Thu 9/12-Fri 9/20
Created nearly a decade ago, the Greater Cleveland Urban Film Festival features African-American cinema, fosters a deeper appreciation of the arts and provides educational opportunities for those interested in pursuing a career in the film industry.
Its mission is to showcase minority films, which reinforce positive images and dispel negative stereotypes. The film festival provides a forum for the work of diverse filmmakers to be viewed and discussed.
In addition to its cinematic showcases, the festival nurtures its attendees in a variety of disciplines, offering panel discussions, workshops and symposiums.
CoolCleveland talked to Greater Cleveland Urban Film Festival Executive Director Donna Dabbs about the annual event that keeps gaining in momentum and breadth.
CoolCleveland: Wow, this year’s Greater Cleveland Urban Film Festival includes plenty of big names and big events. Let’s go back for a second and talk about how the event got its start.
Donna Dabbs: After attending years ago the Cleveland International Film Festival, which is huge and amazing, I just wanted to see more films for people of color. We researched and found there were a number of black film festivals across the country. In other culturally rich cities they have a festival, so we had to have one too. Over the last eight years, we’ve grown from three days to nine days, from one theater to three theaters. Early on we had about 800 attendees and now we’re at 4,000 people.
CC: So you realized quite early the Greater Cleveland Urban Film Festival was going to be a success.
DD: Absolutely. The first year was so much fun and amazing. We had a lot of filmmakers originally from Cleveland — who have moved to Los Angeles — submit projects and come back home. Also, we had a lot of people who didn’t know what a film festival was, especially in our community. They were happy they attended and wanted to take acting classes or make their own movies. We also had celebrities in town.
CC: Let’s talk about this year’s festival. What stands out?
DD: This year we have an exclusive screening from hometown girl Yvette Nicole Brown. It’s called Always A Bridesmaid. The producer, N.D. “Nikaya” Brown Jones, is from Cleveland as well. In fact, they both went to Warrensville Heights High School together. Also, on opening night we’re going to have a conversation with Yvette Nicole Brown at the St. Ignatius High School’s Breen Center to learn more about her life, success and how she made the transition from Cleveland to Hollywood.
CC: Wow, having Brown in town with a new movie checks every box for the Greater Cleveland Urban Film Festival.
DD: For us to have hometown people here and a premier screening before the theatrical release is just huge. Previously we had a couple of premieres, but nothing with hometown celebrities. After eight years as a festival, the better you’re known and people know you have a quality festival, the easier it is to get top films. So for us to have an opportunity for an exclusive screening featuring two people from Cleveland is just amazing.
CC: Finally, how important is the Greater Cleveland Urban Film Festival to Northeast Ohio?
DD: It’s really critical. Today with social media and the media, all of the drama and things that aren’t so attractive are what gets highlighted. It’s really important to make an impression amongst the young people and to give them inspiration and hope. We have very dynamic lives, and we need to see ourselves in different ways, other than what the media is promoting. There’s also joy and inspiration and comedy — all of these other aspects of life that people need to have inspiration. That the larger community needs to see — different stories, different aspects of our lives that more humanize us instead of demonizing us.