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A Festival of Films

I've been trying to think about what I want to say about the Cleveland International Film Fest (CIFF) for a few days now. There are a few things I'd like to comment on, and then I'll give you three of my favorite films from the festival, which I would recommend checking out on DVD when they're released. You should also check out my post over at Brewed Fresh Daily about thinking ahead to future film festivals.


Anyone who regularly watches independent movies knows that the trailers always hype the awards these films receive at Sundance and Tribecca and Cannes and other prestigious festivals. I've never been to any of the big-name film fests, but I imagine that they are filled with celebrities and VIPs and people out to 'be seen.' I think what makes the CIFF so awesome is anyone with a desire to see films can be reasonably accommodated. You don't have to know the right people or have a ton of money. If you like film and there is something you really want to see, there is only a tiny likelihood that you won't see it.

From an urbanist perspective, I love the CIFF because it gives a taste, even if for only ten days, of what Cleveland might be like if it ever hits the critical mass of people living and spending their leisure time downtown. For a place that basically closes for business every evening at 6pm, it's exciting to see Tower City bustling with people well into the night.

That aside, here were three of my favorite films from this year's festival. If you enjoy independent film and the topics from this blog, I think these films might appeal to you.

The Joneses
The premise of this movie is that four people, employees of a 'lifestyle marketing' company, move into a McMansion deep in suburbia. Their job is to peddle luxury goods and services to everyone in the housing development, the country club, the hair saloon, etc. Aside from having a great cast, I really liked The Joneses because it's such a solid satire on many different levels, tackling issues from consumerism to suburbia to 'high society' and it shows that just because people appear to be rich and powerful by no means proves that they are.

Youngstown: Still Standing
Admittedly, I didn't love this film when I first left the theater on Thursday night. It's a documentary that chronicles the good, the bad, and the ugly of Youngstown, Ohio. I learned a lot from this film. I never realized how ignorant I was about a city only 75 miles from where I've lived most of my life. Nevertheless, I think the filmmakers make too many assumptions about the audience and their background with Youngstown. That's what got on my nerves at first. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that every city has a story that should be told, and the filmmakers really did a generally good job telling Youngstown's story.

The Great Contemporary Art Bubble
I was looking forward to this film more than just about any other at the festival. I'm not a big fan of art, nor do I know much about contemporary art; but this is really more of a documentary about the market for the stuff. The economy that exists behind this commodity is truly incredible and the people who are the story of the 'market makers' is rather fascinating. Unlike the crumbling market for say, homes, the art market is generally only dabbled in by the super-rich; but as it turns out, that doesn't mean that the rest of society doesn't pay. If you need more proof that markets can easily become inflated and bubbles formed, look no further than this film. My only complaint is that, due to technical difficulty, we didn't get to see the last 5 minutes. Fortunately, being a documentary, the whole movie didn't hinge on the ending, and I can derive the ending on my own. Nevertheless, that was probably the low-point of my CIFF experience.

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