The 42nd Cleveland International Film Festival ran this year from April 4 – 15. During that time, more than 105,000 enthusiastic attendees made their way to Tower City Cinemas to see what the fuss was all about. Here are some stats:

216 feature films
253 short films
72 countries of origin
400 visiting filmmakers

These 400 visiting filmmakers all came to Cleveland to discuss their films with the audience, which is what makes a festival special. Most of our guests are North Americans, particularly from New York, Los Angeles and Toronto, but a number of foreign filmmakers and jurors attend from abroad every year. Many of our guests from near and far have never been to Cleveland before, so the festival serves as an introduction to the many international people and organizations active in Northeast Ohio.

One global award-winner this year was director Tjardus Greidanus for his film BURDEN OF GENIUS, which describes the life and work of organ transplant pioneer Dr. Thomas Starzl. Winner of the Global Health Competition, the Dutch-born, L.A.-based director interviewed three top transplant surgeons at the Cleveland Clinic for his film, while Cleveland-based Lifebanc was the film’s community partner. Community partnerships are a CIFF highlight for both local organizations and visiting filmmakers, since they provide the opportunity for filmmakers and partners to work toward common goals and promote their films in Cleveland – and beyond.

Another big award went to 6 WEEKS TO MOTHER’S DAY by Canadian Marvin Blunte. Marvin won the Greg Gund Memorial Standing Up Competition for his movie about the remarkable Children’s Village School in rural west Thailand. This progressive democratic school provides a nurturing environment to over 150 children who have been victims of poverty, neglect, or abandonment. Marvin was thrilled to be present at the festival’s Closing Night ceremony to receive his award.

A second beneficiary of the George Gund Foundation was MEN DON’T CRY by director Alen Drljević, who unfortunately couldn’t make it in from Bosnia. This film, winner of the festival’s George Gund III Central and Eastern European Film Competition, was Bosnia and Herzegovina’s entry for Best Foreign Language Film for this year’s Academy Awards. Co-produced by Bosnia, Herzegovina, Slovenia, Croatia and Germany, the film tells the story of veterans of the late 1990s Yugoslav Wars who participate in a series of intense sessions aimed at healing and reconciliation.

Pavel Bozhkov’s short film TWEET-TWEET played as part of the Film Slam program, which brings thousands of middle and high school-aged kids from all over Northeast Ohio to morning screenings especially tailored for them. Pavel, a producer who is based in Moscow and Los Angeles, had this to say about his first visit to Cleveland.

From the very first moment in the city I was charmed by it. … when I saw those screenings that were split based on the languages of the movies and all those people in the theaters eager to discover more about the countries of origin of the films – I was incredibly happy. Moreover, people in the streets were really nice, it was obvious they were proud of the event, just like one big family they were happy to see visitors from all around the world. Even though it was cold and windy I felt this unforgettable atmosphere, people around me were open to new emotions and knowledge we brought over with our movies, they were proud of being hosts to an event like that. I would definitely love to come again and spend more time in Cleveland. It will always stay in my heart as a nice and cozy place with sincere and open-minded people whom you rarely meet nowadays.

Director Nick Baker-Monteys was also in town for the festival, with his film THE FINAL JOURNEY. Born in Germany, he studied in Scotland and wrote for London daily papers before returning to Berlin, where he is now based. Set at the beginning of the Ukraine- Russian conflict of 2014, Nick’s film, in Russian and German, stars German actor Jürgen Prochnow of DAS BOOT. Nick had this to say about his stay in Cleveland:

Did want to catch the Cleveland Indians playing between films, but ran out of time unfortunately. What I can say is that (CIFF board member and philanthropist) Char Fowler connected me with the lady who runs the Asian section of the Museum of Art, so I got to see the museum and was very graciously pointed to some of the most important works of art. And I have to say it was one of the most impressive collections I’ve ever seen anywhere! Best regards, Nick

In addition to foreign filmmakers and jurors who attend from abroad every year, the festival’s hard-working seasonal staff comprises several internationals who have chosen to make Northeast Ohio their home.

Festival Guest Relations Ambassador Madoka Ozaki and her family live in the Akron area. Originally from Japan, they have lived in Tuscaloosa, Atlanta, Salt Lake City, London (Ontario), and Grand Rapids. Northeast Ohio is Madoka’s favorite, since she thinks it offers a perfect combination of all the good in all the places they’ve lived. She writes:

There are so many reasons why we fell in love with Cleveland. I found many very authentic Chinese, Korean or Vietnamese restaurants or grocery stores.  A big plus to know that our fellow Asian immigrants have long been thriving here. Cleveland is old and new; conservative and progressive, traditional and multicultural.  Cleveland is deep, curious and magnanimous.  We are so happy to call it our new home.

The 42nd CIFF opened on April 4 at the Connor Palace Theatre with the charming Irish film THE DRUMMER AND THE KEEPER. Director Nick Kelly, producer Kate McColgan, and lead actor Jacob McCarthy came in from Dublin and were blown away by the love Clevelanders showed them everywhere they went. Nick recalls:

Civic pride runs very deep through this town, from the hairdressers at the retro barbershop where our movie’s young star Jacob and I went to get our hair cut, to the hipster host in the pancake store next door who insisted we try the local blackberry jam, to the multitude of friendly and helpful CIFF volunteers I met at every turn in sprawling environs of Tower City, to the excellent Irish traditional combo playing at the post-screening party – who, by spooky coincidence, as I entered were pulling off a note-perfect rendition of the very tune I walked down the aisle to on my wedding day, O’Carolan’s sublime “Sídh Beag, Sídh Mór”. It’s hard not to love somewhere so fiercely loved by its own population.

Our actual screening as the gala opening film of CIFF42 was an astonishing experience. I’d spent an hour in the vast empty theatre with the exceptionally patient and creative production folk perfecting the sound, and couldn’t help but be nervous. Surely there’s no way that all these endless rows of red velvet seats could possibly be occupied for our little unknown Irish movie? But as the hour drew near, the crowds began to swarm in.

As the final credits rolled that huge audience gave us a standing ovation – and another when we went out for our post-show Q&A. As I said from the stage, despite the size of the crowd it felt like we were in a most intimate space, so unified were people in their interest and enthusiasm.

The after-show party was something of a blur. Shepherded by our wise and saintly festival director Marcie (Goodman), it nevertheless took us over an hour to make our way from the entrance hall of another of the Playhouse Square’s beautiful theatres to the cool opened-up stage floor where the party action was actually taking place. So many kind words, hugs, smiles and tears from so many strangers.

The next morning producer Kate and I finally got to visit the Hall of Fame. Having in a previous existence been a not very famous Atlantic Records recording artist, I had actually once met the great Ahmet Ertegun, so I was delighted to see his name over one the museum’s main halls. I also loved all the costumes and the hand-written lyrics. But for me the top exhibit was the battered suitcase in which Howling Wolf collected his money before going onstage – a convention many contemporary musicians probably wish was still in place.

My own stay in Cleveland was very short. But ten days later, while in New York City, I received the perfect parting gift from the city. A message popped into my inbox informing me that we’d been awarded CIFF42’s biggest prize, the Roxanne T. Mueller Audience Choice Award for Best Film. As Spinal Tap’s lead singer David St. Hubins might have said, while triumphantly punching the air:

Thank you, Cleveland!


Brenda Benthien

Guest Relations Director

Cleveland International Film Festival