Keys to a day at the Cleveland International Film Festival: planning, overpacking

It’s almost here, Cleveland’s annual celebration of cinema.

This year’s Cleveland International Film Festival — starting April 4 at Playhouse Square and continuing April 5 through 16 at Tower City Cinemas — is bigger than ever. Over the course of CIFF 42, we’re to be treated to 216 feature films and 253 shorts.

>> Photos: A sampling of movies from the 42nd Cleveland International Film Festival

Now, no one will see them all, of course, but if you’re going to Tower City Center, you’re going to want to maximize your experience. If I could, I’d spend several days there each year, but there’s this little thing called “work” that gets in the way. Usually, however, I put in what I like to call “a shift” — a big block of hours checking out three to four films one day.

So lemme give you some tips, some things that work for me:

Go early, especially if you’re going on a Saturday or Sunday

Screenings now start at 9 a.m., and while you may not want to try to be in a seat by then — honestly, I never make it — the earlier you arrive downtown, the easier it is to park, be that in the Tower City garage or somewhere nearby.

>> CIFF 42 preview: How to do (parts of) the Cleveland film fest for free

As CIFF Executive Director Marcie Goodman pointed out in my interview with her, this year the fest is coinciding not just with Indians and Cavaliers home games, but also with a bunch of events at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and Museum culminating with the induction ceremony April 14.

It’s going to be crowded as all heck downtown and at Tower City, especially on weekends.

Bring stuff

Sure, some people will just throw on a jacket and be on their merry way. That’s not me. (If I were a character in the Academy Award-winning 1990 film “Dances With Wolves,” the Sioux people would not have given me the name “Packs Lightly.”)

I like to take my messenger bag, semi-crammed with most of the gear I take to the office and on assignments. For me, that won’t involved much tweaking — the great (free plug alert) Commute Messenger from Timbuk2 — has dedicated areas for all my electronic devices, beverages and a big main pocket that, admittedly, I fill largely with snacks.

Bag for CIFF
This is roughly how my bag will look when I’m ready to head off to CIFF. Sure, I’ll bring everything but the kitchen sink, but the important things are the festival program, thermal beverage containers and snacks. (Mark Meszoros)

You don’t need a fancy bag, through. Just take something that, to start, can hold two leak-proof thermal beverage containers, as well as, say, an e-reader (great for killing time as you wait in your seat for a screening to start), and a resealable bag or container with something to munch.

As for the beverage containers, fill one almost completely with ice, and you can refill your water at the fountain outside the restrooms at Tower City Center. For a coffee refill, I’d recommend hitting the Dunkin Donuts, which, if memory serves, is a short jaunt on the same level as the theater and the food court.

Oh, and I hate to be dealing with a jacket there. I recommend a ratty old zip sweatshirt, the kind of thing you put on when needed and throw in your bag when not.

Don’t fill up on concessions

Sure, we all love movie popcorn and Sno-Caps (obviously, the best movie candy). But a day at CIFF is a marathon, not a sprint.

Have your snack on hand — I’d go peanuts or pretzels — but prepare to have at least one meal at the aforementioned food court. If you’re wise, you’ll get something a little healthier, such as a salad from Subway, but that’s a big ask when there’s all kinds of fried and barbecued goodies around.

Schedule carefully

One more thing you’ll want for your bag: the 208-page CIFF program. Sure, there’s a CIFF mobile app — get that, too — but I find planning easiest with the program’s two-page grid of film listings for each day. It’s easy to see if two films you want to see will overlap. It also makes it easier to schedule that break for a greasy steak sandwich, er, um, I mean salad.

>> CIFF 42 preview: Cleveland film fest features movies with Ohio ties

And if you’re not purchasing a festival pass, you’ll need to allow time to buy and/or queue for tickets to individual films.

Know when to say when

I’ve had ambitions for a five-movie day and settled for four. I’ve planned four and called it after three. It’s all about fun, so when you realize during a screening that planting your butt in a theater seat for another sounds miserable, it’s time to pack it up or take another break. If you’re really determined to stay, you might consider relaxing with a beer or cocktail at one of Tower City’s full-service restaurants before heading back for one more screening.

OK, that’s everything you need to know.

Or (sigh) you can just grab a jacket and wing it. I envy you a little.

Mark Meszoros hasn’t told his boss yet, but he hopes to spend most of a workday at CIFF, but he’s not worried (and hopes she’s reading this) because she is a caring and generous leader. Follow him on Twitter @MarkMeszoros. Top photo: Alan Cumming in CIFF film “After Louie” (courtesy of the Cleveland International Film Festival).

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