Cincinnati Film Festival breathes new life into Tower Place Mall, at least temporarily

CINCINNATI - Tower Place Mall sits mostly empty; a graveyard for retail aspirations crushed by financial and legal woes. In the coming week, however, dreams will fill the venue, and the downtown space whose fate has been debated for more than a decade will breathe new life as it hosts the 2013 Cincinnati Film Festival.

Starting Thursday, Tower Place Mall will be transformed into a multi-screen, temporary theater for the film festival, with mini-cinemas that will screen more than 100 feature, documentary, and short films. The first floor screening room will seat up to 95 and the second floor room will seat 80.

Many of the empty retail spaces will become lounge areas and special rooms for Q&A sessions with the films’ directors and actors.

Vendors will use some stores to sell goods throughout the festival. Spaces that are not used will be covered in posters and decorated with mannequins and back drops, transforming the former ghost town into a magical atmosphere for all who attend.

Local filmmaker Brad Wise will see his "A Strange Brand of Happy" debut at the festival.

"The festival not only highlights the art side of the entrepreneurial spirit that Cincinnati has, it represents people’s hopes and dreams in the stories," Wise said. "It’s just a cool celebration of this creative spirit that’s vibrant right now in Cincinnati.”

(Tower Place reps were asked for their take on the space’s temporary facelift, but they declined to respond to interview requests).

Hollywood In The Heartland

Although the festival is only in its fourth year, it has already gained the attention and interest of filmmakers from around the globe. More than 250 films from the United States, India, China, Germany, and Australia were submitted for consideration this year.

For Kat Steele, the festival’s executive director, the event is about more than just bringing a slice of Hollywood to the Midwest; it's about getting the public excited to come to downtown Cincinnati again.

In fact, Steele approached Tower place reps a few years ago with the dream of transforming the space into a temporary cinema; however, the idea did not come to fruition until this year.

“This is the first time that we’ve been able to get filmmakers from all over the world who have a serious interest in seeing Cincinnati and coming here to talk about their films,” Steele said. “This is an international event, a cultural event, and we’re exited that we can bring it to the city."

Steele recalled: “I remember being downtown and having a couple ask me if I knew where the closest theater was. I started to tell them and give them directions but realized there was really no place in walking distance to see a movie. I thought about when downtown was thriving and there were theater and shops everywhere and it kind of made me sad to think about how people were almost afraid to come down here.”

Local Filmmakers, Happy To Be Here

Steele said that although the festival mostly appeals to the independent film community, she hopes that as it grows, it will begin to draw larger crowds of people coming into the city to experience the new life that Cincinnati is experiencing.

Wise and Joe Boyd, lead actor in "A Strange Brand of Happy," are a part of this spirit of renewal. The two met at a local church, and as Wise remembers it, began making films “by total accident.”

That accident has spawned "A Stange Brand of Happy," and other films, two of which Boyd says were written, directed, and filmed right here in Cincinnati.

A veteran of film festivals, Boyd said he loves the thought of this one taking place in downtown Cincinnati.

“It’s a reflection of the OTR and downtown and the arts becoming valued here,” Wise said, adding that what makes the film festival so amazing is that it is local.

“Cincinnatians have city pride; we love our own. So whenever people see anything that’s real, that’s Hollywood, that feels bigger than the city, and that it’s ‘ours’, there’s a certain level of connection to it,” he said.

Watch The Trailer For "A Strange Brand of Happy" (story continues below)

A Citywide Event

While the heart of the Cincinnati Film Festival will beat at Tower Place, there will be special events hosted around the city. 

Other venues include:

  • 20th Century Theatre in Oakley
  • Memorial Hall
  • The Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County
  • The Duke Energy Convention Center
  • Thompson House 
  • Cincinnati Museum Center

If you go:


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