Festival Beat: In its Seventh Year, Chagrin Documentary Film Festival Feels Both Major League and Down Home

First-time producer Brandon Jackson, whose film This is Honduras premiered at Chagrin Documentary Film Festival in 2016, likens the festival to “a quiet, out-of-the-way Parisian bar with a young Fitzgerald, Hemingway and Stein” for its low-key (but about-to-blow-up) appeal.

“At first glance it seems humble compared to the bigger festivals, but the staff, organization and quality of talent it attracts makes the town boil over with an exciting energy, and lets you know you are a part of something special.”

Chagrin Documentary Film Festival has carved a niche on the festival circuit. This five-day celebration in Northeast Ohio draws audiences from all over the United States and the world to experience an A-lister line-up of film. In 2016, 76 films from 24 countries were screened for more than 10,000 festival-goers. What else should you know about CDFF? Here’s a list:

The atmosphere. This growing festival originated in and exists in a small picturesque town. All of the venues and accompanying events are easily walkable. Be sure to see the falls lit up and enjoy a specialty confection at the storied Chagrin Falls Popcorn Shop.

The warm welcome. Residents open their homes to visiting filmmakers, often providing home-cooked meals and rides for errands, while several venues throughout the village open their doors to serve as screening rooms or host private events.

Tiny Chagrin Falls, population 4,000, hosts up-and-coming Chagrin Documentary Film Festival every fall

The opportunity to get up close and personal. Part of the charm of the village festival is the opportunity to get to know fellow filmmakers, between Q&A sessions and impromptu discussions on street corners and in restaurants. The Filmmaker’s Lounge is open to film fans, stopping by for a chat or selfie with filmmakers.

“This is a well-attended festival where networking comes naturally and whose mission aligns with those of us with a passion to tell a great story,” said Marie-Therese Garvey, producer of Atlantic.

The quality of the films. Over the festival’s short history, it has screened several films which have gone on to become Oscar nominees, or won the industry’s biggest honors.

The broader experience. Panels are key ways to expand upon documentaries. At CDFF, experts speak after movies on timely subjects such as opiate use, bullying and gun control. In addition, the festival hosts companion events that make its nonfiction titles come more alive for film-goers.

Brandon Jackson sums it up again: “A charming atmosphere, serious cinephile fan-base, dedicated workers and exciting filmmakers makes this a must-submit. I would be honored if my next film could premiere here as well.” MM

Brenda Cain is a Cleveland-based award-winning journalist and arts patron who writes full-time for the largest digital news outlet in the state of Ohio. Visit the Chagrin Documentary Film Festival website here.

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