Throughout the last nine days of March and the first of April 2012, over 80,000 Clevelanders and visitors will be streaming through the eight theaters of Tower City Cinemas in the heart of the city. They will be enjoying the more than 150 feature films and 130 short subjects of The 36th Annual Cleveland International Film Festival (CIFF). Arriving from 60 countries around the globe, these comedies, dramas, documentaries, farces, ruminations, experimental films, and animations will run from 9:00 am to midnight and beyond each day of the Festival.
The premier film event of Northeastern Ohio, CIFF is produced annually by the able 7-person staff and more than 140 seasonal volunteers of the non-profit clevelandfilm.org. With its annual budget approaching $3 million — and with the intense spillover activity at Tower City Center restaurants, shops and food court — CIFF has a significant economic impact on downtown Cleveland. That impact is bound to increase substantially once Cleveland’s new Horseshoe Casino opens in May 2012 within the former Higbee’s department store, which, as part of the physically interconnected Tower City Center complex, will offer filmgoers and gamblers alike ready enclosed cross-access. The casino’s presence will no doubt further heighten awareness of next years 37th Annual Film Festival. CIFF also provides ample free parking immediately accessible to Tower City Cinemas via convenient and frequent shuttle buses. Valet Parking is also available at several locations about Tower City Center. And Tower City Center is the central transportation hub of Cleveland's RTA rapid transit lines from the surrounding suburban communities.
Now well into its fourth decade, CIFF has seen its national stature and prestige rise. Many filmmakers and directors consider the Festival a solid peer to such famous venues as Tribeca and Sundance. CIFF is also quite popular to the evolving corporate establishment of the region, regularly drawing sponsorships from scores of banks, corporations, society leaders, and foundations, as well as a growing tide of non-profits. Many of those non-profits sponsor or align themselves with films devoted to their particular cause: diversity, women’s rights, social concerns, environmental problems, habitat destruction, fair trade, and so on. Coupled with the Festival is its sole annual fundraiser. This year it consists of a $75,000 Challenge Match, in which every donated dollar up to that amount will be matched by a grant from Cuyahoga Arts and Culture. Sidebar commitments by staff and donors amplify the match of funds to boost CIFF revenues. Though it cost CIFF more than $38 per theater seat to stage this year’s Festival, through its sponsorship and fundraising efforts, the Festival was able to keep typical ticket prices at $12, $10 and even as low as $8.
Participation in CIFF is available to all interested parties, through a tiered set of membership levels. Film buffs may buy discounted six-packs of tickets, or may subscribe at a number of different participation levels, all the way up to Movie Mogul, which permits unlimited access to all films in all theaters throughout the entire Festival. Volunteers who commit to a minimum of three four-hour shifts aiding the Festival are rewarded with vouchers exchangeable for film tickets of their choice. CIFF also stages special events, such as FilmSlam, a mini-festival for local area high school students, and intersperses Q&A sessions with directors and filmmakers throughout the 10-day run of films.
Due to the growing popularity of CIFF and its offerings, many films go on stand-by seating as the Festival progresses. While this demands extra time and patience of filmgoers, CIFF has typically been able to accommodate roughly 90% of all those seeking standby seating. This year’s Festival has been enlarged by the addition of at least two extra features and another half-dozen screenings of fan favorites.
Among this year’s film fan favorites (so far) are:
• Heist, a documentary exploring the decades-long effort by conservative businessmen and politicians to hijack America’s wealth;
• The Finger, a fact-based Argentine story of the severed digit that was elected (and served a full term as) town mayor;
• Hot Line, in which three struggling German women turn to telephone sex chatter as a potential solution to their troubles;
• The Cat Vanishes, a Hitchcockian thriller presenting a reconciling couple in which one suspects the other’s increasingly odd behavior.
Many of the films featured at CIFF go on to regional or national distribution, appearing at art houses and traditional cinemas, as well as mainstream multiplexes. Others are often available through local public libraries and online film services.