The Cleveland International Film Festival, in its 36th year, has developed plenty of traditions, and all of them returned like familiar friends at last night's opening celebration.
Every year, a festival official introduces each film and gets people excited by telling them they're (once again) part of a record crowd.
"This is the biggest attendance at an opening night in our history," announced festival president Jules Belkin. It's no surprise anymore; the film fest grows in popularity every year, always adding more screenings. So every year is a record-setting year, unless a blizzard hits. There's little chance of that this year. "And [it's] our warmest opening night in our history," Belkin added.
Every film in the fest's 11 days is preceded by the year's playful, locally produced trailer. This year it's an animated montage of silhouetted animals -- a rhino, a whale -- dangling from balloons, soaring over landmarks from the Cleveland Museum of Art to a Guardian of Traffic, depicting the theme, "Be Carried Away." The trailer's soundtrack song, "Second Star (Straight Until Sunday)," by local musician Alan Madej, is a quirky indie-pop love song, reminiscent of The Twilight's "I've Got Love" from the 2008 fest. I bet festival devotees will be singing it by day 11.
The opening night film, "Nesting," written and directed by Chagrin Falls native John Chuldenko, was above-average opening night fare, a fun comedy about a couple in their 30s struggling with the slow slide from hipsterism to yuppiedom. Male lead Todd Grinell channeled a lot of Paul Rudd and a bit of John Cusack as he played reluctantly aging cool guy Neil (who's always wearing indie-rock or ironic T-shirts -- "Ski Iraq," says one). The film kicked off with some elements of a men-behaving-badly comedy, but swung quickly to the tensions between Neil and his wife Sarah, an ex-bohemian turned careerist. Ali Hillis, playing Sarah, seemed more convincing as Sarah once she began to reconnect with her past.
After the film, the opening-night attendees (in dress ranging wildly from semiformal to casual to artsy chic) threaded through Tower City to the reception at MK Ferguson Plaza, the old post office attached to the Terminal Tower complex. Full wine glasses arranged on tables and counters greeted the first arrivals. This year, the party had a sultry vibe thanks to the dimmed art-deco former lobby, where the light came from period lamps on tables and signs over shuttered service windows ("General Delivery," "Wholesale Stamps").
The Cleveland International Film Festival continues through April 1. Check the festival website or download the new CIFF Android or iPhone app for film info. Get tickets in advance; some films for tonight and tomorrow night are already on standby.
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