WATERVILLE — As Mike Perreault put it, a gray, rainy Sunday was “the perfect weather for a day at the movies.”

Attendees on the final day of the 24th Maine International Film Festival in Waterville, known as MIFF, seemed to agree.

Perreault, executive director of the Maine Film Center, which is based in Waterville and runs the festival, said many moviegoers said MIFF 2021 was the first time they had caught a movie since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020.

Volunteer Karen Kusiak, left, passes Sunday through The Kneeling Art Photography Project during the 24th Maine International Film Festival in Waterville. Kusiak greeted guests and fielded questions during the exhibit at 18 Main St. in downtown Waterville. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

“It was just nice to get people back to the movies and enjoying films from around the world,” he said.

The annual festival began July 9 and featured films at the Waterville Opera House, Railroad Square Cinema, the Skowhegan Drive-In Theatre and online.

Last year, the festival was scaled back and showed fewer films than usual, and only in online formats or at the Skowhegan Drive-In.

While the festival was not up to the full number of films or attendees this year, Perreault said, there was still strong attendance — much greater than last year.

The festival concluded Sunday with a closing night showing of “Cryptozoo,” directed by Dash Shaw, at the Waterville Opera House. The film follows the crypto zookeepers as they attempt to capture a legendary, dream-eating creature and wrestle with the choice to display the creatures at a zoo.

Earlier in the day, attendees enjoyed The Kneeling Art Photography Project and LumenARRT! exhibition & photo booth, which was open throughout the week, and showings of “The Last Election and other love stories” and “Bread in the Bones” at Railroad Square Cinema.

Lisa Ericson and Lisa Wheeler, both of Waterville, attended the packed showing of “Bread in the Bones.” They said they had attended the festival in the past, but skipped last year because of the pandemic, and had not seen many movies over the past year.

“This is the first time I’ve been in a theater since COVID,” Wheeler said.

Moviegoers watch the screen Sunday before the start of “The Last Election and other love stories” during the 24th Maine International Film Festival at Railroad Square Cinema in Waterville. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

The two said they were excited to see the film in person. Ericson said she saw a few films earlier in the festival, and particularly enjoyed “Nine Days.” She said she was excited to finally return to Railroad Square Cinema.

“This is a mainstay under normal circumstances,” Ericson said.

Kenneth Copp of Thorndike also attended “Bread in the Bones.” He said he did not attend the festival last year, but earlier this week attended the showing of the Maine Shorts, which included a film he was in, “The Seeker.”

While Copp said he has watched movies at home with streaming services over the past year, it was not the same as being at a theater.

“It’s really a nice experience,” he said, “to be able to be with the big screen, in the room with a number of people and the camaraderie.”

For those who missed the festival or is ready to return to seeing movies at theaters, Railroad Square Cinema is scheduled to reopen for regular business this Friday.

Perreault said he was feeling grateful the festival went smoothly and that moviegoers came out to enjoy it.

“I’m feeling really grateful that we were able to host an in-person festival,” he said. “I’m really grateful that our staff came back and worked super hard. I’m super grateful for their hard work. I think people were ready to get off the couch and celebrate watching movies together.”

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