Many of you already know the history of the Cleveland International Film Festival, but I didn’t. So I did a little research and chatted with Jonathan Forman, the festival’s founder, and Marcie Goodman, executive director, and learned a lot of good stuff.
I found out that CIFF began at our neighborhood Cedar Lee Theater as a by-subscription-only event; that it expanded to the West Side, Strosacker Auditorium at Case, and a theater in Little Italy three years later; and that it moved to Tower City in 1991.
I learned that despite good advice to the contrary—that there was no market for a film festival in Cleveland—Forman went ahead, with youthful energy and naïve determination, to found this amazing event. Forman’s baby is now 35. He let it go some years back, but continues to watch with amazement and pride, as it has grown to double, triple, and break all attendance records year after year.
No one I spoke with could remember whose idea it was to publish “The Daily,” the CIFF newsletter that comes out each day of the festival’s run, or who decided to go from a write-in ballot with pencils to the current tear-off-a-corner one on which audience members express their feelings about the films they see. Both great ideas. Kudos to . . . whomever.
There’s a long list of celebrities—actors and directors, film historians and critics—who’ve shown up to participate in Q and As and Film Forums over the years. There are scores of devoted volunteers who’ve returned to the festival for 10, 20 and 30 years, and there’s the dedicated unpaid intern, Bill Guentzler, who became CIFF’s artistic director nine years ago.
My first CIFF experience was in 2008—less than a year after moving here from New Jersey. It was the first time I had driven downtown and it was snowing. I left the theater after the movie, with a really bad sore throat, and got lost in the maze of downtown Cleveland. Feeling totally wretched, and certain I would never find my way home in the Heights, I nevertheless couldn’t wait to get back!
Three days ‘til showtime, but who’s counting.