Stairway to Inspiration

March 19, 2015   |   posted by Lara Klaber in Filmmakers

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It began as a challenge that Isaac Ezban, director of “The Incident,” and his production partner Salomon Askenazi set for each other: the “Clip of the Week.” Every week, one of them would have to make a one- to two-minute short film clip.

“We took turns,” Ezban remembers. “I did one week, Salomon did one week, and we ended up doing this for one full year, 50 short films, releasing them every Sunday to about 8,000 people online. . . they all have very bad quality, but they served their purpose: to increase our creativity and production and directing skills, by challenging us to do one short film every week.”

In 2009, the duo changed up their game to the “Short of the Month,” employing “a proper crew and proper actors.” Entering those shorts in film festivals put them on the map. Ezban’s short film, “Nasty Stuff,” showed in 30 international film festivals and was called “an enigmatic and potent film” by Guillermo del Toro (“Pan’s Labyrinth”).

From there, “Movie of the Year” naturally followed, and the duo set their sights on feature films. Ezban produced Askenazi’s “Ocean Blues”… and then it was his turn to direct.

The result was Ezban’s film, “The Incident,” which interlocks two settings and narratives, one set in a repeating staircase and one on an endless stretch of open road. The inspiration for the film came from two sources as well.

“Every time my family had Shabbat dinner at my Grandma’s house on Friday night,” he says, “my father always wanted to take the stairs up until the ninth floor ‘to make some exercise,’ and I remembered feeling very tired going up all those stairs and thinking: what would happen if suddenly after the ninth floor, the first floor would start again?”

The idea stuck with him, but didn’t come together until he saw a picture in an enigmatic book called The Mysteries of Mister Burdick.

“I discovered one of the pictures that showed a couple of boys in front of a long road and thought: what if I made a movie about people who spent their entire lives walking down one road? Then, suddenly it all clicked.”

Ezban takes inspiration from his favorite genres: intellectual, metaphysical, and psychological sci fi and horror. He’s a huge fan of the TV show “Lost,” which led him to include several Easter egg references in “The Incident.”

Ezban likes to keep his audience guessing while exploring real human emotion in the process.

“I like to talk about what I fear, what society fears, what most people fear,” he says. “Also, I like to try to do entertaining stories, and stories that have a twist every few minutes so that its audiences will never fully understand what’s going on until the very end . . . the kind of stories I love to see as an audience, so those are the ones I try to make as a director.”

Lara Klaber

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Related Screenings:
03/19/15 @ 4:05 PM – The Incident
03/20/15 @ 11:35 PM – The Incident

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Bringing the Laughs Home to Cleveland

March 19, 2015   |   posted by Lara Klaber in Filmmakers

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Lance Kinsey knows his way around a good laugh. The Second City veteran, who grew up in Chagrin Falls, has performed onstage and onscreen with many of Hollywood’s comedy A-Listers; some may even recognize him as Lt. Proctor from the “Police Academy” series. Now he is bringing his directorial debut, “All-Stars,” home to Cleveland audiences.

The film follows the adventures and misadventures of a girls’ softball league as its members vie for positions on the end-of-season all-star team. Kinsey, who coached his own daughter at softball, drew from personal experience to populate his story with an eccentric cast.

“The parents, coaches, umpires, and volunteers throughout were such characters that I always felt they were great characters to write about,” he says. “There really isn’t a lot of exaggeration.”

Character is a driving force for Kinsey. “The funniest stuff springs from character,” he says. “Don’t get me wrong; punch lines can be very funny. But they are always funnier to me when they are informed by character.”

His actors, many of them members of Second City and Groundlings, embraced his philosophy.

“There can be a tendency in sketch comedy to create a caricature rather than a full-blown character when you’re working in three- or four-minute increments . . . But I didn’t want caricatures in the movie. I wanted real people. And the actors in the cast are so good that they were all on board with that immediately, and it shows.”

That authenticity is important, given that one of the inspirations for the film was a genuine tragedy: “I read about an incident at a youth hockey game where parents in the stands got into a fight and a dad was killed with the kids on the ice watching . . . this was a wake-up call that parents’ behavior could veer totally out of control and result in something that couldn’t be repaired. That was the moment I knew I wanted to make a statement.”

That statement, however, is leavened by Kinsey’s comedic tendencies. While he has performed in dramas, and loved doing them, he is adamant that “there was nothing like hearing an audience laugh.” His preference is to tell what he calls “stories of redemption and hope . . . When I’m writing for myself, I always seem to discover that there’s a happy ending… and a few laughs along the way.”

Lara Klaber
Photo by Jason Miller

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Related Screenings:
03/19/15 @ 7:00 PM – All-Stars
03/20/15 @ 5:00 PM – All-Stars
03/21/15 @ 2:45 PM – All-Stars

Related Events:
03/19/15 @ 7:00 PM – Chagrin Cinemas

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Get Ready for 12 Days of Films

March 18, 2015   |   posted by Lara Klaber in Festival Events

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"Six days … are we ready?!”

Patrick Shepherd, Associate Director, Cleveland International Film Festival, asked the crowd gathered at CIFF 39’s Preview Party at Cleveland State University’s Student Center on March 12th.

And the answer was a resounding “yes!”

They were definitely ready. Ready for the usual—great films, lively discussions, and visits from creative filmmakers. And also for the new—more films, increased cash prizes for filmmaker awards, and additional area theaters participating.

The 2015 CIFF has 193 features scheduled—a record—and 234 shorts.

CIFF Artistic Director Bill Guentzler previewed several new things to look forward to, including:

  • Increased cash awards for the Roxanne T. Mueller Audience Choice Award for Best Film and the ReelWomenDirect Award for Excellence in Directing by a Woman. Both now come with a $10,000 cash prize.
  • More neighborhood theaters, like Chagrin Cinemas and the Cleveland Museum of Art Gartner Auditorium, for a total of 11 theaters showing CIFF films in addition to Tower City Cinemas.

Filmmakers make festivals special, and this year CIFF will be hosting more than 200 of them. Two of them were in the audience— Rob Montague, director of “Long Way to the Top,” and Nick Cavalier, who directed “Forced Perspective.”

It’s going to be another great year. Are you ready?

— Anne M. DiTeodoro

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Inspired to Imagine

March 18, 2015   |   posted by Lara Klaber in Filmmakers

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Photo by Ron Wynne. L-R: Producer Rebecca Green and Director Brett Haley.

As a young 30-something writer and filmmaker, Brett Haley is drawn to stories about people and things that he knows nothing about. The screenplay for his film “I’ll See You in My Dreams,” the Opening Night film at the 39th Cleveland International Film Festival, is a romantic comedy about a generation that is 40 years his senior.

“This wasn’t a story inspired by someone I know or a family member,” he says. “I wanted to stretch myself and try to put myself in someone else’s shoes—someone who was the opposite of me. I guess that’s why I chose a 70-year-old widow!” Haley and co-writer Marc Basch “truly invented the story and characters” from imagination. When the story came to him, especially the lead character, Haley knew he had something special. His cast thinks so, too.

Tony-award winner Blythe Danner—who has been in theater, television and films for more than 50 years—was the first one sold on the script. So much so, that she agreed to come on board when the filmmaker had no money.

“It was a very generous thing of her to do,” says a grateful Haley.

In addition to Danner, the film boasts some other recognizable actors. Martin Starr, from the 2007 feature film “Knocked Up,” got a copy of the script through Haley’s producers. A few months later, Starr called Haley out of the blue. “He said he loved the script and he wanted to do the film,” says Haley. “I was blown away.”

Sam Elliott, who is best known for his deep, resonant voice and portrayal of film cowboys over the years, was Haley’s first choice for the role of “Bill.” By that time, the film had a budget to work with. It only took a few days after Elliott read the script for him to agree to be part of the cast.

“I’m a huge Sam fan,” says Haley. “I think I was very lucky, but I also think that this script resonated with the actors above all else.”

The film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year, which was at times “totally overwhelming” for Haley, who had never shown the film to a large audience.

“I was really nervous to see what the response would be,” he says. “Honestly, it was a very emotional experience.”

His emotions have now turned from nervousness to excitement, and he can’t wait to show his film in Cleveland.

“I think the CIFF audience is going to be a lot of fun,” Haley says.

— Anne M. DiTeodoro

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Related Screenings:
03/18/15 @ 7:00 PM – I'll See You in My Dreams

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