Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Cleveland International Film Festival review

If I wasn't certain before (though I was), the Cleveland International Film Festival is without a doubt my favorite cultural event in the city. It is done so well, from programming to organization to public relations, that you'd be hard pressed to make a counter argument, unless you wanted to draft Cavs basketball into the conversation.

This year the event was particularly meaningful to me as I had the wonderful opportunity to be more involved in the effort, from being on the festival's selection committee to working with the amazing film slam program where local scholars and media/film practitioners engage in post-film q&a sessions with visiting high school students. Both were an absolute treat and if someone from the Film Society happens to read this one day, I'm keeping my fingers doubly crossed that I'll get to do both again for the 2011 festival.

As great as that was, however, the best part of the festival is the opportunity to see wonderful films and see wonderful films I did. Even though I missed the first weekend of films because I was in Austin attending sxsw (a post on that is hopefully forthcoming soon, too), I still managed to see 30 films during the last week of CIFF. Add to that the films I'd previously screened as a member of the selection committee that made the final program, and I caught a solid three dozen full-length movies.

Some of those were excellent, some a little disappointing, but all were good enough to sit through and many (far more than I expected) moved me in ways that I'd not expected. I like to think about the "best" things I see or do or experience, so before I go on with my wrap-up, here are some Cleveland Bachelor award winners:

Best Documentary: Marwencol, though special consideration also goes out to Cooking History, No. 4 Street of Our Lady, and Louder Than A Bomb. The following are also definitely worth putting on your netflix queue: Fire in the Heartland, Garbo: The Spy, and The Desert of Forbidden Art.

Best Narrative Feature: Will Not Stop There, though special consideration also goes out to Alive!, A Call Girl, December Heat, The Other Bank, Ordinary People, Protektor, and Vincere.

Best Film with a local connection: Fire in the Heartland, though The Taqwacores deserves special consideration for its beautiful visual dimension.

I knew I wouldn't have much access to my computer during the week of full film immersion, so I made an effort to keep a mini journal of sorts via facebook status updates. At the end, I had 40 micro-posts marking moments from my arrival on the first day to my immediate post-festival plans on the last. I can only guess how many of my facebook friends "hid" me after being inundated with such an obnoxious number of updates, but as the wise man once said, whatever. In all their unabashed and unedited glory, here is my real-time documentation of my film festival experience:

CIFFinally (3/22 @ 8:21 AM)

Film Fest Update #1:Dear Lemon Lima's cutesy graphics belie its focus on much darker themes of alienation and disaffection. Closer in spirit to Saved than to Juno. (3/22 @ 2:33 PM)

Film Fest update #2: I missed the first two minutes of Black Box. 78 minutes later, I'm pretty sure that was a mistake. (3/22 @ 2:35 PM)

Film Fest update #3: The little sandwiches in the hospitality suite are tasty! (3/22 @ 2:37 PM)

Film Fest update #4: I'm torn over Out Of Place. Interesting footage and people, but I think the filmmakers underserved their audience in the narrative dimension, ignoring some richer opportunities and settling for variations on the Cleveland sucks joke again and again ... and again. Also, it convinced me to never EVER... eat at Johnny's Downtown. The dude in charge of the operation is the epitome of douche! (3/22 @ 6:44 PM)

Film Fest Update #5: Closed out the night with Inside Hana's Suitcase and Van Diemen's Land. The former was moving and impressive in its geographic scope, though I didn't much care for the dramatization or the stylized photo manipulation, while the latter was basically Aguirre, Pt 2: The Wrath of God comes to Australia.... Good, though perhaps not as deliberate as Herzog. (3/23 @ 12:14 AM)

Film Fest update #6: I am far more willing to wake up early for a morning trip to the film festival than for any other reason. Spanish shorts and filmslam q&a with high school students, here I come! (3/23 @ 8:04 AM)

Film Fest update #7: Survived French shorts (last minute switch from Spanish) with the high school set and took a surprisingly lovely stroll downtown to drop off a few tickets and say hi to Cleveland's finest coffee purveyor, Brendan Walton of Cleveland Coffee Company/AJ Rocco's. Now killing time before a stretch of fo...ur straight films: December Heat, Fire in the Heartland, Cooking History, and Enemies of the People! (3/23 @ 1:03 PM)

Film Fest update #8: Ooooh, December Heat was good! My first excellent vote of the festival! (3/23 @ 3:32 PM)

Film Fest update #9: Just got out of Fire in the Heartlands, a brilliant doc about the Kent State massacre. Woah. My eyebrows kept going up and up. (3/23 @ 6:39 PM)

Film Fest update #10: Cooking History was at moments cringe-inducing, at others hilarious, and often sad. Totally brilliant throughout. Not at all what I expected, but having now seen it, I couldn't imagine it ant different. (3/23 @ 9 PM)

Film Fest update #11: Calling it quits a film early. I'm tired and for some reason don't think a doc on the Khmer Rouge will be fodder for sweet dreams. (3/23 @ 9:26 PM)

Film Fest update #12: Lots of darkness and conflict at the festival today ... in a good way! After doing a q&a with students following the Spanish shorts, I'm slated for a Norwegian film about war time trauma set to a backdrop of that country's WW II resistance effort (Max Manus), a Hungarian revenge feature (Lost Times), and a Georgian/Kazak film about a little boy's trek across war-torn Abkhazia in search of his missing father (The Other Bank). And, of course, some actual work. (3/24 @ 8:52 AM)

Film Festival update #13: Shit! I got to talking and missed the first 25 minutes of Max Manus. That was in my top 5 too. Damn my big mouth. (3/24 @ 12:07 PM)

Film Fest update #14: Lost Times was less about revenge than it was rural alienation and post-adolescent restlessness and anomie. A little pondering but thoughtful, and if it was an American film the actress playing Ezther, the central character's autistic, rape-suffering sister, would get nominated for an Oscar. (3/24 @ 4:14 PM)

Film Fest update #15: After 3 days of having free samples foisted up me, I finally submitted and ordered some sesame chicken from one of the Tower City stands. I still don't like Chinese food. (3/24 @ 8:12 PM)

Film Fest update #16: Just broke the hearts of a group of festival volunteers who saw me walk into a theater and thought I was Zach Galifianakis. I heard them talking about him and then put two and two together when they sent one of their group in to introduce himself. True story. I don't know if I should feel more sorry for him or myself. (3/24 @ 9:15 PM)

Film Fest update #17: After finishing yesterday strong with the abrupt and thought provoking ending of The Other Bank, I'm determined to finally complete a day of seeing a film at every slot. So far, work, ticket deliveries, and general chattiness have thwarted this accomplishment, but I shall not be deterred today! After starting off with a replay of yesterday's Spanish shorts/film slam q&a, it is trip around Europe, with films from Spain (x2), Serbia, Slovenia, and Cypress on the docket. (3/25 @ 9:06 AM)

Film Fest update #18: Garbo the Spy was really good, a totally amazing true story that I wish they'd gone into further detail about. The killer soundtrack (Brian Eno, lots of Sparklehorse) made up for that in spades, though. (3/25 @ 1:42 PM)

Film Fest update #19: Ordinary People is most definitely the heaviest film I've Seen thus far. About capital punishment on wartime from the perspective of a crew of ambivalent would-be executioners. The lengthy quiet shots added gravity to a theme already grave. (3/25 @ 3:31 PM)

Film Fest update #20: I liked Small Crime well enough, especially for a dark rom-com (though it has nothing on So I Married An Axe Murderer), but not nearly as much as the woman sitting next to me who guffawed great belly laughs with the slightest provocation. By the end of the film, I was laughing a lot to, as much in anticipation of what she would do as in reference to anything from the screenplay. (3/25 @ 8 PM)

Film Fest update #21: If I ever was going to reverse my ongoing trend of missed funerals, Three Days With The Family negated that possibility. Though more bougie than my own clan, there were so many parallels it was frightening, if not a little angst-inducing. (3/25 @ 10 PM)

Film Fest update #22: Finished the day super strong with A Call Girl. Top notch film, and a major contender for my own "best CIFF narrative film" sweepstakes (along with Ordinary People and, a few paces behind, December Heat). If you have a chance to see this film, I definitely endorse it. If you can't make it to the festival, I believe it's playing at the Rocky River library some time in early April. Don't miss out! (3/26 @ 12:13 AM)

Film Fest update #23: Almost forgot - during the last q&a, some punk kid raised his hand and asked if I was the guy from The Hangover? WTF?! Kids these days! I'll admit, it did make me laugh. (3/26 @ 11:55 AM)

Film Fest update #24: The director of The Fire Keeper, a hallucinatory fugue about one man's decision to get a vasectomy, may well be the Persian answer to Woody Allen. (3/26 @ 3:50 PM)

Film Fest update #25: Louder Than A Bomb has got to be the best edited film I've seen in ages. An excellent movie but in the prestigious Cleveland Bachelor Award sweepstakes, it stills falls short of Cooking History. Still, kudos to the dudes behind it for pulling off a stunner. (3/26 @ 7:02 PM)

Film Fest update #26: Having just watched the failed Kinks reunion crusade doc Do It Again, I know one thing without a doubt: If a narrative film is ever made about the band, Bill Nighy should play the roles of both Ray and Dave. (3/26 @ 8:37 PM)

Film Fest update #27: Pulled a last minute audible and decided to see The Good Heart. Definitely the right move. I totally loved it, though the raucous and decidedly non-pc development through most of the film does not prepare you for the end. (3/27 @ midnight)

Film Fest update #28: Racing the clock (and losing) to catch the day's first screening (Alive!). (3/27 @ 9:16 AM)

Film Fest update #29: Alive! = Albanian blood feuds, a gender-bending would-be hitman, and one unexpected shipwreck. I think it sets the stage perfectly for round two, which features Croatian snipers, widowed Serbian porn stars, the redemptive power of romantic love, and, of course, a sheep. I have seriously high hopes for this one! (3/27 @ 10:59 AM)

Film Fest update #30: Will Not Stop There = Best.Feature.Yet. Can it be topped in the next day and a half? I don't know, but I sure hope it is cause that would take a truly awesome movie! (3/27 @ 1:22 PM)

Film Fest update #31: Gyro Time! (3/27 @ 1:28 PM)

Film Fest update #32: After three central European films in a row, it is time to spin the atlas over to Australia for a hopefully brilliant horror/suspense flick from down under (Storage). (3/27 @ 4:11 PM)

Film Fest update #33: Torn over what to see during tomorrow's closing slot, Looking for Eric or Paper Man. Any advice? (3/27 @ 4:28 PM)

Film Fest update #34: If for some reason you aren't already convinced that Mussolini was a total asshole, a viewing of Vincere is in order. Also, how do you say "incredible" in Italian? (3/27 @ 9:01 PM)

Film Fest update #35: Taqwacores was ... ok. I think the director has a pretty bright future though. (3/27 @ 11:31 PM)

Film Fest update #36: On the final day of the festival Marwencol shoots past Cooking History as not only the best doc of the festival but also one of the best documentaries I've ever seen. (3/28 @ 11:35 AM)

Film Fest update #37: The Desert of Forbidden Art = inspirationally shocking. One man's effort to combat Stalin's purge on non/anti-Soviet art. I don't think I've seen a documentary about art previously that photographed the images so beautifully. (3/28 @ 1:13 PM)

Film Fest update #38: Finished the final night strong with two solid films (Protektor & Paper Man) but the final highlight would have to be realizing I was seated next to Toby from American Splendor at the closing reception. (3/28 @ 9:23 PM)

Film Fest update #39: Bummer! Neither of my picks to click won (or even placed) in the eastern/central European competition; however, the judges totally got it right with the best documentary choice. Viva Marwencol! Ooh, and Louder Than A Bomb pulls down the social justice prize. Nice! Followed by a win for best picture overall! Not bad for a film that was finished on Tuesday! (3/28 @ 9:32 PM)

Film Festival update #40: It is finished. Thanks to all involved for putting on an absolutely wonderful festival! Now for two things I've been craving all week: buffalo wings and an early bedtime! (3/28 @ 10:01 PM)

All things considered, it was a whirlwind week, one that I entered fatigued from a long and exciting vacation in Texas and which I exited utterly exhausted. Here I am, more than a week after the closing ceremonies and I am only now feeling fully rejuvenated. Well, physically, at least. Mentally, emotionally, and absolutely culturally the film festival does the trick like nothing else I've experienced to enrich and excite your internal life. I cannot wait for next year.

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