The downtown streets of Chagrin Falls are more crowded this week as the Chagrin Valley welcomes filmmakers and film fans to the annual Chagrin Documentary Film Festival. This is the 10th year for the fest started by Mary Ann Ponce in memory of her son, David, a documentary filmmaker who died of leukemia.
It’s hard to believe that a decade has gone by since the film festival got off the ground. In the weeks leading up to the 2019 fest, Mrs. Ponce recalled one of the very early years when she and her husband, Ed, were busy working toward the opening day. Just a few weeks before that event, only 12 tickets had been sold. They had 90 films and several venues waiting for the viewers to come to Chagrin Falls. There was seemingly a moment of panic.
“I said to my husband, ‘We’re going to have to leave town; this is so bad,’” she recalled. To the Ponces’ relief, ticket sales increased as opening day neared, making that year a success.
Today the fest has an office in the heart of Chagrin Falls and is pretty much a year-round operation. Technology has advanced operations in a number of ways, including how judges view the films and the digital sale of tickets. The Ponces’ efforts grew attendance from 1,800 in 2010 to a remarkable 11,000 in 2018. Filmmakers, both foreign and domestic, continue to submit their documentaries, hoping to become a part of this distinguished event.
The film festival this year, presented by Cohen and Company, features 83 documentaries from 37 countries. Keep in mind that there were 500 submissions this year. There will be four world premieres, six U.S. premieres, 16 Midwest premieres and 18 Ohio premieres.
Fireworks, a first for the fest, started the celebration on Tuesday at Riverside Park in Chagrin Falls. The upper and lower falls will be illuminated throughout the weekend. Guests in formal dress enjoyed the gala Wednesday evening, another fest first. And, yes, some of the popular events remain on the schedule, including the Salad Luncheon, sold out way in advance, as usual.
But the fest really is for anyone who wants to buy tickets and see amazing documentaries.
Mrs. Ponce said the volunteers over the past decade have been incredible.
We welcome the creative forces behind the films and the people who are coming to town to experience these works and perhaps walk away with inspiration and new perspectives on life.
As Mrs. Ponce fittingly noted, “It’s five days, but you’ll be talking about it for months.”