The first Cleveland International Film Festival (CIFF) was organized by Jonathan Forman and presented April 13 – June 2, 1977.

Eight films from seven countries were shown at the Cedar Lee Theatre in Cleveland Heights over an eight-week period. Developed as a subscription series, the first CIFF received substantial media attention and attendance indicated that Clevelanders wanted a broader schedule.

By its third year, the CIFF had grown to include feature films from around the world, children’s films, retrospectives, and short subjects. A Board of Trustees — consisting of community leaders, film scholars, and film enthusiasts — was assembled to oversee the mission, funding, and growth of the CIFF.

By its fifth year, the CIFF had developed a network of screening locations, establishing itself within the Greater Cleveland arts community as an eagerly awaited annual event. Fundraising was enhanced through the generosity of The George Gund Foundation and The Cleveland Foundation, and educational efforts were strengthened as a result.

In 1986 the CIFF moved its Opening Night from the Cedar Lee Theatre to the Ohio Theatre in PlayhouseSquare, adding to the excitement and appeal of the event. Guest filmmakers regularly attended the Film Festival to introduce their films and answer audience questions. And a fall program of international films became an annual part of the organization’s presentations for a number of years.

In January 1991, the Board of Trustees voted to move the Film Festival from the Cedar Lee Theatre to Tower City Cinemas in downtown Cleveland, making the event more accessible to film lovers from throughout the region. During its first year downtown, the Festival’s attendance (14,000) fell slightly. Since making the move, the CIFF’s attendance has grown by over 550% to over 93,000.

Today the CIFF believes that it is the most fortunate non-profit arts organization around. We have a community that trusts in, and is dedicated to, our program. And we have an art form (film) that is easily accessible and comfortably affordable. Additionally, we are proud to do our work and present our program within the City of Cleveland (our offices are located in an increasingly vibrant Ohio City neighborhood and our flagship program takes place in the heart of downtown Cleveland).

Since the 27th CIFF in 2003, the CIFF has experienced tremendous growth. Admissions have risen by 178% with 97,804 in attendance at the 38th CIFF in 2014 (a 4.9% increase over the 37th CIFF in 2013), our film submissions increased by 113% (from 857 to 1,829), and our memberships increased by 262% (from 400 to 1,450). Along those same lines, our budget increased by 211% (from $770,641 to $ $2,398,170), while our full-time staff increased by 167% (from three people to eight people). Although our focus has always been on “better” and not “bigger,” the two concepts do tend to go hand-in-hand for our organization.

Mission and Vision Statements

Mission: The Cleveland International Film Festival promotes artistically and culturally significant film arts through education and exhibition to enrich the life of the community.

(In other words, we present the newest and best films from around the world, and we do everything in our power to make sure that our audience learns something along the way — about other cultures, about the topic at hand, about the experience from the filmmakers themselves.)

Vision: The Cleveland International Film Festival is a leader in helping the world discover the power of the film arts to educate, entertain, and celebrate the human experience.

Guiding Principles

In pursuing its mission, the Cleveland International Film Festival will:

  • Set high standards for quality film education and exhibition, placing artistic and cultural merit above commercial appeal;
  • Foster understanding and appreciation of diverse cultures and values;
  • Work collaboratively to broaden access to quality film arts;
  • Cultivate an innovative and forward-thinking organization;
  • Ensure the organization’s financial stability and increase its financial self-sufficiency;
  • Promote among board, staff, and volunteers a work environment based on integrity, professionalism, teamwork, trust, and respect.

Types of Programs Offered

The Cleveland International Film Festival is the premier film event between New York and Chicago. Today’s CIFF includes a full survey of contemporary international filmmaking with approximately 186 feature films and 168 short subject films from over 65 countries, as well as more than 200 visiting filmmakers.

Along with the main program of international films, there are special sidebars, programs, and competitions that add interest and diversity to the overall Festival. In recent years these have included 10% Cinema (gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender themes), After Hours, American Independents Competition, Central and Eastern European Film Competition, Cinema en Español, Director's Spotlight, Documentary Film Competition, Family Films, Film is Art, Focus on Filmmakers (Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences ® funded program designed to showcase minority and less visible artists), Global Health Competition, It’s Easy Being Green (films about environmental issues), Jewish and Israeli Visions, Local Heroes Film Competition (films with local ties), Music Movies Competition, Pacific Pearls, Pan-African Images, ReelWomenDirect Award, Scandinavian Screenings, Someone to Watch Award, Standing Up Film Competition (films with a conscience that address social justice), and Women of the World (films made by (mostly) women and (occasionally) men that are about empowered women).

Audiences are further integrated into the film experience and the community-at-large with the CIFF educational program “After the Credits Roll.” This program utilizes the films in the Standing Up Competition as a platform to engage audiences by presenting FilmForums (moderated panel discussions with filmmakers and other special guests) for many of the films in the competition, arranging Cinema Synergy partnerships for those films that have community partners, media partners, sponsors, and guest filmmakers, and extending the CIFF’s reach through social media.

Another educational program is FilmSlam — the CIFF’s Film Festival for high school students. It is held on weekday mornings during the CIFF. At the 38th CIFF in March 204, over 5,800 students from Northeast Ohio schools participated in FilmSlam’s 22nd Anniversary. In addition to viewing films, they met with visiting filmmakers and other special guest speakers.

Film (and Other) Arts Feasts

Beginning in October and running through February, the Cleveland International Film Festival hosts a series of parties, soirees, and gatherings to celebrate all that is film and art in Cleveland. These Film Feast events generate excitement and support for the organization and the upcoming Festival.

Become A CIFF Member

We have seven different levels of membership to choose from, so find the one that best fits your film appetite!

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CIFF40 :: Save the Dates >

CIFF40 :: Save the Dates

CIFF40 will take place March 30 - April 10, 2016 at Tower City Cinemas and neighborhood screening locations!

Become A CIFF Member >

Become A CIFF Member

We have seven different levels of membership to choose from, so find the one that best fits your film appetite!

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