Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Volunteerism

The past couple of days I've sold my non-profit soul to be a volunteer (Whiteshirt) at the Cleveland International Film Festival, which runs from Friday March 20th to Sunday March 29th. The only night I missed was opening night because I was playing a concert at the Book & Bean, and because first-year volunteers usually aren't asked to work on opening night.

My five-hour shifts at CIFF have been crazy, exciting, and incredibly rewarding. I've only had time to attend one of the 140 features and 170 short subjects representing 60 countries--well, actually I saw a shorts program, so I guess I've seen 7 so far. Still, just being downtown with so many enthusiastic, excited people who love art and film as much as I do is absolutely thrilling.

These people are totally devoted to film, some of them taking all nine days off of work to duck in and out of dark hallways and into buzzing theaters, bursting with hushed anticipation. Some of them live on popcorn and Raisinets, afraid that a journey to the food court might force them to miss a pre-feature short. Seeing hoards of people emerging from each theater all at once, some crying into their ballots, some cracking up and grinning, some looking either blank or utterly confused, has become one of my favorite things to observe at the festival. I just smile, ask people's opinions, direct them to the restrooms, and feel like a steward to the community.

Being one of around 400 volunteers, I've had the opportunity to meet, network, and interact with some really interesting people, including a few directors, producers, and composers. Some of the films at this year's festival are World Premieres.

I've also been able to catch up with a few friends I'd lost contact with. Last night Daniel and I stood outside of Jerusalema counting theater patrons, handing out award ballots, and doing our best Harvey Pekar and Toby Radloff impressions. My friend Steven who works for the Cleveland Film Society told me about a great opportunity he has to work in L.A. I already feel close to several other people I've just known for a few days.

The work is non-stop. You can always find something to do, whether it's refilling wasabi peas and Whole Foods cola in the hospitality suite or putting together collector sets of buttons (Festival Flair!) We fight over who has to work on the "cold half" of Tower City Cinemas, which is also where the volunteers are hulled up. We talk about film constantly.

Tonight I'm seeing my first feature. I'm meeting Bridget at the Hard Rock Cafe and then we're heading into the cinemadness to see "Blind Loves," a Slovakian film that's part documentary, part fiction, in which several blind people play themselves in a series of love stories.

This weekend I'm seeing a German movie where filmmakers film peoples' worst fears, a documentary about the practical and artistic uses of origami, a feature in which a small theater puts on a play based on "The Brothers Karamazov", a New Zealand screwball comedy, a documentary that an acquaintance of mine made about the end of Cleveland's 107.9 (The End), a Japanese romantic comedy about a manchild, and "The Brothers Bloom."

Where else does this stuff happen? I'm so proud of my city. I'll be sad to see the festival go, but I'm already certain that I'll volunteer next year, no matter how taxing it can be to work another 5 hours on my feet after an 8-hour work day...

For years I wanted to make movies and I attended the festival thinking that maybe someday my name would make it to the credits. It's good to know that even though my path is leading in a different, unknowable direction, I can still feel fulfilled, happy, and just as in love with film and life as I always was.