WELCOME HOME: CIFF 40 Trailer Showcases Local Sound

April 10, 2016   |   posted by Lara Klaber in Festival Events

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The animated trailer for the 40th Cleveland International Film Festival has audiences humming along to a local band’s catchy bluegrass tune.

Honeybucket—described on the group’s website as “a whiskey-drinkin’, boot-stompin’, newgrass-playin’ trio from Cleveland, Ohio—recorded “Old High Road” on its first EP in 2013. The CIFF trailer has given the song new life, says Adam Reifsnyder, pictured above, left, Honeybucket’s guitarist who shares vocals with Cleveland Heights natives Brendan O’Malley (mandolin), center, and Abie Klein-Stefanchik (bass), right.

The song’s lyrics derived partly from a stream of consciousness, Reifsnyder says, but the chorus came from the scene in “Apollo 13” where Tom Hanks’ character talks about moonlit algae leading him home.

Jon LaGuardia of Cleveland’s Fusion Filmworks—who produced, directed, and animated “Welcome Home”—
discovered Honeybucket’s song and played it for the CIFF committee. As Reifsnyder hears it, there were some tears shed. “It’s always great when your song can move people to feel something,” he says.

Reifsnyder thinks “Old High Road” suits this year’s festival theme and trailer name, “Welcome Home.” “It’s all about making your way home despite the obstacles that arise and the joy that comes with the journey,” Reifsnyder says.

—Avinash Chak

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Real Life Shaped Filmmaker's Script

April 10, 2016   |   posted by Lara Klaber in Filmmakers

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How does something broken heal? How do you overcome loss? How do you truly get to know someone?

For director Kristin Ellingson, the more important question is, “How do you make these rather earnest sounding questions compelling and cinematic?”

She says it’s the varied and unexpected things that happen over the years—the births, deaths, coming together, and falling apart that she finds interesting. And at a time when she was exploring what it meant to have an amicable relationship with her ex, it was the final scene from Ingmar Bergman’s “Scenes from a Marriage” that sparked the idea for “Gala & Godfrey.”

“When we started shooting the film. I only had four scenes written, which is absolutely, totally the wrong way to start making a movie,” Ellingson says. “But after working as a screenwriter for years doing everything ‘by the book’—outlines, treatments, perfectly structured scripts—I was ready to do something more creative and free.”

The first scene they shot was of Godfrey dropping off his daughter at Gala’s house after they are divorced. The idea was that they would use this scene to raise money while Ellingson finished the script.

“But then the shoot went really well and Adam [Green, who plays Godfrey] and I realized that if we shot one weekend a month we could just about swing the costs ourselves,” she says.

So the team forged ahead for eight months and let whatever happened in their real lives (such as pregnancy and house sales) shape the script.

“Kind of frightening, but there were a lot of strange synchronicities and fortuitous accidents along the way that weirdly assured me we were on the right track,” Ellingson says. “And we had a cast that was completely game to work without a completed script and commit to the unorthodox schedule.”

Ellingson says that the rehearsals were “a blast—a movie unto itself as we vibrantly debated the relationship Molly [Pepper Piccirilli, who plays Gala] and Adam were depicting. In the whole humor-is-tragedy-plus-time equation, neither of these actors require a lot of time to have a laugh.”

In addition to stretching money and time, Ellingson notes that Green’s sideburns added one more challenge to making the film.

“It’s a pet peeve of Adam’s when time passes in a movie and the actor’s sideburns stay the same. We had lots of discussions about facial hair and sideburn length which—to his credit—really worked to show different time periods.”

—Lisa Curland

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Related Screenings:
04/08/16 @ 1:20 PM – Gala & Godfrey
04/09/16 @ 6:10 PM – Gala & Godfrey
04/10/16 @ 1:30 PM – Gala & Godfrey

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Performing to Fit In

April 10, 2016   |   posted by Lara Klaber in Filmmakers

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“What is the self?” That’s one of the many questions that “The Fits” director Anna Rose Holmer poses with the film. “Is identity a performance? Is it possible to truly betray one’s self?”

Based on real incidents of social contagion, “The Fits” follows the journey of Toni, a tomboy and boxer who joins her school’s dance team. Her attempts to fit in are complicated by a strange phenomenon that strikes the team, as one by one, starting with the captain, the girls begin to experience seizures. As the affliction is transformed into a rite of passage for the girls, Toni finds herself both dreading and longing for her own bout.

Holmer had become fascinated with historical cases of hysteria and social contagion, from the Strasbourg “Dancing Plague” of 1518 to the odd “twitching disorder” that afflicted a dozen upstate New York junior high school girls in 2012. “The majority of the [contemporary] episodes I learned about,” she says, “took place in tight-knit groups of girls with a strong hierarchical structure.”

Several of the cases had involved groups of cheerleaders but Holmer was drawn more to the idea of a dance troupe; she has made several dance films, including “A Ballet in Sneakers: Jerome Robbins and Opus Jazz,” which won the 2010 Emerging Visions Audience Award at South by Southwest.

While browsing links on YouTube to decide on a dance style, she found a video of Cincinnati’s Q-Kidz Junior Squad.

“From that first video clip, I knew instinctively that drill was the dance form for ‘The Fits’ that I had been looking for,” she recalls. She watched, enrapt, as the team captain’s choreography propagated outward to the other dancers, who moved as if they were a single organism. “I fell in love with drill and the Q-Kidz simultaneously,” she says. “We never considered any other team.”

All 45 girls cast in the film were members of the Q-Kidz team, and the team’s founder and director, Marquicia Jones-Woods—better known to her girls as Ms. Quicy—came on board as the film’s associate producer. Holmer gave the girls a great deal of creative leeway, allowing them to rewrite and improvise their lines to feel more natural. The bonding experience was intense.

“I lived on location for nine weeks,” she told BlackFilm.com in January, “and developing those individual relationships was very challenging but very rewarding … I learned a lot about trusting your gut and the rewards of working as a team.”

That team will be on hand this Sunday; members of the Q-Kidz are traveling from Cincinnati to Cleveland to attend the screening and perform their routines around the fountain at 12:30 p.m., so you will get a chance to see how amazing these girls are in the flesh.

—Lara Klaber

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Related Screenings:
04/09/16 @ 9:40 PM – The Fits
04/10/16 @ 2:50 PM – The Fits

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Stymied by what to watch? Call a Code Red!

April 09, 2016   |   posted by Lara Klaber in The Daily

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It’s amazing just how many choices you have at the CIFF each year. This year, we have more than 190 feature films alone—not to mention shorts, music videos, and even virtual reality experiences—for you to select from. It can get overwhelming at times.

Enter CodeRed, a Cleveland Information Technology firm that specializes in cybersecurity, application development, and artificial intelligence. Vince Salvino, the firm’s director of development, is a big film fan, so he and two of his colleagues decided to make a FilmBot. In a period of two days, they coded their little AI film buff into existence and built a page for it.

“FilmBot uses artificial intelligence techniques, such as natural language processing, to analyze the descriptions of films,” Salvino explains, “and suggest similar films at the [festival]. Filmbot also analyzes the overall mood or ‘feel’ of a film, and rates it on a scale from ‘Very Dark’ to ‘Very Upbeat.’”

So if you’re trying to decide on a film for this weekend, you might want to see what FilmBot suggests! It’s up and running on https://ciff.coderedcorp.com/, or you can follow @CIFFbot on Twitter.

Lara Klaber

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A Horror Veteran's Guide to Comedy

April 09, 2016   |   posted by Lara Klaber in Filmmakers

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When “A Beginner’s Guide to Snuff” director Mitchell Altieri first became part of the Butcher Brothers, the name was half a gag and half self-protection.

He and his production partner, Phil Flores, had been developing portfolios of drama and comedy, and were a little worried that their first foray into hardcore horror would flop and damage their reputations. They coined the tongue-in-cheek pseudonym, only to have their film, “The Hamiltons” (2006), turn into a phenomenon and that name become hard currency.

A decade later, though, Altieri wanted to mix things up a little. When Cory Knauf initially approached him to direct a movie about two would-be filmmakers who kidnap an actress to star in their cinéma vérité horror film, he declined.

“The original concept was kind of a hardcore horror film about desperation,” he recalls. “I just didn’t want to do anything that was too mean-spirited, that was kind of torture porn.”

He and Flores had already begun to return to a dramatic vein with “Holy Ghost People” (2013), and while he didn’t have an aversion to hardcore horror, he wanted to stretch out.

Knauf came back to him again, asking him what it would take to get him to direct the film.

“I told him, ‘I want it to be a comedy, and I want the lead actress to kick ass,’” he explains. “The ultimate goal was to see the female character win.”

He didn’t want the heroine to be just another Final Girl, a common enough trope in horror films. He wanted to turn things completely on their heads.

“The gratuitous scenes,” he reveals, “are always toward the guys.” He recalls his actors asking him why they had to be scantily clad so much, while the actresses snickered in the background at the role reversal.

The crew, itself, had an even balance of men and women on it, something that he recalls helped keep the story from becoming too heavy-handed or veering from comic to preachy. It was also one of the most light-hearted shoots he had ever done. “We would just laugh from the moment we got there to the moment we went home,” he says.

His Friday screening at the CIFF, at 1:40 p.m., was new territory for him, too. “Usually we play late at night,” he observes. The audiences are normally younger, and less sober, than the crowd that gathered in the theater. But the film still scored. “They went nuts for it! It was one of the best screenings we’ve had.”

Altieri will be in town until Monday, and is relishing his stay and looking forward to his next screenings. “This is my first time at the CIFF, and I want to take it all in.”

Lara Klaber

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Related Screenings:
04/08/16 @ 1:40 PM – A Beginner's Guide to Snuff
04/09/16 @ 11:20 PM – A Beginner's Guide to Snuff
04/10/16 @ 4:00 PM – A Beginner's Guide to Snuff

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