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courtesy Loveless and Yoruba Saxon Productions

The Cleveland International Film Festival features mostly independent films, like “Five Nights in Maine.”

Every spring, directors, actors and movie moguls descend on Downtown Cleveland.

The 40th Annual Cleveland International Film Festival (CIFF) kicked off on March 30, starting 12 days of film exhibition. Showing are 192 feature length films and 213 short films, all from 72 countries. The films are shown at the Tower City Cinemas, with a select number of films being shown at Cleveland Institute of Art’s very own Cinematheque.

Few things compare to the atmosphere at a film festival. This feeling is much different from your typical moviegoing experience. Usually when you go to see a film, you’ve seen the trailer, you’ve read a few reviews, and if the movie is really popular, you’ll have read one of your friend’s Facebook post about what they disliked about the move. That’s not true at CIFF, as most of these films are small productions with no promotion, making their rounds on the festival circuit. If the film is lucky enough, it could get a theatrical release.

The crowds are also different from crowds going to see a typical movie. Everyone lined up early, eager to walk into the theater, and those in attendance were some of the kindest and most avid moviegoers I’ve ever met. One woman said she plans to attend 30 screenings over the course of the festival. If you are going to a popular film, expect the theatre to be fully packed. Never have I felt so immersed in the cinema, and I must agree with the critic Roland Barthes, who wrote that there’s something magical seeing the lit outlines of the heads of your fellow audience; the stillness of an eager crowd.

CIFF is able to give audiences the added opportunity of seeing directors and movie stars to the screenings of their films. At the screening of “Five Nights in Maine,” Director Maris Curran held a Q&A session after her film finished.

CIFF is a cinematic epicenter for only 12 days but packs in an almost overwhelming number of films; the festival’s program is 202 pages long. If you’re flipping through the program and can’t decide which movie to see, don’t worry. When I asked someone for recommendations, they responded, “Do you have darts?” Make sure to catch some of them before CIFF 40 closes on April 10.