By Beth Casteel
There are few events that all native Clevelanders have marked on their calendar each year: the opening days of each sports teams, the air show and the Cleveland International Film Festival (CIFF).
Now in its 42nd year, the Cleveland International Film Festival is set to make its yearly appearance at the Tower City Cinemas from April 4 – 15.
To celebrate CIFF 42, a special theme accompanied the festival’s announcement, this year’s theme being “embrace curiosity.” According to Debby Samples, the marketing and media director of the festival, this year’s theme came about in part due to their guests and how they see the world.
“Embrace curiosity is two sides of a coin. It’s directly speaking towards how people view the world. If you change your perspective and get curious about something, you might just be able to see things in a different light,” Samples said. “It also speaks towards our audience. Something we noticed about our audience is, prior to about a handful of years ago, they really stuck to the theaters and we loved that. What we’ve noticed in the last couple of years is they started to get curious about what else the festival has to offer.”
This year’s festival has a lot to offer. With 216 feature films, 253 shorts and a perspectives exhibition, a virtual reality exhibit, which features 14 virtual reality films and six interactive media films. With so many things offered, the festival is set to be jam-packed with different forms of storytelling.
In addition to the movies, the film festival features 300 plus filmmakers that come from all around the globe to not only attend the event, but to hold question and answer sessions with patrons about their film. In addition to the question and answer sessions that happen after the film, the festival also provides what they call “chat rooms” for patrons to visit and have an extended q and a with some of the filmmakers.
“[The guest filmmakers] makes the festival a festival. In today’s day in age, you can stream anything anywhere, you can have movies in your pocket but it’s just not the same experience than being in a theater with other film fans, with the filmmaker there for a q&a afterward,” Samples said. “You can’t get that same experience and there’s just something about the energy and the excitement being in the theater.”
The full time staff, that only consists of eight people, have tried to come up with ways to make the festival as cost-efficient as possible – particularly for college students.
Creating the college program, a handful of years ago, the program was created to help students attend the festival without spending a dime. Offering over 160 screenings for free, students who have a valid college ID can visit the festival on weekdays, between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m., can see any screening for free as long as tickets are available. The festival also opened the program up for the late night screenings, that happen on Fridays and Saturdays, so any film showing after 11 p.m. can be viewed as long as there’s capacity in the theater.
With Cleveland State being one of the festival’s longest standings partners, the university has sponsored a “CSU Day” at the festival. Happening on Monday, April 9, all current students, faculty, staff and alumni from the university can visit the festival for free, regardless of the time of day.
In order to participate in “CSU Day,” guests will need to bring a valid Cleveland State ID and take it to the college program check-in (located just outside the cinemas in the walkway). Once getting a ticket, guests from the university will have the option to choose over 45 screenings throughout the entirety of the day.
With the college program and “CSU Day” at the disposable of students to get into the festival without spending a single penny, there’s also the ability for students to get involved in other ways.
The festival has a full-time staff of eight people and while they work nonstop to set up the festival, they also rely on a festival staff of around 300 people. The festival also utilizes a whole slew of volunteers.
“Volunteering is the best thing to do because you get to see the festival from a whole different angle and you’re volunteering with other film fans so it’s just a fun environment,” Samples said. “Our volunteers and our staff work side by side so while everybody has a different group they’re in, we all sort of working together so it’s seamless [in that regard].”
For students who have never gone to the film festival prior to this year, Samples stresses that newcomers to the festival should know how open and welcoming the festival is for those in attendance.
While she recognizes that the festival can seem a little intimidating and overwhelming at first glance, the staff and volunteers at the festival are more than willing to give a helping hand when a guest needs help finding the box office, ticket line and so on. Samples also noted that the patrons of the festival are also friendly, specifically when they are in ticket lines.
This comment was further backed up by a social media giveaway the festival did where many of its commenters posted that an unlikely place where they’ve met life-long friends was from standing in the ticket line, talking with others about the film they were about to see.
“I think people would be surprised at how open and inviting everyone is. From our volunteers to our staff to our patrons and especially our guest filmmakers, who are so warm with our audience.” Samples said. “It’s such a great environment and Marcy Goodman, our executive director, always jokes that to work for the film festival full time, you don’t necessarily have to love film, but what you do have to love is the community and that’s really what the festival is all about.”