Was the Cleveland International Film Festival at Playhouse Square a success? The organizers say yes

CLEVELAND, Ohio — The Cleveland International Film Festival saw an attendance of 77,531 for the 46th annual event, which ran from March 30 to April 17. The number includes 28,567 people who attended Playhouse Square in person and 48,964 people who watched online.

“We are so grateful to everyone who joined us as we started again,” CIFF executive director Marcie Goodman told cleveland.com. “We have so much to be to be grateful for.”

After being exclusively online the previous two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Goodman and his team opted for a hybrid event this year, which included 328 features and shorts presented over 11 days in the new home of CIFF. , followed by a week-long virtual party. The event has drawn more than 100,000 people each of its past five years to its former home of Tower City Cinemas and reached a national streaming audience of 102,432 viewers last year.

The lower numbers were no surprise. The pandemic has changed viewing habits forever, with many moviegoers opting to stay home, choosing from a seemingly endless number of content options on more streaming platforms than existed at the time of the last fest. in person. The organizers have also intentionally reduced the number of films by more than 25% to make the program more manageable for the average festival-goer. Going from a room with ten screens to a room with six screens meant fewer screenings. Distributors are placing more restrictions on streaming titles this time around. Additionally, both the in-person and online portions of the festival were shorter than in previous years.

“Name something we haven’t changed. There are no apples to apples (comparison) going on with us at this time. It sure is,” Goodman said. “I think our turnout has been fantastic for our first year at Playhouse Square.”

The festival raised $80,686 during the 19-day event, falling short of its goal of $100,000. But Goodman stressed that the goal is for the exercise and that fundraising is ongoing. The future of the festival is indeed bright, she assured.

“We had fewer people at this festival than before, but our focus wasn’t that different,” she said. “I think people have been very generous this year.”

Heading into CIFF 46, Goodman knew it would be an adjustment after spending the past 30 years in Tower City. In his mind, the plan was to move the first festival to Playhouse Square and then, by year two, find ways to improve the festival. But then something unexpected happened.

“Things went incredibly well, it was like we just picked up our team from Tower City and dropped them off at Playhouse Square. It felt so seamless,” Goodman said.

Festival-goers also quickly warmed to the new venue, although some had their initial doubts.

Josh Jones Forbes saw 12 films at the festival this year, including the opening night film, “Peace By Chocolate.” Having previously attended CIFF events in Tower City for five years, Jones Forbes said he was nervous if a festival in Playhouse Square could work. The main plus point of the former home of CIFF, he said, was that the whole event could take place in one space, with a food court and a speed station just steps away.

“I was really nervous when the film festival announced it was moving to Playhouse Square because I didn’t think we would feel like we were under one roof. I was worried it would feel disconnected , so I was really pleasantly surprised,” Jones Forbes said. “I should have remembered that most of the theaters in Playhouse Square are connected by these very large halls, so I still spent most of the under the same roof.”

Goodman agreed that the size and scale of Playhouse Square worked to their advantage. The bigger room meant less congestion and less noise, resulting in a more relaxed atmosphere.

“I think it really had a huge impact on how people experienced their first festival in Playhouse Square,” she said.

Jones Forbes, who works as a marketing director for Northwest Neighborhoods CDC (a CIFF partner that helped raise some awareness for this year’s festival), said one area the festival could improve next year might be be cheaper food options inside the site. Although he dined at nearby restaurants like Sittoo’s, quick and affordable meals were limited in the neighborhood.

Other than that, he always took public transport to the festival each time, often walking from Tower City to Playhouse Square.

“Luckily most of the time the weather was good enough, I would enjoy Euclid’s descent,” Jones told Forbes.

For the 300 filmmakers in attendance, the new location in the city’s premier entertainment district not only afforded them the rare chance to see their films screened in these beautiful old and ornate movie palaces, but it also gave them the opportunity to go out in the city. for the full Cleveland experience.

One of them was Brunswick native Dan Watt, who returned to the area for the first time in two decades to screen his documentary “Everybody Dance” at CIFF.

“I really didn’t know what to expect, and I finally saw all the changes downtown and in Playhouse Square that my friends were talking about,” he said.

Watt, whose first job was in Playhouse Square as a waiter at the Palace Theatre, said the event was well organized and easy to navigate as a filmmaker. He also praised the CIFF staff, including the managers and hosts of its screenings, for their enthusiasm and professionalism.

“They handled it all with such ease that I could just relax and be in the moment, making this festival one of my all-time favorites,” Watt said. “Events like this can be confusing as you usually walk around trying to find the check-in location, check-in and get your bearings. I didn’t feel any of that here.

A roadblock took place before the festival when union projectionists at Playhouse Square were initially excluded from CIFF operations. But all sides reached a last-minute deal that allowed members of International Association of Theater Stage Employees (IATSE) Local 160 to work as technical advisers to non-union projectionists.

Now Goodman and his team, as they do every year, will begin their post-festival survey of what went well and what could be improved, gathering feedback from those in attendance.

“I kept thinking to myself, everyone is so happy,” she said. “I’m sure that’s not 100% true, but almost everyone seemed so happy to us.”

She added, “We’ll always strive to do better year after year and we’ll have a slate for the next festival. We just haven’t started working on it yet.

Some potential concerns that could be raised include the cost of parking and screen size in some theaters. The Upper Allen Theater screen, for example, seemed too small for the size and grandeur of the space.

But, at least for now, Goodman says she can’t think of “anything monumental” to change for next year, although the future of the festival’s online portion is yet to be determined. It’s certain: the Cleveland International Film Festival will return to Playhouse Square for its 47th edition from March 22 to April 1, 2023. Its leader hopes to find the atmosphere of CIFF 46.

“It was really magical for us in so many ways,” she said.

About Selena J. Killeen

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