CLEVELAND, Ohio – The 42nd annual Cleveland International Film Festival will open next week, featuring 214 feature films and 253 shorts representing 72 countries.
But the number Director of Programming Mallory Martin is most proud of is the percentage of female directors coming to CIFF, which runs Wednesday, April 4, through Sunday, April 15, at Tower City Cinemas and other neighborhood screening locations: 108 short films and 79 feature films are directed by women. That’s 43 and 37 percent, respectively.
“That’s well above the industry norm,” said Martin during a film festival preview at their Ohio City offices last month.
In 2016, for example, women made up just 7 percent of all directors of the top 250 films, according to study by San Diego State University’s Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film. Female writers fared a little bit better, at 13 percent. Seventeen percent of editors were female, and only 5 percent of cinematographers.
The Cleveland festival’s percentage of female directors truly is remarkable. But not surprising for a fest that has always emphasized shining the spotlight on those who are not usually in it, whether it’s Eastern European directors, Latino filmmakers or gay and lesbian cinema in the 10 Percent sidebar.
CIFF has a strong history or supporting female filmmakers, as part of the fest as a whole and in sidebars like Women of the World, launched 11 years ago, which highlights directors from Thailand, Poland, Canada; Hungary and the United States this year. For the past six years, CIFF has also hosted the ReelWomenDirect competition, awarded for Excellence in Directing by a Woman.
The award was the idea Deborah Bachman Ratner, who sponsors the competition that awards $10,000 annually.
My interest in [promoting women in film] started when I lived in L.A. in early ’70s and wanted to get a job in the film industry. It was very difficult to do; there was a rampant sexual harassment even at the lowest level. The film industry is very patriarchal,” says Ratner. “I ended up back in Cleveland.”
Ratner says she conceived of the award “when I was going to the film festival and realized most of the films I was seeing were directed by men. I started ReelWomen in hopes of promoting women in directorial roles.”
In the years since the award started, the percentage of female-directed films at CIFF has increased annually.
“I’m hoping ReelWomenDirect has had some part in that,” says Ratner, “as well as the advancement of women in general. That’s the way the world is moving.”
Ratner says supporting women in film goes beyond supporting women in film, however.
“It’s about fairness and social justice and equality.
“It’s important to note the Cleveland festival is a leader even without the award. I’m really proud of that.”
There’s one area of CIFF where the percentage of female directors is even higher than 43 percent: the virtual reality Perspectives experience held on Level 2 of Tower City Center.
“Women are really strong in the VR field,” said Martin. “Maybe because it’s such a new technology.”
The third year of the festival’s immersive storytelling exhibition will be headlined by a panel at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, April 12.
“Our Perspectives Panel will feature creators of VR films and interactive media projects featured in Perspectives this year – all four creators will be women, I’ll be moderating, and the topic will be women in the field of immersive storytelling,” said Martin.
Despite the impressive representation of women at this year’s festival, Martin isn’t sitting still and applauding.
“Our goal is to get to 50 percent in the next few years.”
The 42nd annual Cleveland International Film Festival will run from April 4-15 at Tower City Cinemas and select neighborhood screening locations. Full program guides are available online at www.clevelandfilm.org