Friday, April 8, 2011

35th Ciff - An Overview

By Jared McGrath

It should come as little surprise to anyone who was at the 35th Cleveland International Film Festival that again they broke attendance records on a daily basis.  Hell, they even beat the Cleveland Indians attendance by nearly two thousand on April 2nd!  For those who have never attended the CIFF, you’re missing out on one of, if not THE, premiere arts events in the city.  Executive Director Marcie Goodman, along with Artistic Director William Guentzler have, over the last ten years, made even casual film goers into film fanatics, as witnessed by the huge increase in sales of all-access passes and an increase in attendance of more that 100% over the last decade.

For the first time in it’s 35 years the festival has taken over the entire Tower City Cinemas complex to accommodate more patrons and have access to more screens, and also switched to staggered film scheduling with films overlapping rounds during the evening to allow for easier crowd control.  This was met with some resistance by pass holders who plan weeks in advance as to how they can see the most number of films per day. 

Fortunately, that resistance melted as pass holders experienced how much easier it was to navigate through the hallways during what had typically been busy times in prior years.  While Friday and Saturday nights between 6:00 and 7:30 were still unruly with ticket holders being lined up on one side of the Gateway and Stand-by on the other, the CIFF staff run those queues like well-oiled machines, making sure it is never a source of intimidation or confusion for festival new-comers.  As someone who has only missed two festivals in the last sixteen years, I am happy to say that the changes worked.  Many have wondered aloud how the CIFF can continue to grow and still make use of its current facilities.  We’re incredibly fortunate to have a festival that is held within the confines of one venue (take that, Toronto!), and many hope that will never change.  Besides, where would it go?

Total attendance this year topped out at over 78,000 - and it’s easy to see why so many people flock to the CIFF with the quality of films from around the world that Guentzler is able to obtain: Films like this year’s Roxanne T. Mueller Audience Choice Award winner, the feel-good VINCENT WANTS TO SEA, and THE SILENCE from Germany, that sets the bar on how a good thriller should be made.  Despite its difficult subject matter, everything from screenplay, pacing, structure, and cinematography in this film is what I would consider Master Class, and is my top pick of the 52 films I saw.

Scandinavian films, which hold a special place in my heart were well represented. LIMBO, from Sweden and beautifully filmed in Trinidad, tells the story of a woman coming unwound after following her husband to a new home in a strange land and discovering his infidelities.  WIN/WIN from Norway (and not to be confused with the upcoming Paul Giamatti sports drama) is, on the surface, a light-hearted tale of an up and coming stock broker. Beneath, however, lies a tale slightly more dense and involved.

ALMOST KINGS, directed by Philip G. Flores, is bound to be a sleeper hit once it is distributed.  Though hard to pinpoint, there’s something in its DNA that makes us feel like we’ve not seen a coming of age story quite like this.  Strong performances from its cast, particularly Portia Doubleday and Lorenzo James Henrie make it hard to ignore, even when you’d rather look away.  The script, by Flores and Max Doty, won the Netflix “Find Your Voice Competition”, and received  a $150,000 grant, 35mm film stock from Kodak, and Panavision equipment.

Unfortunately, the CIFF screened a digital video rather than an actual film print, which is a shame.  Despite it looking perfectly adequate on video, I imagine it would have looked absolutely breathtaking on film.  It’s a minor detail, but a noticeable one.  I understand that prints are expensive to ship, more difficult for festivals to obtain, and that the CIFF has to use the equipment available to them, but it’s here that I wish they’d take a hard line on movies available on film by telling distributors and film makers “If your movie is available on film, we want it on film”. It may be semantics, but it is a film festival, after all.

Another aspect putting people in the seats is the inclusion of more mainstream films and midnight screenings. INSIDIOUS, now in theaters, screened at the CIFF a week before its release during a midnight round to an almost full house.  The crowd-pleasing Australian weepie MATCHING JACK, about a mother searching for a bone marrow donor for her son, hit all the marks, and pulled all the heartstrings a slick studio film should, despite being independently financed.

Clevelanders craving documentaries surely didn’t go hungry this  year, and docs are where the CIFF truly shines.  The quality and amount of docs, not to mention the variety of topics, is amazing.  The struggle in Norway to properly and and permanently dispose of nuclear waste is explored in the thought-provoking and at times scary INTO ETERNITYBOBBY FISCHER AGAINST THE WORLD goes inside the mind of someone who can only be described as a deeply disturbed genius.  Parma native Biagio Messina brought us DYING TO DO LETTERMAN about comedian Steve Mazan’s quest to get on his favorite late night show while fighting inoperable cancer.  And film lovers got a real treat with THESE AMAZING SHADOWS, which delves into the preservation of, and appreciation for, the art form that the CIFF so thoroughly and expertly promotes.

Finally, CIFF patrons should be made aware of how reputable our “little festival” has become, world-wide.  Film makers love coming to Cleveland because we’re not an “Industry” festival. I heard time and again from the mouths of directors, producers and cast members, while sitting in hospitality headquarters, how nice it is to be among real film fans.  So cheers to you, Cleveland, and cheers to the CIFF for once again entertaining, enlightening and educating us through film.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for breaking it down for us that missed it!


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