John Ewing, Co-Founder and Director, Cleveland Cinémathèque


For more than two decades now, John Ewing has been making extraordinary contributions to the cultural life of Cleveland and northeastern Ohio as the region's preeminent advocate of the art of film. Indeed, he seems to have an almost missionary zeal to share that passion.

As a student at Denison University in southern Ohio in the early 1970s, Ewing would drive to Kenyon College, Ohio Wesleyan and Case Western Reserve University (in Cleveland at the other end of the state) to see films. During an internship with the film department of New York's Museum of Modern Art, he often stayed late, viewing films from MoMA's vast archives. Having moved back to his hometown of Canton, Ohio, southeast of Cleveland, he jumped at the chance in 1981 to review films for a new magazine called Northern Ohio LIVE. Eventually he decided he'd rather let people form their own opinions about movies.

Exhibiting films seemed the solution. Not the Hollywood blockbusters that packed theaters on Friday and Saturday nights, though; Ewing wanted to show old films, new films, experimental films, foreign films, films most people had never heard of, films people might never see otherwise, especially in the days before VCRs, cable TV and DVDs. Programming a free film series for the Stark County Library in the early 1980s was a good start; moving to Cleveland would allow him to reach a larger audience.

As co-founder and director since 1985 of the Cleveland Cinémathèque, an ongoing weekly film series based at the Cleveland Institute of Art, and coordinator since 1986 of film programs at the Cleveland Museum of Art, John Ewing has educated and entertained Cleveland audiences with an incredibly broad and deep selection of films, traversing the art form's history and rich global diversity with intelligence and affection. More than 1,500 of the Cinémathèque's presentations have been Cleveland or Ohio premieres.

By the time he was awarded a Special Citation for Distinguished Service to the Arts in 1995, Ewing had brought more than 2,000 films to Cleveland (now double that number)from such far-flung cultures as Iran, Tibet, Mali and all 14 of the former Soviet republics. What is more, he had surrounded those films, thoughtfully, with speakers, events, commentary, radio interviews and special programs that have enhanced our understanding of this important genre. Through his intercession, the museum installed state-of-the-art projection equipment that allows pristine new prints of the great silent classics to be seen at the speeds at which they were actually shot.

Along with the old masters, Ewing has introduced us to the work, again and again, of important new directors such as Krzysztof Kieslowski, Chen Kaige, Jane Campion,and Stephen Soderberg, all of whom have subsequently won wider recognition. He has also been supportive of local or neophyte filmmakers, showing their work and giving them opportunities to discuss it with an audience. His 1987 retrospective of the work of Cleveland-born Roland West, a forgotten but important director of the silent era, was hailed by The Village Voice.

Ewing's eagerness to collaborate with colleagues and other institutions has enriched the larger cultural life of the community. His “Picasso on Film” series, which turned up several genuine “finds,” and his delightful roundup of animated films influenced by Paul Klee, “Taking a Line for a Spin,” deepened museum-goers' experiences of major exhibitions of those two artists' work. Ewing not only programmed films with screenplays by Horton Foote, during a Great Lakes Theater Festival celebration of Horton's work for the stage, he cajoled directors Arthur Penn and Alan Pakula into participating.

A walking compendium of film lore and erudition, Ewing seizes any opportunity to write or speak about filmwith characteristic humility and an engaging sense of humor. His introductions at the Cinémathèque are sometimes funnier than the movies. And who else would have booked not only a sampling of Egyptian films to accompany the art museum's exhibition Egypt's Dazzling Sun: Amenhotep III and His World (1992), but also a series of classic “mummy” movies he titled “Of Human Bandage”? Indeed, Ewing's infectious love for movies of all kinds has surely opened the eyes of many a casual audience member for the first time to the sly craft and richly varied humanity of this now century-old art form.

—Dennis Dooley

Cleveland Arts Prize
P.O. Box 21126 • Cleveland, OH 44121 • 440-523-9889 •