Since 2012, Mike Suglio and company at the Short. Sweet. Film Fest have showcased cinematic gems from unsung filmmakers in the Cleveland area and beyond. With the ninth annual fest just around the corner, we pow-wowed with Mike for a behind the screen scoop.

How would you describe your spark of inspiration for founding the Short. Sweet. Film Fest, and how much did your personal experience as a filmmaker impact its creation?

Mike Suglio: As a filmmaker in Cleveland in 2011, there were limited opportunities to showcase your work. Festivals were few and hard to get into and I couldn’t afford to rent out a movie theater. I also simply didn’t want to toss my work on YouTube, which at the time really just comprised of silly cat videos. While attending a punk concert my friend was performing in, my co-creator Alex Pavloff and I realized the whole audience were fellow musicians except for us two. He turned to me and asked if we really had a big celebration of local filmmakers coming together to celebrate and share their art, like this concert. We didn’t and thus we decided to start this film festival.

You accept submissions from filmmakers across the country, from veterans to students of the craft. How varied do you find participation to be and in what ways does this result in a unique, diverse festival?

MS: We receive films that are “for consideration” for the Academy Awards to student films shot on smartphones on the campus of Cleveland State University. Regardless of what quality of a camera filmmakers use, it still all comes down to shots and story. If you have good shot composition and an interesting story, your low-budget film could be just as good if not better than a big production. By having low budget and big budget films often playing right after each, it provides a learning experience for everyone. Maybe students will be inspired and strive for something better their next time around or maybe a veteran filmmaker will be reminded what it was like to be a student and rekindle some of their old imagination on how to tell a story when you have no budget?

The festival is famously Cleveland’s largest shorts-only festival. How would you describe the advantages and disadvantages of the short film format?

MS: I actually don’t see any disadvantages for having shorts. They allow us to showcase a lot of filmmaker’s work in a short amount of time. From a viewer standpoint, if there is a film that you are not as much into, you can just step out to the concession stand or check out one of our VR films and by the time you return another film will be playing. I feel like the problem with features is you commit to just one film, and if it is not for you then you’re stuck.

The festival defines “short” as 30 minutes or less, but how would you define a “sweet” film? In other words, what elements contribute to an outstanding short?

MS: The “sweet” part is hard to identify, but you know it when you see it. They’re films that have that perfect story, filled with twists and turns, and have the “so what” factor by the end. They leave the viewer wanting more.

After nearly a decade of uniting filmmakers and bringing their art to the silver screen, what is your favorite or most rewarding moment at the festival?

MS: Definitely the Q&A after each block. It is so fascinating to hear the journey so many filmmakers go through just to make that one short film. I also love seeing the filmmakers smile when the audience is applauding. That specifically is my favorite part. All that work is to share a story with others. I’m sure there are some people who just make movies for themselves, but most are making a film to share with others. I know I do.

Check out the 2020 Short. Sweet. Film Fest from Feb. 26 to March 1 at the Metropolitan at the 9’s Alex Theater. For more information, head to shortsweetfilmfest.com