The Cleveland International Film Festival celebrated its 34th running this year in March. The CIFF is the largest component on a slate of indie film happenings in the region-one that endlessly impresses filmmaker Michael Wendt, director of the local radio documentary, “The End of the World as We Knew It.”
“I think the wealth of film festivals here is the sign of a healthy film community, and a demand and hunger for fresh, new ideas in film,” Wendt says. “It also speaks to the amount of talented (filmmakers) who live and work here as well. Film fans demand smaller films-it’s all about the movies-and the events here definitely keep independent filmmakers and curators working and growing.”
To wit, Northeast Ohio’s independent film calendar has plenty of upcoming and ongoing highlights:
Standing Rock International Short Film Festival
January through May 2010
A grassroots cultural organization in Kent started the indie film buzz in January. Hosted by the venerable Kent Stage music venue at 175 E. Main St., Standing Rock’s three-part program is most definitely “geared to a short attention span,” says Standing Rock Cultural Arts executive director Jeff Ingram.
“Submissions cannot exceed 15 minutes, which is by design,” adds festival helmsman Mike Hovancsek. The duo has collected submissions from all over the world-from Ireland, Israel and India, to their own backyard of Portage County-for the past seven years. Live action, animation, docu-shorts and more compose the categories.
Geauga County Film Festival
June 10-13, 2010
This relatively new festival debuted last year at the Geauga Lyric Theater (at historic Chardon Square) and created a buzz almost immediately during its six-day run. The 2010 festival spans four days with submissions in short film, student film and feature film screened and judged. Screen Actors Guild member Maureen Dempsey anchors afternoon workshops for aspiring actors and curious fans alike.
The Indie Gathering International Film Festival
Aug. 6-8, 2010
As indie film showcases go, the Indie Gathering is as close to one-stop viewing as it gets. With 75 weekend film screenings, it holds its own as a festival. Film competitions, lectures and seminars, and a parallel convention featuring vendors and production companies for hire round out the event. The Gathering serves Northeast Ohio’s filmmaking crowd as much as it does its film-watching one, but it’s not just for insiders. “Don’t let the venue fool you,” attendees like Wendt say. Local indie film director Johnny K. Wu is among the speakers at this year’s festival.
Akron Film Festival
Sept. 23-26, 2010
Writer, director and Akron native Rob Lucas (“American Stories”) established the AFF in 2002 on a shoestring budget, screening films at the University of Akron after a spell in the school’s 2380 Project, a student film organization. After doing a lot of driving to Cleveland to see independent films himself, he was driven to give his fellow Akronites an opportunity nearby. “I found myself commuting to Cleveland for screenings at the Cleveland Cinematheque, the Cedar Lee Theatre and the Cleveland (International Film) Festival,” Lucas says. “It dawned on me that there should be something available for everyone in Akron.”
Lucas and others nursed the four-day festival from a film student outlet to a full-fledged Rubber City to-do. Today, the AFF is a 501 (c)3 nonprofit that showcases local and international films, workshops, “The Freakishly Short Animation Festival,” and a 48-hour video challenge that pits teams of collegiate film students against one another to produce a film against the clock. “Eight years later, I feel like our mission is to not just show indie films, but to build a community,” explains Lucas. This year’s edition serves as a graduation of sorts: AFF will show at a new venue, the Akron Art Museum.
Ingenuity Film Festival
Sept. 24-26, 2010
Formerly known as the highly lauded Ohio Indie Film Fest, this multi-day happening merged with the Ingenuity Festival of Art and Technology and changed its name-though it is still helmed by longtime Cleveland filmmaker Bernadette Gillota. Ingenuity’s film component screens on the same weekend as the AFF and serves as a visual centerpiece for Ingenuity, the art celebration founded by Cleveland Public Theatre’s James Levin. And if the menagerie of art, film and technology wasn’t attractive enough, the event debuts this year on the lower level of Veterans Memorial (Detroit-Superior) Bridge. Now, really, how often does anyone get the opportunity to watch films on a bridge?