Cleveland International Film Festival and Its Focus on the Community

Cleveland International Film Festival is entering its 43rd edition, and AWD had an opportunity to chat with the CIFF Executive Director Marcie Goodman the day after the signoff for the CIFF43 Program Guide. The CIFF43 website goes live on March 1st at 11am EST, and festival programs will be available starting March 4th.

Congratulations on reaching your 43rd edition of Cleveland International Film Festival. The festival has grown in scope and size since 1977. To what or whom do you attribute such expansion?

Cleveland International Film Festival is, and always has been, oriented toward the Cleveland and Northeast Ohio community. We are not a market festival or a festival that focuses on red carpet or paparazzi. Our filmmakers, of whom there are close to 400 every year, are the celebrities, and the festival audiences are there to support the artists and to celebrate their films with them. For example, CIFF hospitality headquarters is for both filmmakers and patrons to increase interaction between the two, and many of the CIFF cash prizes are based on the votes by the audience.

I joined the festival in 1987, and we believe that our board and staff first and foremost must be passionate about the community, to make it a better place to live. Cleveland International Film Festival is just one way to make it happen. And because of this symbiotic relationship, CIFF audiences embrace film as an art form and filmmakers as artists, thrilled to have the filmmakers for themselves, to meet them, to interact with them. With over 4,000 submissions this year, and with only eight full-time staffers, we rely on the community and our local all-volunteer selection committee to make CIFF better and better each year.

Every year, the festival has a tagline. How do you find this unifying theme?

Every year, we have a different image and tagline campaign to illuminate what the festival embodies and to embrace the nature of the festival, its artists and over 105,000 attendees. This year’s tagline “Welcome” is a simple yet powerful word, which shows the inclusive and hospitable nature of our community.

CIFF has a variety of programs and events that go beyond film screenings on a yearly basis. Can you highlight some of them and their importance?

Our programs have the same community-oriented goals as the Cleveland International Film Festival. The 27-year-old FilmSlam program, on a yearly basis, provides an opportunity for 11,000 junior high and high school kids to attend the morning screenings and Q&A sessions during the seven weekdays of the festival run. Over 100 schools participate, and children from the City of Cleveland public schools come for free, with CIFF covering their transportation to and from the events. We believe in this program because these are the future filmmakers and the future audience.

Cleveland has a large Eastern European heritage and the selection of the films playing at the festival reflects that. CIFF Director of Programming and Artistic Director spend a lot of time traveling to discover new and best films, seeing over 1,000 features from all over the world per year to curate the long-form presentations at the festival.

CIFF is famous for being an Academy-qualifying festival in all three shorts categories. But it also offers other awards – many monetary – and goes beyond the financial support, providing feedback on all submissions. Can you talk more about that?

We ask a lot of our local 150-member all-volunteer selection committee, who are not film critics or scholars, but people from the community representing the CIFF audience. All films are reviewed by three people, and each is asked to provide critical yet compassionate feedback. At the end, the selection committee programs the short films and a small percentage of features, with no agenda, and an eye for the newest and the best films. While our local community selects the films that play at the festival, the jury for features and shorts comes from around the world.

We are able to offer multiple cash prizes – something that CIFF can do to help the filmmakers – because the awards come from the results on the viewers’ votes at a festival that belongs to the audience, where they are involved in making programming decisions, and participate in the annual fundraising campaign for and during the festival. Our good reputation as a festival is one of the reasons Cleveland International Film Festival is this year’s Tribeca Film Institute’s If/Then Midwest host.

CIFF has been presenting the ReelWomenDirect Award since 2013. How is Cleveland International Film Festival supporting the growth of diverse voices?

Women filmmakers are a very important piece of CIFF and have been for a long time. This year, we decided to place it all under one umbrella titled TO BE CONTINUED: THE CLEVELAND INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL’S ONGOING FOCUS ON WOMEN FILMMAKERS. This focus is not new to CIFF, as issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion have been part of the festival for a long time and were included into our core values from the start. For example, we have screened LGBTQ+ films for over 25 years, African diaspora projects for 19 years, and Spanish-language films for 14 years. Last year, CIFF42’directors were 40% female and CIFF43 will have similar numbers.

We also provide multiple awards and program films focusing on women directors and women-centric stories. This year, our Director Spotlight Award recipient is Jennifer Baichwal, Someone to Watch awardee is Rima Das, the DReam Catcher Award, highlighting an LGBTQ filmmaker, goes to Jamie Babbit and the ReelWomenDirect Award will be decided by the audience during the festival. Some of the most popular events of the festival, and running for a long time, are the films in the Women of the World Sidebar, showing projects by or about empowered women.

What has attracted you about Alliance of Women Directors to pursue a partnership with the organization?

It made perfect sense for Cleveland International Film Festival to partner with AWD in order to do everything possible on behalf of women filmmakers. Our community engagement program includes many non-profits in Northeast Ohio – 160 community partners, some women organizations, just this year. However, Alliance of Women Directors is our first national partnership of its kind.

About Alliance of Women Directors

Alliance of Women Directors fosters a community of professionals to advance the art, craft and visibility of women directors in film, television, & new media.

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