It Takes a Hero to Build a Monument

March 27, 2015   |   posted by Lara Klaberin Filmmakers

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March 5, 2009, was a fateful day for a small post-Communist town in Serbia. Marko is longing to regain the love of his wife who has promised him a divorce. But, with the timely announcement of Michael Jackson’s comeback tour, Marko decides the best way to rejuvenate his town, and his marriage, is to erect a monument as a tribute to the pop star right in the town’s Square. Typical win-her-back strategy.

Why the King of Pop? According to Darko Lungolov, director of “Monument to Michael Jackson,” it has less to do with taste in music and more in controversy.

“Growing up, he was always too disco for me,” Lungolove says of Jackson. “But I needed a figure that would start some conflict and needed to be a pop icon and thought nobody better than Michael Jackson.”

Lungolov was born in Serbia but fled to the United States in 1991 during the former Yugoslavia’s civil wars. What may seem to be a bizarre approach to revitalizing your hometown and wooing your wife, the gesture may not be as far-fetched for Serbian natives.

“Monument to Michael Jackson” is a comedy inspired by [a] bizarre trend happening recently in small towns of Serbia and Balkans: people building monuments to Hollywood and pop-icons (Rocky, Tarzan, Bruce Lee…),” says Lungolov.

The quirky comedy sheds light on a struggling Serbia who has suffered several civil wars and changed its identity numerous times in the last two decades.

“We’re in a moment where we don’t know who the real heroes are.” In turn, honoring figures of Hollywood feels more comfortable.

Erecting a monument, even in the movies, is no easy feat. When you add a helicopter flyover, that adds its own challenges.

“The fake monument was not secured well and when we flew over with the helicopter, it knocked it down,” Lungolov recalls. “The final scene took six days to complete, and it’s on screen four [to] six minutes.”

With a little humor and a big heart, Marko, the true hero of this story, is determined to pay homage to the pop legend and bring a little pride home along the way.

“Marko, an optimistic daydreamer, has a simple plan: he wants to breathe life into his dying Serbian hometown,” says Lungolov.

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Related Screenings:
03/26/15 @ 9:20 AM – Monument to Michael Jackson
03/27/15 @ 6:10 PM – Monument to Michael Jackson
03/28/15 @ 9:25 AM – Monument to Michael Jackson

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These Dancing Queens, Kings Hip Hop Across the Globe and into Your Hearts

March 27, 2015   |   posted by Lara Klaberin Filmmakers

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We all know the saying, “age is just a number.” But will you still be saying that when you are 95 years old? Perhaps. But will you be living it from a stage in Las Vegas while getting ready to perform in the finals of the World Hip Hop Dance Championship? Most likely not.

Then live vicariously through 95-year-old Maynie and her gal pals Kara, 94, and Terri, 93. Join them and the rest of their dance troupe as they travel from Waiheke Island, New Zealand, to Vegas and learn how to hip hop in "Hip Hop-eration."

Early in the schedule, the group performed at the regional/national Hip Hop Championships in Auckland, New Zealand, for the first time in public. The crew was anxious about how the dancers would be received by the public.

“There was every chance that they may be laughed at, and not taken seriously,” says Filmmaker Bryn Evans. “The performance was incredible, and when the group did their final dance movement, the audience went wild. This was the moment I knew we had a great story.”

Evans followed the group during rehearsals, their fundraising and recruiting efforts, and their performances. Although Evans has heard of lots of groups doing interesting things in New Zealand, hip hop was not one of them.

"But the strength of this story was also the incredible individuals that were part of the group," he says.

At first, though, it took some time for the dancers to relax in front of the cameras and stop ‘acting’ in front of the crew. Evans says that they thought that "everything that was said in front of the camera was going to be in the film."

In fact, the first time the entire group and crew went to see the film together, a number of members said "that they had had sleepless nights" due to something they had said --up to eight months earlier -- on camera.

"They were certain that every word spoken was going to be recorded in the film," laughs Evans. "Needless to say after the first screening, which was terrifying for me, everyone exploded with joy and happiness."

Evans is looking forward to visiting Cleveland for the first time and screening at the CIFF. It was word of mouth that got him here. A friend who had a film screened at the festival a couple of years ago told him that this was "a very enjoyable festival to attend." That made the decision easy for Evans.

Evans, who hopes to making films way into his 90s, believes that everyone should be "empowered with the simple right to grow old with dignity and respect."

"'Hip Hop-eration' shows us that no matter what your age, we can continue to have goals and ambition in our lives and still have a lot of fun along the way," he says.

--Anne M. DiTeodoro

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Related Screenings:
03/27/15 @ 5:30 PM – Hip Hop-eration
03/29/15 @ 1:50 PM – Hip Hop-eration

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Inspired by History

March 27, 2015   |   posted by Lara Klaberin Filmmakers

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Story is always what leads Kyle Rideout and Josh Epstein toward what they choose to work on.

For their first feature film, “Eadweard,” the two friends sensed that Eadweard Muybridge was “one of those historical figures, who never quite got his due.”

“We were shocked that the story has never been made into a feature film. He is the godfather of cinema, but his obsessions got the best of him,” Rideout says.

The two men started writing the script while touring with a successful stage production of “Studies in Motion,” a play about Muybridge’s life.

They say their passion came directly from living inside Muybridge’s story. According to Rideout, they were intrigued by Muybridge’s life and wanted to dig deeper.

In the early days of the script, Rideout and Epstein travelled to Philadelphia, where Muybridge originally photographed his motion study series, to learn more about the character. Fast forward to being on the set where they had goats, pigs, dogs, horses, and “a lot of nude people.”

“The real Eadweard took photos that very few people in his time were able to do. We had this constantly in our minds and were so inspired as we walked and worked in Eadweard’s dusty boots,” Rideout says.

Rideout says the thing that kept him up at night the most while making this film was thinking about how to create Muybridge’s full white beard so the details would look realistic in ultra-high definition. Luckily, Michael Eklund, who plays the lead role, “graciously volunteered to grow a glorious beard and let us bleach it white.”

While this is their first feature film together, Rideout and Epstein have previously produced several award-winning shorts together.

With this experience in hand, the two were willing to challenge convention and make a period indie for their first feature because they felt the story wouldn’t be told if they waited. They credit their crew in Vancouver and the theater company they grew up with for helping them pull it off.

To make the project happen on the budget they had, they said they knew they had to make it fun.

“Partnerships only work well if you challenge each other to be better, to work harder, achieve more,” according to Rideout. He says the two constantly try to outwork each other while working towards the same goal.

Lisa Curland

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Related Screenings:
03/26/15 @ 4:25 PM – Eadweard
03/27/15 @ 6:00 PM – Eadweard
03/29/15 @ 12:00 PM – Eadweard

Related Events:
03/27/15 @ 6:00 PM – Cleveland Museum of Art Gartner Auditorium

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Earning Respect: Artist to Artist

March 27, 2015   |   posted by Lara Klaberin Filmmakers

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Old rock music—Aerosmith and early Metallica specifically—brought filmmaker Nick Cavalier and Cleveland artist Derek Hess together. It was how Cavalier got the gifted, but very private, artist to open up.

Hess, says Cavalier, is a very interesting and complex guy, but a difficult interview. “He doesn’t really open up too easy,” Cavalier explains. “So getting to know him as a friend first was super important.”

Cavalier, a Solon, Ohio, native and Hess fan since the age of 14, was surprised that no one else had approached the artist about a film.

He emailed Hess through his website, via Marty Geramita, Hess’s manager.

“I really had no expectation that they would even get back to me,” says Cavalier.

Cavalier wanted to tell the story of this brilliant, but troubled, artist. Hess—who started out drawing flyers for concerts at the Euclid Tavern and now has his art displayed at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum and the Louvre—struggled with mental health issues and addiction.

“I did not want to present those things in a bad light,” says Cavalier. “At the same time, we absolutely need to expose that, because that, in my opinion, is where his strength lies as an artist.”

Cavalier knows what it’s like being the troubled kid. He could draw, too. And it was art that “straightened” him out, he says.

“Being bipolar myself, I can speak for Derek and say we feel everything more intensely than normal people,” says Cavalier. “... We have both been through similar life challenges that shaped us.”

That common ground was what earned Hess’s respect. “He knew I was coming from a genuine place, not an exploitive one,” says Cavalier.

The filmmaker, who is now based out of Los Angeles, will be back in Cleveland on his birthday, no less, for the world premiere of his first feature film, “Forced Perspective.”

“Cleveland means a lot to me,” he says. “This is an exciting time in my life, and I feel now more than ever before, Cleveland ‘has my back.’”

Anne M. DiTeodoro

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Related Screenings:
03/27/15 @ 8:30 PM – Forced Perspective
03/28/15 @ 6:30 PM – Forced Perspective

Related Events:
03/27/15 @ 6:00 PM – Cleveland Museum of Art Gartner Auditorium

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An International Producer With Cleveland Roots

March 26, 2015   |   posted by Lara Klaberin Filmmakers

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Producer Jim Stark’s latest film, “Mirage,” may be set in Hungary, but his Cleveland connections run deep.

“I first fell in love with movies watching films by European directors like Fellini and Bergman at the old Heights Art Theater,” he says. Part of him dreamed of making films that powerful, but somehow, law school beckoned instead. That is, until he met another special Cleveland connection: Jim Jarmusch. The rest is synergy.

“Stranger Than Paradise,” Jarmusch’s second film and Stark’s first foray into filmmaking, was partly shot in the Cleveland area. Stark’s and Jarmusch’s families housed the crew for the shoot, and Stark’s 86-year-old grandmother starred as “Aunt Lotte.”

“If I hadn’t done that film with Jim,” he admits, “I would probably still be practicing law.” Instead, he found a new outlet for his creative talents.

Most people, when they think of film producers, imagine men in suits who hold the purse strings and interfere with directors’ creative visions, but the truth is far different. Often, a producer is a primary source of a film’s creative vision.

“A producer like me,” he explains, “has to choose and shape the idea and story of the film, helps to pick the cast and crew, is active in the film’s final form (how it is edited) and then strategizes the way the film goes out into the world . . . People think filmmaking is all about the weeks that a film is shooting. In fact, from first idea to release online or home video, an independent producer like me works on a film for at least three or four years, and I have done films that took a decade to finish.”

Stark became a regular collaborator with Jarmusch, producing iconic films like “Mystery Train” and “Night on Earth.”

“The films I did with Jim had a strong visual esthetic, a deadpan sense of humor, and small budgets,” he says. “Most of the films I have done since then have had the same characteristics.”

Those characteristics got the attention of Hungarian director Szabolcs Hajdu, who approached him when he was on the jury of Romania’s Transilvanian Film Festival. Hajdu wanted to dramatize the plight of cattle ranchers in the Hungarian puszta, many of whom are exploited as serfs by unscrupulous cartels that rose in the wake of the Iron Curtain’s fall.

Initially, Hajdu had tried to make a documentary about the situation, but had to abandon the project after one of the puszta farm bosses threatened to kill him. Now he had decided to make a narrative feature film, but with a twist: “he decided he would actually prefer to tell the story in the form of a classic Western.” The idea appealed to Stark. “I liked him, and thought it was a crazy idea, so I agreed to do it.”

Stark’s filmmaking projects take him around the world. He is finishing production on several films in Mexico, and recently took a turn in front of the camera as “a gonzo American journalist in a Japanese film called ‘The Shell Collector.’” But his films keep bringing him back to Cleveland, and the CIFF, and it’s always a special journey. “These days, I seem to find new things to like about Cleveland every time I come to visit.”

— Lara Klaber

PDF  Download Related PDF [1.3 MB]

Related Screenings:
03/26/15 @ 7:00 PM – Mirage
03/27/15 @ 11:45 AM – Mirage

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