Scenes from a film festival

I am privileged to be a judge for the Independent Shorts Awards for the Cleveland International Film Festival (CIFF) this year. This is the 33rd festival and, as anyone who has gone knows, it is a fabulous event for the city, as it grows each year. Two attendance records have been broken so far, and CIFF hopes the festival will reach a new attendance high of 60,000 over its 11 days.

Two of the awards that I and my fellow judges (Goldie Alvis and Matt Dickman) will determine will become qualifying films for the Oscars next year. That’s a testament to the quality of the festival. A few years ago, Time Magazine did a survey of mid-sized film festivals and noted that Cleveland’s was one of the best and most diverse. If I remember correctly, the headline for the article in the magazine was, “Can’t Get to Cannes? Come to Cleveland.”

Anyway, the judging is brutal work. Twenty-two hours in a theater seat, 95 films of 3 to 30 minutes each, and 11 prizes to award. I have no idea how the three of us will come to consensus, but it happens every year and I will trust the festival and its amazing staff to lead us through a good process. I’ll let you know how it goes.

But here are a few “scenes” I’ve observed while wending my way through the film-fanatic crowds at the festival this past week:

  • A well-but-casually-dressed woman was saving a whole row of reserved seats for friends she was hosting from out of town. She was on her cell phone, talking with one guest who was still in her hotel room at the Ritz: “No, you don’t have to wear black! And leave your coat. All the theaters are under one roof. Yes! We don’t have to go out of the building. I told you, this is the best festival!”
  • Ellie Strong (of Strong Bindery on Larchmere Avenue) and Gene Epstein, a local artist, watching this year’s fun CIFF trailer (“It’s Starting!”) and yelling out the names of all the locals who are featured (including me) as the camera pans past them.
  • Most of the audience welcoming Bill Guenstler, the festival’s artistic director, with a big “Yay Bill!” as he comes down the aisle to introduce each film.
  • Marcie Goodman, standing quietly against a pillar watching the crowd with a sweet smile every time I was there. Does she ever go home, I wonder?
  • Fabulous volunteers – hundreds of them. Sweeping out the theaters, passing and collecting ballots (the audience gets to choose some awards and favorite films), being kind and patient with frantic film fans who “just have to get into” a sold-out movie.

A great event. I’m proud to be a part of it. Long live the festival!