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The Cleveland International Film Festival (CIFF) line-up of more than 350 independent films isn’t for everyone, particularly those who prefer movies with celebrity names in the credits.
But for those open to the concept of film as true art rather than commercial enterprise, the long-running festival has much to satisfy the soul and mind.
“These are certainly [films] for the most part under the commercial radar,” said Patrick Shepherd, associate director of the Cleveland International Film Festival, which kicks off its 12-day run on Wednesday. “[But] I think there’s a lot in the film festival for everyone.
“We do strive to screen the best films from around the world and hope people learn something along the way. The core mission of exhibition and education is there.”
CIFF this year features 186 feature films and 168 short subjects, presented in collected programs, from 68 countries. There are a total of 500 screenings, an average of 45 per day, with almost all of them at Tower City Cinemas, 737 Canal Road in downtown Cleveland.
For more information, including ticket prices — there is a $2 discount off of every ticket purchase for Blade readers using the code “Blade” — the festival's film line-up, a schedule of screening dates and times, and even options for dining and overnight stays, visit clevelandfilm.org or call 877.304.FILM (3456).
Now in its 38th year, CIFF is a prominent regional — and certainly Ohio’s biggest — film festival, with a combined audience of 95,000 film lovers and filmmakers from around the world expected to attend — a staggering growth in audience from its first year in 1977 when only eight friends watched a few weekend films at the festival’s first home, Cedar Lee Theatre in Cleveland Heights. Even by 1990, the festival drew only 14,000 attendees.
Shepherd attributes the sizable increase in filmgoers to the festival’s move to Tower Cinemas in 1991 — timed perfectly with downtown Cleveland’s renaissance — and most importantly, CIFF's increasing ability to connect with wider audiences through the movies it showcases.
“I think we’ve gotten better at programming for the audience in the region,” he said. “When I first started here, [the CIFF] was more elitist, everyone wore black clothes. It was very much an artsy audience. Now we’re more broadly based and egalitarian. You see every type of person, from an ethnic background, age, and cultural identity.”
CIFF is also attracting an increasing number of northwest Ohio residents, he said, most of whom make small vacations of the festival, staying for a night or two and mixing up the activities with the screenings and other nearby attractions, including the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum.
When pressed to make a must-see recommendation to those making such a short turnaround to CIFF, Shepherd hesitated, offering that picking between all the films was like “choosing a favorite child.”
Finally, he settled on the powerful documentary Matt Shepard is a Friend of Mine, which is screening at 5 p.m. March 29 and 2:15 p.m. March 30. And as expanded post-screening discussion, the film’s director, Michele Josue, will be there, along with her husband and the parents of Shepard, a gay college student whose beating and murder in 1998 inspired activists and ultimately led to the Hate Crimes Prevention Act more than a decade later that bears his name.
“[Josue] had unprecedented access to the Shepard family and even his diaries,” Shepard said. “There are some special moments in this festival, including Matt Shepard is a Friend of Mine.”
Contact Kirk Baird at: email@example.com or 419-724-6734.
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