CIFF 2013 Comes to a Close After Entertaining, Educating, and Challenging Minds

Hallie Witwer
During the last stretch of the 2013 Cleveland International Film Festival I was able to take in a wide array of films that made me laugh, cry and contemplate. The last week of the festival brought record breaking crowds and lasting memories for all who attended. Friday, April 12th was volunteer appreciation day, which gave the countless volunteers who make the festival the success it is the applause they deserve. With 8,334 volunteer hours logged, I think we can agree that the volunteers are truly the heart of the festival. I wish I could include a bit on all the films I had the privilege to see, but unfortunately that would make this article into a rather lengthy book. Here’s a healthy taste of the incredible last days of the festival:
The heart of the Cleveland International Film Festival; Volunteers (Witwer 2013)
Reject is an excellent documentary that highlights the tragic results bullying and ostracism can have on young children and adults, alike. It brought the idea of bullying home to a local level by telling the story of Eric Mohat, who was a seemingly happy-go-lucky high schooler from Mentor, Ohio, who ended up taking his own life after being relentlessly bullied. The film has a hopeful twist to its tale in a new curriculum and way of teaching young kids. “You Can’t Say You Can’t Play” is being launched in some pre-school and kindergarten classrooms throughout our country with what appears to be fantastic results. If we teach our children that they can’t hit because it hurts the other person, why not teach them that they can’t exclude them when hurt feelings are just as painful as physical pain? This film had a FilmForum afterwards with the film’s director Ruth Thomas-Suh, Professor Kipling Williams of Purdue University’s Dept. Of Psychological Services, Bridget Rotman, an elementary school teacher, and Pat Lyden, the C.E.O. of Suicide Prevention Education Alliance. The discussion was incredibly moving, with some of the audience questions being asked through tears. It’s obvious that exclusion, bullying and suicide are an issue that most families can probably say that at least one member has had to deal with, particularly in our young people. As Pat Lyden stated, “The mental health of American youth is not great. But these youths can also be trained to save each other’s lives.” I believe it’s important that we work at this and keep in mind that with hard work a better world can come. As Bridget Rotman explained, if respect is included in daily conversations with our youngest members of society, troubled children can make improvements in as little as a year. It was clear that the panelists had hope for a better future, and if they believe with effort can come change, than I believe that as well. If we start with our children, our neighbors, or our students, the next generation can have a kinder outlook on the world. And in the end, isn’t kindness and love for one another what it’s really all about?

Breaking The Frame is an incredibly beautiful film capturing the work and life of artist Carolee Schneemann, who is the feminist and avant-garde movement of the 1950s and 60s perfectly personified. She lives the life she wants to lead and makes no changes for anyone. Her art is original, what some might call strange, and the world in the 50s and 60s saw it as extremely provocative. None of this stopped her though, and to this day she continues to create and inspire. The director, Marielle Nitoslawska, gave an engaging question and answer session after the film. She spoke about how she became curious with Carolee's story in the first place, so many decades after her rise in the art world. She stated, “I really became interested in the connection between her life and her art. That was an early idea of mine for the film.” After learning about Carolee’s intriguing personality and boundary-pushing art I understood how the connection between life and art was so important for her. Her personality alone was a sort of art exhibition in itself. Nitoslawska further explained that it was Carolee’s energy and courage that motivated her to make the film. She loved that this artist did what she had to do for her art, not caring what anyone thought of her. Perhaps this is a lesson we can all take to heart. In this era of Facebook and Twitter it’s possible we all put a little too much emphasis on what other’s think of us. We could all learn a lesson of sorts from Carolee’s eccentric personality, shocking artwork and complete disregard for any negative opinions about her or her work. If we all adopted this mindset it could make the world an even more interesting place to explore, don’t you agree?

After the closing night films came the always-fantastic closing night ceremony where thousands gather for champagne, awards and the results of the annual Challenge Match. As for the 37th Cleveland International Film Festival statistics, the numbers are certainly impressive and something for Cleveland to be extremely proud of. With a 9% increase over last year, and a 166% increase since 2003, the festival had a stunning 93,235 admissions this time around. The Challenge Match far exceeded it’s goal of $100,000 by raising $154,138; an amount that had everyone at the ceremony beaming from the overwhelming amount of support for the CIFF. This is certainly donation money well deserved. Over a 12-day span, the festival put on 165 short subjects and 180 feature films, all of which came from 65 different countries of origin. The Roxanne T. Mueller Audience Choice Award for best film went to Good Ol Freda, and the George Gund III Memorial Central and Eastern European Film Competition winner was When Day Breaks. The Nesnadny+Schwartz Documentary Film Competition winner was Shepard Dark. We can’t leave out the Local Heroes Competition winner Underdogs either. All the winners were, of course, excellent cinema and well deserving of the notoriety, as were all of the films included in the festival. Overall, the festival this year exponentially expanded my knowledge of our world. It taught me about cultures I knew little about and gave me a whole new perspective on my own life. Over the past 12 days I saw films that changed my life in a positive way, which leads me to believe that perhaps the other 93,234 attendees experienced the same thing. And if that is true, than it’s safe to say that the CIFF is about more than just films. It’s a humanitarian endeavor spreading awareness and hope. As for me, I’d say that’s worth way more than anyone paid for a ticket. So if you didn’t make it up this year, make the extra effort to take in at least one film next year. Who knows, it might change your life!
Closing ceremonies at the 37th Cleveland International Film Festival (Witwer 2013)