Ten years ago, a 23-year-old fellow who’d grown up here decided to bring his love of documentary film to the Midcoast. The 10th annual Camden International Film Festival runs Thursday through Sunday, Sept. 25 through 28, and celebrates its first decade recognized as one of the top 12 documentary film festivals in the world; and one of the 12 best small-town film festivals in the United States.

“We’ve got a solid international showcase as well as strong films from this country — some were at Sundance, but we’ve also got a robust, independent group of films that haven’t screened,” said Ben Fowlie, founder and director of CIFF, a couple of weeks before opening night.

The festival has at least half a dozen premieres, some of which are purposely not marked as such. CIFF is one of the few film festivals that don’t have a premiere requirement.

“We don’t really want to support that culture; we want to support independent filmmakers by not limiting their opportunities,” said Fowlie.

The Points North Forum, which runs concurrently for three of the festival’s days, is specifically geared to supporting emerging documentarians, offering opportunities to attend workshops and lectures by established members of the filmmaking tribe, including industry bigwigs. The Points North Pitch, which is open to the public 10:30 a.m. Saturday at the Camden Opera House, grants the juried opportunity for six filmmaking Fellows to pitch their works-in-progress and, for the winner, to obtain funding, coaching and technical help in completing their projects. This year’s Points North Forum also includes a pitch session to Al Jazeera Media Network’s AJ+ digital platform that potentially could reward all five Fellows with funding.

"We’re really honored to be bringing in such a diverse, talented and inspiring group of participants to Camden for this year’s Forum," said Points North Director Sean Flynn in a press release earlier this month.

Thursday, Sept. 25

Camden Opera House

7:30 p.m. "Virunga" (2014, UK) 97 min.

Friday, Sept. 26

Bayview Street Cinema

10 a.m. Shorts First 1 (FREE, seven films) 83 min.

Noon "The Iron Ministry" (2014, USA) 83 min.

2 p.m. "In Country" (2014, USA) 80 min.

4 p.m. "Waiting for August" (2014, Belgium) 88 min.

6:30 p.m. “The Notorious Mr. Bout” (2014, Russia/USA), 90 min.

9 p.m. "The Great Invisible" (2014, USA) 92 min.

Farnsworth Art Museum

11:30 a.m. “A Goat for a Vote” (2014, Netherlands) 52 min.

1 p.m. “Two Raging Grannies” (2014, Norway/Denmark/Italy) 77 min.

3 p.m. Shorts program of Cinema Eye Honors Shortlisted Films plus “A Paradise (Un Pariso)” 73 min.

Strand Theatre

6:30 p.m. “Art and Craft” (2014, USA) 89 min.

9 p.m. “Point and Shoot” (2014, USA) 83 min.

Saturday, Sept. 27

Bayview Street Cinema

10 a.m. Shorts First 2 (FREE, seven films) 89 min.

Noon "Desert Haze" (2014, Netherlands) 109 min.

2:30 p.m. "Guidelines (La Marche à Suivre)" (2014, Canada) 76 min.

4:30 p.m. "Actress" (2014, USA) 87 min.

6:45 p.m. "E-Team” (2013, USA) 89 min.

9 p.m. "Bugarach" (2014, Spain/Germany) 91 min.

Camden Opera House

8 p.m. “Happiness” (2013, France/Finland) 80 min.

Farnsworth Art Museum

11 a.m. “Song from the Forest” (2014, Germany) 96 min.

1 p.m. "The Last Season" (2014, USA) 78 min.

3 p.m. “Florence, Arizona” (2014, USA) 74 min.

Strand Theatre

10:30 a.m. “Mateo” (2014, USA) 88 min.

1:30 p.m. "Silenced" (2014, USA) 103 min., plus “Party Line” short.

4 p.m. “The Search for General Tso” (2014, USA) 71 min.

6:30 p.m. “Tomorrow We Disappear” (2014, USA) 84 min.

8:45 p.m. "Mr. Dynamite: The Rise of James Brown" (2014, USA) 123 min.

Sunday, Sept. 29

Bayview Street Cinema

10 a.m. Shorts First 3 (FREE, nine films) 95 min.

Noon “Approaching the Elephant” (2014, USA) 89 min.

2:30 p.m. “Happy Valley” (2014, USA) 98 min.

4:30 p.m. "Alive Inside" (2014, USA) 74 min.

Farnsworth Art Museum

10:30 a.m. “The Overnighters” (2014, USA) 102 min.

12:30 p.m. Dirigo Shorts: You Can’t Get There From Here (five Maine-made shorts) 120 min.

3 p.m. "Ne Me Quitte Pas" (2013, Netherlands/Belgium) 107 min.

Strand Theatre

10:30 a.m. "Rich Hill" (2014, USA) 91 min.

1 p.m. “Wild Home (2014, USA) 75 min.

3 p.m. "Walking Under Water" (2014, UK/Germany/Poland) 77 min.

5 p.m. Dirigo Shorts: Growing Local (three Maine-made shorts) 48 min.

Camden Opera House

7:30 p.m. “Seeds of Time” (2014, USA) 77 min.

In addition to all the new faces that will flood Camden, Rockport and Rockland during CIFF, there will be a number of returnees … and not all to screen new work.

“There are tons of alumni coming for the 10th year, a lot just coming on their own,” said Caroline von Kuhn, in her second year as the festival’s managing director.

CIFF falls in what von Kuhn calls the second season of the film-fest year, which begins in January with Sundance. The second wave begins in late summer with Cannes and Toronto, the latter just preceding CIFF.

“A lot of filmmakers want to premiere with us … we’re learning how to best utilize our time of year,” she said.

CIFF’s time of year being in late September, both the University of Maine and Unity College utilize it within their curriculums. UMaine has been part of the fest from the beginning, and Unity College has incorporated it in recent years; in fact, Fowlie and Unity professor John Zovodny teach a course together, something that came out of a screening series Fowlie had been bringing to the Waldo County college.

“John modeled the course after UMaine’s … the environmental theme of many of the films provide opportunities to explore how the environmental movement uses media as a tool,” said Fowlie.

“Last year, CIFF had our first intern from Unity College. Then she got into a program in Iceland; she got a camera and is making a documentary,” said von Kuhn, speaking about intrepid Sass Linnekan.

Having the college students involved has helped drive a diverse audience base, age-wise and engagement-wise, said Fowlie. And where do all these students stay?

“They all camp at Camden Hills [State Park],” said von Kuhn.

Other local partnerships woven into the program include Points North Forum’s mentoring day at Maine Media Workshops in Rockport; and a screening of three short Growing Local documentaries by Maine filmmaker Bridget Besaw, followed by a panel discussion, in collaboration with the Belfast-based Maine Farmland Trust.

The Besaw films are among the Dirigo Shorts that showcase Maine-made work. Another short, by Cushing artist Alan Magee, will be presented with “Silenced,” directed by Academy Award nominated James Spione, Saturday afternoon at Rockland’s Strand Theatre.

"It premiered at Tribeca and is about whistle-blowers in D.C. But it’s a very personal journey, poignant without turning you out of the political world,” said von Kuhn of “Silenced,” agreeing with Fowlie that Magee’s “Party Line” is “the perfect accompaniment.”

Fowlie said he enjoys working with artists he’s known about for years — last year’s CIFF screened Bo Bartlett and Betsy Eby’s “See” — because they approach filmmaking with a lot of excitement.

“It’s a new medium for them, so they are enthusiastic about a different way to exercise their creativity,” he said.

Both Fowlie and von Kuhn are particularly enthusiastic about the festival’s opening night film, “Virunga.” Last year’s Thursday nighter — “Cutie and the Boxer” — was a big hit, and they think this documentary about efforts to save the biodiversity, including the last of the mountain gorillas, of the Congo’s Virunga National Park will follow in its footsteps.

“It’s a big-time film that plays insanely well on a big screen … we’re hoping to get Orlando here from the U.K.,” he said of director — and age mate — Orlando von Einsiedel.

“It’s a MOVIE!”, said von Kuhn.

Sunday’s closing night film is another strong, cinematic conservation doc, “Seeds of Time,” about American Cary Fowler, who is striving to preserve seed species via a seed bank.

“It’s kind of like ‘Chasing Ice’ in that it’s both a character portrait and about his life’s work … we’ll have a Q&A with them [Fowler and director Sandy McLeod] via Skype after the screening,” said Fowlie.

Other films the organizers are especially excited about include Alex Gibney’s “Mr. Dynamite: The Rise of James Brown” — Midcoast moviegoers may remember Gibney was at the Strand this summer with his “Finding Fela”— and “Desert Haze” by Belgium’s Sofie Benoot, whose “Blue Meridian” made its U.S. premiere at 2010’s CIFF. And a Saturday afternoon shorts program will feature the Cinema Eye Honors shortlisted films — and announce the winners before the screening.

“In January, CIFF hosts a party for the Cinema Eye Honors in New York City, and it’s become the biggest documentary festival party of the year,” said Fowlie.

Both he and von Kuhn spoke highly of one of the shorts, “Joanna” from Poland; and “Waiting for August,” a feature-length documentary from Belgium.

“It’s a powerful piece of art, and it’s reality,” said Fowlie. “It’s absurd it hasn’t been screened in the U.S.”

The Cinema Eye shorts will be screened in the Farnsworth Art Museum auditorium, a small venue that CIFF has been developing into the site for its more experimental and challenging work. The fest’s next smallest venue is Camden’s Bayview Street Cinema, making its last appearance this year, since the building is slated to be renovated into a hotel. Bayview is the site for the free short-film programs the festival offers each day at 10 a.m.

The Cinema’s final screening will be “Alive Inside,” a feature connected to this year’s Engagement Summit, which brings professionals and organizations focused on a social issue into a conversation about using documentary films as a tool in their work. This is the second year the Engagement Summit focuses on Aging in Maine. Screenings of festival films have been going around the state for a year now and will continue, with fresh films from this year’s CIFF, until next July.

“We originally planned seven or eight screenings, but a lot of organizations reached out to us and we ended up doing 19 or 20,” said Fowlie.

“We decided to stay with Aging for a second year in order to collect data, so we can offer this model to other film festivals,” said von Kuhn.

After 10 years, CIFF clearly is the model of a modern major film festival, but still lives up to its logo “Small Towns, Big Films.” Viewers and filmmakers, emerging and established, all rub shoulders at screenings, parties and local coffee shops in a way that just doesn’t happen at larger festivals … and it works.

“Attendees tell us how surprised they are at how worldly our local audience is; it just can’t be replicated at other festivals,” said von Kuhn.

To be a part of the audience, visit camdenfilmfest.org for more information on each film, as well as festival passes and the full schedule. Passes may be purchased online through Thursday and picked up at the CIFF box office starting Wednesday, Sept. 24, at noon. The CIFF box office is located at 16 Bay View St., former location of Peter Ott’s.