Chagrin Documentary Film Festival is Bigger and Better Than Ever


Wed 10/5-Sun 10/9

Named four times “Top 50 Film Fests Worth the Entry Fee” out of more than 7,000 festivals worldwide by MovieMaker magazine, the Chagrin Documentary Film Festival is a true testament to the way the organization celebrates and honors visiting filmmakers.

“The Festival began with the inspiration of my son, David, who was a film student at Chapman University in Orange, California,” shares Mary Ann Ponce, director of the festival.. “David had become passionate about the power of documentary films to make a difference. We lost David suddenly in 2006 to leukemia at the age of 20.’

“David was working on a documentary which his friends and college professor picked up and finished after his death,” Mary Ann continues. “It was while I was at a festival in Ireland with that film that the idea of presenting a film fest in his hometown was born. This festival was born as a way to honor him but also to honor the spirit and passion of the documentary filmmaker.”

Beginning Wed 10/5, the village of Chagrin will welcome all locals and non-locals to come out to the enjoy the 76 films from 24 countries. “Anyone who loves a thought provoking film or a great story and would enjoy meeting the passion behind those stories,” says Mary Ann.  “People who are interested in social awareness, the environment, quirky and heartfelt stories will love this festival. Add to this anyone who loves food and music. We have lots of that too!”

Since the festival’s inception in 2010, audience numbers have grown from 1,800 its first year to more than 8,200 attendees in 2015. Expected to host another record-breaking year, there will also be more than 70 visiting filmmakers in town from as far away as Pakistan. A special component to the festival, viewers and attendees will hear directly from the movie’s creator — their inspiration, ambition and experiences, which can lead to a more powerful viewing experience.

“From the very first year, the Film Fest has had a huge amount of community support and this is part of the reason that it has flourished,” shares Mary Ann. “Just about every Chagrin Valley organization has gotten behind it and it’s an enormous volunteer-driven event with a lot of heart and human spirit. The support has now grown to encompass a wide range of NEO organizations as well.”

As the popularity of the documentary genre has grown, so has the demand for such documentary festivals. These non-fiction stories are impactful and powerful to viewers in terms of advocacy, awareness and exposure for those drawn to the tales and truths that the documentary format provides.

“Documentaries focus on the serious subjects that affect all of our lives,” says Malaney Varaljay, festival marketing and communications director. “They provide education in a way that global media and journalism does not, and oftentimes give the public the tools to take action. It is a forum for filmmakers to express themselves while revealing and exposing important issues that impact our society.”

With close to 500 films from 48 countries submitted to this year’s festival, you’re destined to find at least one that speaks to you.

“When selecting films, we’re also looking for a broad range of topics, from human spirit, international, social awareness, et cetera,” says Brian Kastner, film selection chair, who personally watched around 240 films for this year’s submissions. “Films are selected based on the quality with which a story is told and the importance of the topic. We have set criteria that our reviewers follow so that the films are reviewed with a consistent frame of reference.”

“From thought-provoking and compelling to light-hearted and witty, film topics run the gamut,” Malaney says. “From covering the pertinent issues affecting our society today such as environmental sustainability and our food system, the opioid epidemic, gun control and gay marriage, to delightful and inspiring stories about ultra-senior tennis, the running of an iconic Chicago diner, the world of horse racing and the rebirth of classical music, there is a film for everyone. We welcome all ages and feature films that are family-friendly to those that are targeted to teenagers as well as exposés that are more sensitive or appropriate for mature audiences.”

The Festival runs Wed 10/05-Sun 10/09 at venues all around Chagrin Falls. Individual tickets are $10 on the weekend and $5 on weekdays before 5pm. There are also several free screening events, including a filmmaker panel on Sat 10/8 @ 10:30am. Plus there’s a free “Meet the Filmmaker” happy hour at the Valley Art Center on Fri10/7 @ 5pm. Fest Pass bracelets ($75) get you into any film, except for special events.

Parking is available all around Chagrin Falls in three municipal lots and on the street. The largest festival venue is the Chagrin Falls Intermediate School theater, where there is parking available right there.

“Anyone coming to the festival should expect a unique and welcoming festival at walkable venues all around charming Chagrin Falls. The films are truly remarkable this year and our audience will get the chance to meet lots of the filmmakers behind the films. The community spirit of the festival touches many who have come to enjoy it. Our volunteers are so enthusiastic and are proud to give everyone a warm welcome to the Festival,” Mary Ann concludes.

Chagrin Documentary Film Festival

Here’s a list of (some) special events being presented with food and/or music:

Dinner at Swingos (World Premiere)

Radius Restaurant at South Franklin Circle will host a “Dinner at Swingos” for the world premiere of the documentary, The Swingos Celebrity Inn, directed by Andrew Marquard on Tue 10/4 @ 5-7pm which is sold out. But the film will be screened at that venue both Tue 10/4 and Wed 10/5 @ 7pm.

Film Background: From Elvis to Led Zeppelin, Swingos Celebrity Inn served as the stomping ground for many famous celebrities and musical acts in Cleveland. From the odd requests to the crazy parties, Jim Swingos reflects on a long legacy of providing great food and rooms to some of the most famous people of all time.

Havana Nights

Step into a night in old Havana with the film Craving Cuba, Cuban food, rum drinks and music by the Foreigners Three Fri 10/7 @ 6pm Chagrin Falls Township Hall. There will be an outdoor cigar tasting curated by JoVann’s Tobacco Shop.

Film Background: Excitement over Cuba is at an all-time high, with this forbidden paradise on everyone’s mind. As beautiful, passionate and alluring as Cuba is, it is also very complicated. The film shares a powerful story about the American Dream and yearning — for freedom, for country and for identity across four generations on both sides of the Florida Straits.

Hungarian Film and Food

Enjoy Hungarian refreshments courtesy of the Northeast Ohio Hungarian community following to the screening of Condemned to Live, directed by by Noemi Veronika Szakonyi and Mate Artur Vincze. The screening is Fri 10/7 @ 7pm at the Chagrin Valley Little Theatre River Room.

Film Background: Imagine being sentenced to death for what you think. Following the failed Hungarian Revolution of 1956, scores of innocent people who didn’t see eye to eye with the Soviet-backed government were sentenced to death or thrown in jail. The film offers a shocking portrait of the impossibility of processing this trauma and the survivors’ incessant compulsion for remembrance.

Presenting Princess Shaw (Musical Closing for the Festival)

Experience the wonderful film Presenting Princess Shaw and a live performance by “Princess Shaw,” Samantha Montgomery at Sat 10/9 @ 6:30pm at the Chagrin Valley Little Theatre.

Film Background: The award winning story of the incredible Princess Shaw and the enigmatic composer Kutiman, who discovers her from the other side of the world.

[Written by Kendall Embrescia-Hridel]


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