Bon Nuit to another Cleveland International Film Festival

Submitted by Evelyn Kiefer on Thu, 03/24/2005 - 17:42.

The 29th Cleveland International Film Festival closed Sunday night, March 20th, with 5 x 2, a film directed by François Ozon, and a reception in the English Oak Room at Tower City Center. Hundreds of film lovers packed the elegant, art deco-style English Oak Room for the dessert reception and to hear the closing announcements given by Marcie Goodman, Cleveland Film Society Executive Director, and her staff. While film lovers gathered after the last round of films and enjoyed champagne, coffee, sparkling water, cookies and brownies a PowerPoint presentation played with images of the Film Society staff – and their dogs -- preparing for the Festival that was now fast coming to a close.

After about 20 minutes, Goodman took the microphone and thanked the crowd for a record-breaking year. Attendance records had been broken this year with over 43,000 viewers during the 10day duration of the festival and over 5,500 viewers on Saturday March 19th -- the busiest day of the festival. One reason for the increase in attendance was that the Cleveland Film Society had increased the festival’s capacity this year, adding 5 more programs per day (for a total of 25 programs). Other announcements at the reception were the winners of two of the film completions; the Nesnadny + Schwartz Documentary Film Competition and the Central/Eastern European Film Competition. The trophy for the Service to the Field Award was also presented.

The Nesnadny + Schwartz Documentary Film Competition is a new film competition this year. The award was created because in past years documentaries have been of great interest to Film Festival goers. The last two winners of the Roxanne T. Mueller Audience Choice Award were documentaries and six of the top ten rated films of last year’s festival were documentaries. The Cleveland design firm of Nesnadny + Schwartz sponsored the competition and the $5,000 cash prize given to the winner at the close of the festival. A panel of three judges, Tim Callahan, Kim Snyder and Robert Hawk, who all have prestigious backgrounds in film, particularly documentary film, viewed the 19 films from seven countries that were in the competition. The winner was The Take (2004), a film directed by Avi Lewis and Naomi Klein in Canada and Argentina. Lewis and Klein are both journalists. Their film, in English and Spanish with English subtitles, chronicles over a period of eight months factory workers in suburban Buenos Aires who refuse to leave their factory and give in to the economic forces of globalization.

The Central/Eastern European Film Competition began only three years ago, though it was decided 16 years earlier that the Cleveland International Film Festival should focus on Central/Eastern European Film because so many Clevelanders claim heritage from this area of the world. This the three members of this year’s distinguished panel of judges were Monika Fabijanska, Deputy Director of the Polish Cultural Institute in New York, Vladimir Padunov, Associate Professor in the Department of Slavic Languages and Literature at the University of Pittsburgh, and Irena Kovarova, former Deputy Director of the Czech Center New York. The judges chose the film Days and Hours (2004) from Bosnia and Herzegovina as the winner. The director, Pjer Zalica, is from Sarajevo. Though the film tells the story of one Sarajevo family’s tension and joy, Zalica includes an uplifting universal message for all Bosnians.

The Service to the Field Award was created in 2003 to honor either a company or individual for outstanding service and accomplishments in the film industry. Microcinema International was chosen as this year’s winner. Microcinema International’s mission (as stated in the Festival program guide) “is to curate, exhibit, promote, and distribute innovative international moving image artists whose deeply personal and culturally relevant works are typically marginalized by the mainstream entertainment industry.� (for more information please see their A ten year retrospective of film shorts presented by Microcinema titled Independent Exposure X screened at 4:45 p.m. the closing day. Joel Bacher and Patrick Kwiatkowski, founders of Microcinema accepted a glass trophy made by a local glass studio in Tremont.

The winner of the Plain Dealer Roxanne T. Mueller Audience Choice Award for Best Film was not announced at the closing reception because ballots were still being tallied. The winner should be posted on the Film Society’s website on Monday or Tuesday. The voting process for this award has become more efficient with each year. This year, square ballots of colored paper were handed out as each viewer entered they theater. The ballots were printed with the name of the film in the center and each of the four corners was printed with a rating: excellent, very good, good, and fair. Without any need to find a pen or pencil and a place to write, viewers could vote by tearing or folding a corner of the ballot and handing it to a Film Festival staff member as they exited the theater. Voting for this award inspires post-film discussion and makes audience members feel included in the energy and excitement of the Festival even if they have only seen one film.

The closing night selection, 5 x 2, by French director François Ozon was a haunting film; painful to watch in its realism, but enchanting in its excellent acting, cinematography, screenplay, direction and music. The actors, Stéphane Freiss and Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi have incredible chemistry, which makes the brutal intimate scenes of the film entirely convincing. The friendship that developed between the actors while working on this film and their great respect for Ozon's work is surely a major source of the film’s artistic appeal. François Ozon is a filmmaker early in his career and definitely someone to watch. He was born in Paris in 1967, earned a masters degree in Cinema and later attended the FEMIS film academy. Ozon made his first feature film, Sitcom, in 1998 and since then he has made six more films, including 5 x 2 (2004), which some critics have proclaimed his first masterpiece. Everyone I spoke to at the reception seemed impressed by many qualities of the film including the intense emotion conveyed with poignant music and minimal dialogue. A French language film with English subtitles, 5 x 2 was virtually devoid of glamour and made little attempt to depict memorable places or settings. The story of Gilles and Marion, a couple in their 30s getting a divorce, is told backwards – ending with them meeting and falling in love – a clever technique Ozon employs to leave us with a happy ending and convey his optimistic view of love in the 21st century.

Many festival goers probably don’t realize how much the Cleveland Film Society accomplishes with only a small staff. In her closing remarks, Marcie Goodman reminded the crowd that tomorrow work begins on next year’s film festival. Next year will be the 30th Cleveland International Film Festival. There are doubtlessly plans already in the works to mark this important anniversary. Next March, Clevelanders -- and the world – will again flock to Tower City for this great cultural event that has the most diverse appeal of any to take place in the City of Cleveland. In the future, perhaps more Cleveland bars, restaurants and retailers could become involve in the Festival by sponsoring receptions and events during the days and evenings of the Festival. The Film Festival seems to be the perfect way to introduce tourists and suburbanites to what downtown has to offer. We might even convince them to comeback before the 31st Film Festival. Perhaps the Film Festival could also screen some films at other locations throughout the city (as other international film festivals do) in honor of the 30th anniversary. Films could be screened at the Great Lakes Science Center, Cleveland State University, Tri-C, University Circle and other locations on lines of public transportation. Showing a few films in locations other than Tower City would increase the program and thus increase overall attendance. The Cleveland International Film Festival gives a lot to Cleveland and it is definitely deserving of more support from Cleveland businesses and institutions. Hopefully the 30th anniversary of the Film Festival will inspire a new level support and collaboration within the community.

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Gratitude for Volunteers


I tend to vacillate between utter despair and's not easy. 

But, I have to say this week has been more exultation--as I was able to enjoy the Cleveland International Film Festival and the Cleveland Playhouse this past week--I salute, especially, the multitude of volunteers in NEO, that make these two gems shine so brightly.  THANK YOU!  Thank you for all you do to make NEO a better place--a happier place.