Bill Guenztler remembers the first time he was hooked by a reel: It happened a decade or so ago, when his father introduced him to what was a new genre for him: foreign films, which included the German classic, “Das Boot.”
“I just loved the subtitles,” recalls Guentzler, who’s been an avid moviegoer for as long as he can remember. “That was my favorite part of the movie: not what was going on, but how I was able to read what was going on.”
Today, as artistic director for the Cleveland Film Society, a nonprofit organization committed to promoting the film arts through education and exhibition, Guenztler travels the world — including stops in Toronto, London and the Czech Republic — to choose the films that will be screened at the society’s Cleveland International Film Festival. This year, the 33rd annual event takes place March 19–29 at Tower City Cinemas in downtown Cleveland.
This year’s films run the gamut from family-friendly fare like “Sticks and Stones,” the story of a U.S. kids’ hockey team that was booed in Montreal at the outset of the Iraq War, to documentaries such as “Not Your Typical Bigfoot Movie,” which follows two southern Ohio researchers looking for the creature in the Appalachian foothills. The highlight of the festival’s opening night gala is a screening of director Jeff Balsmeyer’s “Lightbulb,” a comedy-drama about two friends whose invention becomes a worldwide sensation.
In total, more than 290 films from 60 countries will be showcased over a span of 11 jam-packed days. But what makes the festival so special isn’t just its wide selection of movies or its accessible location.
According to Cleveland Film Society executive director Marcie Goodman, it’s the unique experience audience members encounter.
“It’s a great equalizer,” she says. “You can come by yourself or you can come with 10 friends. It doesn’t matter, because in the end you’ll have something to talk about with someone standing or sitting next to you.”
Visiting directors, film forums, opening and closing night receptions and unique film-related events are the reason the Cleveland International Film Festival has been heralded as the largest film festival between New York City and Chicago.
Not to mention the most welcoming. “I find this to be one of the friendliest environments imaginable,” Goodman says, “People are so happy to be here.”
For more information, visit www.clevelandfilm.org
or call 216/623-3456.