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August 18, 2023

Cinematheque co-founder, director John Ewing announces retirement


August 18, 2023

CLEVELAND—John Ewing, co-founder of the Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque and the driving force behind the theater for nearly four decades, announced he will retire as Cinematheque director effective June 30, 2024.

Ewing screened his first Cinematheque film at CIA in 1986, and in the 37 years since, he's shown more than 9,000 classic, foreign and independent films. Through his programming, the Cinematheque developed a reputation as Cleveland's marquee venue for both historic and avant-garde film. His creative vision led The New York Times to name the Cinematheque one of the country’s best repertory movie theaters.

"I am most proud of three things: that Ron Holloway, George Gund III and I—with the support of the Gund Foundation—were able to establish the Cinematheque at the Cleveland Institute of Art in 1986; that the hardworking Cinematheque staff and I, with support from our loyal audience, have kept the program going for 37 years now; and that our efforts and offerings have helped elevate Cleveland as a major American film city," Ewing says.

Kathryn J. Heidemann, Cleveland Institute of Art President + CEO, praised Ewing's contributions to Cleveland's cultural fabric.

"John's passion for film is extraordinary, and his impact—best measured by the filmmakers he has inspired and the cinematic community he has built in Cleveland—is singular," Heidemann says. "We are incredibly grateful for John's leadership of the Cinematheque, his advocacy for the art of film, and for everything he's brought to CIA's creative community."

Ewing co-founded the Cinematheque in 1984 and first started showing Cinematheque films in 1985 at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. In 1986, Ewing moved the Cinematheque to CIA, where it continues to this day, screening 250 to 300 different feature films annually.

"My hope was to show movies that wouldn't come to the region otherwise, and I really think we've done that—in spades," Ewing says. "All of film history has been reduced to a short list of ‘greatest hits’ like Gone with the Wind, The Godfather and 2001: A Space Odyssey. But, film history is so much richer than those titles that will always be shown in multiplexes. We picked up the slack and reminded people just how diverse film history is and how expansive contemporary world cinema is."

Under Ewing's leadership, the Cinematheque established a track record for introducing Cleveland filmgoers to directors before those directors hit it big, including Hayao Miyazaki, Peter Jackson, Krzysztof Kieslowski, Béla Tarr, Mike Leigh, Jane Campion and Christopher Nolan, to name a few.

"I really feel that the Cinematheque has done a good job of filling the gaps in people's film education," Ewing says. "If moviegoers keep apprised of what the Cinematheque is doing, they'll be current with what's happening in world cinema."

Ewing believes it's the "right time" to retire, noting Cinematheque audiences have returned to pre-COVID pandemic levels. He also cites health considerations and a desire to spend more time with his grandchildren. CIA will begin a national search for Ewing's successor in the coming weeks.

In 1986, the same year he opened the Cinematheque at CIA, Ewing became the first person ever hired by the Cleveland Museum of Art to do nothing but program museum films. Until his retirement in August 2020, he worked two days a week at CMA and presented approximately 75 different films every year.

Ewing came to his positions after running various film series. He programmed his first films as director of the 1973 January Term film program at his alma mater, Denison University in Granville, Ohio. Between 1975 and 1983, Ewing was the director of the Canton Film Society, a program of the Stark County District Library. The Canton Film Society presented free international films every week. From 1984 to 1986, he ran the weekly Monday Cinema series at the Cleveland Heights-University Heights Public Library, a program he founded. The 1980s also saw Ewing booking films for the Canton Palace Theatre and working as a freelance film presenter who showed occasional movies at the New Mayfield Repertory Cinema in Cleveland, CIA and the auditorium in CWRU's Allen Memorial Medical Library.

Ewing graduated from Denison with a double major in English and Theatre & Film. In 1972, he was a full-time student intern in the Film Department of the Museum of Modern Art in New York. After graduation, Ewing wrote weekly film reviews for The Geauga Times Leader in Chardon, Ohio and freelanced for The Plain Dealer, The Akron Beacon Journal, Cleveland Scene, Sojourners magazine and other publications. From 1981 to 1986, he was a contributing editor and regular film reviewer for Northern Ohio Live magazine.

In 1987, Ewing received the Northern Ohio Live Award of Achievement in the category of Film. In 1994, he won the same prize in the category of Outreach. In 1995, he won one of Northern Ohio Live’s "15 Year" Awards for extraordinary contributions to the region’s arts and culture, as well as a Cleveland Arts Prize Special Citation. In 2009, Cleveland Magazine named him one of Cleveland's "Most Interesting People." In 2010, he was named a Chevalier (knight) in the Order of Arts and Letters of the Republic of France.

Cleveland Institute of Art
Michael C. Butz, Director of College Communications + External Relations / 216.421.7404

The Cleveland Institute of Art is a private, nonprofit college of art and design that has been the training ground for countless students who have gone on to make important contributions to the fields of creativity and innovation since it opened in 1882 as the Western Reserve School of Design for Women. Its students have designed internationally recognized products, their artwork has been exhibited in major museums and private collections around the world, and their entertainment media has been enjoyed by audiences and game players for generations. It enrolls about 600 students nationally and internationally and has a faculty of about 100 full-time and adjunct members, all of whom are practicing artists, designers and scholars.

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