Northeast Ohioans are big fans of a lot of things: craft beer, rock ‘n’ roll, farm-to-table comfort food and professional sports, to name a few. And with the continued growth of cinema-focused festivals like the one coming to Chagrin Falls this week, it seems we’re also big fans of the big screen. This year’s Chagrin Documentary Film Festival (Oct. 7 to 11) is expected to draw an audience of more than 7,000 to the historic community, including the filmmakers themselves.
Founder Mary Ann Quinn Ponce created the festival after losing her son David, a documentary filmmaker, to leukemia. His film, The Lost Sparrows of Roodepoort (Oct. 11) screens every year. “When I took his film to festivals I really experienced what it meant to these passionate filmmakers to have their work seen and appreciated,” says Ponce. “Our audience goes out of their way to make them feel welcome. They embrace these filmmakers.”
The festival has repeatedly made MovieMaker Magazine’s top 50 film festivals and two of its U.S. premieres went on to garner Oscar nominations. “We had two nominated films and one winner in two years. We’re extremely proud of that, but it is extremely unusual for an indie filmmaker to go that distance. It’s a bit like lightning striking,” explains Ponce, who also says entries have quadrupled in the Festival’s six short years. “We can tell from the quality and number of submissions we’ve received that we’re becoming a major part of the documentary circuit and we have every intention of growing this into a national and an international destination.”
If the 66 documentaries filling the 2015 five-day festival schedule is any indication, things are evolving in that direction. “From Hip-Hoperation [Oct. 8 and 11] about a senior citizen dance crew to Among the Believers [Oct. 9 and 10], a film that looks at ideological warfare in the Middle East, the breadth of topics is enormous,” says Ponce.
But, while the films come from 28 countries around the world, there are still plenty of films that hit close to home. For instance, Move On (Oct. 9) looks at the growth of Near West Theatre, Kilbanetown Comeback (Oct. 8) follows the creation of a sculpture to honor legendary boxer Johnny Kilbane and the short ‘Hidden in Plain Sight’ (Oct. 8) spotlights the beauty of the Cleveland Cultural Gardens.
In addition to director appearances, the Chagrin Documentary Film Festival has added concerts, dance performances and food and beer tastings that play off the films’ themes. For example, following the Friday, Oct. 9 showing of Make Fun, a documentary about the local comedy scene directed by Jim Tews, movie-goers will be treated to live standup with Cleveland comedians Ramon Rivas, Carey Callahan and Yusuf Ali. And on Sunday, Oct. 11, Nashville-based music duo the Grahams close the festival with a live performance in tandem with Rattle the Hocks, which looks at the historical relationship between the railroad and American bluegrass music.
Of the many films generating early buzz, one of the more unusual is Orion: The Man Who Would Be King (Oct. 7), the story of a masked musician who had many believing Elvis Presley may have faked his death. “It’s a mystery wrapped in tragedy,” says Ponce. “I can only imagine it will lead to some interesting post-viewing discussions.” Well-told stories like that of Jimmy “Orion” Ellis are what made Ponce a devotee of documentaries. “Documentaries are almost addictive,” says Ponce. “They are windows into real-life stories that in many cases you couldn’t even imagine.”
For more information and a complete schedule, go to chagrinfilmfest.org.