By: Drew Moniot (“Drew’s Reviews” on Pittsburgh Today Live)

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — People who know me know that I am a big, big fan of the annual Cleveland International Film Festival, now in its 41st year.

The official name of this year’s event is ILLUMINATE, referencing the moving images that illuminate movie theater screens, creating movie magic.

This year, the magic includes 200 feature films and 216 short films from 71 countries.

The nearly 300 guest filmmakers include Steve James, acclaimed producer and director of the groundbreaking documentary “Hoop Dreams.” Special guests include New York Times film critic A.O. Scott (author of Better Living Through Criticism: How to Think About Art, Pleasure, Beauty, and Truth) who will receive the CIFF inaugural Distinguished Award of Appreciation on the closing night of the festival (April 9th).

I look forward to this festival every year for several reasons. Start with the fact that it always offers a first-rate lineup of movies that you may not see anywhere else, including films that have gained awards and notoriety at other festivals like Sundance and Toronto. You can find everything from domestic and foreign feature films to short film programs and documentaries. It’s all there. Something for everyone, young and old. And it’s only about a few short hours of drive time from Pittsburgh. You can do a day trip, stay for a weekend or do the entire festival if you’re a fanatical film buff.

As mentioned in the past, I love the convenience of the festival, with all the movies being shown in one multiplex within Tower City Center. Unlike other major film festivals where the movies and theaters are spread all over town, this one is all in one place with an adjacent food court and two adjoining hotels, The Ritz-Carlton and the Renaissance. Did I mention that both hotels are connected to Tower City Center, which means you never have to brave the weather going from your room to the theater complex. It doesn’t get better than that.

If you decide to do a day trip, there is plenty of parking and a number of fun, affordable restaurants within easy walking distance.

This year, a few of my favorite movies that I saw during the opening weekend included:

Carrie Pilby

Easily my favorite movie at this year’s festival. “Carrie Pilby” premiered to critical acclaim at the 2016 Toronto Film Festival. It stars Bel Powley (“Diary of a Teenage Girl”) in the title role as a bright, young genius who graduated Harvard at the age of 18 and is experiencing some difficulty adjusting to life alone in New York City. With her widowed father living in London, she turns to her psychiatrist (Nathan Lane) for guidance and is given a check-list of goals that she is instructed to complete between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve. It’s a thoughtful plan that sets her journey of self-discovery in motion. “Carrie Pilby” is one those virtually perfect movies that works on every level, from the spot-on script to the memorable performances, with Bel Powley proving again that she is one of the brightest, most fascinating new stars in years.

The University

Matt Rutherford’s mind-expanding documentary about S.U. (Singular University) a collection of the most brilliant young minds on the planet, brought together to “create a business that will impact a billion people within 10 years.” “The University” was five years in the making, tracking breakthrough, brainstorming work that included the future of self-driving cars and the application of 3-D printers in space for our inevitable journey to the stars. The creators of The University project were X Prize founder Peter Diamandis and futurist Ray Kurzweil, both on a mission to make the world a better place. The movie that documents their efforts is both freshly uplifting and deeply inspiring.


A dark sci-fi independent film about a group of survivors living in underground, isolated, hermetically-sealed bunkers, following a deadly pandemic that has practically wiped out humanity. The good news: they are alive. The bad news: they are living alone, possibly for decades, connected by social media that links them together for psychological and emotional support. Sounding like a commentary about the current state of social media in today’s world? It’s all that and an ending right out of The Twilight Zone.

Shot! The Psycho-Spiritual Mantra of Rock

If you ever wondered who photographed many of the iconic images that defined the glam days of Rock ‘n Roll, you might be surprised to know that they were the work of Mick Rock (his actual name). His photos of David Bowie, Lou Reed, Iggy Pop and Freddy Mercury are now part of our collective consciousness thanks to their appearance in magazines, books, billboards and album covers. The story is all from the perspective of an insider who befriended some of rock’s greatest legends, lived their drug-fueled lifestyle, and paid the price with a brush with death that required a quadruple-bypass when he was only in his 40s. It’s a rare behind-the-scenes look at the man behind the camera who held a mirror to the madness of an outrageous Rock ‘n Roll era.

If you’re a movie fan with a taste for movies beyond the usual studio offerings, ILLUMINATE: The 41st Cleveland International Film Festival is for you. I highly recommend it.

A quick word of advice, arrive early (30 – 60 minutes early) prior to the screening time. This is a well-established, well-attended film festival with limited seating, so you can expect lots of fellow moviegoers to be lined up with popcorn in hand.

For more information, go online at, or call 877-304-FILM.

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