The fifth annual Filmfest DC kicks off here Wednesday amid hopes that a festival with its share of growing pains has finally come of age.

Filmfest DC received heavy criticism in years past from local critics for a lack of focus and an emphasis on international fare that was considered turgid at best. This year’s event – which opens with the U.S. premiere of the Canadian film “A Paper Wedding” and includes the Oscar-winning best foreign-language film “Journey Of Hope” – is being hailed in local quarters as a dramatic improvement over past festivals.

“Everything is really well-organized this year,” said Jane Blanchard, a critic for the Journal Newspapers. “There’s really a lot of excellent stuff. No more films on Bulgarian terrace farming.”

Most of the praise for the festival’s change of direction goes to director Tony Gittens, who took charge of the event after sharing power the first four years with ousted artistic director Marcia Zalbowitz.

Joel Siegel, a critic with the City Paper, says the event is “structurally improved” because Gittens has sought input from a variety of local film buffs. Gittens said this year’s festival is budgeted at $180,000 and “should be the biggest and best of them all.” The event runs from May 1 to 12, and features 55 films from 20 countries.

Opening-night festivities kick off with appearances by actress Genevieve Bujold and director Michel Brualt from the film “A Paper Wedding.”

Other highlights will include the showing of Italian director Gianni Amelio’s “Open Doors,” a recent Oscar-nominee for best foreign-lingo film; Chinese helmer John Woo’s “The Killer”; director Jane Campion’s “An Angel At My Table”; director Joseph Vasquez’ “Hangin’ With The Homeboys”; producer-director Doug Block’s “The Heck With Hollywood!”; and Polish director Krzysztof Zanussi’s “Inventory.”

The closing-night film will be “Everybody’s Fine,” directed by “Cinema Paradiso” helmer Giuseppe Tornatore.

Filmfest DC also plans to feature cinema from Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia.

Bill Henry, a critic with the Hill Rag here, said he still believes 55 films are too many for a 12-day festival. But he no longer wonders whether DC Filmfest should be continued. “They’ve finally gotten their act together,” he said.