WATERVILLE — It would take a lot more than pouring rain to stop attendees from coming out to the Waterville Opera House for the opening night of the Maine International Film Festival.

Despite the miserable weather, visitors flocked to the opera house ahead of the first showing, including Nathan Bernard, who came to the festival two years ago, but skipped last year because of the pandemic. Last year’s absence means he appreciates this year that much more.

“I’m super excited; this is our first time actually going to the movies in a year or so,” Bernard said.

The annual festival runs from Friday to July 18, and has showings at the Waterville Opera House, Railroad Square Cinema, the Skowhegan Drive-in Theater and online. The full schedule and ticket information can be found online at miff.org.

A number of the films have connections to Maine, including “Fighting Indians,” which follows Skowhegan’s contentious mascot debate.

Mike Perreault, executive director of the Maine Film Center, which is based in Waterville and runs the festival, said this year’s planning was a whirlwind.

Last year, he said, they had to scale down the festival quickly due to the pandemic and only held showings at the drive-in and online. This year, as things opened up, they had to do the opposite and scale up the festival.

“It’s a great opportunity to have a bigger festival than we thought we were going to be able to when we started planning,” Perreault said.

Moviegoers take their seats Friday for opening night of the Maine International Film Festival at the Waterville Opera House. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

Opening night featured a showing of “Nine Days” directed by Edson Oda at the Waterville Opera House. The film stars Winston Duke as Will, who watches human life from his living room with vintage TV sets.

The theater was filled with people, and there was a palpable feeling of excitement even before the show started. Guests lined the stairwell.

Perreault spoke before the showing, and said he was excited to welcome everyone to the festival, and to be able to show movies in person — “how they should be seen.”

After the showing attendees headed to Railroad Square Cinema for the afterparty, featuring LumenARRT! and the Kneeling Art Photography Project. The event also included live music and a dance performance.

The weekend features a number of films at all locations, and a free community art activism workshop with Kneeling Art Photography Project, LumenARRT! and Natasha Mayers.

Opening night drew veteran attendees alongside first timers.

Nancy Sanford has attended all 24 years of the film festival — even last year during the pandemic. She sponsored a film this year, “Ailey.”

Sanford, who is from Waterville, said she has her schedule for the festival all planned out. While it was nice to see people at the drive-in last year, she said, it just wasn’t quite the same, and she’s looking forward to the in-person showings.

“It’s wonderful to actually see people in person,” she said.

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