39th Cleveland International Film Festival

​CIFF 39 Opening Night Gala

Chad W. Lutz
​Driving into downtown to catch the Opening Night Gala for the 39th running of the city's International Film Festival at Tower City Cinemas, it dawned on me that the Cleveland Cavaliers are really good. In years past, covering the festival was hardly a chore. Game night, off night, warm night, cold night; the only real trouble you used to have getting downtown for the festival was the festival itself. There were always places to park, the restaurants were never crowded, and the city was always still firmly in the stranglehold of winter. No one out and about; everyone still huddled up inside. And despite the festival gaining more and more steam each of the five years I've covered the festival in the past, even on its busiest nights, the Cleveland International Film Festival was only a mild frustration, at most.

I was swimming in a sea of brake lights before I even got off the expressway last Wednesday. Cars were backed up to the first traffic light at the E 9th exit and piling. Some of them might still be sitting there. My girlfriend (Maggie) and I spent almost a half hour crawling between 14th and 9th before finally making it past Progressive Field, the Q, and the Federal Building to park the car at Tower City. We left Akron around 5:40 thinking that was plenty of time to make the 30-mile trek north. Well, in theory, this was a great idea, but staring down a 7:00 show time and clocks telling us it was already 7:10pm by the time we exited our vehicle, that fantasy was shot to shit.

It's as hard to admit as it probably is to measure just how much of an impact bringing Lebron James and Kevin Love to the Cavaliers this offseason meant to the City of Cleveland. Longer waiting times at restaurants and heavier traffic aside, it's a sign of good things happening, not just awesome hoops. Early estimates of what Cleveland.com reporter Joe Vardon gathered in an article published last month have experts suggesting somewhere around $162 million in annual spending downtown. The article talks about 2010 figures (before his royal highness took his talents to South Beach), which showed James having a direct effect on $200 million of annual spending downtown, and an eye-popping $150 million spent strictly during the playoffs that year.
"THE" Lebron Banner, back and proudly hovering above the city streets.
​Well, since this is an article about the Cleveland Film Festival and not about the Cavs, let's shift gears a little, shall we?

The reason I wanted to touch on the Cavaliers is because I think the people being drawn back downtown to watch the Cavs games has opened the eyes of most people who don't carry around computer bags, pens, and notepads as hired members of the press. Having been on the beat for the Cavaliers for the last three years and a reporter in some manner, either direct or through this publication, for the film festival, I've seen, firsthand, the low points and the high points. And from my own personal experiences, let alone articles being written about the city in the New York Times and The Boston Globe, we're seeing a city on the rise. And we owe a lot of thanks to the Cleveland International Film Festival for holding the torch while LBJ worked out some personal issues in Miami.

According to the press release provided by the festival, around 1,500 guests were slated to attend the Opening Night Gala. Maggie and I saw maybe 100 of those, considering we didn't arrive until most of the theaters had already begun showing the feature film, I'll See You in My Dreams. As per usual with Opening Night procedure, the festival shows multiple screenings simultaneously. However, I had no idea they staggered some of the showings to give even the late arrivers the opportunity to still catch the feature flick. This is good news for those of us with false fantasies about battling Lebron James-induced traffic jams, especially if he stays in Cleveland for a while.

The movie starred Blythe Danner as a retiree who has yet to move on from her husband's death 20 years prior, and smooth-talking Sam Elliot (The Big Lebowski) whose penchant for throwing care to the wind and big, disarming smile attract Banner's character almost instantly. It was charming and featured great performances from the cast. Probably the most enjoyable scene in the movie is where Banner and her band of retired friends decide to smoke pot and get stopped by the police with their hands literally inside of cereal boxes on the side of the road. The movie was also quite sad and did a great job depicting how quickly things can be taken from us, and how quickly time marches forward without us if we aren't careful. If you don't like animals dying, I wouldn't see this movie. A dog is put to sleep in the very opening scenes.

Having to work early and suffering from emotional overload, Maggie and I opted to skip out on the actual Gala portion of Opening Night. Instead, we drove home and went to another Cleveland favorite: Melt Bar and Grilled, where we took turns ogling over the vast assortment of delicious Vegan options and sharing our thoughts on hernias, the future, and what comes next, most likely spurred by the themes presented in the opening movie. It was about as Cleveland of an evening as you can get. The only thing that probably would have made the night more Northeast Ohioan would have been to shake a buckeye tree and take an obligatory O-H-I-O photo with two unsuspecting but overtly obsequious strangers. But we didn't do that. Opportunity missed. But that's the great thing about Ohio, much like the Cleveland International Film Festival; there's opportunity abound. You might have to battle traffic, potholes, and comic-book movie filmings to enjoy it, but it's there nonetheless. And I don't think a soul in this state would have it any other way (except for maybe the cold).
No sympathy for Lebron James.