Cleveland International Film Festival director Bill Guentzler has worked as the festival's artistic director for the past 18 years. He literally travels the globe in search of good movies and then coordinates the scouting and acquisition of the films, the creation of the festival schedule, and the smooth operation of the festival during its run. He and Mallory Martin, the CIFF director of programming and projection, went to about 10 festivals each to seek out the movies that will show at this year's event.
This year's festival, which takes place from March 30 through April 10 at Tower City Cinemas (and a few select off-site locations), will feature 192 feature films and 213 short films from 72 countries. There will even be web series selections and music videos. For the first time, CIFF will screen a 3-D movie, a documentary about the Burning Man Festival called The Art of Burning.
One highlight will be the world premiere of Believeland, the ESPN 30-for-30 documentary that chronicles the shortcomings of Cleveland sports franchises for the past several decades. It screens for the first time on March 30 at Playhouse Square.
"We had known about the film," says Guentzler when asked about how CIFF managed to nab the world premiere. "Our shorts program manager Paul Sloop was connected to a short film they were working on and they sent us a rough cut of Believeland. I watched it and our associate director Patrick Shepherd watched it. We knew we wanted to play it, and we wanted to make it as big as possible. Since it's our 40th anniversary, we decided to screen it at Connor Palace, and we have a panel that will talk about what the film means. This is the biggest venue we've ever used."
For only the fourth time in the festival's 40-year history, the festival will present a Legacy Award. This year's recipient, Michael Loderstedt, works as a professor of art in printmaking and photography at Kent State University. Winners of the festival's various awards will receive a piece of his artwork as well.
Each year, CIFF also screens a number of local films. This year will feature a slew of them.
"We have a really strong lineup of local films," says Guentzler. "One film that really floored me in terms of the quality of the filmmaking and direction is Mad. It's directed by Robert Putka. It's about three women — two daughters and their mother — and the problems they're having after their mother checks herself into a mental clinic. The writing is fantastic and I'm really happy we're screening at the Capitol as one of our neighborhood screenings."
New this year, a "perspectives exhibition" will take over an empty storefront at Tower City Center. It will feature 10 virtual reality films and six other interactive media programs. It's free and open to the public.
"If you haven't experienced what virtual reality is now, this is the next generation of it," says Guentzler. "The projects we have are films that immerse you into the film. You're watching a film take place and you're inside of it, which is pretty amazing. There are lots of film festivals around the world that are now featuring this and we wanted to get in on the ground floor. It's a new way of telling stories."
The festival has grown exponentially over the years and now completely takes over Tower City Cinemas. Most weekend and evening screenings will be sold out. So what's the best way to ensure you get to see the films you really want to see?
"Get tickets early," says Guentzler. "We do have some films on standby already. If a film is on standby, we usually let in 80 to 90 percent of the people that are on standby. There's still a good chance of getting in even if the film is on standby when you want to come."