It’s 10:30 a.m. on a Sunday morning and the lines for several film showings are already so long, volunteers are standing at the end of the lines holding coloured markers on tall poles so festival attendees can find their correct line so far back from the actual entrance.

Another 250, maybe 300 people, are already inside Tower City Cinema for the 41st Cleveland International Film Festival, running now through Sunday, April 9. But don’t let the numbers fool you, the festival is currently running like a well-oiled machine. Attendees are being lead in groups by volunteers with more poles and signs, some reading as simply as “Follow Me”.

The lobby of Tower City Cinemas is outlined in racks of stage lights and scaffolding marking off each major area of the festival, including the gift shop, box office and pop-up café. It seems like there’s nearly one staff member or volunteer for every five or so attendees; they really are everywhere. By noon the place is packed with people and no one appears lost or rushed – even the barista at the café, the guy with the most demanding job at the festival, has time for a quick chat.

The film descriptions are all quite compelling, but part of CIFF’s mission statement reads that they intend to “foster understanding and appreciate of diverse cultures and values”. So I decided to hold CIFF to that sentiment and chose Amerika Square, a film about refugees, one of our most controversial current societal issues. I know where I stand on the issue and I know the film reflects my own personal views, so there’s no chance of it changing my mind on anything, but seeing my views presented in the context of a culture that is mostly unfamiliar to me allows the film to still feel like an eye-opener. CIFF Mission Accomplished.

The program guide is full of events being offered by CIFF this year, including several programs and screenings for young students, the second year of the “Perspectives” interactive technology exhibit, and even more screenings at neighbourhood theatres partnering with CIFF like the Cedar Lee and The Capitol. The list of film competitions and prizes is quite long and includes awards for everything from female directors and Eastern European-specific films to the best films about music.

The 41st Cleveland International Film Festival is running now and will end with a Closing Reception and Awards Ceremony this Sunday, April 9. PressureLife will be on hand covering the closing events and award winners, so stay tuned or come down and join us at the movies!

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