By: Drew Moniot

CLEVELAND (KDKA) – The 39th annual Cleveland International Cleveland Film Festival is bigger and better than ever.

KDKA movie reviewer Drew Moniot has a preview:

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I just returned from the opening weekend of the 39th Annual Cleveland International Film Festival and I am delighted to report that it is bigger and better than ever.

For the record, I’ve been attending the festival for over twenty years and have never been disappointed. As I have said many times in the past, this is one of the premiere film festivals in the country, and one that no movie-loving Pittsburgher (or any movie lover within driving distance of Cleveland) should miss.

Why? Well, for starters it’s an opportunity to see over 190 feature films and over 220 short subject films representing 60 countries. If you love movies—features, documentaries, independent films, and short subject films– you will love this film festival. There is something for everyone here including an opportunity to meet over 200 guest filmmakers, in addition to the stars of many of the movies.

In the past, I recall movies like Robert Altman’s The Player (1992) making their world-wide debut at this festival. A young Robert Rodriguez appeared the same year following the screening of his breakout independent film El Mariachi (1992) to talk about what it took to make a feature film on a shoestring budget of $7000. In case you’re wondering how it was done by the way, it meant doing dozens of rehearsals of every shot before finally rolling the camera and doing just one take of every scene.

On my first day of screening this past Friday, the director, producer and stars of All-Stars made their way to the front of the auditorium at the end of the film to field audience questions. All-Stars is a bouncy, mockumentary-style comedy about a girl’s softball team, written, produced, directed and starring Lance Kinsey, based on his own real-life experiences coaching his daughter’s softball team. The hilarious low-budget, independent film was shot in a mere 16 days, at times using as many as 7 cameras. Seated with him was one of the co-stars of the film, one of the legendary kings of improv, Fred Willard.

Photo Credit: Carrie Moniot

Photo Credit: Carrie Moniot

When they opened it up the Q&A, I was the first person to excitedly raise my hand and ask Fred Willard a question that had been lying dormant in my brain ever since I saw his performance as a scatter-brained dog show commentator in one of his earlier mockumentaries, Best in Show (2000) in which he turns to his fellow commentator at one point and delivers the now-classic, non sequitur, “So, how much do you think I can bench press?” My question, of course was, “So Fred, just how much can you bench press???” He threw his head back and laughed and quipped, “I think around 316 pounds in my early days.” It was magic.

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The movie will resonate with anyone who has ever played an organized sport as a child or has ever had a child on a youth team. The parents in the movie are drawn from our collective memories of how well-intentioned parenting can turn into a coach’s worst nightmare. At one point, Lance Kinsey’s frustrated character turns to the camera and solemnly says, “Someday I’d love to coach a team of girls whose parents are all dead!”

One of my other favorite films this year was the Canadian comedy Preggoland starring the very talented Sonja Bennett, who also wrote the screenplay. It’s an arrested development comedy about a teenage girl living in the body of a 35-year-old whose friends are all married and pregnant and breaking the bonds of former friendship, until they believe that she is also pregnant, a lie that she chooses to perpetuate after discovering how positively her friends, co-worker and complete strangers treat her when they think she is “with child.” Preggoland takes its place with comedies like Tootsie—movies that make you laugh and make you think.

Photo Credit: Carrie Moniot

Photo Credit: Carrie Moniot

Other personal faves from the festival include the Norwegian dark comedy/thriller In Order of Disappearance about a snow plow driver on a mission of revenge after his son has been murdered. He begins a long string of revenge killings, determined to trace his son’s murder all the way back to the drug kingpin who gave the order. It’s a chilling tale set in a sub-zero setting, a story with more lightning twists and turns than a downhill ski run. Before Hollywood snaps this screenplay up and re-makes it in a couple of years in a less-exciting version with American stars, check out the original version of In Order of Disappearance. Well worth the effort of reading the sub-titles.

I also have to mention the documentary Tab Hunter Confidential about the reigning Hollywood Teen Heartthrob Legend of the Fifties who was a smash success in both the movie industry and recording industry, all the while living a secret life that would have cost him his fame and career. If you love reading and hearing about the History of American Cinema (a course that I teach at Point Park University every fall) you will be captivated by Tab Hunter’s candid revelations about being a rising star and being gay in the days when homosexuality was not just against the norm, but against the law. Hunter takes us back to his childhood and through his early days as a handsome, but marginally-talented movie star, tracing his career through his later years as one of Hollywood’s most bankable stars. Along the way he co-stars with some of Tinsel Town’s most beautiful women while having secret relationships off-camera with other legendary stars like Anthony Perkins. Tab Hunter Confidential is a well-researched, well-produced movie biography complete with tons of photos and movie clips of a true fifties movie Icon, told with honesty, sincerity and charm.

As mentioned, the Cleveland International Film Festival always offers something for everyone—those movie gems that you mayo not see anywhere else. It’s an opportunity to see movies that have won awards at other major movie festivals like Sundance. Best of all, it’s only a couple of hours from Pittsburgh, making it a great movie road trip. There are some great hotels near the Tower City Center where the festival is held, and, just as a reminder, the movies are all shown at the multiplex in the lower level right next to the food court—a movie lover’s dream. I can’t think of another movie festival of this scale that offers so much convenience or such an incredible line-up of movies.

You can’t beat the Cleveland International Film Festival, now in its 39th year. Take it from someone who has become a big fan over the years, and is already looking forward to next year’s event.

This year’s festival goes through the end of the week and wraps up on March 29. So there is still time to jump in the car and catch some great films just a couple of hours away.

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