The 37th Annual CIFF Electrifies Downtown

Hallie Witwer
The 37th Annual Cleveland International Film Festival is now in full swing and downtown’s Tower City has been flooded with a cultural overflow of pure, unadulterated energy. Day 3 isn’t showing any less crowds than the magnificent and packed Opening Night Gala (check out Chad’s article for the details of that incredible evening) and the main floor’s fountain area is filled with vendors selling crafts and other homemade goods as artists take advantage of the unusually large crowds.
Local vendors set up shop around Tower City Fountain April 5 (Witwer 2013)
Before making my way into the depths of the theater hallways I take the elevator to the Media Hub for a quick bite to eat and, to my pleasant surprise, a lovely glass of white wine. As I enter the double doors of the hub, the energy ratchets up an even higher notch as I am immediately enveloped in people of all ethnic backgrounds sporting passes around their necks reading “Director”, “Executive Producer”, and more exciting and intimidating titles. However well traveled and important these people might be, their happiness of being here in Cleveland is ever-apparent. That’s what I love about the CIFF- that people who have been ALL OVER the world are literally ecstatic to be in Cleveland and a part of the film festival, and I think that says a lot; about our city and a lot about the people who live in it. I digress, though; let’s get back to the experience, shall we? After chowing down on some delicious food I head back down to the theaters for the film and a forum question and answer afterwards that I had so been looking forward to all day.

The film at hand was Rebels With A Cause and it told the story of the long and hard battle to save Point Reyes National Seashore just north of San Francisco, California. It highlights the key players of the decades-long battle and does so in a way that you truly feel that you get to know them as the film progresses. I even became so attached to the protagonist Clem Miller, California Congressman 1958-62, that I openly cried in the theater as they described his funeral after his surprising death in an airplane crash. With in-person interviews from all sides and gorgeous cinematic captures of the breathtaking landscape itself, the film truly takes you on the journey of all that it took to keep that land natural and undeveloped.

After the film the audience stuck around for one of eleven FilmForums that the festival will be hosting this year. The FilmForums are great interactive panel discussions where 4 credential-filled panelists and a moderator discuss a topic related to the corresponding film. The forum’s panelists were the film’s director Nancy Kelly, Tim Donovan, who is the Executive Director of Ohio and Erie Canalway National Heritage Area, the former Superintendent of the Cuyahoga Valley National Park and Chief Development Officer John Debo, and finally Pam Carson, who is the Executive Director of the Ohio Trust for Public Land. Jason Russell, who is active in Cleveland-area government, acted as moderator. The discussion brought the California-based story home as the panelists discussed the many, many parallels between the Point Reyes story and Ohio’s own Cuyahoga Valley National Park. As Pam Carson pointed out, both areas use connected park systems that bring together both urbanites and suburbanites. An even greater similarity is that both parks would not exist if it weren’t for the spirited actions of local citizens coming together, according to John Debo. Debo also mentioned that both park systems are undergoing continued threats up to the present day and reminded us all that action still needs to be taken or the parks could one day disappear. At one point in the discussion, the moderator, Jason Russell, mentioned that he was from Hudson, Ohio, and had lived around the Cuyahoga Valley National Park his whole life. He then admitted that he felt that he had spent much of that time taking the parks for granted. This made me realize that I’ve lived in the area my whole life as well and had barely visited the park. How many of us living in NE Ohio have also taken this amazing park system for granted? The director of the film, Nancy Kelly, visited the Cuyahoga Valley during her visit here this week and could not express enough how wonderful and amazing she thought it was, and this is coming from a woman who has seen some of the most famous wildlife reserves in America. Perhaps it’s time we all make more of an effort to slow things down and appreciate the natural wonders that rest between Akron and Cleveland. Tim Donovan stated that in the coming years the tow path for the park would be complete, giving the vast majority of Clevelanders direct access to the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, which means pretty soon none of us will have any excuse not to get out there and soak it all in.
Members of the Rebels with a Cause panel discuss pressing issues regarding the Cuyahoga Valley National Park system (Witwer 2013)
The following day, Saturday, April 6, I had the privilege of sitting in on one of the many Short Film Programs the festival hosts every year. The Shorts Programs are wonderful because not only does the viewer get to be transported into one alternative universe, but eight, all in one sitting. The films I saw covered all sorts of genres. There was an illustrated film, a mystery, a documentary, and a couple fictional pieces. There was truly something for everyone. Past Their Prime put the spotlight on Ohio’s own Columbus Zoo as it told the story of the zoo’s incredible community of geriatric animals it hosts. Some of the films were funny, some sad, some intriguing, but all entertaining. After the films some of the directors answered some audience questions and it was amazing to hear how some of these films were pulled off with very, very little production costs. Here You Go, a film that takes place in an NYC subway, didn’t even have money to get permission to film in the city-owned subway system so the director literally had to beg the cops not to ticket them when they were caught filming in the middle of the night. It’s amazing how a great work of art can come from a nearly non-existent budget, and sometimes nothing more than an idea and some perseverance.

Stay tuned for more updates and exclusive coverage of the rest of the film festival! There are many more films and experiences to come over the next week or so and we will be there for it all. If you are able to make it up for any films yourself, and I hope you do, remember to use the promo code ALTOH to receive 2 bucks off your ticket price! Till next time, Ohio!
Cleveland International Film Festival Merchandise Tent (Witwer 2013)
Visit the CIFF website for more details on show times, and remember: This year we invite you to Be The Applause. Join us, won't you?