When the Greater Cleveland Urban Film Festival (GCUFF) got started 12 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.
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. 14 - 22 at Atlas Cinemas Shaker Square 6 and online through their virtual program.
"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:
1. 62 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."
According to Dabbs, some of the most popular films will be those created by, for and in Cleveland. This includes a documentary entitled "A Death in the City" which tells the stories of protesters during the 1963-1964 protests against school segregation in Cleveland, as well as a local sports documentary about the merging of two rival municipal youth football teams in "Ward 5 United."
In addition to the ticketed screenings, GCUFF will premier free community screenings, which cover a myriad of hard-hitting - but important - subjects.
2. Important Dialogue
Film festivals like GCUFF present great opportunities for serious dialogue and important conversations.
During GCUFF's schedule, festivalgoers have the opportunity to 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.
Two such panels this festival are "From Heights to Harvard to Hollywood," featuring a conversation with Peter Lawson Jones," as well as "Momentum: From Pandemic to Cleveland's New Way of Learning."
3. Parties & Receptions
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 events, receptions and parties throughout the festival, especially on Opening Night and the Closing Ceremonies, which will celebrate 50 years of Hip-Hop.
Returning this year is a Pitch Fest where filmmakers and writers can pitch scripts and film for the opportunity to be selected and flown all expenses paid to Washington D.C. to have lunch and a one-on-one discussion with an industry executive.
4. 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 returning theme is "Afrofuturism 2.0," 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 information on the films, the event schedule and how to purchase passes, visit GCUFF.org.