The Over-the-Rhine International Film Festival is on a mission

Over the next five days — October 2–6 — Cincinnati will be hosting the region’s largest film festival, screening more than eighty films in seven venues across the city’s core arts and entertainment district.


The Over-the-Rhine International Film Festival (OTRFF) will also offer free workshops and is partnering with local retailers, restaurants, and bars to provide dedicated hangouts for festivalgoers.


Informal wrap parties will pop up each evening, hosted in turn by Revolution Rotisserie, Homemakers Bar, Longfellow, and 3 Points Urban Brewery. The festival culminates in an award ceremony on Saturday night, with the juried prizewinners being screened on Sunday.


In addition to creating a full-fledged festival experience for the community, OTRFF is on a mission to enrich the conversation surrounding what it means to value diversity in film, media, and society at large.


Lead programmer T.T. Stern-Enzi — a Cincinnati-based film critic for twenty years and running — says that OTRFF has expanded his own vision for inclusion in the industry. And he embraces opportunities to share that vision with others.


“We tend to look at women, people of color, and the LGBTQ community, and the intersectionality within those groups,” Stern-Enzi says. “This year I’ve been able to get out to five different film festivals to talk to people about inclusion and diversity and making sure that disability is included in that.”


OTRFF has been uniquely shaped by its origins as a ReelAbilities Film Festival — one of the first worldwide — whose mission is to tell stories about, by, and for people with disabilities. Local nonprofit LADD initiated the festival, and it went for four years under the ReelAbilities brand before becoming OTRFF.


In addition to expanding its scope, the rebranding ushered in a more independent, homegrown approach. Now in its second year, OTRFF has its own team of programmers who attend other festivals, scout out films, and curate an original festival program.


“[OTRFF] wanted to find films that explore diversity, freedom, faith, and identity, along with disability,” says Stern-Enzi.


This year, more than half of the films still have a disability focus. In Close Your Eyes and Fly, a blind woman trains to become a pilot, and in Tempo, a young deaf man learns to play drums, just to name a couple. But regardless of theme, all of the films invite audiences to see through another’s eyes, and to recognize our common humanity.


“There’s this very universal story about everyone trying to figure out ways to achieve their goals, to be the best version of themselves that they can be,” adds Stern-Enzi.


Also integral to OTRFF is its educational programming. During the festival, partner K–12 schools will be hosted at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center for screenings and discussion. And throughout the school year, the programming continues.


“We are developing a pilot curriculum, taking the themes of the festival — diversity, freedom, faith, identity, and disability — and coming up with ways to introduce and talk about those themes with students, using film as a teaching tool.”


Stern-Enzi is enthusiastic that the program includes some young, emerging talents, which he hopes will encourage aspiring storytellers of all ages.


In Burned, filmmaker Isabella Siska asserts some notable homegrown talent while studying at the School for Creative and Performing Arts (SCPA). And in Burning Cane, director Phillip Youmans pulls off a Tribeca award-winning premiere at the age of seventeen.


“Film is a democratic art form,” says Stern-Enzi, expressing his own hopes for OTRFF to embody the possibilities of accessibility and inclusion in our city. “There’s still some things that we can do together.”

To purchase tickets or a pass, visit the website.


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Read more articles by Sarah Dupee.

Sarah Dupee is a freelance writer, teacher, translator, and musician with a background in French and Francophone Studies.