When the Greater Cleveland Urban Film Festival (GCUFF) got started eight 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.
And, it's been a smashing success. Every year, thousands have turned up in increasing numbers to join GCUFF and their mission. This year, they're hoping to bring more festivalgoers than ever Sept. 15 - 23 at Atlas Cinemas Shaker Square 6.
"I think 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.
We've checked it out. And, so should you. Here's some of the many reasons to love GCUFF:
87 Films Over 9 Days
"Of the films, about 50 percent are features and 50 percent are shorts," Dabbs said. "We have documentaries, educational films and plenty of drama." There are even animated films offered in the program.
According to Dabbs, some of the most popular films will be those created by, for and in Cleveland. This includes a documentary entitled "Black Rainbow Love" which shares the personal stories of 27 Black LGBTQ+ couples, individuals, clergy and activists directed by Angela Harvey, as well as "Black Daddy: The Experience," an interactive observation that is part film/part performance, followed by dialogue and discussion.
In addition to the ticketed screenings, GCUFF will offer a virtual festival, which has taken off over the last few years.
Film festivals like GCUFF present great opportunities for serious dialogue and important conversations.
Throughout GCUFF's schedule, festivalgoers can attend panel discussions covering important issues impacting Cleveland's urban community with key community leaders, as well as educational workshops and discussions with attending filmmakers.
"The Opening Night program & reception is always exciting," said Dabbs. This year's Opening Night features an evening with actor, writer and director Lisaraye McCoy at The Breen Center for an intimate conversation about her career, a showcase of her work and a preview of some of the films featured in this year's festival. Also, "The Movie Biz in the CLE" features the Greater Cleveland Film Commission discussing how they bring movie jobs and money to The Land.
Next Gen Filmmakers
"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."
Inspiring the next generation is appropriate, given this year's theme, "Afrofuturism," a term that has become an essential frmework for art about imagined and alternate Black experiences. Author Ytasha Womack writes, “Afrofuturism combines elements of science fiction, historical fiction, speculative fiction, fantasy, Afrocentricity, and magic realism with non-Western beliefs.” Afrofuturist ideas have always found fertile ground in film, and the festival's series takes viewers on an intergalactic journey that stretches back long before the term existed, and far into the future.
For even more information on GCUFF, its films, the event schedule and how to purchase passes, visit greaterclevelandurbanfilmfestival.org.