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What’s screening at the 2023 Cleveland International Film Festival

Poster image for the Cleveland International Film Festival
Cleveland International Film Festival
The Cleveland International Film Festival returns as a hybrid event in person at Playhouse Square for 11 days and then online for a week.

The Cleveland International Film Festival announced its lineup Friday ahead of the second hybrid festival. In-person programing kicks off March 22 in Playhouse Square and continues through April 1, with an additional week of online streaming April 2-9.

Ukrainian films are a focus at CIFF this year as part of a partnership with Ukraine’s Odessa International Film Festival.

“They have partnered with other festivals to showcase their national competition films, and we will be their first collaboration in the United States,” said Marcie Goodman, executive director of CIFF.

No Russian films were scheduled, a continuation of the programming decision the festival made last year as part of a global boycott of Russian cinema due to the war in Ukraine.

The theme of the 47th annual festival is “Look Closer,” with films ranging from coming-of-age stories to thrillers to documentaries on civic participation and immigration. The programming includes about 120 feature films and nearly 200 shorts as well as competitions and the opportunity to meet a variety of filmmakers.

“We really hope that people will join us in person to meet and support our filmmakers,” Goodman said.

Some of the films shown in person will not be available for the online portion of the festival, CIFF47 Streams, and those details are noted in the program guide. CIFF tickets are available to members beginning at 11 a.m. on Monday, March 6, and the general public Friday, March 10.

Changes this year

Films will screen in four theaters instead of six at Playhouse Square in an effort to make the festival feel more intimate.

“(Last year) we really wanted to give everyone the option to spread out and to feel as safe as possible,” Goodman said. “But we kind of lost that sense of community, that buzz that we got so used to at the festival by virtue of being so spread out.

After 29 years at the now-closed Tower City Cinemas followed by two years of online streaming due to COVID-19, CIFF relocated to Playhouse Square officially in 2022.

Printed program guides are also back this year, but they won’t be the large, glossy editions that were scattered around the city for festivals before the pandemic. The new guides are newspaper print and available for purchase in advance or at the festival. Members receive a free copy.

Ohio films to note

Among the feature-length offerings by or about Ohioans is “Citizen Sleuth,” a film that explores the ethics of a true crime podcast about the death of a Marietta woman, and “Food and Country,” a documentary about the U.S. food industry including the perspectives of a couple from Huron.

There are several short films with Northeast Ohio ties too, from Wayne Smith III’s “Where We Overlap” following Black artists preparing for an art exhibit to Angelo Merendino’s documentary “From Mopping the Floors to Making the Cakes: The Story of Archie’s Hough Bakeries.” Amber D. Kempthorn's animation "Ordinary Magic: A Sunday Afternoon in the Cuyahoga Valley" is also showing.

A special program highlights a short documentary on the oak trees Jesse Owens planted in Ohio as part of his Olympic gold honors. One of those trees was recently grafted to ensure his legacy continues. A panel discussion follows the film by Josh Lawhorn on March 23.

Opening night

CIFF’s opening night film, “Butterfly in the Sky,” documents the PBS series “Reading Rainbow,” which started in the ‘80s and fostered a love of books in kids for 25 years.

“This film speaks so well to who we are as an organization and what we believe in,” Goodman said.

While the popular host of “Reading Rainbow,” LeVar Burton, won’t be in attendance, one of the directors, Bradford Thomason, and a few others involved in the film are coming for opening night.

Carrie Wise is the deputy editor of arts and culture at Ideastream Public Media.