The Cleveland Italian Film Festival returns for its 15th year


Courtesy of Cleveland Italian Film Festival

“Martin Eden” is one of three films in the 2021 Cleveland Italian Film Festival

Shreyas Banerjee, Life Editor

At the Cedar Lee and Atlas Cinema Eastgate theaters, Italian films graced the silver screens of Cleveland in the last weeks of summer. Running from Aug. 26 to Sept. 9, the Cleveland Italian Film Festival showcased three films over the course of three weeks, all hailing from the film studios of Italy. Since 2006, the festival has brought some of the best Italian movies to Cleveland, giving Clevelanders the opportunity to see high-quality films. After 15 years, the festival has become a community staple, consistently drawing crowds from around the Cleveland area.

The brainchild of Joyce Mariani, who works as the director, the festival was started after she realized that there was something missing in Cleveland.

“I lived in Rome, and then in Florence then back in Rome for 10 years and every time I came home to Cleveland, I was looking for Italian films,” Mariani said. “These are really Oscar-worthy or Oscar award-winning films, and I was saying to everyone, ‘Where are they? Where are they being shown?’”

So Mariani came back to Cleveland and took a leap of faith.

“For the first festival, I didn’t know if it would work so I didn’t know if I would go into debt or what. But you know what? The first one sold out … and we have sold out every single year since we started, except for the difficult year last year, of course.”

Like any successful idea, there was a recognition of a craving, in this case for great movies. And Mariani’s festival has since filled the void.

“Any city should have one because the history of Italian film is extremely important with very prominent and very talented directors and actors … that’s why it is probably successful just due to the abundance of great works. I think Italians have what’s called “the eye,” where they are good in design and different things. We are sensitive in filmmaking and are natural comedians. Things just match.”

This quality of Italian cinema as a whole is reflected in the films brought to the festival, which Mariani selects. What is unique about the Cleveland Italian Film Festival, however, is the number of films they choose.

“I’ve been to many film festivals, and they show so many films and they are not all top-notch, shall we say. So what I try to do is show really, really excellent films and then do fewer of them, and spread them out,” Mariani explained. “Say someone wants to see one but they can’t stay for the one right after and the one right after that. I just felt very strongly about keeping it spread out, as a courtesy to people.”

Mariani attributes the festival’s success to this winning formula, of presenting fewer films but having them be “No. 1 films,” as she says.

“I’m different than a lot of my colleagues across the country that do film festivals. I don’t do it for me, I do it for the audience … People can tell if something is a good film, they may not be able to put their finger on why, but they know it’s a good film, and I have respect for that.”

As such, Mariani refrains from showing films just because they are popular or award-winning but rather based on her own personal taste. Whether a film is too depressing or ill-fitting to the tone Mariani wants to set, there are only a handful of films that make the cut. This year’s selections included “Martin Eden,” an adaptation of a Jack London novel, “Vincere Vincere,” a period piece centered around Mussolini’s wife, and “Lontano, Lontano,” a buddy comedy about discovering the beauty of life.

All the films are worth seeing, even if one doesn’t go to the festival. In the end, Mariani believes in the power of cinema no matter where it is seen.

“My main goal, in the beginning, was to move people and to entertain them. Mostly I hope no matter what the tenor of the film is, that they’re uplifted in some way or their minds and hearts are expanded in some way. I want to reach people and to move them—that’s why I choose the films I do. I know movies can do that.”