The CLEVELAND SPONSORED FILM FESTIVAL, not to be confused with the CLEVELAND INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL, was first held on 17 June 1948. It was one of the first film festivals held in the city, and was the first in the country to honor films in the SPONSORED FILM category. Over six hundred people attended the first festival, where they watched one or more of the 65 sponsored films screened in GENERAL ELECTRIC’S NELA PARK. It set off a trend that dominated the international sponsored film category for over 20 years.
In year two of the Cleveland Film Festival, ninety-nine films were shown. Oscar-like awards were given in 11 classifications: sales promotion and public relations, safety and firefighting, employee training, mental hygiene, art and music, religion, industrial relations, supervisory training, adult education, teaching and classroom, and travel. In year three, American actress, producer, and businesswoman, Gloria Swanson, was the guest speaker at the Festival.
In 1953, the Cleveland Film Festival marked another first when it added a second day. Held at the Hotel Carter at 1012 Prospect Ave. in downtown Cleveland, more than 300 film enthusiasts attended the screening of 149 films in 16 subject matter categories.
In those early years, having an entry or, better yet, winning an award at the Cleveland Film Festival was a significant event. Ads for studios and dozens of movies appeared in Business Screen magazine in the late 1940s and early 1950s, promoting that the film or studio was a winner at the Cleveland Film Festival.
By 1956 sponsored film festivals were everywhere. Cleveland, Boston, Atlanta, Stamford CT, and Columbus had festivals, and many organizations sponsored film festivals, including the Freedom Foundation Awards, the National Committee on Films for Safety, The National Visual Sales Presentation Awards, the “Better Copy Contest” of the Public Utilities Advertising Association, the Scholastic Magazine Awards, the Golden Reel Awards, and the American Film Festival. Sponsored film festivals had also sprung up in Venice and Edinburgh.
In 1957, the Cleveland Film Council, the organizers of the Cleveland Film Festival, stopped running the festival. Sponsored film festivals continued on, but never regained their popularity or influence.