Feature

Full of Surprises

Cleveland Welcomes Back Annual Film Festival

Chad W. Lutz
I felt naked. Standing amidst hundreds of people with the electric sounds of excitement and anticipation bouncing off the walls of the Tower City Cinemas lobby, there was no denying it; the 37th annual Cleveland International Film Festival was underway. Unfortunately, I was without pen or notepad or anything remotely resembling a shred of paper. I was like a fish without water, wading in a sea of information just waiting to be forgotten. Luckily for me and most in attendance it was night we will probably never forget.
Tower City Fountain Lobby decked out in CIFF garb (Lutz 2013)
By the time I arrived in Cleveland for the Opening Night Gala, the skies were blue, though deceivingly chilled, and the sun was on its descent toward the horizon. I had been counting down the days to the Cleveland International Film Festival for weeks, months. My Opening Night Gala ticket sat neatly wedged between the parking brake and the center console. I was armed and ready. After picking up my co-worker, the ever-talented Miss Hallie Witwer, who will also be sharing her experiences at the festival over the next week and a half, we made our way downtown. That’s when things took an unexpected turn.

Two weeks ago my car hit the 245,000-mile plateau. An honorable milestone in the life of any vehicle that makes it to such a pinnacle, turning 245,000 must’ve put the car in a brooding or angsty mood because, unbeknownst to Hallie and I, it’s temper(ature) began to rise. It happened suddenly and without warning; big puffs of smoke billowing out from under the hood and a trail of something, later identified as engine coolant, leaking like a sieve in a long streak like liquid breadcrumbs. But I didn’t have time to mess with a mangled auto. I had film to watch!

The Cleveland International Film Festival Opening Night Gala featured a full-length film from director Jordan Vogt-Roberts and producer Tyler Davidson set to release in the U.S. May 31 called Kings of Summer. Apropos for a Cleveland film festival, most of the scenes from the movie were filmed in Northeast Ohio. Watching the film, my friend Diana kept oohing and awing when scenes of Nelson’s Ledges and the Mogadore Reservoir flashed up on the screen, and I joined in-tow. Kings of Summer held a dysfunctional but pretty comical cast of characters. Three boys, two of whom are fed up with their parents, decide to build a house in the woods to get away from it all and leave cares behind. The other is, well, the other, and nearly indescribable. The film did an interesting job of showing the similarities between the protagonist and his father, who are struggling with the loss of the boy’s mother in much the same way. The plot moved steadily, the action drew you in, and there were even a number of one-liners that still have me laughing. If you don’t mind the C-word, and seriously eccentric characters, Kings of Summer is a must see when it hits theaters in May.
Post-screening reception in MK Ferguson Plaza (Lutz 2013)
Directly preceding the picture, Cleveland International Film Festival Opening Night Gala guests were invited to attend a post-premiere reception in the MK Ferguson Plaza in Terminal Tower. Festivities included a tribute to one of Cleveland’s finest citizens, George Gund III. A philanthropist and humanitarian, George Gund stood one of the biggest supporters of the Cleveland International Film Festival over the years. This past winter, George Gund passed away, but in honor of his legacy, the Cleveland Film Festival paid tribute to Gund with a video highlighting his generous heart and his lasting touch on the City of Cleveland and the lives of people around the world, which played on a giant video screen as guests filed into the plaza.

The spread was lush. Tables stacked two-high towered with wine, both red and white, duty-free bars sat in three locations through the hall and two massive food tables featured high-end gourmet snackers like mini lobster rolls, sautéed asparagus, organic spinach dip, and pecan-crusted chicken strips. It was rough, and in case you were wondering, we barely made it out alive.
Opening Night Gala attendees snack on refreshments provided after Kings of Summer (Lutz 2013)
People were loud and loquacious. Excitement had taken hold. The wine flowed, moods elevated, the music was just right volume and there didn’t seem to be a care in the world. It seemed the Cleveland International Film Festival had kicked off in grand style and without a hitch. Except for when Hallie tried to tell jokes to a French couple, or how the Del Sol and I limped home like wounded soldiers on a flatbed to the tune of $3.50/mile. Life comes at you fast. Sera, sera.

Thursday came with far more relaxed, and necessary, paces. The Opening Night Gala hoopla of the Cleveland International Film Festival was over; we were through with the sprint. Now it was on to the marathon phase of the film festival. There was no need to race around. Patrons strolled casually, talked lightly, but with enthusiasm, about the films of the day. On the docket for the first official day of the Cleveland International Film Festival were 31 movies and three shorts programs. I chose the 4:45 showing of a movie from Paraguay called 7 Boxes directed by Juan Carlos Maneglia and Tana Schembori. The film told the story of a ransom gone horribly wrong and ensuing mayhem in the busy Paraguayan markets. Slow for the first 20 minutes or so, the film eventually picked up steam when the main character, a fame-driven teenager, takes on a job hauling seven mysterious boxes around to evade police. The film builds and builds to a boiling point and a climactic finish that ties everything together without leaving the audience saying, "Well, yeah."

Other films highlighting the first full day of the 37th Cleveland International Film Festival included Icelandic picture The Deep, French existential piece Chaos, and a Syrian Turkish documentary exposing the battles between Syrian resistance fighters and oppressive government armies called The Suffering Grasses. Lord Montagu, another documentary, this one from the U.S. and Britain, also occupied space in passing conversations throughout the day. Shows ran from 9:15am and concluded with the 9:40pm showing of La Camioneta, which follows the trials and tribulations of a decommissioned American school bus in Guatemala.

Kings of Summer was still the talk of the festival even as the day wore on. Patrons gathered in the media hub volleyed opines back and forth regarding Kings of Summer's disjointed narrative and eccentric characters as well as takes on other films, film as a whole, and the unexpected passing of Roger Ebert, who served as one of the main figures in cinema for decades. But, it just goes to show you the power and possibility film holds.

Join us on Facebook throughout the festival for special giveaways, promotional codes, and complete coverage of the event. Patrons looking to order tickets online can do so using a downloadable app found on the CIFF homepage.
(Lutz 2013)