The Cleveland International Film Festival is again set to wow crowds — this year while celebrating its 40th anniversary

By Carlo Wolff

PHOTO | Cleveland International Film Festival

PHOTO | Cleveland International Film Festival

The 40th iteration of the Cleveland International Film Festival, one of the city’s signature offerings, will reflect various technologies and storytelling modes, suggest two of the people in charge of the popular happening, which drew more than 100,000 in 2015. This year’s festival will run from March 30 to April 10, largely out of Tower City Center in downtown Cleveland.

The festival, which has grown 600 percent since moving downtown 25 years ago, will unfold under new ownership that reflects Detroit businessman Dan Gilbert’s growing Cleveland stakehold.

The festival’s executive director, Marcie Goodman, said March 23 that CIFF looks forward to working with Bedrock, the new owner of Tower City Center.

Bedrock Real Estate Services belongs to Dan Gilbert, majority owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers. Bedrock announced its acquisition of Tower City from Forest City Real Estate Trust that Wednesday morning.

Meanwhile, the show goes on.

In a prepared statement, Marcie Goodman, CIFF executive director, said, “We will be at Tower City Cinemas, which has been our home for 26 years, for our 40th anniversary in 2016 and, hopefully, for many years to come.”

“It is an anomaly in the film festival world to be under one roof – especially a roof that houses a multiplex movie theater, hotels, restaurants, shops, and a hub for public transportation,” Goodman’s statement continued. “It is something many festivals dream of and something the CIFF is fortunate enough to have. It is what creates the excitement, the energy, the enthusiasm, and the experience of the Cleveland International Film Festival.”

Although there always are late additions — the festival makes fresh information available daily — CIFF 40 promises 192 feature films and 213 short films from 72 countries. According to Bill Guentzler, artistic director, he and Mallory Martin, director of programming, visited some 20 film festivals in 2015, and 3,000 films were submitted for consideration. In his 17th year with CIFF, Guentzler said he thinks he’s figured out “what our audience likes. It’s just something that will challenge them but at the same time, remember, it’s a movie — it should be entertaining as well.”

CIFF 40 kicks off March 30 with “Good Ol’ Boy,” an American film that promises to touch on contemporary topics such as immigration and the American dream. It concludes April 10 with “Hunt for the Wilderpeople,” a New Zealand film said to blend the genres of road comedy and coming of age.

Its spotlight event will be the March 31 showing of “Believeland,” an ESPN documentary about faith in the face of futility, a persistent theme in Clevelanders’ loyalty to its problematic professional sports teams. That 7 p.m. screening will take place at the 2,700-seat Connor Palace at Playhouse Square, the largest theater CIFF has used to screen a movie. (“Believeland” also will show at 6:30 p.m. April 5 at Tower City.)

While Tower City Cinemas will be the CIFF hub, as it has been since 1991, there also will be screenings at the Beachland Ballroom & Tavern in the city’s Waterloo district; at the Cedar Lee Theatre in Cleveland Heights and the Capitol Theatre on Cleveland’s West Side; the Akron-Summit County Library, the Akron Art Museum, and the Nightlight, all in Akron; and the new Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque in Uptown, which will present native Clevelander Dennis Hauck’s “Too Late” on 35mm film April 4.

Even 3-D will be represented, in “The Art of Burning,” a documentary about the Burning Man Festival that will screen at 9:25 p.m. April 9 and 1:45 p.m. April 10.

Also new this year: an exhibition space in an empty storefront at Tower City Center that CIFF will use for a free program called “Perspectives,” a cache of virtual reality films and interactive media presentations that will take place on the last weekend, April 7-10. According to Marcie Goodman, CIFF’s executive director, “filmmakers more and more are working across numerous platforms, we want to be able to show their work in all their different ways … and film festivals want to stay vibrant.” Programs like “Perspectives” are ways to bring in new viewers and show the versatility of the medium, she said.

“You’re going to see a little bank of stools where you’re going to be able to experience virtual reality with a virtual reality headset and it’s going to be well-staffed,” said Guentzer. These will be “experiences, more than just watching something. You’re being transported inside the film.”

The virtual reality presentation is “really fascinating,” he added. “Because a lot of them are social justice- or activist-based, they’re not only telling a story, they’re trying to change our mind about something. By being in the film, you have a lot more empathy.” CV

On Screen

WHAT: Cleveland International Film Festival

WHEN: March 30-April 10

WHERE: Tower City Cinemas, 230 W. Huron Road, Cleveland; various locations in Cleveland and Akron

TICKETS & INFO: $14 per film for CIFF members, $16 nonmembers. Call 877-304-3456 or visit

Originally published in the Cleveland Jewish News on March 23, 2016.

Special interests

Among the “sidebars,” which are special-interest collections of movies, are “Jewish and Israeli Visions,” eight films from or about Israel. Two, the gay-themed “Blush” and “Oriented,” also are featured in the “10% Cinema” sidebar, dedicated to LGBT themes. The Cleveland Jewish News — a sister publication of Canvas — is media sponsor of “Dough,” an Israeli comedy screening at 6:25 p.m. March 31 and 11:40 a.m. April 1.

Lead image: PHOTO | Cleveland International Film Festival