Hello Cleveland!

By some strange confluence of cosmic forces, 21 March 2015 turned out to the International Day of Slime, with three screenings of The Creeping Garden occurring simultaneously. There was little chance of either of our tiny production team making it to the Center of Digital Culture in Mexico City, hosted by our friends at Morbido Fest: Tim was with Heather Barnett in Birmingham presenting the film at Flatpack, while I (Jasper) was at least the right side of the Atlantic, but several thousand miles away at the 39th Cleveland International Film Festival

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I have to confess, I knew very little about Cleveland before heading over, beyond the scene in the This is Spinal Tap where the band all get lost in the back warrens of the venue where they are playing that night while trying to find the stage, presumably related to the other factoid about the city, that it contains the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Museum. Oh yes, and the more relevant piece of hearsay on the festival grapevine, that the city hosted one of the best film festivals in North America.

Well I can now certainly vouch for this latter point. Cleveland International Film Festival is massive, just like the Tower City mall that houses the 8 screens it runs in, and as in Spinal Tap, I did find myself losing my sense of orientation at several points across the weekend (admittedly, the brief three days I was there barely gave me much chance to recover from my jetlag).

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With 196 feature films and 234 shorts from 60 countries, this indeed was a programme to get lost in – not that I had a chance, because I was barely off the plane before introducing the first of the festival’s three Creeping Garden screenings on Thursday 19 March, with a second showing the following afternoon accompanied by a Film Forum panel discussion (moderated by Anne Glausser or Ideastream and consisting of me, David Jurca of the Cleveland Urban Design Center, the artist Ann Medhurst, and Markus Vogl of the University of Akron, and moderated). Then on my final day, I followed the film up for its “Neighbourhood Screening” at the Akron Art Museum about an hour outside of Cleveland.

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I was amazed by both the size of the audience and the sense of engagement for all three of our screenings. This was certainly the most impressive reception for The Creeping Garden I have ever witnessed, and it was characteristic of the festival as a whole. I can’t think of any other I’ve been to where four of the eight screens would be playing something at 9am in the morning and each of their 200-seat auditoriums would be more or less completely full. The level of energy here was quite astounding, and this is certainly an event any filmmaker would be proud to be a part of.

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My brief time there didn’t allow me much in the way of film viewing, but I saw a couple of things that really impressed me, one of which was Factory Boss, by the Chinese director Zhang Wei, the other was the rather more lowkey Angel Azul, Marcelina Cravat’s documentary about an British sculptor’s attempts to draw public attention towards the damage done by tourism and environmental pollution on the tropical reefs of the world with his own artificial reef in Cancun. Elsewhere, it was lovely to catch up with Bennett Jones, writer/director/star of I Am A Knife With Legs, which similarly premiered at Fantasia with us last summer.

But the cherry on the cake was riding back to the airport in the same car as the actor/comedian Fred Willard, a Cleveland native who was back for the festival with the new mockumentary he appears in about girls softball. Aside from his memorable role as the TV commentator in Best in Showalongside Jim Piddock (who certain North American friends say I bear some resemblance too, a fact corroborated by my fellow passengers), he also appeared as the airbase colonel in This is Spinal Tap, bringing the long weekend of references to this film full circle.