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 165% with 93,235 in attendance at the 37th CIFF in 2013 (a 9.7% increase over the 36th CIFF in 2012), our film submissions increased by 111% (from 857 to 1,811), and our memberships increased by 260% (from 400 to 1,439). Along those same lines, our budget increased by 176% (from $770,641 to $2,127,756), while our full-time staff increased by 133% (from three people to seven 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.

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 180 feature films and 165 short subject films from over 60 countries, as well as more than 220 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), 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), Islamic and Arab Societies, It's Easy Being Green (films about environmental issues), Jewish and Israeli Visions, Local Heroes Film Competition (films with local ties), Music! Movies!, Pacific Pearls, Pan-African Images, ReelWomenDirect Award, 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 37th CIFF in April 2013, over 6,000 students from Northeast Ohio schools participated in FilmSlam's 21st 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.

CIFF Tweets

Filmmakers, you still have time to hit our first #CIFF39 Call For Entries deadline (this Sunday, 8/31)! Full info:

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CIFF Facebook Posts

We're getting great reports from TIFF! The CIFF artistic team is in attendance and taking in as many films as possible. Can't wait to hear the final report!

6 days ago   .   Link

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Between Two Films.


CIFF 38 Daily Buzz Day 13 Wrap Up


Meet the Filmmaker with Michele Josue, Judy & Dennis Shepard from "Matt Shepard is a Friend of Mine"

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