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

Worlds Colliding at the Kitchen Sink

April 02, 2016   |   posted by Lara Klaber in Filmmakers


Family is an important theme to “Five Nights in Maine’s” director Maris Curran. The film negotiates the space between two members of a fractured family in the wake of tragedy.

“By focusing the film on a relationship between a grieving husband and his estranged mother-in-law,” she explains, “there is an obvious initial disconnect. The thread that binds them has snapped. To me, the most interesting aspect of the story takes place in that space, in the room where these two people negotiate how to treat one another and determine what type of a relationship, if any, they will have.”

Curran is drawn to “stories that examine the joys and trauma of everyday life—particularly emotional stories that form the fabric of our lives, but are rarely discussed.” The grieving process definitely qualifies. “In the U.S., we treat grief as an individual experience meant to happen behind closed doors. But there is little more universal than caring for someone and losing them—even if that loss is not a death.” Exploring the different ways that her characters cope with grief, and with each other, allows her to delve into rich, authentic psyches brought vividly to life by David Oyelowo, Dianne Wiest, and Rosie Perez.

The film features riveting music by artist and musician Lonnie Holley; the music so entranced Curran that she is producing a short documentary about Holley’s work. She is also developing another narrative feature film, and plans to begin shooting it soon.

She is excited to see how audiences at the Cleveland International Film Festival react to “Five Nights in Maine.” “One of the most rewarding aspects of making this film,” she says, “has been traveling and hearing how the film resonates differently with each audience.”

There’s a lot for audiences to resonate with because Curran’s stories are, at their cores, character-driven and centered in the human heart. “I am drawn to complicated, flawed and intense characters—people who you can identify with and feel compassion for. I believe that cinema has the potential to create greater empathy in the world as an audience lives with and gains greater understanding of characters both similar and different from themselves.”

Although the film is centered in grief, it has a strong hopeful message as well. Curran notes that loss, after all, is a universally shared experience, and an opportunity for people to remember the fundamental connections that everyone shares. It is, at its core, about “loneliness, frailty and connection, and ultimately, the compassion that comes from opening your eyes to another’s pain in precisely the moment you hurt the most.”

There are few messages more universal than that.

Lara Klaber

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Related Screenings:
04/01/16 @ 7:35 PM – Five Nights in Maine
04/02/16 @ 11:20 AM – Five Nights in Maine

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Newtown: 'A Story of Collective Grief'

April 02, 2016   |   posted by Lara Klaber in Filmmakers


“Every time one of these incidents [a mass shooting] happen[s] we become more and more desensitized,” says filmmaker Kim Snyder.

However, this shooting was different. On December 14, 2012, Americans were stunned by the unimaginable massacre of 20 children between the ages of six and seven, as well as the murders of six educators. Though one would assume this is a political documentary about gun control, Snyder’s “Newtown” focuses on the aftermath of the tragedy rather than the politics of it.

“I really wanted to tell a story of collective grief,” she told Sundance earlier this year.

Snyder wanted to tell a different story than the one people were getting from the media. “I was interested in breaking through an increasing desensitization toward these horrific shootings,” she says. “And in simply documenting the widespread impact of an historic event that required bearing witness from so many who were affected.”

Her film follows the story of three parents who lost their children, Daniel, Ben, and Dylan. Rather than advocating for gun control, the documentary forces us to meet grief face to face.

“As a general observation, our culture is not always so adept at dealing with loss and grief,” she says. “The subjects of the film inform us, through their courage in sharing their stories, about how to be present in the midst of grief.”

The community plays a major character in the story as well. She explains that in telling a story, she is first drawn to character. “I became interested in how to best render community as character in an attempt to illustrate the collective trauma and fallout of such a catastrophic event years out,” she says.

Rather than ramming the audience with ideas for policy reform, “Newtown” exemplifies the courage and resilience of a small town struck by so much death. We are united in our humanity and our ability to empathize. Ben’s father, David Wheeler, says it so eloquently: “There’s a natural human desire to want to protect the rest of the world from having to go through this.”

Snyder concludes: “The desire to create change for others and legacy for your slain child does not strike me as political, but as noble.”

Molly Drake
Photo: Director Kim Snyder (left) and Nicole Hockley, the mother of one of the Newtown shooting victims, answer questions after a screening.

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Related Screenings:
03/31/16 @ 6:40 PM – Newtown
04/02/16 @ 4:45 PM – Newtown

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Gender as a Concept: A Conversation with Director Gabrielle C. Burton

April 02, 2016   |   posted by Lara Klaber in Filmmakers


Gabrielle C. Burton, director of “Kings, Queens & In-Betweens,” shares her film family dynamic and passion for highlighting Ohio’s LGBTQ community.

CIFF: Describe your experience as one of five sisters managing Five Sisters Productions.
GB: A lot of people describe filmmaking as creating a family for a production, and in our case, we are a family that grows and expands with each production.

My sisters and I were all working in different areas with different creative ventures, and we realized we could pool our talents into a company to work together on projects and support each other’s visions.

And then we kind of roped our parents into working with us on some projects—which has been really wonderful, as it’s meant sharing our lives with our parents in a fuller way than is
typically possible with life (work and family typically being separate).

CIFF: What inspired you to bring KQIB to the big screen?
GB: I went to a drag show in Columbus, and I was struck by the presentation of gender roles on stage, and the fun, upbeat way that drag shook up assumptions and presumptions. I wondered if a film had been made that presented kings, queens, and transgender performers together, discussing the issue of gender itself. So I spent a few months researching this. I knew from the start what I wanted to say—to capture a community and discuss the concept of gender in expanding ripples, like a pebble thrown into a pond ... starting with drag itself; then Ohio as a thriving place for the art form; then the concepts of gender expression, biological sex identity, and sexuality as three distinct things.

CIFF: What does it mean to you to show this film in Ohio at the CIFF’s 40th anniversary?
RW: I love CIFF, not only as one of the top film festivals in the US, but also because it’s a film lovers’ festival. I am also really excited to launch this film in Ohio—my home state and where the film was completely made. It’s a film that loves Ohio, that aims to make people think maybe a little differently about it, too. We’re not a fly-over state. We’re a top 10 LGBTQ city and an entertainment destination! KQIB can move the needle on these topics and help bring attention to the next frontier­­—that of gender itself as a concept.

CIFF: What important message would you like CIFF audiences to take away from this film?
GB: I hope audiences will come away with a more undefined sense of “categories” and “labels” on identity. As a couple of people who saw the film said, “I kept asking myself, ‘Is that a man or a woman? Are they gay or not? Are they in drag or what? And by the end of the film I realized it just doesn’t matter.” What mattered, they said, was like the last line of the film: “We’re all just humans.”

Interview by Amy Brown

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Related Screenings:
04/02/16 @ 9:15 PM – Kings, Queens & In-Betweens
04/03/16 @ 11:15 AM – Kings, Queens & In-Betweens

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Shining Light on the 'Angels' of Imperial Avenue

April 02, 2016   |   posted by Lara Klaber in Filmmakers


When the news of Cleveland’s Imperial Avenue murders broke in fall of 2009, “Unseen” director Laura Paglin was already working on another documentary—the 35th Cleveland International Film Festival’s darling “Facing Forward”—but she found herself inexorably drawn to this new story.

“It was a subject that I was trying to convince myself not to pursue as a film,” she recalls. “I really have no interest in serial killers.” Somehow, though, she kept finding excuses to go to the crime scene, including its proximity to some of the subjects of her current documentary.

Although it had been mobbed by news media for days, she arrived right after the mass shooting at Fort Hood captured the interest of the media and most of the crews had vanished.

“As I was filming, a lot of people—neighbors—came up to talk to me,” she says. “There was such a need to talk about it that I felt compelled to come back.” She still didn’t want to do a documentary about the murderer Anthony Sowell himself, but another angle intrigued her.

“A lot of people were saying, ‘Why did the women go into the house?’ ‘Why did it take so long for people to notice they were missing?’”

In fact, it seemed as if many of the women had been virtually erased from the world even before they were taken to Imperial Avenue.

Learning more about them was not easy. Many of the families were resistant and suspicious of a documentarian who had no ties to national media outlets. “It didn’t matter that I was local,” she says. “In fact, it almost hurt. I think the hardest part was just building trust.”

She was further hampered by a gag order that prevented most of the survivors and the families of victims from discussing anything until Sowell’s trial. “It wasn’t until around 2011, during the trial, that I was finally able to gain access,” says Paglin.

Paglin has always been drawn to stories of the marginalized, from the disenfranchised voters of “No Umbrella” (2006) to the inner-city school children of “Facing Forward.” The marginalization of Sowell’s victims, however, was even more extreme.

“A lot of the families had very few photos of the victims,” she reflects. “In some cases, there were no photos of the women as adults.” As a result, bringing them back to life for audiences was difficult, and even heartbreaking, as families opened up about the loved ones they had lost.“Most of what’s sad is really the lost potential,” she says.

In October of 2014 work began on a memorial for Sowell’s victims, called the Garden of 11 Angels, but finding enough funds to complete the project has been tough. Those interested in donating can contribute to The Imperial Memorial Fund at any KeyBank, and help bring these unseen women back into the light.

Lara Klaber

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Related Screenings:
04/02/16 @ 11:15 AM – Unseen
04/03/16 @ 6:20 PM – Unseen
04/04/16 @ 12:10 PM – Unseen

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Finding Moments of Truth in the Darkness

April 01, 2016   |   posted by Lara Klaber in The Daily


If you want to take a journey into the darkness, it’s best to go with people who know you well. “We Go On” Directors Jesse Holland and Andy Mitton, and actor Clark Freeman, have all known each other for 20 years, so for them, collaboration comes naturally.

“Fostering a family environment on our set, where everyone hopefully feels like part of one family of storytellers, is one of our favorite parts of making movies,” explains Mitton. “We have deep roots, a common language and understanding between us.”

This common language, which extends to the crew of regulars, helps them build their dark worlds with an authenticity that grips their audiences. While the horror genre is Holland and Mitton’s milieu of choice—“We each totally have a 13-year-old horror fan inside us, and that’s not going away,” Holland jokes—their films delve deep into the human psyche, both of the on-screen characters and the audience itself. What is unseen, and left to audience imagination, is often as crucial as what actually appears on the screen.

For Freeman, exploring the character of Miles, and the fears that drive his quest for proof of life after death, was an exciting challenge. “I had to find the parts of myself that exist within Miles, and bring those Miles parts out of me,” he reflects. “I enjoy the work and the challenge of bringing any character to life—to live truthfully under their imaginary circumstances.”

Freeman performed in Holland and Mitton’s prior feature film, Yellowbrickroad, which was shot in what Mitton describes as an “the middle of nowhere with no cell reception, no internet, more moose around us than people, bugs swarming our heads … all sorts of madness.” This time, they shot in Los Angeles, and dealt with the different challenges of shooting in an urban environment, including on the edge of an LAX runway. “Ultimately no matter the environment,” he adds, “the goals are the same … tell the best story you can, shot by shot.”

Although Freeman admits that horror films “scare the hell out of me, so I always watch them with my fingers in my ears, and my eyes partially covered,” Holland explains that he and Mitton are drawn to the genre because “we like movies that are intense and visceral—movies that leave an impact on the way you see the world—and a good horror movie happens to do just that.”

For all three men, what makes horror effective is a grounding in truth, in the authenticity of character that allows the more fantastic elements to feel plausible. Freeman drew on his own experience of coping with his mother’s death as he built Miles’ characterization. “Life itself,” he points out, “tends to be the greatest way to prepare for a role.”

Holland agrees; for him, one of the best aspects of filmmaking is getting to watch his actors bring life and honesty to the characters he and Mitton imagined. “You get to create these little moments of truth that feel magical.”

Lara Klaber

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Related Screenings:
03/31/16 @ 5:10 PM – We Go On
04/01/16 @ 11:30 PM – We Go On
04/02/16 @ 1:25 PM – We Go On

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