Mary Ann Ponce, CDFF Founder, is pictured in front of stills of the Ohio-based films that have highlighted the festival over the past 14 years. Photograph by Sue Reid

An eventful year is on tap for the 14th annual Chagrin Documentary Film Festival, a time-honored event that attracts thousands from more than 25 states nationwide.
“This is a pretty momentous year on several levels,” Film Fest Founder Mary Ann Ponce said.
One of the key aspects of the fest, which welcomes filmmakers locally and from around the globe to venues throughout Chagrin Falls, is that the CDFF is celebrating the opening of its permanent home along North Franklin Street in Chagrin Falls’ downtown historic district.
“That has been a dream for us — to be right in the center of Chagrin Falls,” Ms. Ponce, a Chagrin Falls resident, said.
Another highlight of this year’s fest, which is slated for Oct. 4-8 and features 83 films chosen from more than 600 submissions locally and worldwide, is that the CDFF is launching a “Big Watch” in conjunction with Ohio Humanities.
“It will be a statewide program where everyone will watch a documentary together and talk about it,” Ms. Ponce explained.
The film selected for the Big Watch is “My Name is Annabel,” which features the story of Annabel Hernandez, who has Down syndrome. Gabe Spiegel of Fox 8, father of a son with Down syndrome, is opening the festival at the Chagrin Falls Intermediate School theatre.
Beginning in 2024, the film, which is a family-friendly movie, will be streamed on demand.
Also notable about the Big Watch film is that Amity Hoffman, executive producer, Ida Joglar, director, and Lauren Coleman, associate producer, actually met for the first time at the 2021 CDFF. They each had directed a selected film at CDFF that year, Ms. Ponce explained.
“They clicked so well that the idea was born to work together on a project,” she said. “Now, two years later, ‘My Name is Annabel’ is the inspiring result of that collaboration.”
“We couldn’t be more proud to welcome back Amity, Ida and Lauren and to present the premiere of ‘My Name is Annabel,’ she added. “And we are really excited and honored to have this partnership with Ohio Humanities.”
The festival is also coming back from the pandemic in “full force,” Ms. Ponce continued of highlights of this year.
“Every year for me is so special,” she said, adding that the fest showcases “83 remarkable documentary films.” The inspiration for the entire festival stems from Ms. Ponce’s late son David, an aspiring documentary filmmaker.
The festival continues to be a huge draw for people from all over, Ms. Ponce continued, with thousands descending on Chagrin Falls, with attendees representing 140 ZIP codes from all over the state as well as hailing from 26 states nationwide.
“People from the whole spectrum of geography, ages and interests get together and experience films and talk about it,” she said. “There’s a real draw to that.”
“There’s the human spirit component to it,” she added.
The festival also encompasses a huge range of topics for its films, which is an appeal to many ages. This year topics range from a race car driver to a female inventor in Kenya who attempts to solve the plastics crisis “and everything in between.”
The CDFF also has more than a dozen special events woven around the documentary films and 11 specially curated “deep dive” panel events to give the audience a chance to explore documentary films with related food, music and meaningful discussions.
Special events and film showings are all around town in Chagrin Falls, ranging from an opening night VIP party at the Chagrin Falls Intermediate School to special events and film showings around town. Venues include Chagrin Falls Township Hall, the Chagrin Valley Little Theatre, South Franklin Circle, the Chagrin Falls Historical Society, and more.
Last year, 7,000 people took part with another 20,000 taking advantage of the live stream option.
Three “not to miss” events at this year’s fest include; “Everyone’s a Critic,” at 5 p.m. Oct. 4 at the Chagrin Valley Little Theatre. The event, which highlights three great short films, invites people to select a documentary short winner of the “Everyone’s a Critic” award. The fun starts at 5 p.m. with appetizers and a cocktail and the film begins at 5:30 p.m., with voting occurring after each film.
The second must-do event includes the “Focus on the Future of the Cleveland Municipal School System,” at 5:15 p.m. Oct. 6 at the Chagrin Valley Little Theatre. Revolving around the film “Momentum: From Pandemic to Cleveland’s New Way of Learning,” attendees can hear directly from the former Cleveland Municipal School CEO Eric Gordon, who was the driving force in shepherding the district through the pandemic and created the momentum for a successful future. What challenges and opportunities the district will face in the coming years will be discussed, with Mark Naymik, founder of Signal Cleveland, serving as panel moderator.
Another key event during the festival includes the actual Festival Closing, at 5:30 p.m. Oct. 8, also at the Chagrin Valley Little Theatre. Centering on the film “The Orchestra Chuck Built,” guests are invited to celebrate with CDFF as the in-person festival draws to a close and CDFF on Demand is on tap. The evening will include a performance by the acclaimed Contemporary Youth Orchestra, the only youth orchestra in the country dedicated to the study and performance of contemporary orchestral literature. It is in residence at Cuyahoga Community College in Cleveland.
Bringing the festival to life each year is also roughly 200 volunteers, who handle a variety of tasks, from film selection to assisting in the variety of events, hosting filmmakers and much, much more.
“You name it,” Ms. Ponce said of their vast responsibilities. “Every one of the venues showcasing films are staffed and run by our volunteers, who are just brilliant. The way they step up is incredible, and we turn the festival over to them until the last get together.”
These volunteers and all the individuals who make the festival thrive are at the root of the ongoing lessons she herself learns each year, Ms. Ponce said.
“I’ve just learned how amazing people are through the years,” she said, from the filmmakers who are filled with passion to the volunteers who take the time from their own lives to be there and the audience, which has so much fun while also being so welcoming to the filmmakers.
“I have to stand back and look,” she added. “It’s not me. It’s all these people making it happen.”
Tickets went on sale earlier this month and are found at Options include passes for all of the movies or an individual ticket as well as entry to special events and more.
The festival will be live streamed Oct. 9-16, giving people the option to watch films from the comfort of home.
“It’s a one-of-a-kind experience,” Ms. Ponce noted, “where you are in this beautiful century village and watching a film or walking to a venue or catching some lunch.”
“It’s just so spectacularly beautiful,” she said. “You will see films you would not get a chance to see otherwise, and meet a ton of filmmakers from all over.”
“It is so remarkable,” Ms. Ponce said. “Our filmmakers and everyone who makes this happen.”