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Shaker Heights Native Jamie Babbit Gets CIFF Spotlight for LGBTQ Films

Shaker Heights Native Jamie Babbit

The Cleveland International Film Festival gives out a new award this week, “ The DReam Catcher,” established to recognize an LGBTQ filmmaker each year.

The award started in honor of the late David Ream, a CIFF trustee who died two years ago. 

David Ream

The inaugural winner is a director with deep roots in Northeast Ohio.

Shaker Heights native Jamie Babbit's film career took off with her 1999 comedy “But I’m A Cheerleader.” Since then, Babbit has directed a number of movies, including 2005’s “The Quiet,” which won the grand jury prize at the South by Southwest Festival, as well as a number of hit TV shows like Amazon Prime's "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel" and Netflix's "Russian Doll."

While she started acting onstage for the Cleveland Play House youth theater program, she fell in love with working backstage during her time at Shaker Heights High School in its theater arts department.

"I just thought, 'wow, this is amazing.' It really had a lot more allure to me than actually being onstage," Babbit said. "Once I put that headset on ...well I've had it on for the last 40 years."

While attending Barnard College in New York City she got an internship working for legendary director Martin Scorsese on his 1993 Oscar-winning film "The Age of Innocence."

Being an intern in the office she got to witness the everyday things that film directors have to go through, no matter how weird.

"For example, taking a lot of laxatives, because I was in charge of buying the laxatives at the health food store," she recalled.

She went on to make short films before getting the chance to make her first feature, "But I'm a Cheerleader," which is a cult classic among the LGBTQ community. 

"I was finally able to [then] get an agent who could then get me work and actually make a living as a director, so I didn't have to do babysitting and all the other random stuff I was doing on the side," she said.

"But I'm a Cheerleader" is a satire about gay conversion therapy, which at the time didn't go over well with older members of the gay community in the late 90s.

"I think they were a little freaked out about a comedy about gay conversion, because I was poking fun at gay conversion with humor and some teeth.  A lot of people were upset about gay conversion and didn't find comedy to be a way to approach that," she said.

Jamie Babbit

Two decades later Babbit said she is honored to win the first DReam Catcher award from CIFF.

"The Cleveland film festival meant so much to me when I first started out," Babbit said.  "So to come full circle and come back to receive this award named for a fantastic gay man who really cared about the festival, cared about film, cared about the LGBT community, because those are things that I care about. So I hope he would be excited that I'm the first recipient."


Dave DeOreo is coordinating producer for Ideastream Public Media’s arts and culture team.