Cleveland International Film Fest

January 18, 2015
Cleveland International Film Fest

10 Reasons to Experience the 2015 Cleveland International Film Festival

By: Lexi Hotchkiss

Happening March 18 - 29, the 39th Annual Cleveland International Film Festival (CIFF) is one of those signature events that doesn't simply exemplify Cleveland's ever-growing commitment to supporting independent artists - it drives it.

Truth be told, you're not going to find the films screened at CIFF showing at the suburban cinemaplex on any old Saturday night. But, frankly, we don't think that's such a bad thing at all.

Why give it a go?

1.Watch 500+ films over 12 days

The films at CIFF aren't your average multi-million-dollar blockbusters. Whether it's a poignant documentary covering humanitarian issues or a hilarious and artfully directed 10-minute short film, CIFF focuses on screening the newest and best films from around the world that people wouldn't see otherwise.

Conceivably, one could watch a different film for 12+ hours every day for almost two weeks straight. And, it's not uncommon to catch a few locals who take off work for a solid week to enjoy much of the event.

2.Attend one of the top-rated film festivals in the world

CIFF was rated as one of six standout film festivals in the country beyond Sundance by the king of travel himself - Peter Greenberg. The CIFF also made its way onto indieWIRE's list of the 50 leading film festivals around the world. It's also the largest festival of its kind in the region.

But, like many of us here in Cleveland, the folks at CIFF aren't caught up in the hubbub of rankings.

"What makes CIFF unique is that we have a very film-savvy audience. They have a real thirst for independent films," Debby Samples, Marketing Director for CIFF, says. "Our audience knows these filmmakers, they follow them and they're up-to-date on them. So, we program around them." 

That's why the festival is widely recognized as a "filmmaker's festival."

3. Meet filmmakers

"What makes a festival special and relevant are the filmmakers," Patrick Shepherd, Associate Director of CIFF, said.

That being said, visitors to CIFF often get the unique opportunity to chat with the filmmakers themselves immediately following the screening.

In 2014, approximately 200 filmmakers from around the world attended the festival.

4. Experience a film festival in one downtown location

Unlike other film festivals around the world, around 96% of CIFF's film screenings take place in one convenient location in the heart of downtown - Tower City Cinemas.

Centrally located right smack dab in the middle of EVERYTHING, Tower City Center is directly attached to the Horseshoe Casino Cleveland, as well as hotels including The Ritz-Carlton, Cleveland and the Renaissance Cleveland.

The festival's location also offers direct access to public transportation to/from the airport and around the city. Add to that, some of the best eating in Cleveland is within walking distance right outside its doors.

So, having a car while in town just isn't necessary.

But, for those of you who insist on driving, you'll be happy to know the festival offers discounted parking within Tower City Center's property.

5. Get inspired

This year, CIFF is focusing their efforts around one central theme: The Home for Inspiration.

CIFF knows that when an audience member sees a film, they're obviously entertained. But, what many don't realize is they also become educated and inspired to change the world.

"In one instance, we know of an audience member who saw a film within our ‘It's Easy Being Green' Sidebar who was so inspired that he started his own greenhouse here in Cleveland. He's now an urban farmer," Samples says.

"That's why we do this. We give the filmmakers an opportunity to show these films and, ultimately, change the world," she adds.

6. Select films using Sidebars

Never been to a film festival? No worries, my friend.

CIFF organizes many of its films into categories called Sidebars, which help a first-time festivalgoer select films based on interests and other categories.

Over the years, they've included LGBT-focused films, late-night films, those films focused on environment issues and even films that cater to families.

7. Dive deeper with FilmForums

FilmForums are an incredible way to delve deeper into the important topics addressed within some of CIFF's films. These moderated discussion panels held after the film's conclusion include the directors of select films, community leaders, local experts and scholars of the subject(s).

One such FilmForum during the 2014 festival explored the question "How much is college worth?" Panelists included the film director, a representative from a Cleveland non-profit providing college funds to students and the CEO of the Cleveland Metropolitan School District.

8. Celebrate the work of rising-star and first-time filmmakers

PJ Raval. Ché Sandoval. Ryan White. These three names might not mean much to you right now, but - according to the experts at CIFF - they're on the rise.

CIFF features the Someone to Watch Award, a program designed to showcase the work of mid-career filmmakers who are quickly making names for themselves within the international filmmaking community.

"We bring them in and show their newest film, as well as one or two of their previous films," says Shepherd. "These are the filmmakers that our audience gets to know the best."

9. Commit to the Cleveland community

"We have a unique community engagement program that is focused on making our city a better place in which to live," Shepherd said. "It's one of our favorite parts of the festival."

Many of CIFF's films have to do with the work being performed by a Cleveland nonprofit organization. So, CIFF works closely with these non-profits.

"For instance, if there's a documentary about adoption, then we might partner with the Adoption Network of Cleveland. We don't ask for money from these community partners, but rather that they promote the film to their constituency. And, in return, we provide them a platform to promote their work to an engaged audience."

Now, that's what we call "community."

10. Visit Cleveland!

"The Cleveland of today is not the Cleveland of 10 years ago. There's no better time to visit our city," Lisa Sands, CIFF Marketing & Media Manager, boldly notes.

Shepherd adds, "The downtown is booming. There are more residents than ever before. We've got great amenities like the Rock Hall right downtown. When you come to the festival, you'll also be able to take advantage of all the downtown restaurants within just a few blocks of the theaters. It's a great energy!"


The films and other programming will be announced in late February at

Tickets are only $15 for the general public ($13 for students, seniors and CIFF members) and go on sale March 6 at 11am online.

So, what's getting you to the CIFF this year? Tell us!

Articles Search

Download the Destination Cleveland App

The Destination Cleveland app is your guide to art, culture and rock ‘n’ roll in a city that doesn’t take itself too seriously. Grit meets sophistication in a town with world-class experiences without the world-class ego. And for that, you’re welcome.

Destination Cleveland
334 Euclid Avenue
Cleveland, OH 44114
800. 321. 1001
Check out what other travelers say
about Cleveland on TripAdvisor.