Cleveland International Film Festival } March 29 – April 9, 2017

Finding Big Solutions in Tiny Places

April 03, 2016   |   posted by Lara Klaber in Filmmakers


When you think of environmental issues, you probably think on a large scale, whether contemplating superfund sites or global climate change. But, as “In Search of Balance” director Adam Pfleghaar recently discovered, thinking on a microscopic scale is equally important. In the process, he found a whole new way to look at the world.

“[Production partner Jim] Lee had recently spent some time in Hawaii and was introduced to a special type of farming practice from Korea that uses microorganisms,” Pfleghaar recalls.

“But what interested him even more was the philosophy and world view of this type of farming practice.”

It was a philosophy that stressed the interconnection between the microscopic and macroscopic worlds, one that challenged the standard Western understanding of microbes. In fact, this coincided with new discoveries in microbiotics and trends in the use of probiotics. “The old way of thinking,” he explains, “that germs and microbes are our enemy to be sterilized or killed at every cost, was being turned on its head.”

Pfleghaar traveled to Hawaii to meet the farmers and was soon captivated. “What really fascinated us, aside from meeting such insanely intelligent and passionate farmers, was this mysterious, hidden world of microorganisms that are everywhere and crucially important to almost everything in life,” he recalls.

He and Lee developed the idea from there, consulting with numerous experts to track the interconnections between microbes, human health, and environmental health. The result is a work that explores how even tiny changes can have monumental impacts, and empowers watchers to become agents of change. “I hope audiences walk away reinvigorated about their health, the innumerable interconnections to nature, and finding that balance within their lives,” he says.

Pfleghaar’s interest in documentaries, unsurprisingly, is fueled by his feeling that much mainstream entertainment is essentially the intellectual equivalent of junk food. “It seems to me that many movies today have all the entertainment, but very little substance,” he says. “In a way, it’s kind of like fast food. What sells is fat, sugar, and salt because it tastes good, but it has no nutrition. With movies it’s similar. What sells is sensationalism, sex, and violence, but the movies have very little substance beyond entertainment.”

While he does feel that entertainment has value, he says, “Our goal is to make movies that have layers, if you want to go deeper into the philosophical and spiritual underpinnings you can, and hopefully you walk away from the movie learning something new or seeing the world a little differently.”

Lara Klaber
Photo by Diana Lee Hlywiak
"Clevelanders are such supportive and enthusiastic cinephiles like nowhere else I’ve been,” Adam Pfleghaar gushes. “CIFF is truly one of my favorite film festivals on every level.”

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Related Screenings:
04/01/16 @ 4:10 PM – In Search of Balance
04/02/16 @ 2:40 PM – In Search of Balance
04/03/16 @ 8:15 PM – In Search of Balance

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Shot in Cleveland: Why eclectic options are attracting filmmakers to the region

April 03, 2016   |   posted by Lara Klaber in Filmmakers


A pregnant director. A long writing process. A pricey film. “My Blind Brother” is Sophie Goodhart’s feature that had its own behind-the-scenes drama before the shooting even began.

Speaking of shooting, it was filmed in several locations around Cleveland. Locals may recognize portions of Tremont, Rocky River, Lakewood, Olmsted Falls, Hinckley, Brook Park, and North Royalton.

“Without Ohio there would be no movie,” says Goodhart. “… You have so many different options here. I loved it. And because of the changeable weather, you can shoot any season on any given day!”

Location aside, she also thought the locally based crew was “some of the best” and the people are “really welcoming.”
The feature grew out of a short by the same name that Goodhart wrote about sibling rivalry. She says, “It’s a personal story about my sister and me … a delicious melting pot of shame, resentment, and guilt.”

Goodhart’s short screened at many festivals,and was nominated for a Palme D’Or at Cannes and shortlisted for an Academy Award. After that, she “put the idea to bed,” she says.

Some time later, she was writing something about the Jenny Slate character. (In the story, Slate’s boyfriend is killed just after she dumps him.) Goodhart realized that Slate’s story would fit perfectly into a story about two brothers.

However, she notes, “it took me a while to write ... then I tried to find money.” And, she admits, “It was not a cheap story to film.”

Goodhart adds, “I really needed to find a great, brave producer.”

Enter Tyler Davidson, producer from Ohio-based Low Spark Films, who many Cleveland International Film Festival patrons will recognize from “The Kings of Summer” (2013 CIFF 37 Opening Night) and “Swedish Auto” (2007 CIFF 31 Opening Night). He was all in from the beginning.

“I like to be on set every day, ideally sitting at the monitor with the director, in case they need a sounding board,” says Davidson. He raves about the “mutual respect and trust” that existed between him and Goodhart. “It made for one of the best filmmaking experiences of my career,” he says.

Goodhart sends the love right back: “It was great collaborating on this with him.”

Anne M. DiTeodoro

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Related Screenings:
04/02/16 @ 7:00 PM – My Blind Brother
04/03/16 @ 2:15 PM – My Blind Brother

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Brave Girls with Strong Voices

April 02, 2016   |   posted by Lara Klaber in Filmmakers


A quiet smile from a young girl named Fon captivated the filmmakers. What they heard was “unimaginable,” says Josie Swantek Heitz, co-director of “The Wrong Light.”

Fon was sold by her parents at age nine, forced to work in a brothel until Mickey Choothesa came to her rescue when she was 12.

Choothesa is the founder of Children’s Organization of Southeast Asia (COSA), a non-profit organization providing shelter and education to at-risk girls involved in the sex trade in Thailand.

Susan MacLaury, the film’s producer, heard about Choothesa and his organization from a young educator/activist, who had just returned from Thailand after two years as a Fulbright Scholar where she investigated the country’s sex industry.

“We became fascinated by the idea of looking at trafficking from the perspective of impoverished parents,” MacLaury says. Swantek Heitz and co-director Dave Adams became part of the project and were introduced to Choothesa, “who was very interested in being part of the documentary we proposed,” MacLaury says.

Two other girls, Eye and Gan, soon became subjects they decided to profile in the film. The filmmakers spent most of their first month in Thailand “just trying to get to know the girls at Mickey’s shelter and building the trust that is crucial when sharing someone’s life story,” says Swantek Heitz.

It wasn’t until the filmmakers returned to the US and began working with a translator in post-production that they began to notice “significant discrepancies” in the material they were actually getting during their interviews and the translations Choothesa, as their interpreter, was giving them.

They still had no direct testimony from the girls regarding what they had endured prior to arriving at COSA. It was back to Thailand and, this time, the filmmakers immersed themselves at the COSA shelter and hired their own interpreter.

They began to find that Choothesa was lying to them, and they knew that the truth would only come from the girls. Talking with the girls, without him, was difficult.

“We were in a constant state of anxiety after we started to realize what was going on,” says Adams.

Slowly, the filmmakers were gaining the girls’ trust and beginning to “witness their strength, to see them want to speak out against the untruths, despite knowing it could mean losing their free education, their shelter at COSA,” says Swantek Heitz.

They specifically noted that Eye emerged “as a strong young woman,” says Swantek Heitz. “She had almost avoided us from the start, but over time, became our strongest and most willing participant. She wanted to be heard.”

That’s exactly what the filmmakers set out to do—“tell a story about brave girls with strong voices,” says Adams. “I hope that people walk away from the film feeling positive about where the girls are now.”

—Anne M. DiTeodoro

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Related Screenings:
04/02/16 @ 6:15 PM – The Wrong Light
04/03/16 @ 2:00 PM – The Wrong Light

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Rock Returns to Its Roots

April 02, 2016   |   posted by Lara Klaber in The Daily


Classic rock. Rock and roll. Alternative rock. Grunge. Heavy metal. Music lovers define each a little differently or even use them interchangeably. And, as artists continue to transform their sound, the lines continue to blur. Toronto’s Daniel Sarkissian sets out to discover the foundation, evolution, and future of “classic rock.”

“I love the traditional definition of classic rock—music of the 1960s and 1970s era,” says Sarkissian. “When classic rock radio stations began rebranding a few years ago, I wanted to see what the rock world thought about it.”

At just 24 years old, equipped with a lean budget and plenty of ambition, he set out to interview a wide range of musicians, radio DJs, and other key influencers of the classic rock genre. Meeting with music legends face-to-face provided some surreal moments.

“I would set up, ask the questions, run the audio, and film all on my own,” says Sarkissian. “Marc Canter, the photographer for Guns n’ Roses, started talking about things he did with Slash when they were 12 years old. [Even though] he never played an instrument, he was often considered the sixth member of the band.”

Other notable interviews included the guitarist from Twisted Sister and Country Joe McDonald, often known as the face of Woodstock. He was also the ex-boyfriend of Janis Joplin, a fact Sarkissian regrettably learned after the interview.

Although classic rock is frequently deemed a baby boomer’s soundtrack, today’s generation is still showing their appreciation for it. As a lover of heavy blues-based rock and roll himself, Sarkissian feels confident the genre is here to stay.

“Rock and roll as a whole is strong, and heavy metal is stronger now than it was 30 years ago,” states Sarkissian. “Hard rock is struggling in the mainstream, but I expect it will have resurgence in the next five years. I don’t think classic rock will ever die.”

Of course, radio audiences have Cleveland’s M105 FM radio station to thank for coining the term “classic rock” in 1980 that helped define the genre across the country for years to come. It’s only fitting to bring a film dedicated to the history and life cycle of classic rock back to its hometown.

“I’m over the moon that the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum is the community partner of this film,” beams Sarkissian. “Cleveland is the home of classic rock as far as I’m concerned.”

Thanks for the props. We couldn’t agree with you more.

—Amy Brown

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Related Screenings:
04/02/16 @ 4:40 PM – What Is Classic Rock?
04/03/16 @ 9:15 PM – What Is Classic Rock?

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Join Jessica Cox and Filmmaker Nick Spark on an Inspiring Journey

April 02, 2016   |   posted by Lara Klaber in Filmmakers


Nick Spark first heard about Jessica Cox when he saw a brief segment about her in a documentary that a friend was making.

“I had not really considered working with her—I just wanted to meet her,” Spark says. “My whole life I've been passionate about meeting interesting individuals.”

The two met when she was in South Pasadena to plan her wedding. When Spark arrived for a visit, he “was immediately impressed by how she carried herself.”

Cox was born without arms and doing everything with her feet comes naturally to her, Spark explains. But still “it was hard not to be surprised by the sight of her opening the front door with her foot, or amazed by watching her sip a cup of tea, raised to her lips by her toes.”

At first he didn’t quite know what to say, so he broke the ice by asking her about her upcoming wedding. But she didn’t want to talk about the typical bride-to-be concerns, instead she was focused on the fact that three young girls who had been born with limb differences like hers were invited to the wedding. Cox told him that she hoped that being a witness to her wedding would be inspiring to these girls.

She told Spark: "If I had been able to see someone like me get married when I was a child, it would have made a tremendous difference."

After he heard that, he just “dived in” convincing Cox that he needed to film the wedding and the girls’ reactions.

“I had no idea that was the beginning of a three-year journey that would take me to Ethiopia, the Philippines, and the halls of the U.S Senate, following Jessica and her husband,” says Spark.

Along the way of that journey, Spark met more interesting people, several at the screenings of “Right Footed,” his documentary about Cox. One of his favorite memories was when he met a child in the audience who was born with only one hand.

“To see his face when he came out of the theater, absolutely beaming and expressing that he'd like to be a pilot like Jessica Cox, was a thrilling moment for me,” recounts Spark.

Spark went on to say that this child’s parents were also “profoundly affected, which is important.”

As Jessica explained to Spark many times, “if her parents did not believe that everything was possible for her, she would never have had the opportunity to learn to swim, or take Taekwondo lessons—she's a double black belt—or so many other things.”

Meeting that young boy and his family and knowing that “the film would stay with them for a long time, made me feel grateful that I'd made it,” concludes Spark.

Anne M. DiTeodoro

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Related Screenings:
04/02/16 @ 3:35 PM – Right Footed
04/03/16 @ 7:30 PM – Right Footed

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