Up close, the real story turns out to be another matter. The crowd is for an evening performance of the Broadway musical Les Miserables. Meanwhile, a paper sign taped to the doors outside the Jarson-Kaplan Theatre announces that this evening's screening is cancelled. No one from the film festival is there to explain.
The following day, Festival Director Terry Alvarado defends the last-minute cancellation.
"It (Aronoff) was getting too expensive for us to handle," he said. "We had to cancel because there weren't enough advance ticket sales."
The second edition of Cincinnati's upstart film festival runs through Friday. Alvarado and a small group of volunteers, working with a shoestring budget and big dreams, continue to piece the festival together. One hundred people showed up on the festival's opening night to watch Harvard Man director James Toback introduce his film. Alvarado said that's been the largest crowd so far, meaning that local showings of My Big Fat Greek Wedding outdrew a one-of-a-kind event like the Cincinnati International Film Festival.
"What we need to look for is some identity," he said.
"People come up and tell me that they didn't know about it. They just happened to hear about it from friends. There will definitely be a third year. How we approach it might be different."
I have some tough-love advice for Alvarado: Get some serious help.
Alvarado needs to meet with Lisa Mullins, executive director of Enjoy the Arts/START, the local non-profit that promotes arts events to young adults. Her group is the facilitator for 20 Days & 20 Nights, an extended birthday party celebrating its 20 years of operation. At one event last week, 200 people packed a Music Hall ballroom to listen to Cincinnati Opera Artistic Director Nicholas Muni speak about the upcoming opera season.
By Sunday, its closing night, 20 Days & 20 Nights will have hosted dance performances, Caribbean music concerts, neighborhood house tours and plenty of late-evening parties. Asked if the program will be back next year, Mullin answers with an enthusiastic "yes."
"If I have any say, it will definitely be back," Mullin said. "20 Days & 20 Nights was initially about Enjoy the Arts celebrating its anniversary, but it's become so much more. I see how the city comes out for the Opening Day Parade to celebrate the start of Reds baseball, and I think 20 Days & 20 Nights can rally the city around the fall arts season."
The program has thrived on the support of many familiar faces like Cincinnati Ballet, Cincinnati Art Museum and Cincinnati Opera and well-known sponsors like the Cinergy Foundation, Corbett Foundation and Dr. Stanley and Mickey Kaplan Foundation. One 20 Days & 20 Nights billboard probably cost more than the entire Cincinnati International Film Festival's marketing budget.
If 20 Days & 20 Nights is about familiar wallets throwing one hell of a party, the upstart MidPoint Music Festival -- the recent four-day showcase of concerts, panels and music industry conferences -- proves that a well-planned event can make a successful first impression in Cincinnati.
Sean Rhiney, a member of the local band Clabbergirl and co-founder of MidPoint with Bill Donabedian, says that the 9,000 MidPoint attendees and support from mainstream media and the city of Cincinnati caught him by surprise. Still, he always knew local bands and music fans would rise to the occasion and promote the city well.
Rhiney says the festival will be back next year (Sept. 24-27, 2003) and adds that all area artists can learn from its inaugural success.
"Musicians as well as other artists know that the broader your experiences, the more you learn," Rhiney said. "The more people you meet, the more opportunities come your way."
For a city known to be unreceptive to new things, the successful launch of the MidPoint Music Festival and 20 Days & 20 Nights is a welcome sign of change. Here's hoping the fledgling Cincinnati International Film Festival will take some tips.