By Skylar Dubelko

The Cleveland International Film Festival will permanently move to Playhouse Square in downtown Cleveland in 2021.

First held at Cedar Lee Theatre in Cleveland Heights for 14 years and then at Tower City Cinemas in downtown Cleveland for the last 30 years, next year’s move marks a new chapter for both CIFF and Playhouse Square.

Gina Vernaci

Playhouse Square President and CEO Gina Vernaci described the festival as “a real point of pride for Northeast Ohio (that is) recognized as one of the best internationally” in a Jan. 23 media release announcing the move.

“Marcie Goodman and her team have built a juggernaut of a festival … . They bring the world to Cleveland, through the films they program and through the audiences and filmmakers who travel from around the globe to be a part of it,” Vernaci said in the release. “We heartily welcome CIFF to our family of resident companies.”

CIFF in 2020 will remain at Tower City Cinemas, with the 44th annual festival scheduled from March 25 to April 5.

Come 2021, festival attendees will be able to view films in venues such as the Allen Theatre, KeyBank State Theatre, Mimi Ohio Theatre and Connor Palace. They will also have access to Playhouse Square District’s dining and nightlife establishments.

Marcie Goodman

“By moving to Playhouse Square, the CIFF gets to remain in our beloved downtown Cleveland and under one phenomenal roof,” CIFF Executive Director Marcie Goodman said in the release. “We will have the privilege to be part of a thriving arts district where the sum of our Film Festival and Playhouse Square parts, along with the other resident companies, will be profoundly strong.”

According to Goodman, it’s come time to position the festival within “an incredible entertainment complex with multiple-sized venues and enormous capacity.”

“It will be thrilling for us to create a different audience experience, from intimate to grand, as we honor Playhouse Square’s past, which was built on cinema,” Goodman added. “We cannot wait for our future to begin.”

Described in the release as the “largest performing arts center in the country outside of New York,” the nonprofit Playhouse Square is home to the Cleveland Ballet, Cleveland Play House, Cleveland State University Department of Theatre and Dance, DANCECleveland, Great Lakes Theater and Tri-C JazzFest.

The Cleveland Jewish News and Canvas are media sponsors of CIFF 2020.

The 43rd Cleveland International Film Festival will kick off its 12-day run with a story of love and forgiveness and close with a look at the power of social justice. 

The festival’s opening film will be “The Etruscan Smile,” which follows the story of Rory MacNeil, an old-fashioned Scottish man who travels from his beloved and beautifully slow-paced home on Hebridean Island to seek medical treatment in fast-paced, high-tech San Francisco. Rory finds himself and his world transformed when he moves in with his estranged son and forms an unbreakable bond with his grandson. 

The film, based on the bestselling book, “La Sonrisa Etrusca” by Jose Louis Sampedro, stars a bevy of acclaimed and talented actors, including Brian Cox, Rosanna Arquette, Thora Birch, JJ Feild, Peter Coyote and Treat Williams. It’s produced by Arthur Cohn, winner of multiple Academy Awards, and co-directed by Mihal Brezis and Oded Binnun.

CIFF43 will close with “The Public,” directed by, written by and starring Emilio Estevez. The film’s story unfolds when a record-setting cold spell hits Cincinnati and the public library becomes an unlikely stage for a protest in which issues of homelessness and human rights take the spotlight. Estevez stars alongside an ensemble cast including Alec Baldwin, Jena Malone, Christian Slater, Gabrielle Union, Taylor Schilling, Jacob Vargas, Michael Kenneth Williams and Jeffrey Wright.

PHOTO | The Public

CIFF43 will be run from March 27 to April 7 at Tower City Cinemas as well as the Gordon Square Arts District and University Circle.

“The Etruscan Smile” will screen at 7 p.m. March 27 at Playhouse Square. Tickets are $225 per person ($200 for CIFF members) for an evening that includes the screening in Connor Palace followed by a reception in the KeyBank State Theatre. 

All those in attendance at any of the closing night films showing April 7 at Tower City Cinemas, including “The Public,” are invited to the closing night ceremony (dessert reception and awards presentation) around the Tower City Center Grand Staircase after the screenings. Tickets to any closing night film are $14 for CIFF members and $16 for nonmembers. Closing night is sponsored by University Hospitals.

For more information on the more than 500 screenings that will be shown during CIFF43, visit beginning at 11 a.m. March 1. Program Guides will be available at all Dollar Bank branches and throughout the region the week of March 4.

Tickets go on sale to CIFF members at 11 a.m. March 8 and to the public at 11 a.m. March 15. Tickets will be available online at, by phone at 1-877-304-FILM (3456) or in person at the film festival box office in the lobby of Tower City Cinemas.

Lead image: PHOTO | The Etruscan Smile

Photos in lead image from left to right: Brian Zoldessy, Scott Miller, Joel Hammer, George Roth and Jeffrey Grover in a scene from “On a Technicality”; Jeffrey Grover as “Howard” preparing for a take for "On a Technicality"; and George Roth as “Bruce” in "On a Technicality." Photos courtesy of g2h films; illustration by Jon Larson.

From Hollywood productions to Northeast Ohio-made indie films, moviemaking on the ‘Third Coast’ is a growing industry and art form

By Bob Abelman

The “Third Coast.” That sure sounds better than “mistake on the lake.” Cleveland’s new and improved moniker comes courtesy of its recent emergence as a hub for international, regional and local movie making and exhibition.

And it’s not just Cleveland. There has been an onslaught of high-profile films hosted by Cincinnati, Cleveland and Columbus, including “Draft Day,” “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” “The Ides of March,” “Carol” and “The Avengers.”

Those films and others have created more than 1,700 full-time equivalent jobs and generated more than $400 million in spending in Northeast Ohio in the past five years, according to a recent study conducted by the Maxine Goodman Levin College of Urban Affairs at Cleveland State University.

During the “Avengers” shoot, for example, locals were hired for location scouting, camera operation and loading, electrical and construction crews, as well as security, signage, catering and cleanup. Local actors have been cast as extras and in featured speaking and nonspeaking roles in such recent releases as “My Blind Brother,” “The Bronze,” “With This Ring” and “The Bye Bye Man.”

Much of the praise for this development goes to the Ohio film credit incentive program, created in 2009. The Ohio Development Services Agency offers refundable credits to film companies for up to a quarter of what they spend in the state and 35 percent for Ohio resident wages, with a cap set at $5 million per film and $20 million per year.

A consulting firm called Film Production Capital, which rates states by their film production incentives, gave Ohio three stars out of five, which puts the Buckeye State on par with other coastal states known for their moviemaking: New York and California.

Earning more stars are places like Louisiana (“Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter,” “Green Lantern”), Georgia (“Lawless,” “The Blind Side”) and North Carolina (“Iron Man 3,” “Hunger Games”), where they offer even greater financial incentives. Because of this, according to Ivan Schwarz, president of the Greater Cleveland Film Commission, Cleveland lost “Ant-Man” and the next two “Avengers” movies to Atlanta, “even though Marvel Studios loves working here.”

While we may not yet be attracting as many film production companies as some other states, the Cleveland International Film Festival (CIFF) has no problem attracting independent films from around the globe and the people who love them.

The very first CIFF ran from April 13 through June 2, 1977, showing eight films from seven countries. They were seen by a handful of subscribers and their guests. Last year, the CIFF’s 39th, 193 feature films and 238 short films representing 60 countries were seen by 100,204 people over 11 days, making it a go-to destination for independent filmmakers and their fans.

Though the festival is truly international in scope, 32 films made by Ohioans were on display at CIFF39 in 2015, warranting their own “Local Heroes” category. This speaks volumes about the quality of the films being made locally in recent years.

One of those films, which received its world premiere at the CIFF, was “On a Technicality” – a short film (22 minutes) made on a small budget ($21,000) and shot in three days, though the editing took more than 100 hours. Written by local actor Jeff Grover, who was featured in and co-produced the film, it was directed by Andrew Gorell and co-produced by Steven Hacker, who was also the film’s cinematographer.

Their positive CIFF experience and that of Cleveland cast members George Roth, Brian Zoldessy, Scott Miller and Joel Hammer reflect well on the burgeoning cottage industry that is local filmmaking. So does the journey “On a Technicality” took afterward.

The entirety of “On a Technicality” takes place in the back booth at Jack’s Deli on Cleveland’s East Side, where five old friends examine the value of friendship during a troubling time – the illness and subsequent death of one of their own – over a series of brunches. Days before the film’s debut, the actors – actually old friends – sat down to chat about the film and did so with the same witty banter that saturates their characters’ exchanges.

“Clearly, the moviemaking scene in Northeast Ohio is thinking globally but acting locally.”

Canvas: What is it about eating that filmmakers find so intriguing and revealing? It plays such a central role in films like “Chef” (2014), “Waitress” (2007), “Ratatouille” (2007), “Babette’s Feast” (1987), “My Dinner With Andre” (1981) and so many others.

Roth: There is something so communal about eating, particularly at a deli. Audiences will automatically find the setting of our film comfortable and the shorthand that we speak between and during mouthfuls to be immediately recognizable.

Grover: Also, what people choose to eat and how they eat communicates so much about a person. For filmmakers, one bite is worth a thousand words.

Canvas: While having actors confined to a booth is probably a dream for directors (easy to capture on camera) and costumers (no need for pants), does it create any particular creative challenges for you?

Miller: For the record, I believe all of us were wearing pants. Maybe not Joel.

Roth: The seating actually helped inform the relationships between these five guys. We developed a more intimate relationship with the fellows sitting next to us, which comes across in the film and makes the friendships seem more realistic.

Zoldessy: With so little movement, the focus is on what we say and the emotional connection between us.

Miller: And it was nice to know that, no matter what, I was always hitting my mark.

Grover: Joel lucked out by being seated in the middle of the booth. We wouldn’t let him out for bathroom breaks which, I think, added some interesting texture to his performance.

Hammer: I’m normally an aisle seat kind of guy. In case of fire.

Canvas: How does being friends in life inform your portrayal of friends on film?

Roth: We’re playing characters, but because our real-life relationships were established before this film began, our reactions to each other’s scripted dialogue are very authentic.

Hammer: Plus we did not have a lot of time to work on this, so being friends allowed us to be authentic without needing a lot of rehearsal.

Grover: Although we haven’t known each other since grade school, as have our characters, we still have a chemistry and sense of fun that were captured on camera. Both of those qualities proved to be essential for the story we are telling, particularly when illness intrudes on the inner circle of these five old friends.

Canvas: What do you hope to be the audience’s take-away from this film?

Miller: This film is about friendship. It’s about sticking it out, being there for each other, supporting each other, belonging. Friendships are families of choice. I hope this movie reminds people to treasure those they have chosen to include in their inner circle.

Zoldessy: Yes. Family is broader than blood.

Grover: I hope that the audience will be able to imagine the “what ifs” in life and know that good friends will always have their back.

They did.

The film was very well received at the CIFF and, bolstered by its success and notoriety, went on to several other festivals, including the New York Independent Film Festival, Cincinnati Film Festival, Kansas City Jewish Film Festival, and NST/SFF on Long Island. Grover and his colleagues are also considering web-based options to make the film easily accessible to others, including Video on Demand, Amazon and VIMEO. Also underway is “On a Technicality II,” a working title, with the same collaborators under the auspices of a new production company, g2h films. There are three other projects in production as well.

Clearly, the moviemaking scene in Northeast Ohio is thinking globally but acting locally. Additional proof came June 29, when Ohio Governor John Kasich has signed into law a revised Ohio Motion Picture Tax Credit, passed in May by the Ohio General Assembly. The move raises the annual incentive cap to $40 million, removes the $5 million per project cap, and changes the incentive rate to a flat 30 percent on all production dollars spent in Ohio.

Translation:  More incentive for Hollywood to come to Northeast Ohio, and more reason to believe Cleveland may be bumped up in status to the “Second Coast.” CV

Photos in lead image from left to right: Brian Zoldessy, Scott Miller, Joel Hammer, George Roth and Jeffrey Grover in a scene from “On a Technicality”; Jeffrey Grover as “Howard” preparing for a take for “On a Technicality”; and George Roth as “Bruce” in “On a Technicality.” Photos courtesy of g2h films; illustration by Jon Larson. 


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