The Cleveland International Film Festival’s entire staff worked hard to produce an in-person and streaming event that truly shined at Playhouse Square’s dazzling theaters. Photograph by Tim Smith

After two years of missing my ultimate rite of spring in Northeast Ohio (besides snowstorms for opening day baseball), the 46th annual Cleveland International Film Festival (CIFF) returned as an in-person event. And while the CIFF staff did an incredible job in 2020 pivoting to a streaming platform (which remained an option this year the week after the in-person event), it was clear there’s nothing like appreciating flicks with fellow film buffs.
Like many, I felt trepidation about lingering indoors where masks were optional, no proof of vaccination was required and social distancing simply meant avoiding people you don’t like. In the end, I decided to mask up whenever I wasn’t sitting in my seat and/or consuming food and beverages. Fortunately, CIFF’s new home in the elegant theaters at Playhouse Square are so capacious, we had no trouble finding seats far from anyone who might be encircled by pathogens of any stripe (which also minimized our fears of blithely spreading the dreaded asymptomatic virus.) Despite the fact many probably chose the streaming option, there was an atmosphere of camaraderie and intimacy that only occurs watching in tandem.
This CIFF veteran (who started when the Cedar-Lee Theater hosted it in the ‘70s) was also wondering if any venue could compete with the location and convenience of Tower City. The answer was a resounding yes. There were some things I missed: the profuse aroma of popcorn in the lobby; the generous buffet of food and drinks in the hospitality suite; the fresh flowers in the ladies restroom (such a small but thoughtful reminder of the season allegedly underway during CIFF) and being able to hop a rapid and never leave the complex downtown. That said, the Playhouse Square theaters more than compensated with their sparkling grandeur on display in every nook and cranny. Before the pandemic I was a live theater fan, but I don’t remember it looking so dazzling – perhaps that’s why this year’s official CIFF theme was “Shine On?” I did overhear a red-coated usher remark, “One of the upsides of the lockdown was they [Playhouse Square management] were able to take out all the seats, install new carpets and clean and polish everything” as we were leaving the State Theater.
A word about the hospitality suite that’s available for CIFF pass holders to relax or dine between films: It’s located in the upscale RJF Presidents’ Club at Playhouse Square above the Playhouse Square Ticket Office. All food and beverages must be purchased. (Every artistic nonprofit needs the margin after these bleak years of bingeing on at-home entertainment.) We brought lunches, including for a friend who has type one diabetes, so she needs specific foods available to avert a blood sugar crisis. There seemed to be no problem with that, plus the bar service was extensive and hospitable. Another hack we discovered for arriving caffeinated and sated for early morning showings on weekends: Park at the corner of East 13th St. & Euclid Avenue. Then head for breakfast at Yours Truly in the old Halle Building. Not only was their hearty breakfast fare up to its usual standards but tell them you’ve got a film at whatever time, and they hustle to get customers fed and ready to depart with a to-go cup of java in record time.
Parking is definitely more challenging at Playhouse Square unless one’s willing to pay $20 for attached garage parking and/or get stuck in traffic on the way out after a long day of films. Some ideas for the budget-minded who also crave ambling in fresh air after being a chair potato: Park in the lots at East 13th & Euclid or on the corner of East 14th and Prospect Avenue across from the Hanna Building (very convenient for viewing CIFF shorts programs, many of which are in the nearby Hanna Theater.) We paid no more than $10 for all-day parking and sometimes less.
Granted I would probably attend CIFF if they moved it to the basement of the Ohio Savings Plaza. (Remember the Colonnade cafeteria down there? It had the all the ambience of dining in an underground bus station.) But for those who enjoy watching movies on a giant screen surrounded by fellow film buffs and sumptuous decor, not to mention mingling with filmmakers in the hospitality suite: Mark your calendars for Wednesday, March 22 through Sunday, April 1, 2023, when CIFF 47 will shine again on our happy faces.
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