With the 35th Cleveland International Film Festival's opening night today, we caught up with the fest's artistic director Bill Guentzler, BA '99, to find out a bit more what it takes to host one of the city's biggest events.
How many hours do you normally work in the weeks leading up to the festival?
Right now it's definitely seven days a week. During the week it's 9:00 a.m until 7:00 or 8:00 p.m. and then on the weekends it's at least five hours on Saturday and Sunday.
Is there anything special about this year's festival?
The biggest thing this year is that it's our 35th anniversary, but we're not doing anything really special. The other big thing is that we are taking over all of Tower City Cinemas, which we've never done before. A lot of times during the festival, we're going to be in 10 different theaters.
What's different about the movies that we'll see at the festival as opposed to in the theaters?
The biggest difference is that we're a total audience festival. We're not red carpet; we're not industry. You're not going to see movie stars here, so we really try to tie the films to the community. This year we have 105 community partners and those are other non-profit organizations throughout the Northeast Ohio area. We’ll play a film and find an organization that has a mission that ties to what the film is about…so we’re giving them a forum to push their mission and what they’re interested in.
How long have you been with the festival?
This is my 13th year working with them.
Have you always been a movie buff?
I have, since I was young. I remember when I first watched a subtitled movie, I was in love with it.
When reviewing films, what are you looking for? Something that speaks to you, or something that will speak to everyone?
We definitely want something for everyone. All of our films aren’t mission based; there are a lot of fun films. And that’s a hard part in selecting movies. All of the films are great, but it’s not all my personal taste. We have to program a festival for Cleveland and not just for me.
Is the success of a film festival directly related to the city's demographic? Do Clevelanders have a specific taste when it comes to movie festival fare?
Since 2003, our attendance has increased by 103%, so from 35,000 to 71,000 and I think it’s [because of] the increase in the documentaries as a whole. Clevelanders love documentaries and now [we have the Greg Gund Memorial] Standing Up [Competition], which...is now a [documentary] competition that pushes social justice and activism.
You watch between 600-700 movies a year. Is there are certain point when your eyes begin to gloss over after watching so many movies?
Late in the process, I am looking for specific films. I start looking at films in June and July and then I start programming the festival. In January [before the festival], if a film isn’t what we’re looking for, I’ll turn it off and go do something else like wash the dishes.