Kent to hit big screen at 40th Cleveland International Film Festival


Photo courtesy of Matt Unger.

Benjamin VanHoose

While Batman and Superman dominate movie theaters across the country, several Cleveland screens are showcased to some out-of-the-box cinematic fare as part of the Cleveland International Film Festival. Kent State will receive screen time in more ways than one over the course of the high-profile festival that attracts filmmakers and moviegoers from around the globe.

Local production company Maple Films’ short “Early October” will be shown Thursday at 9:35 p.m. Directed by Dustin Lee, a video productions supervisor at Kent State, this 8-minute drama follows a fictional baseball player who returns to his hometown to sort out his life after being cut from his minor league team.

The film was made during Cleveland’s 48 Hour Film Project—a competition that challenges filmmakers to write, shoot and edit films in one weekend. Genres are drawn from a hat and random requirements are assigned during the competition to ensure teams are starting from scratch.

“The time crunch is a lot of pressure,” Lee said. “It’s always stressful and it never goes smoothly, but it’s a lot of fun and that’s why we keep doing it.”

The team that produced the film is comprised of mostly Kent State-connected people, both alumni and current students. 

“That just goes to show how much talent we have at the university,” Lee said.

Sophomore communication studies major Matthew Weitzenhoffer played the lead role in the short. Weitzenhoffer also stars in KSUIF’s upcoming feature “Unlucky.” 

“I hope audiences see that you don’t need a million dollars and a fancy studio to create art that you’re proud of,” Weitzenhoffer said. “I hope this film inspires the first steps of those who want to see their dreams come to life on the big screen.”

The short used several Kent locations to shoot scenes, including the Kent State baseball field, the basement of Water Street Tavern and the batting cages at Birdie Shack.

“You’re going to see films from all around the world at this festival, but our film will play and people might recognize Kent landmarks, which is a cool thing,” Lee said. 

“Early October” claimed the top prize at the competition last summer, landing it a slot at this year’s CIFF.

“It’s a huge honor to be a part of a festival at the caliber of (CIFF),” Lee said. “I think a lot of people in the area take for granted the fact that we have such a big name festival right in our hometown.”

CIFF is one of a few festivals in the country that qualifies for the Academy Awards. The winning animated and live-action shorts earn a spot on Oscar shortlists—one step closer to the golden statue.

Lee keeps his potential Oscar stardom in perspective, though. 

“It’s a long shot,” Lee said. “We made our film in one weekend and our budget was maybe $200 for the whole thing. We’re going up against films made in France for like $50,000. It’s just great to be a part of it.”

Kent’s CIFF spotlight doesn’t end there.

A 26-minute documentary about the 1970 shooting of students on campus by the Ohio National Guard titled “May 4: Our Place in History” will premiere at CIFF today at 4:20 p.m. The film focusses on how Kent State remembers the tragedy and uses it as a learning opportunity.

This project was also led by Lee with the help of Jon Jivan, another Kent State video productions supervisor, and collaboration with May 4 Visitors Center staff.

“(The movie) creates conversations about the impact of May 4 (and) offers an opportunity for healing, learning and growing,” said Eric Mansfield, executive director of university media relations.

The “May 4: Our Place in History” that CIFF audiences will see, which will also screen Thursday at 11:35 a.m., is only the beginning of what will become a lengthier piece down the road.

“A longer version is still in the making,” Mansfield said. “This movie at CIFF offers a preview of the eventual finished video.”

This year marks the 40th installment of the Cleveland International Film Festival. Screenings are held at various theaters and art-houses in the city and select showings are free or discounted to college students with valid IDs. The festival will wrap up its 12-day run on Sunday.

Kent State is one of more than 150 sponsors for the event. Other funders include Dollar Bank, Great Lakes Brewing Company and Akron Children’s Hospital.

“(CIFF) is very well organized, there are always a ton of great films there and (staff members) bend over backward to make everyone happy while they’re at the festival,” Lee said. “It’s just an awesome time.”

Benjamin VanHoose is an entertainment reporter for the Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected]