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When the Greater Cleveland Urban Film Festival (GCUFF) got started seven 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. Last year, the festival welcomed just about 4,000 attendees, and has hopes of bringing more than 5,000 festivalgoers to this year's event on Sept. 20-28 at Shaker Square Cinemas.
"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 four reasons to love GCUFF:
"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 thought-provoking subjects like identity politics in "How Jack Became Black," or the antics of a soon-to-be relationship columnist trying to uncover the secret to love in "Questions," the festival provides a number of genres and formats throughout its week+ run.
According to Dabbs, some of the most popular films will be those created by, for and in Cleveland. This includes a documentary entitled "Deeds Not Words: Conversations with Robert Madison," which chronicles the life of a prominent Cleveland-based African American architect.
In addition to the 75-ticketed screenings, GCUFF will premier two free community screenings, which cover a myriad of hard-hitting - but important - subjects.
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 Film & Reception is always exciting. This year, we've got a really unique film called ‘Animator,' which blends animation into the film," said Dabbs. "Afterwards, there'll be Q&A with the producer/writer and lead actor."
A great film fest isn't complete without a few really good parties, right?
Rub elbows with filmmakers, supporters and important members of Cleveland's African American community during Mix & Mingle events, receptions and parties.
New this year, GCUFF is presenting live music in Shaker Square - just outside the cinemas - on Sept. 21 and Sept. 22 from 1-5 p.m.
Other opportunities to hobnob with filmmakers and film lovers alike include the Official Launch Party at the Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland on Sept. 21.
"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 gives local youth the opportunity to learn the process of taking a film from script to screen from real-life Cleveland-based filmmakers. At the end, students write and read their very own screenplay during GCUFF.
There are several programs for students to choose from including Hollywood Kids (ages 8-12) and GCUFF Link (13-19), as well as a Student Symposium put on by Tri-C Students.
For information on the films, the event schedule and how to purchase passes, visit greaterclevelandurbanfilmfestival.org.