Bill Guentzler is a professional movie-watcher. Yes, the 39-year-old Cleveland International Film Festival artistic director gets paid to watch more than 700 movies a year. He globe-trots to festivals in the Czech Republic, Amsterdam, London, Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, British Columbia, and Sundance in Park City, Utah, to reel in the best cinematic jewels. So when you head to Tower City Cinemas for the 40th annual CIFF March 30 through April 10, the films he picks will grip you, shock you or make you cry. Starting as a development intern in 1998, the Willowick native has been programming the film fest for 14 years. CIFF is now an Oscar-qualifying festival for all three short categories, boosting submissions by 50 percent this year. Before you go to the festival to say, "Hi, Bill," we offer a close-up on Guentzler, who lives in West Park with his fiance, Eric Childers, and their schnauzer-poodle mix named Oskar.
I worked at the Centrum on Coventry for a year while I was in college, and my friends would always make fun of me that I was the one always wanting to watch the weird independent films with subtitles.
I saw everything that played there. I remember Shine with Geoffrey Rush. That's one of the greatest roles as far as someone transforming themselves to become another person both physically and mentally.
The 20th film festival was the year after my grandfather died. The Garden was playing in Slovak, and my grandfather was born in Slovakia and my grandparents and my mom used to speak it. So, I went just to hear the language.
Dave Wittkowsky, who was the artistic and executive director at the time, came to introduce the film. I leaned over to my friend and was joking, like, That seems like a cool job. I would love to do that.
The festival hired me on as an office assistant in 1999. David had me watch some films knowing that I had been a passholder at the festival and was really passionate about films.
I guess he liked my opinion because the following year, he had me go to my first film festival in Montreal. I was there for nine days, and I saw 45 films.
Howard Feinstein invited me to the Sarajevo Film Festival. Bosnia went through several years of war. Seeing how they celebrated film really meant something for that city. They were bringing their culture back. That impacted me that film can do that.
I'll be sitting at a film festival in London or in the Czech Republic outside of Prague, it doesn't matter where I am, because I'm watching these films from all these other cultures that all come together.
People do respect us as a festival. Even if they haven't heard of Cleveland the city, they know our festival.
The first year I went to Karlovy Vary, a CIFF intern from Prague connected me with her friends. It's nice to get away from the festival.
It does get a little lonely when you're just by yourself, wake up in your hotel room and you go see movies all day.
Eric and I have been together for five years now. I met him and that was the first thing I told him, "Hey, I'm gone four months out of the year." It was a little hard at first, but he's gotten used to it.
All through fall and winter I'm watching submissions for the festival. We'll binge-watch after the festival. Catch up on House of Cards.
Rarely do I say, "Oh, let's watch a movie for fun."
I never eat in movies. I'll have water and maybe a coffee.
I don't like the smell of popcorn.
Being able to see people come out of the films I picked and like them and either thank me or say, "Hey, Bill, that was a great movie," the appreciation of it and the understanding that people liked what I did felt good and made me want to do it more.
If there's a depressing film, I'll probably really like it.
I have the 45-minute rule. If it doesn't grab me by 45 minutes, I don't know if it can.
If a film has a good story and it's believable, that's a feat. It should be entertaining. It should make you feel something or actually do something in your world.
If there's a year that I don't feel it's the strongest program of films, then I'm done.