Now in its third year, the Cincinnati Film Festival is committed to helping filmmakers project their visions, as more than 80 works of various lengths and styles will grace venues in Clifton, Downtown and Over-the-Rhine Sept. 6-14. A number of locally produced features dot the lineup, including a pair of intriguing documentaries: Thursday’s festival-opener The Cincinnati Beer Story, which looks at the Queen City’s rich brewing history, and festival-closer Thunder-Sky, which tells the unique — and uniquely influential — story of late local artist Raymond Thunder-Sky. As usual, there are also a number of features that have garnered acclaim on the festival circuit, including Daniel Martinico’s OK, Good, an unsettling drama about an actor (Hugo Armstrong, whose performance is drawing raves) on the verge of a nervous breakdown. And then there’s the curious “world premiere” of The Letter, a thriller starring none other than James Franco and Winona Ryder.
CityBeat recently connected with CFF Executive Director Katharine Steele to inquire about this year’s festival.
CityBeat: What have you learned over the last couple of years about mounting a venture like this?
Katharine Steele: I’ve learned a lot more than I can share right now, but one thing I can say is that it takes much more than just passion to see something this large in scope succeed: It takes time, people and, of course, money. Most film festivals that are similar in size and scope have budgets of hundreds of thousands and millions, with full-time, year-round paid staff. We’ve been all-volunteer since our first event in October 2010, which isn’t sustainable long-term for the organization.
CB: Does the festival have any sort of curatorial philosophy in terms of the type of films you like to share with audiences? Or are you simply looking for the best films no matter the subject or genre?
KS: We’re always looking out for brave and beautiful films that move us to tears or action like Kinderblock 66: Return to Buchenwald and Bullied to Silence and Okuyamba, or inspiration and understanding like Challenging Impossibility, Until Sadie Blotz and Irma. But we also have fun films as well, like this year our Saturday (Sept.
8) midnight screening at the Esquire is a film that world premiered at San Diego Comic Con, FDR: American Badass, with Barry Bostwick, Kevin Sorbo and a long list of talent you’ll recognize immediately.
So we aren’t a genre- or category-specific festival, we are a broad-scope fest that shows everything from soul-searching documentaries that tackle tough issues to comedic shorts that let you laugh through it all.
CB: The festival has used various venues over the years, and you’re screening in multiple neighborhoods this year. What are your thoughts about the pluses or minuses in spreading out a festival like this?
KS: The plus is we get exposure of these films in these neighborhoods and brand exposure for the fest to those that may not have heard of the CFF. Cincy is neighborhood-centric. While people are coming more out of the suburbs to downtown and OTR again, it’s still a challenge to get them there. Working with the venues in these locations helps us create a longer relationship of bringing great films to their neighborhood. The minuses are getting audiences excited to explore these other neighborhoods and getting these locations staffed appropriately.
CB: Why have you personally invested so much time and effort in the CFF?
KS: While the long-term aspirations for the nonprofit organization is for it to provide grants for filmmakers and eventually create a home for the CFF and a full-time venue for screening films year-round, the ability to share the art of filmmakers, help engage the community’s culture through this collaborative art form and the passion of helping filmmakers are a few of the reasons why I do it.
Explaining the roots of a passion that drives you is not always simple, but there is something magical about the filmmaking process. It is truly a collaborative art form for which I hope we can help grow an appreciation in our community. Being able to help indie filmmakers show their work, connect and interact with an audience they wouldn’t typically be able to afford to do through a typical theatrical release distribution model (is rewarding for me). Now with over 5,000 festivals worldwide, not only are theatrical screenings a possibility, but the potential to be awarded and recognized for the filmmakers’ hard work is that much greater.
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