PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — I have been a big, big fan of the Cleveland International Film Festival (CIFF) for several decades now.

From the very beginning, I was impressed with the wide range of film offerings each year, from feature films and independent films to foreign films, documentary films and short subject films, and this year is no exception.

Now, in its 40th year, the current festival is serving up 192 feature films and 213 short films from 72 countries. Living up to its name, the festival is truly a showcase of international moviemaking. It’s a great opportunity for all movie lovers in Western Pennsylvania to see some really great movies that you might not see anywhere else.

I can honestly say that each year I have discovered some real movie gems. As a student of film, a movie reviewer and a film instructor teaching the history of movies, I have been nothing but excited about the opportunity to see movies from around the world that reflect such a diversity of themes, styles and subjects. CIFF offers something for everyone, whether you’re student of cinema or someone with a sense of adventure who just loves to see a good movie.

Each year, I applaud the efforts of the festival organizers for the terrific job they do in selecting the movies to be screened and for organizing one of the most fan-friendly festivals anywhere.

Unlike other major festivals in which theaters and screenings are spread all over town, CIFF offers everything in a convenient, one-stop location: The Tower City Cinemas. The comfortable multiplex is located right next to a food court and indoor shopping complex and is accessible –indoors—by two adjoining hotels: The Ritz-Carlton and the Renaissance. Other hotels, restaurants, and stores are nearby. If you are only planning a day trip, there is ample indoor public parking attached to Tower City.

The screenings start in the mornings and run into the night throughout the festival, so there is always something to see.

This past weekend, I was able to screen Atomic Falafel, a comedy from Israel about a nuclear showdown between Israel and Iran; All About Them a sexy French romantic comedy about a contemporary love triangle; Women in Oversized Men’s Shirts, an offbeat Norwegian multi-story comedy following the struggles of a pregnant performance artist and an author who falls in love with an admirer who is half his age. The Jazz Loft According to W. Eugene Smith focused on one of the 20th century’s most talented photographers who made his New York loft a haven and hangout for the 1950-60s jazz community where he not only photographed jazz greats (like Thelonius Monk and Zoot Sims) from the shadows, but also recorded them on thousands of hours of reel-to-reel audio tape that were only recently discovered. The Jazz Loft is a treat for lovers of both black-and-white photography and jazz music. The movie includes images from the mammoth Pittsburgh photography project that W. Eugene Smith shot back in the 1950s.

Speaking of music documentaries, I highly recommend What is Classic Rock? exploring and defining one of pop music’s most enduring genres. The movie includes performance footage as well as interviews with band members of Megadeth, Guns N’ roses, Twisted Sister, KISS, The Doobie Brothers and The Guess Who. The highlight of the evening for me, was a special Q&A appearance featuring the bassist from Twisted Sister and the legendary singer-songwriter Country Joe McDonald who appeared in Woodstock, the seminal rock documentary that captured the sights and sounds of the Woodstock Music Festival that took place in the summer of 1969. Afterward, I had the pleasure of meeting Country Joe and getting his autograph on the cover of my CIFF 40th Anniversary program book.

Photo Credit: Drew Moniot

Photo Credit: Drew Moniot

I was reminded of some of the truly great guest appearances at the festival over the years such as the introduction of a talented, young, undiscovered filmmaker (back in 1992) by the name of Robert Rodriguez who was on hand talking about the making of his low-budget, independent break-out film El Mariachi which he shot on 16mm film for around $7000. In addition to presenting movies that you might not see anywhere else, CIFF gives you the opportunity to meet many of the filmmakers following the screenings.

I can’t say enough about the Cleveland International Film Festival, except to say that if you love movies, you should make a point of attending. It’s only a couple of hours away. This year, the festival runs from March 30th through April 10th. You can find information about this year’s line-up and schedule by going online at clevelandfilm.org or calling 877-304-FILM.