The theme of this year’s Cleveland International Film Festival was “Illuminate.” A very fitting, if not obvious choice. At their very basic make up, movies are light. The festival makes comparisons between this nature of film and it’s more poetic goal of illuminating audiences to see the world from different perspectives. I like the literal definition more. Because honestly, the two are inseparable and that might be more poetic.
Folks from all over this mid western, working class state headed to a mall in downtown Cleveland to sit in a dark room with strangers and watch light against a wall. What possesses them to do that? Well, that beam of light from behind and up high is carrying more than dust particles. It’s carrying lives seen through the eyes of someone not them. It’s carrying the lives of people from all over the world, from varying cultures. It’s carrying the lives of queer people, disabled people, disenfranchised people. And all these midwesterners leave their little bubbles to see it. To find that human connection between two totally foreign bodies, foreign experiences. It’s calloused hands covered in grease clapping as the credits roll. All because of light illuminating a wall.
When you think about The Movies, you probably think about tall palm trees and endless sunshine of California. You probably don’t think about potholes and lake effect wind of Northeast Ohio. Which is fair. Hell, you can see warehouses and mounds of dirt along the Cuyahoga River from the walkway where you wait in line before a screening. But Cleveland is doing pretty well for itself in the entertainment business.
We’re seeing cities across the country competing to be the new “Little Hollywood” with impressive tax incentives for filmmakers. Ohio governor John Kasich is just terrible about 99% of things, but his 1% of decency is allowing the industry to grow in Ohio. Now if he could just extend some of that decency to women’s healthcare and reproductive rights, that’d be just peachy.
Anyway, with both Bruce Willis and Matthew McConaughey in town, the industry definitely feels alive. The CIFF is here to help fan that flame. With 41 years under its belt, the festival has become a staple of the arts in Cleveland. One of the things that sets the festival apart from various other festivals across the country is it’s one central location. Tower City Cinema, who hosts the CIFF, has 11 theaters. So if patrons wanted to spend the entire day at the festival, they wouldn’t have to leave the building to travel to another venue.
The atmosphere of the CIFF is very comfortable. Despite the fairly large crowd in a smaller space, the staff and volunteers kept environment light. We all know we’re here because we love movies and we want to watch something different. It was very refreshing to see such a large operation behave in such a low stress way, at least from the patron perspective. Don’t get me wrong, it was obvious how organized and hardworking the staff was. I think that’s what made it feel so calm during the actual festival, you could tell they put a lot of work into it throughout the entire year.
The CIFF is one of the reasons I’m proud to be a Clevelander. But these bubbles of arts and culture in Midwest regions aren’t unique to Cleveland. It’s definitely harder to expose yourself to the arts in these flyover states than on either coasts, but they are there. Supporting the arts in these areas is imperative in helping them grow, just as the CIFF has grown in four decades. So I highly encourage you to seek out startup festivals in your cities. Or the community theaters, or the poetry readings, or the coffee shop concerts. Because more often than not, that’s where you’ll find the stories that aren’t being told in mainstream media. That’s where you’ll find the stories of people of color, of queer identifying people, of disabled people, of women.
Cleveland is the city of the underdogs, the fighters. We don’t shy away from the losses, we feel every aching moment of it. When jobs left, when our sports teams lose, when we’re buried in fifty feet of snow, we feel it. Clevelanders do everything with 100% of their hearts so we put 100% of our hearts in our art too. It really, really shows at the CIFF. Because here in Cleveland, we’re all in. It’s calloused hands covered in grease clapping as the credits roll.
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