Cleveland’s Kids Film It Fest returns to put youth filmmaking in the spotlight

October 8, 2018

Cleveland’s Kids Film It Fest returns to put youth filmmaking in the spotlight

CLEVELAND, Ohio - Can Cleveland become the national hub of youth filmmaking? One young man’s ambitions are on track to make it a reality.

As a seventh grader at Hawken Middle School, a then-12-year-old Ryan Levine wanted to share his budding directorial passion with others his age. So in 2016, he launched the Kids Film It Festival. Not knowing what to expect, submissions poured in from young people around the country eager to share their stories and creativity. 

Now, at 15, Levine has a thriving festival on his hands. With it approaching its third year, kids will be back in the director’s chair when the festival returns Oscars weekend on Friday, February 22. The red carpet will be rolled out at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as winning films grace the screen.

Those interested in submitting are able to do so through Dec. 31 at kidsfilmitfestival.com.

And it’s for a good case. After his grandmother was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease, Levine decided to donate all proceeds to the Michael J. Fox Foundation, which benefits the search for a cure.

Momentum has been building. Last year, stars like Shaquille O’Neal and Michael J. Fox tweeted their enthusiasm about the fest. More than $65,000 was raised for the foundation. This year’s goal is $85,000. 

But this year, there’s a big bump in excitement in the form of judges. Coming on board are Anthony and Joseph Russo, otherwise known as the Russo Brothers, the team of directors behind “Captain America” and “The Avengers.” They join returning judges: producer Todd Lieberman ( “Beauty and the Beast,” “The Fighter,” “Wonder”), director and producer Marc Buckland (“My Name is Earl”) and Greater Cleveland Film Commission President Ivan Schwarz.

For Levine, the star power is a chance to get even more young people involved. After all, kids aren’t able to submit their films to just any fest. If it takes baby steps to make it to Sundance, Kids Film It could be considered their first big leap. 

“We want to get as many kids from around the country to enter,” he says. “Eventually, we want to make Cleveland a destination for youth filmmaking.”

Watch kids talk about their films at the 2017 fest.

With the festival’s rocketing popularity, has Levine ever thought about taking it outside of his hometown? Of course. But he likes the idea of making Cleveland the go-to place when people think of young filmmakers.

“There aren’t many places where kids can show each other their films,” Levine says. “Right now, we have a place to go to talk to other kids with the same passion, and to be able to meet people with that same passion is really great. It really encourages them to keep making films. We’re trying to be the place for kids to go.”

At least year’s fest, viewers were treated to films from each of the three categories: animation, music video and shorts. Entrants compete in the following age divisions: 8-11; 12-14; and 15-18.

The films spanned genres, some comedic, others harrowing. Many told deeply personal stories, while others reveled in artistic experimentation. Winners included a love story with a twist (“O’doring Orange”), a globetrotting music video (“Summer Vibes”) and a robot finding its purpose (“The Amazing Milo”).

Most of all, it’s about young people finding their voice, telling their stories and sharing it with a whole new audience.

“It’s just a great environment for young filmmakers,” Levine says. “It makes you feel like you’re at the Oscars. It might give you ideas for your next films when you see something and think, ‘whoa, another kid my age made this.’ It just shows what others can do. It’s really great to have everyone come together as a community. Last year we pretty much sold out, we’re hoping to do that again last year.”

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