2010 Cleveland International Film Festival Review
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Despite a lifelong love of going to the movies, Iíve never made it a point to attend a major film festival. I certainly wouldnít have expected Cleveland to host my inaugural experience in marathon viewing of independent, foreign, and art-house cinema, but even in the brief time I was able to attend, I was deeply impressed by the professionalism of the presentation, the investment of both staff and attendees, and the selection of films available. It takes an unexpected endurance to spend the bulk of a day shuttling between dark rooms amidst large crowds, but if you can step up to the challenge, itís immensely rewarding.

The entire festival takes place in the Tower City Center in downtown Cleveland. Itís a fairly inspired choice, keeping all the screenings inside a single multiplex, with plenty of dining choices and available parking. Spread out over seven screens, each showing five or six films a day, there are plenty of options available for nearly any given time slot, except perhaps for the 9:00 A.M. slot, which I, of course, never made it to. I love movies, but I donít love mornings.

Itís a well-organized affair, with several information stations and video displays describing which films are playing in which theaters. Festival pass holders (big donors, media, guests, etc.) get first seating, after which volunteers lead queues of ticket holders and standby patrons into each theater. Considering the length of some of those lines, having a media pass (with much thanks to this siteís esteemed editor) was a distinct blessing and even something of a small ego-stroke. The only real challenge involved spending hours on end in standard old-school theater seats, but that was a small price to pay.

Of course, none of this would have worked without the armies of organizers and volunteers keeping everything running and maintaining order among the throngs of attendees. The information tables were easily located and contained daily updates concerning added films, show times, and standby status for when tickets to a particular screening sold out early, which happened frequently during the weekend. Each showing I attended was introduced by one of the festival organizers, who, in a few instances, were accompanied by one of the filmmakers. Bolstering the festival staff were a legion of volunteers, easily identified by their bright blue shirts, who were knowledgeable and helpful, a godsend for a neophyte festival-goer like me.

And they had their work cut out for them. Literally thousands of people attended in the two days I was there, forming long lines and filling the theater for nearly every showing I saw. Between films, you could overhear all sorts of conversations regarding which films people had seen, which they had liked, which they could have done without, and whether or not it might be worth skipping work to get in an extra day at the festival. Many of the people there clearly shared a love for movies, making the occasionally close quarters much more bearable.

For my own part, the viewing schedule started off a bit uneven. After making the drive down from Western Michigan, I walked into a showing of The Ape, a Swedish film that used unusual camera angles and framing to follow a life in the day of a man who may have committed murder. I say ďmay haveĒ because, for all the interesting technique on display, the film never approached narrative or thematic cohesion.

Thankfully, the next two films for the day were both comedies, and quite good ones at that. Dear Lemon Lima, a crowd favorite judging by the extra-long lines and frequent mentions from other festival-goers, charmed me in spite of myself with its take on an unusual group of teens in Alaska. Except for a somewhat jarring tonal shift late in the picture, it was easily the most assured and enjoyable film I saw that weekend. As a bonus, it included the only time Iíve ever seen someone play a Theremin on the beach. Now thatís the kind of weird I like. Following that was A Matter of Size, an Israeli picture about an extremely large man who convinces his similarly-proportioned friends to join him in forming a squad of Sumo wrestlers. While it followed the traditional underdog sports movie framework, these characters were incredibly likeable and well-portrayed, and some of the visuals, especially as the fledgling sumo squad ran through a city market clad only in their traditional skimpy Sumo uniforms, were inspired. Unfortunately, this screening also included my first-ever experience with film burn-through, ending the movie just a tad prematurely.

I began the next day with a documentary called Ingredients, about the value of local food production and consumption. Though well-made and competent, it didnít provide much new information or commentary beyond what Iíve seen elsewhere.

The next film, The Bomber, a British film about an unemployed 20-something reluctantly taking his aging parents on a pilgrimage to Germany for somewhat mysterious reasons, started with a solid premise and talented actors but petered out before it reached a satisfying conclusion. There were moments that made the whole theater laugh or gasp in unison, but I walked out feeling as though there had been something missing.

And yet Down Terrace, another British effort, made The Bomber look brilliant by comparison. Following the implosion of a lower-class criminal family and their associates, it was populated by unlikeable characters and an often confusing plot. I tend to enjoy the grittiness of much British film-making, but hereís an example of how not to do it.

I concluded my second day with another documentary, Journey from Zanskar, about a pair of Tibetan monksí quest to transport a group of children from an extremely remote Himalayan village to a monastery-supported school where they will gain an education at the cost of separation from their families. Itís a subject that easily tugs at the heartstrings, and many moments in the film did just that. Watching it made me much less apt to complain about my supposedly long drive home.

Even though I only got a brief taste of my first festival, I immensely enjoyed my experience in Cleveland. The theme this year was ďBecause of the Cleveland International Film Festival,Ē embodied in a series of trailers run before each feature. Each trailer was assembled from snippets of festival-goers finishing that line their own way, compiled along a central theme. Iím told that these snippets were solicited from among locals and previous yearsí festival-goers. These trailers provided a clever reminder of how a good festival draws people together and how everyone takes something a little different away at the end. To those I would like to add my own: Because of the Cleveland International Film Festival, Iím already looking forward to going back next year.

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