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State of the Arts: CIFF Honors LGBTQ Filmmaker and Board Member's Legacy

a photo of Jamie Babbit and David K. Ream
Jamie Babbit (left) is the inaugural winner of the DReam Catcher award given in memory of CIFF trustee David K. Ream (right).

The 43rd Cleveland International Film Festival starts Wednesday. This year the festival includes the debut of the DReam Catcher award celebrating LGBTQ filmmakers. On this week's State of the Arts WKSU's Mark Arehart talks with the director and Shaker Heights native being honored.

Director, writer and producer Jamie Babbit has been to hundreds of film festivals around the world, but it’s her hometown festival that holds a special place in her heart.

"Cleveland has a charm. It has a small town feel with big city ideas. The audiences in Cleveland are really smart, they’re really supportive and the festival is a very cozy, welcoming place for filmmakers," Babbit said over the phone from New York. 

She’ll be back at the festival this year to receive the inaugural DReam Catcher award recognizing queer voices in filmmaking.

"And as someone who has been out basically my whole life and certainly my whole career, it’s something I’m really proud of. It’s something I think is really important and I’m happy to hopefully inspire other queer artists from Cleveland to make a difference."

The award honors longtime board member and LGBTQ advocate David K. Ream who passed away in December of 2017. 

"Dave was a huge festival fan. He was gay. He was very involved in the arts community. And we believe that this is a great intersection of his interests to honor him," CIFF Associate Director Patrick Shepherd said. 

Ream was an indexer by trade, and Shepherd said he was a master of puns who always strived to see as many films at the festival as possible.

"Typically he would see more than 60 screenings over the course of 12 days at a festival."

Along with receiving the award at the festival’s closing night ceremonies, Shepherd said Babbit will meet with several LGBTQ groups throughout Cleveland.

"We know that she’ll love engaging the community on the west side on the east side, hopefully in her hometown of Shaker Heights, and it’s going to set the standard for years to come," Shepherd said. 

Babbit broke onto the scene with her 1999 feature film "But I’m A Cheerleader," a satire about a young woman whose family sends her to conversion therapy.

But Babbit is also known for her work on the small screen. She was nominated for an Emmy directing HBO’s "Silicon Valley."

She’s worked on "Gilmore Girls," "The L Word," and "Looking." She’s directed episodes of Netflix’s new show "Russian Doll" and Amazon’s breakout hit "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel."

Babbit has also found success directing indie films starring big names like Aubrey Plaza and Edie Falco.

She’s currently working on a film starring Drew Barrymore about an aging starlet in the same vein as the Hollywood classic "Sunset Boulevard".

Babbit hopes her success on the big and small screen will inspire queer filmmakers in Northeast Ohio.

"I feel like everyone needs mentors and everyone needs something to look to and I’m sure the future recipients will be people who are excited to help the queer community to grow stronger and stronger," Babbit said. 

With the DReam Catcher award, Shepherd hopes the legacy of David K. Ream will live on through filmmakers like Babbit.

"I think that he would love this award so much that he would go on the road with Jamie to all these different venues throughout the city. I think he would really enjoy it."

Jamie Babbit will receive the first annual DReam Catcher award during the festival’s closing ceremonies April 7.

Mark Arehart joined the award-winning WKSU news team as its arts/culture reporter in 2017. Before coming to Northeast Ohio, Arehart hosted Morning Edition and covered the arts scene for Delaware Public Media. He previously worked for KNKX in Seattle, Kansas Public Radio, and KYUK in Bethel, Alaska.