A CLE Urban Film Fest
The Greater Cleveland Urban Film Festival Seeks to Inform, Educate and Entertain
By Lexi Hotchkiss
When the Greater Cleveland Urban Film Festival (GCUFF) got started six years ago, its primary vision was to showcase the work of emerging filmmakers and established artists who both contribute to and celebrate urban culture.
But if you ask Donna Dabbs, executive director of the GCUFF, the idea behind the event is pretty simple: “The festival is a nice, easy way to inform, educate and entertain people. Communicating through the medium of film is an amazing way to inspire and uplift people. And that’s what we want to do.”
She and her team (comprised 100 percent of volunteers) do this by showcasing minority films, which reinforce positive images and dispel negative stereotypes.
During this year’s festival, which will be held Sept. 21-29, they’ll be highlighting 64 films over nine days in two theaters at Shaker Square Cinemas.
“Of the films, about 50 percent are features and 50 percent are shorts,” Dabbs said. “We have documentaries, educational films and plenty of drama.”
Whether you’re seeking films covering heavy-hitting subjects like the bureaucracy of universal healthcare for an HIV-positive African American man in Pushing Dead, or side-splitting laughter thanks to the antics of a con-artist preacher in Holy Hustle, the festival provides a number of genres and formats throughout its week+ run.
And, sure, don’t get us wrong, we’re psyched to be able to screen an impressive collection of both local and national films. But, GCUFF is a lot more than that.
“Part of our mission is to inspire young people to consider this industry as a career,” Dabbs said. “In this industry, there are so many opportunities both behind the camera and in front of the camera. The festival offers a perfect way to help young people look forward and to consider something new.”
Each year, GCUFF offers its Youth Film Program to a group of 5-12 local teens. The program, which is taught by two Cleveland-based filmmakers, teaches students the process of taking a film from script to screen. At the end, students write a screenplay and produce a short film or documentary, which is then shown during GCUFF.
GCUFF also will be hosting a variety of programming for attendees to learn from urban filmmakers, producers, casting directors and industry insiders during panel discussions, workshops and parties.
And, while the festivalgoers are certainly interested in learning more about these filmmakers and their careers, the filmmakers are pretty interested in them, too.
“Cleveland’s profile is rising. Many filmmakers are curious about Cleveland,” Dabbs said.
So, CGUFF is offering visiting filmmakers, other distinguished guests and a limited group of public attendees the opportunity to explore the city via a private Lolly the Trolley tour.
“We’re going to take a three-hour tour so that they can see the area and choose future filming sites and set locations,” Dabbs said.
While there are passes available for films, after parties and receptions, there are some opportunities to check out CGUFF free of charge.
“This year, we’ve received a lot of support from partners who have allowed us to offer six free community screenings. There are a lot of educational opportunities,” she said.
Included in that collection of free community screenings is the film Black Women in Medicine, a new documentary uncovering the history, contemporary issues and future possibilities facing African American women physicians.
Last year, the festival welcomed 3,000 attendees, which was double the number of attendees from the year prior. For this year, the group is anticipating around 4,000 festivalgoers over the nine-day period.
“It’s important to know that GCUFF is for everybody. The festival is targeted to share more African American and minority stories, but it’s not just for us. We can all benefit,” Dabbs said.
For information on the films, the event schedule and how to purchase passes, visit greaterclevelandurbanfilmfestival.org.