As the roar of the crowd outside Tower City Cinemas starts to rise, we’re nursing at least four paper cuts at the Cleveland Magazine offices — from paging through programs, of course. Film-going, it turns out is a contact sport, so choose your plays wisely at this year’s Cleveland International Film Festival, kicking off today with a 7 p.m. showing of The Etruscan Smile at the Playhouse Square’s State Theater. Here we pick 10 films not to miss at the 42nd annual festival. You’re welcome. But you’ll have to bring your own Band-Aids.
A brutally topical documentary that spawned a 10-episode docuseries on Viceland, American Relapse bears witness to the opioid epidemic through unlikely eyes. Frankie and Allie are recovering addicts who now spend every day in their Florida town striving to help others get clean. The film follows the duo through one visceral week of their emotionally and physically exhausting work, where the temptation and opportunity to use remains perilously close. Showings: March 29 3:30 p.m.; March 31 5 p.m.
Bulbul Can Sing
The recipient of the festival’s Someone To Watch Award, Rima Das is a self-taught filmmaker who recently won India’s National Best Film and Best Editor Awards. Her poignant portrait of Bulbul, a teenage girl growing up in rural India and chaffing against rigid cultural norms, is dipped in realism and rich narrative storytelling. A coming-of-age story unlike many we see in America, Bulbul Can Sing spotlights the transformative, protective power of friends who foster your dreams. Showings: April 6 2:45 p.m.; April 7 4 p.m.
Buñuel in the Labyrinth of the Turtles
This disturbing, gorgeous genre-bender is a fitting tribute for Luis Buñuel the iconoclastic surrealist artist who delighted and repulsed audiences in equal measure during his five-decade career. This decidedly not-kid-friendly animated film goes behind-the-scenes of Buñuel’s groundbreaking surrealist film Las Hurdes: Tierra Sin Pan, following the artist’s quest to capture the Spanish region’s impoverished population. The project quickly goes sideways however, in a richly moving film that questions the nature of truth in art. Showings: April 2 8:25 p.m.; April 5 6:30p.m.
A horror film with sticky North Coast roots, I See You has been making waves in Cleveland since locals spotted Helen Hunt shooting scenes for the thriller at a house on Edgewater Drive in Lakewood. Produced by Cleveland local Matt Waldeck, the film takes place in the fictional Edgecliff, Ohio, where a recent spate of kidnappings resembles the work of a notorious criminal from years before. Meanwhile, Hunt’s Jackie Harper begins to notice sinister, unexplained happenings inside her home. I See You is said to pack a wallop of a twist ending that will shock you to your spine. Showings: March 29 8:15 p.m.; March 30 1:25 p.m.; March 31 4:10 p.m.
This bracing documentary centers on Sudan, the last male northern white rhino existing in the world. Housed at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya, Sudan and his daughter and granddaughter, the only two remaining females, are guarded around the clock by three main caretakers. Poachers have made such precautions necessary, as the white rhino’s horn is worth more than gold in foreign markets and demand has devastated the species. As Sudan’s health fails, it will take a medical miracle to save this white rhino, who has become a friend and life-changer to his caretakers. Showings: March 28 6:50 p.m.; March 29 4:30 p.m.; March 30 11:45 a.m.
Football and Chola rule Los Reyes skate park — they just go by four legs, not wheels. In this endearing, minimalistic documentary shot at the oldest skatepark in Santiago, Chile, filmmakers track the daily lives of the two charismatic stray dogs who love tennis balls, old Gatorade bottles and each other. Spliced with alternatively humorous and disquieting voiceovers from local skaters, this mesmerizing but simple documentary captures these animals’ singular lifestyles. Showings: March 28 9 p.m.; March 29 2:20 p.m.
The Magic Life of V
LARPing has long been the subject of vitriol and rueful misunderstanding. But the world of live-action role-playing takes a weighty, transformative turn in this compelling Bulgarian documentary. At home, Veera quakes under the influence of her domineering, alcoholic father and grapples with traumatic childhood memories. But as V, her LARPing alter ego, she is vibrant, talkative and surrounded by friends. The Magic Life of V follows Veera’s difficult journey to make those two worlds meet, healing wounds of the past with the magic she’s found in her present. Showings: April 3 7:30 p.m.; April 5 1:50 p.m.
Mia and the White Lion
In this heartwarming family favorite, young Londoner Mia hates her new home in South Africa, where her family has just moved to their ancestral farm of wild lions. But when a white lion cub, Charlie, is born, their bond is fast and strong. As Charlie grows and becomes more destructive, Mia is the only one who can keep him under control. But her father insists Charlie will always be wild, and must leave before he becomes a danger to the family. Once Mia discovers what happens to lions that leave her family’s farm, she’ll stop at nothing to save her best friend. Showings: March 28 3:50 p.m.; March 30 12:05 p.m.
A modern-day Romeo and Juliet, Rafiki charts the tale of Kena and Ziki, two women who don’t fit the traditional gender roles of their Kenyan communities. When they meet and fall into a deep, forbidden romance, loose lips and prejudice threatens horrific consequences, and soon the couple are faced with a devastating choice. Deeply moving and bursting with Technicolor moments of beauty, Rafiki is a love story told too little. Showings: April 3 11:40 a.m.; April 5 8:45 p.m.; April 6 4:20 p.m.
Already a buzzy debut on the wider festival circuit, Teen Spirit is the star-studded, neon-dipped story of Violet (Elle Fanning), a small-town dreamer who enters into an intensely competitive singing competition. With a soundtrack packed with heavy hitting female powerhouses such as Robyn, Annie Lennox and Ellie Goulding, Max Minghella’s directorial debut also elegantly captures the wistful inner life of a girl on the brink. Showings: April 5 9:20 p.m.; April 6 4:10 p.m.
For more information and to purchase tickets, visit clevelandfilm.org.