It was a dark and stormy…
wrong genre, or maybe not. So why am I doing this and how did it start and what’s in it for who(m)?

Actually it was a bright and windy day. The walk from the back end of that long lot among the seagulls behind Tower City through the bristling winds off the Cuyahoga gives a good stretch to the nether regions before subjecting oneself to six or more hours of viewing. Viewing always enjoyed, sometimes wonderfully and sometimes forgivingly, the serendipity of the experience being the simple similarity to all in attendance.

Sunshine and serendipity being in abundance this particular day as I reach the end of the ticket queue for todays transactions. “How many films you seeing?” comes the bright question from the somewhat tired looking but obviously engaged stranger to my left. “Ummm, scuse me?” was my probable witty retort while searching some explanation for the query. Even being darkly swarthy and an obvious film sophisticate I’m unused to ticket counter queries from strangers beaming brightly back at me holding an imposing stack of 75 film tickets. “How…many…films…are…you…seeing…today?”

See, right here, any answer offered will be either excruciatingly insufficient or bedlamic braggadocio. She’s holding a theater full of tickets while I’m arranging a paltry stack of 4 single seaters into my wallet. “Ahhh, probably about 27” says my little boy voice before I squelch that painful impulse. This woman obviously watches that during lunch. Okay, honesty and embarrassment seem the only tack not likely resulting in complete stupitude. “Four” comes the answer of under-endowed males everywhere. “How many during the festival?” comes the probing query with nary a breath drawn between that answer and this.

Okay, obviously there’s a pointed professionalism at work here though at what task it’s impossible to determine. Could be a filmmaker gauging her audience, a reporter looking up sources for attribution or just another film junkie tossing out long line chatter to kill time. Nope, none of those realities was ensconced among that stack of tickets worth…calculating…calculating…

“Probly ’bout 20” comes my obvious sad attempt to impress young ms.fistfulloftickets. “Many a year?” comes the stinging rebuke of my interrogator. Ah, the sweet bliss of solid ground! Shall I start with European art house, contemporary existential drama, classic or current Asian? Should I toss out my learned love for Antonioni (dangerous mispronunciation hazard) or my appreciation for Mizoguchi’s remorseful portrayal of female persecution in feudal Japan. Is Ozu too mannered, Ceylon to chill? Maybe just drop the BIG B BOMB and hope Bergman’s still somewhat temporally in fashion. Solid ground my ass, all answers are either posturing pretension or bumbling imbecility.

Her eyes look askance, tickets ready to flee, “Many_ _ _ _ _ _ _“? “Errrr, about 200 I suppose” I offer more or less honestly.

Now here’s a look I’ll long recount. Truly appreciative, somewhat hesitant, earnestly inquiring. “Hi, I’m Hope, I run the selection committee for the film fest, you think you’d be interested in joining?, I’ll write my name down, i don’t have any business cards with me, (have you got any paper?), let’s talk after the festival is over, we need new screeners for next year, i gotta run I’ve got a film slam for school kids waiting for these tickets, talk to you after the fest, nice to meet you, k bye!”. I look down into my hand and there’s a wrinkled scrap of paper with hope@clevelandfilm.org scrawled across I shove in my pocket.

Yeah, so that’s how one acquires a coveted spot on the selection committee of the Cleveland International Film Festival. Cunning, guile and the blind ability to be in the right place just prior to a kiddies film slam go a long way in surviving the grueling selection process. The rest is much harder.