After a successful inaugural run, the all-genre three-day Cindependent Film Festival returns to Over-the-Rhine Aug. 29-31, touting a total of 106 films to be screened in 18 time-blocks, plus 31 screenplay readings, the scripts for which will be interpreted by actors at Know Theatre. When I spoke with founder and creative director Allyson West on a recent Saturday, she said that over 100 filmmakers were scheduled to attend — not only Cincinnati natives but also artists from as far as Mumbai, India, Russia and Australia.
“Can you guys even believe that we’re bringing in 106 filmmakers?” West asks Emily and Brant Schulz, Cindependent’s volunteer coordinator and press producer, respectively. Snacking on popcorn and petting one of his cats, Brant answers succinctly: “Yeah, totally.”
And he’s right; those numbers aren’t surprising. Last year’s fest garnered an overall screening attendance of 2,104 guests and drew in 121 visiting filmmakers. The fest even landed on FilmFreeway’s Top 100 Best Reviewed Festivals list.
This second year comes with a few changes. Namely, Cindependent has a new home: The Woodward Theater. The fest’s original home was in The Mini Microcinema, which can seat 39, and the move to the Woodward means they’ll be able to accommodate 220 people for every screening and provide concert-quality sound. The Mini will still be involved as a hub for filmmakers to connect over coffee, grab lunch and, in the evening, sip cocktails and party.
Other venues include the Know Theatre, located on Jackson Street, where screenplay readings will be held. West notes that, as a result of last year’s readings, a few actors were actually approached for gigs in other projects. There’s also Graydon Law, where attendees can participate in “master classes” — another area of expansion for Cindependent. Last year’s fest included four classes and this year doubled the offerings to eight; topics include “Really Queer Film: A Discussion of Queer Storytelling” and “Carving Your Own Path: How to Stand Out in a Crowded Space.” Cincy design firm We Have Become Vikings will present “Film Posters and Design: Making the Most Out of Your Story” and local Emmy-winners Cincy Stories will cover “Video for Good: Community Engagement with Film Stories.”
Also new this year is an opening night film competition presented by Drive Media House, a local commercial production company. Announced in February, filmmakers/screenwriters submitted pitches for one- to-three-minute videos, the winner of which partnered with DMH to make their idea a reality, culminating in an opening night premiere.
Of course, the newest component of the festival will be the films themselves.
“We have really cutting edge work,” West says. “We have things that haven’t been seen other places that were created a year ago. The way our festival works is that we’re constantly getting new stuff. So we have a new range of stories and the movies are completely fresh, which is incredible in and of itself.”
After the interview, I was fortunate enough to catch one of Cindependent’s screening blocks, “Ohio Against the World,” which will play at 8 p.m. Aug. 29 and feature shorts that were either filmed in the Buckeye State or were made by or star Ohioans. The set was diverse in topic and style, from the campy horror of Labor Day to the sci-fi Lovecraftian take of It Came Nameless in the Spring to the feel-good and highly-relatable message of How to Make a Movie (made by a high schooler!).
Being an all-genre fest, that variety is echoed in all 10 other blocks, in which short films are clumped together by overarching themes. Among the offerings are “Good Morning! Shorts;” “Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes: College Shorts;” “Count on Me: Vulnerability and Friendships;” “Birds, Bees, and Those In Between;” and “All For One, One For All!”
Festgoers can catch feature screenings on Friday and Saturday — 8 Slices and Ginger, respectively.
With the stories all being told in different ways and through varying lenses, West says that the screenings will be received by an array of backgrounds and taste profiles — lending them the opportunity to “meet criticism or praise head-on and support a conversation that could feed all the way back into hospitality, which is respecting peoples’ individual opinions.”
Hospitality, both this year and last, is a big focus for Cindependent. West says it’s vital to make the filmmakers’ trips to the fest worth their time. They offer a two-night stay at downtown’s 21c Museum Hotel for visiting filmmakers. And, of course, filmmakers get VIP passes to the fest itself.
“I am hoping that the spaces we create help people relax, unwind, have fun,” West says. “And so we have to have a relaxed attitude that is unwound and that is ready to have fun as well so that we can make the space for people to do that in return.”
Here’s a breakdown of ticket options: a three-day pass ($90) gets you access to all the classes and general admission to all the screenings. If you just want to take one class or catch one flick, $20 gets you the former and $10 gets you the latter. A day pass is $25. And, if you want the full experience plus some, a VIP ticket is $260 and will get you access to a filmmaker lounge, cocktail viewing, entry to all five parties, all masterclasses, bonus events and access to FestiVault, an online pass to the 2019 line-up. (You can buy access to the online vault for $10.)
“We really upped the ante with all the VIP pass perks as well,” West says. “The second floor of the Woodward this year will have a bunch of cocktail seating at the top (from Queen City Vignette) because I really, really, really, really, really love making a film festival that feels like more than just art — that feels like a party. That feels like a space where people can hang out and feel comfortable spending hours of their time there.”
Creating those connections is at the core of Cindependent’s programming. Instead of an isolated movie experience, they work to have attendees actually talk about what they’re watching via after-parties, post-screening Q&A sessions, etc. Despite bringing national and international filmmakers to the Queen City, West says engaging locals is “the bread and butter” of the experience.
“If we have a world-class film festival but we’re not able to showcase our own local stories that are incredible, then we’re not really doing Cincinnati justice,” she says. “It’s super fun to get the community excited about films that have been made here. It’s even more rewarding to help stoke the fires for filmmakers that live and work here.”
The Cindependent Film Festival opens with a welcome party Aug. 28; films start Aug. 29 and run through Aug. 31. For more info/tickets: cindependentfilmfest.org.