March is when the Cleveland International Film Festival (CIFF) sweeps in like a movie star hero and saves us from our own Hi-Def hibernation. Call it “Winter Washout”, “Slush Syndrome,” or anything you want, but it’s a fact that even the most ardent film fan is vulnerable to some sort of couch–based collapse that leaves one craving nothing more than a remote control and a family-size bag of Ruffles for the winter homestretch.
It’s a powerful feeling – this hypnotic house arrest. One minute you’re popping corks well past midnight on New Year’s Eve, and the next thing you know, it’s March and you’re in your pajamas before the Cavs game starts.
For weeks, it seems that my nightly ritual finds me in my basement folding clothes and surfing channels – utterly captivated by a slew of obscure reality shows – ranging from wild boar tracking to gem prospectors to people who rummage through storage spaces (the latter is the moment when I realized that America had literally lost its mind).
This winter, as my cultural pulse finally decelerated to sub-human standards, I realized that there are no less than seven reality shows about Alaska, with topics such as real estate, law enforcement, and survival. I’ve seen them all. They’re all oddly compelling. Three loose deer in our neighborhood is a nuisance, but a rogue moose on the streets of Anchorage is must-see TV. Eventually, it dawned on me that I’ve been locking myself away from winter to watch endless hours of…winter.
So where does the CIFF come in? One day the program guide just arrives in the mail. I turn off the TV, take a refresher course on how to read, and dive into CIFF's guide of movies and documentaries.
Ten-plus days of entertainment and enlightenment from all over the world - Barcelona, The Philippines, Sierra Leonne, and, yes, some cold places too. It’s like a rocket sled (or a toboggan) ride around the world.
And the kicker of all kickers? Because so many of these movies are free from million-dollar marketing ideas and Hollywood meddling, the fictional narratives are usually far more authentic than a dozen TV "reality" shows put together.
All that’s required is to pick the flicks and buy the tixs. (Do it early, by the way.) And, remember, you always run the risk of missing the mark on a festival film. But this is about getting out of your comfort zone.
So shake off the permafrost, and hit the CIFF. Before you know it, you’ll be experiencing the kind of films that stick in your mind far, far longer than any reality TV show.
Tim Piai is a freelance writer living in Rocky River.