This story is featured in CityBeat's Sept. 20 print edition.
In 2018, local filmmaker Allyson West launched the annual Cindependent Film Festival, dubbed “an indie film festival for movie people.” The fest — which took place at Woodward Theater and now-defunct The Mini Microcinema in Over-the-Rhine — featured works from all over the world and a block of films by Ohio filmmakers. The second annual fest took place in 2019, but when the pandemic hit, West had no choice but to put the celebrated fest on hiatus.
“The pandemic did make me way more cognizant of how I devote my energy,” West said. “I wanted to make sure that I was operating from kindness and giving people time, but not taking away from my own time and not running on empty all the time. There's so much reflection and growth that I got to have personally and professionally. The resources we have are better. My ability to be a leader is better. We're just more connected with the community in a stronger, more intentional way.”
Now in its third iteration, Cindependent will occur September 29-30 at Memorial Hall in OTR. Unlike in prior years, the fest will have only two days instead of three. “I'm really sad that we're missing one day of programming,” she said. “We're missing many great stories that we could share.”
West is aware that people might be reluctant to see films in person again and to devote their time to what is a jam-packed two days of film screenings, live screenplay readings, coffee chats, after-parties, happy hours and masterclasses.
“I'm not sure if people are ready to come back to festivals and party the way that they have. But I see people wanting to connect, so I think it's worth a try,” she said. “We launched a lot more community initiatives this year, more than we've ever done because once we started tiptoeing back into the world, what we really saw people responding to was the opportunity to belong to a community again.”
Through monthly CindeSocial and CindeCommunity events, West wants to build a community-oriented ecosystem, not just an annual festival. However, what sets the festival apart from others out there is the way she and her team approach the filmmakers and writers. They have a hospitality department that allows the filmmakers up to two complimentary nights at the Hilton Netherland Plaza. (In the past, 21c Museum Hotel hosted the filmmakers). On opening night, Jimmy’s Limousine Service will escort the filmmakers to Memorial Hall and give them “star treatment.”
“One of the reasons why this event is so incredible is because I want people to have a great time, and we go out of our way to make sure that you do get to feel special because the work is worth it,” West said. “Everybody, they find a way to take what's in their heart and craft it into something and they vulnerably offer it up for judgment. And when they put it over in our hands, we take great care of it, and then we get the pleasure of welcoming so many hardworking people to this festival.”
Not only do filmmakers get to participate in the activities, but cinephiles can purchase VIP passes to participate in the afterparties at Arnold’s and the Palm Court, and access the Filmmaker Lounge, which will have complimentary lunch every day. West has managed to secure these amenities because of grants and sponsorships. But someday West hopes the fest will be more self-sufficient.
“I'm building it in a way so the sponsorship money we raise pays for the festival itself so that the organization can finally really start to grow and not be reliant on grant writing or sponsorships, which come and go,” she said.
This year, they received 498 submissions — the most ever. They’ll screen two features, 73 shorts, and actors will perform 18 short and 12 feature-screenplay reads.
“We're leading the team in a big way,” she said. “One of the big differences is that I'm not doing everything that I used to. I can't do that anymore. I'm way too old. I can't work that hard anymore. I want to enjoy my life. I want work-life balance. I still work all the time, but it's different now.”
They secured the feature Citizen Sleuth, directed by Chris Kasick, which screened this year at SXSW. “When I first watched it, I thought it was a drama. I was like, ‘Oh, this gorgeous drama. This is going to be so cool. I'll just watch it,’” she said. “And then 15 minutes into it I realized it was a serious documentary, and I couldn't believe it because of the way the story was set up and the way it unfolds.”
West recommends Booked, a feature directed by Cassie Maurer. “It's basically about two high school kids who get shunned from being cast as the leads in their high-school play and then they go about trying to get into theater college just to prove to everybody that they’re better than they are,” West said.
She also loves the Ingrid Woode-directed local short Fresh. “It's about this woman who's talking about growing food for her community. She talks to her plants. She talks about understanding where food comes from, and I think that's a great message.”
And she thinks the dark comedy Night Café, directed by Joshua Nowak, is a fun watch. “I could almost go on and on and on about these things forever because they're like children,” she said. “I feel like I get to know a little bit more of the person on the other side of it because I get to see them through the work.”
Besides devoting her time to the fest, she’s also trying to create her own projects. “I'm not trying to rush through the time I get with my kids,” she said. “I'm not trying to rush through my own health and wellness. It's going to take the time it takes to be who I am, and so things like my own creative projects, they're going to take their time, too. There's an ebb flow for everything.”
And that time will hopefully be worth it to everyone involved. “I really want people to leave the festival feeling satisfied that they spent their time well,” West said. “It takes a lot to get out of your house. It's a lot to meet new people. It takes a lot to participate in community gatherings at all, so I want people to be able to feel welcomed and appreciated at this festival in a way that when they go home they feel like it was a good use of their time.”
Cindependent Film Festival takes place Sept. 29-30 at Memorial Hall, 1225 Elm St., Over-the-Rhine. Info: cindependentfilmfest.org.
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