The Cleveland International Film Festival, running March 16 – 26, announced that it will open its 30th edition with Doug Atchison‘s “Akeelah and the Bee. “Akeelah and the Bee” is the story of an 11-year-old girl named Akeelah Anderson (Keke Palmer) who uses her gift for words to compete in spelling contests against the will of her mother Wanda (Angela Bassett). Akeelah is helped along her journey to secure a spot in the Scripps National Spelling Bee by members of her community in South Los Angeles. Akeelah’s courage and aptitude bring pride to her neighborhood, which unites to support her. Doug Atchison and Keke Palmer will be special guests at the festival’s opening night screening.
The festival will showcase a range of contemporary international and independent filmmaking; 120 features and 100 short subjects from 50 countries are scheduled for screening. “Sweet Land” by Ali Selim will be the closing night film in Cleveland. The film, which debuted at the Hamptons International Film Festival, is set in post-WWI America and is about a Swedish emigrant who is living on a farm in Minnesota and trying to fulfill the American dream. Lacking a companion to share his life with, he writes a mail order bride who arrives from Scandinavia. As the two live together on the farm, an unlikely love story unfolds. Special guests at the closing night film will include Ali Selim and actors Tim Guinee and Paul Sand.
Featured festival events include the Director’s spotlight, an in-depth look at the career of Freida Lee Mock, a documentary filmmaker whose work addresses heavy topics ranging from war to ethics. The CIFF will also focus on two filmmakers who are on the rise during their “Someone to Watch” component. This year the CFF honors Kurdish director Hiner Saleem and Canadian director Ann Marie Flemming by screening their latest work along with one of their earlier films.
The CIFF will also award three cash prizes during the festival. There will be a $10,000 prize for the winner of the Eastern European Film Competition; $5,000 for the Nesnadny + Schwartz Documentary Film Competition; and a $5,000 prize from the newly established Greg Gund Memorial Program, which will sponsor the Standing Up Film Competition to celebrate films that tackle social justice and activism. All winners will be announced on the closing night of the festival.
For more information about the lineup of films and special events, please visit the festival website.