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By Drew Moniot, of “Drew’s Reviews” on KDKA-TV’s Pittsburgh Today Live

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Let me cut right to the chase. Don’t miss this year’s Cleveland International Film Festival that runs through April 15!

If you love movies, you’ll love this exceptional film venue, which is only about two hours away from Pittsburgh — roughly a half tank of gas in a Honda Accord, round trip.

Let me say that I have been faithfully attending this film festival for over 20 years and have never been disappointed. In my humble opinion, this is one of the most well-planned and well-organized festivals of its kind in the country. It consistently offers up movies that you simply won’t see anywhere else including: feature films, independent films, documentary films, foreign films, short subject films and animated films. In other words, something for everyone who loves great movies that are worth seeing.

drew moniot 2018 Cleveland International Film Festival Offers Something For Everyone With Over 400 Films

(Photo Credit: Carrie Moniot)

The theme this year is “EMBRACE CURIOSITY” and that’s exactly what you can do with an offering of 214 feature films and 253 short films from 72 countries. It’s also an opportunity to meet and interact with 300 guest filmmakers in attendance, during Q&A sessions, Film Forums and Chat Rooms. In one of the more progressive festivals in the country, many of those filmmakers are women. In an age when women are struggling for more representation behind the camera, 108 short films and 79 feature films being shown at CIFF are directed by women; well above the industry norm.

I just returned from three days of screenings this past weekend in which I was able to see eight outstanding movies that I was dying to see.
Being a part-time rock musician since I was a teenager, I gravitated toward some great rock documentaries that were in the lineup this year including:

  • “If I Leave Here Tomorrow,” charting the turbulent and tragic story of the southern rock band, Lynyrd Skynyrd, from their dirt-poor roots in Gainesville, Fla., through their rise to stadium concert stardom and the fateful crash that led to the band’s death and rebirth. It’s a movie that digs deep into the band’s musical soul. Along the way, the interviews uncover some surprising revelations about the band’s controversial association with the Confederate Flag and their unexpectedly liberal, anti-redneck take on guns and gun violence.
  • “Bad Reputation” offers insights into the life and legend of Joan Jett whose Christmas gift of an electric guitar as a teen led her to become one of the founding members of the all-girl, groundbreaking teenage punk band The Runaways, and later, the raw, rebellious rock queen of her own band, Joan Jett and The Blackhearts.
  • “The King,” a fascinating documentary charting a nationwide journey in Elvis Presley’s 1963 Rolls Royce, allowing fans and fellow musicians and celebrities to ride, reminisce and remark on The King’s enduring legacy that paralleled this nation’s cultural and political evolution through three decades.
  • “Tulipani: Love Honour and a Bicycle” was an example of one of the many memorable foreign films that the festival offers up each year. You may feel, as I do, that foreign filmmakers bring a whole other perspective to cinematic storytelling, focusing on complex characters, sophisticated storylines and thoughtful images — the things that are often missing in domestic releases that rely too often on formula plots and digital effects. It’s refreshing to see the work of filmmakers who are more interested in making art and making a statement rather than just making money.

As always, there were some sobering serious documentaries like “Fail State,” produced by Dan Rather, examining the rise and fall of bogus for-profit colleges in America (DeVry, Kaplan, ITT and Trump University) or “Burden of Genius” about Dr. Thomas Starzl’s world-famous pioneering transplant surgery at UPMC here in Pittsburgh.

And for those looking for something just plain outrageous and fun, “Getting Naked” offers a peek into New York City’s real-life, bawdy, naughty neo-burlesque entertainment scene tracing the stories of struggling strippers while Streaker tells the hilarious fictional tale of a Swiss high school teacher who finds himself helplessly caught up in an underground sports gambling racket involving international soccer, side bets and streakers.

As mentioned, this year, once again, there is something for everyone at the Cleveland International Film Festival. It’s all conveniently located at the Tower City Cinemas in downtown Cleveland with lots of nearby parking, restaurants and hotels. It’s a great day trip or an even better weekend getaway.

For more information, visit clevelandfilm.org.

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