The feeling that the Cleveland International Film Festival creates is unmatched: it’s like a big group movie night (or nights) hosted at one of the largest venues in town. Even so, the organizers behind CIFF are determined to replicate that feeling virtually through the theme “Bring Film Home.” With a variety of membership options, live Q&A’s, audience voting and panel discussions, this year’s virtual streaming of CIFF45, which runs April 7-20, is the result of the many creative growing pains it’s gone through in the last year.
“This community deserves a really, really great film festival, no matter how it is presented, or has to be presented,” says Marcie Goodman, the executive director of CIFF. “So we’re looking at this festival as a bridge to our future. It’s going to be an amazing adventure for the organization and for the community.”
This year’s theme, of course, is greatly inspired by how the staff and organizers of CIFF had to make a major pivot last March when the festival got canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. CIFF44 was set to launch March 25, 2020, which was going to be the last one hosted at Tower City before the festival moved to Playhouse Square. Within two weeks, the team at CIFF reformatted the festival and instead moved it into the digital sphere.
“We were in shock,” says Goodman. “But we quickly decided to talk about putting the festival online, though we didn’t know how to do that and no other festival had done that.”
The major switch from a large-scale event to an intimate at-home stream, led the CIFF team to find new ways to get people excited about independent films, and along the way found some small silver linings.
“We realized really quickly with last year that we started having an audience that was never able to come down to Tower City before,” says artistic director Mallory Martin. “And they were finally able to experience our festival. So that was huge.”
Last year’s quick thinking had paid off. After making the decision to make this year’s event online as well, it was easier for the team to plan out events and promotions online, adapting new ways to make content accessible through close captioning, and even allowed them to incorporate features like watchlists, where viewers can make lists of the films they plan on seeing.
“We were so happy that we could do something for our audience, our community and for our filmmakers,” Goodman says. “And looking back, I don’t know how we did it.”
Whether you want to just catch a couple flicks or have a full-on marathon, CIFF’s membership options have something for every viewer.
With the entire festival online this year, it was important for CIFF to offer three different levels of membership. If there’s a specific film or two you want to watch, you can also buy individual tickets for $10 without buying a membership. Membership director and operations manager Debbie Marshall breaks down each level to help you choose the best one for you.
Virtual Viewer ($50)
For those that aren’t committed to watching as many movies as possible, the basic level gives you $2 off every regular CIFF stream ticket and then 10% off special events such as opening night, closing night and the Get Shorty event. “It’s kind of for the film festival-goer who only has time to sneak in a couple films, but they still want discounts on tickets,” says Marshall.
Binge Watcher ($250)
You have a lot of films on your watchlist or don’t want to limit yourself to just a couple. This membership level includes the full CIFF Streams Festival pass, which includes tickets to everything except opening and closing night and the Get Shorty event. “It’s kind of for our diehard film festival-goers,” says Marshall.
Super Streamer ($1,500)
The third level is go-big or go-home. Treat yourself to an all-access pass to the festival, while also enjoying opening and closing night for free, and even a CIFF swag box and dinner available for delivery. “This one is definitely for people that want to and are able to support the festival at a higher level and want to get some of those more special perks,” says Marshall.