honored to have as part of the festival this year,” Perreault said.

Traditionally, MIFF has been held at Railroad Square Cinema and the Waterville Opera House, with 10 movies screened per day for 10 days.

With the COVID-19 pandemic, the festival last year screened films at the nearby Skowhegan Drive-In Theatre and online. 

Perreault said last Tuesday that 50 films are scheduled to be screened during this year’s film festival, which is fewer than normal but more than last year.

In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic forced the festival to scramble to rework the event schedule.

Perreault said with vaccines widely available and changes to social-distancing guidelines, film screenings can be held this year with a general admission format instead of restricted seating.

“We’ve absolutely hit the ground running, getting everything ready for the festival,” Perreault said. “We’re still very much committed to hosting a safe screening environment, and we’re going to follow Maine (Center for Disease Control & Prevention) guidelines.”

In the past, other events had been scheduled to complement the films, such as discussions with directors. Such events will happen this year, Perreault said, although some of the interaction might be done virtually.

Based in Waterville, MIFF is a project of Maine Film Center and sponsored by Colby College, Waterville Creates and the Lawry Family Foundation.

“We’re hoping that people are excited to get back to the movies the way that they’re used to enjoying it,” Perreault said.

The film schedule, tickets for individual showings and festival passes are available through MIFF’s website — miff.org.

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