Youngstown Film Festival Aims for Bigger Audience

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Now in its second year, the Youngstown Film Festival is moving to the heart of its namesake city and expanding to two days. The lineup includes films from five countries.

The festival selected 68 feature films and shorts from the hundreds of submissions it received, and will screen half of them at the event, which will take place Oct. 21-22 at the Tyler History Center, downtown.

“One of the biggest differences this year – and it was important for me to do it – is that it is in downtown Youngstown,” says Adam Michael, founder and director of the festival. “It’s called the Youngstown Film Festival.”

One thing that didn’t change is its spirit of honoring and encouraging independent filmmaking.

The inaugural YFF in 2022 was a one-day affair that took place in a theater room at the Golden Star Austintown Cinema multiplex in Austintown. It drew a capacity crowd of about 70.

“The first year was great but it wasn’t in Youngstown,” Michael says. “I’m excited to move it there because it’s all about celebrating Youngstown, and its local businesses and restaurants. We’re telling [participants and attendees] about all the cool places to check out before the festival and afterward.”

Melanie Clarke-Penella, special events coordinator for the city of Youngstown, says the festival will benefit fans, filmmakers and downtown businesses.

“Everyone loves movies,” Clarke-Penella says. “A film fest is a great way to meet people and experience first looks at films before they hit the theaters and streaming services. It’s a great night out.”

Filmmakers use film festivals to garner attention for their work, she says.

“Also, there are so many delicious options for lunch and dinner downtown,” she points out. “During breaks, pass holders can leave the Tyler and venture out for a bite to eat.”


Originally, the festival was to take place on an upstairs floor of the Knox Building, 110 W. Federal St., downtown. The Federal bar and restaurant is on the ground floor of that building.

But because the entire block is closed to traffic due to street reconstruction, the festival team moved it to the ballroom on the second floor of the Tyler, 325 W. Federal St., just a few blocks away.

With a seating capacity of 200, the Tyler location holds considerably more than last year’s venue. Parking will be free in the lot surrounding the building.

Films will be shown on two 11-foot-wide screens that will be side-by-side. The same film will be shown simultaneously on both. A one-day pass for either day is $30, and a two-day pass is $50. For tickets and information, go to

A panel of expert judges will give 15 awards in the following categories: Micro-budget film (under $1,000 total production cost), short film (running time under 45 minutes), feature film, first-time filmmaker, documentary, LGBTQ+, animated, director, actor, actress, cinematography, screenplay, international, trailer, and Youngstown-area film.

“The Youngstown-area film award goes back to our goal of supporting the local community,” Michael says. “It was free to enter in this category.”

To be eligible, the film had to be shot in the Mahoning Valley. The submissions for this year include the full-length films “Find Them” (directed by Clarke-Penella (who is also a filmmaker) and Jess Byrd, and written by Clarke-Penella and Kristina Lucarell; “Angel Mine” (directed by Josh Menning, and written by Christina Sussmann); and also the music video for “Bugs” by rock band The Vindys (directed by Peter-John Campbell); and the short films “Reflection” and “The Baby Doll Dance.”

Michael spread the word about the festival on the website, which is the world’s largest film submission website and is used by all of the major film festivals. The YFF’s presence on the site gives the event – and the city – a presence in the global film marketplace.

Filmgoers likely won’t have to wait a full year for the  next YFF. “We hope to start doing two per year, with the next one being in March,” Michael says.

A New Jersey native, Michael lived in several states before he and his wife, who is a northeastern Ohio native, settled in the Youngstown area in 2021.

Michael had been planning to launch a film festival for years. He enjoys the process of poring through the submissions and giving feedback while enjoying each film.

“Some of the films this year are fantastic and have a pretty good-sized budget for an indie film,” he says. “Some have no budget at all but are so creative and smart… That’s why I love the micro- budget category for films made for less than $1,000. We have some in that category that you would not believe were made with that budget.”


One of the five feature-length films that will be screened at the YFF is “Cul-de-Sac,” a crime thriller starring Makayla McIntosh, a Newton Falls native who now lives in Vancouver, Canada.

The 50-minute film, written and directed by Jerry Decker of New York and shot in that city’s Brooklyn borough, is about a woman who is dying of cancer. To raise money for her medical treatment, the woman and her husband kidnap a girl with down’s syndrome and hold her for ransom.

“It’s dark,” McIntosh says. “I’m not going to sugarcoat that. It ultimately asks, ‘What is the value of human life?’ and ‘How do we equate value?’ and ‘When do we decide that one life has more value than another life?’

“It makes [the viewer] ask that question. You can’t escape the gravity of it.”

Earlier this year, “Cul-de-Sac” was selected for the Brooklyn Film Festival.

Jacque Laon Horton II, Cat Yudain and Makayla McIntosh, right, in a scene from the film “Cul-De-Sac.” McIntosh is a Newton Falls native.

McIntosh says the YFF, like all indie film festivals, provides an opportunity for local residents to broaden their perspective.

“There are films from China and France, and other places that are expensive to travel to,” she says. “We’ve been in the age of Marvel movies, and Star Wars, and other franchises with millions of dollars for marketing. The YFF is an opportunity to have a film festival in our own backyard that will bring in films from all over the world, films in which people may find themselves more represented [than superhero films].”

While growing up in the Mahoning Valley, McIntosh performed in shows at the Youngstown Playhouse, Kent-Trumbull Theater and Millennial Theatre Company. She also took dance and singing lessons.

After high school, she went to Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn., and later spent five years doing shows at regional professional theaters, with Disney Cruise Lines, and in a touring production of “A Chorus Line.”

A serious bicycle accident that required surgery shifted the course of her career. “As a dancer, it was devastating,” she says.

McIntosh moved back to Ohio for a couple years, where she underwent intensive physical rehabilitation.

“I came out of that period realizing that I wanted to create some more, but wasn’t sure what,” she says.

She moved back to New York in 2020 just before the pandemic started, then moved with her husband to Vancouver, where she dived into filmmaking as an actor, director, writer and producer.

Her most recent films include acting roles in “Madar,” which will be released in the near future, and “Shredded,” which is in the production phase.


Each YFF ticketholder will receive a lanyard that allows the bearer to watch as many films as they want and come and go as they wish.

Each day will begin with a red carpet session for filmmakers and actors from noon to 1 p.m.

The screening of films, followed by question-and-answer sessions with the audience, will take place from 1:30-8 p.m. The day will end with an awards ceremony.

Here is the schedule of films, with running time in parentheses:


  • “Just Be Cool” (7:42)
  • “And What If I Am”? (15:59)
  • “Trich” (4:17)
  • “What Are the Odds” (8:00)
  • “Bugs” (The Vindys music video) (3:41)
  • “Amongst the Myrtle Trees” (5:33)
  • “Rulebook” (9:31)
  • “Two Chairs” (27:00)

BREAK (10 minutes)

  • “Late Checkout” (1 hour, 10 minutes)

BREAK (10 minutes)

  • “Jour de Chance” (France) (2:20)
  • “Invisible Lines” (Iran) (22:09)
  • “Cliff” (China) (11:09)
  • “Adieu Gaston” (France) (15:00)
  • “Out and About” (1 hour, 23 minutes)

BREAK (one hour)

  • “The Baby Doll Dance” (12:06)
  • “Pygmalion” (8:59)
  • “The Water’s Edge” (5:34)
  • “Don’t Get Caught” (4:37)
  • “Reflection” (3:13)
  • “I Walk with Ghosts” (7:44)
  • “Frame Fumble” (3:34)
  • “Unnamed” (13:00)



  •      “Angel Mine” (1 hour, 30 minutes)

BREAK (10 minutes)

  • “The Prince’s Dilemma” (5:00)
  • “Bonding” (13:21)
  • “At Lucy’s Last Night” (17:00)
  • “La La Lori” (Canada) (6:05)
  • “All for Naught” (5:50)
  • “The Transmission” (7:30)
  • “Playing Life” (14:41)

BREAK (10 minutes)

  • “Cul-De-Sac” (48 minutes)

BREAK (10 minutes)

  • “The Life of Two Elderly People” (20:00)
  • “Getting Stable” (41:23)
  • “Trans-Formation” (8:25)

BREAK (one hour)

  • “Find Them” (one hour, 12 minutes)


Pictured at top: Adam Michael is the festival director.