The Artist Behind the Award

March 21, 2014, 12:10 AM   |   posted by Lara Klaber in Festival Events

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Photographer Barney Taxel loves cinema! So when the Cleveland International Film Festival staff approached him last year about designing the filmmakers’ awards for this year's CIFF, he was thrilled.

The staff chose a photo of a unique Cleveland location, “and it actually no longer exists as photographed,” explains Taxel. “So the image represents, on many levels, a special moment in Cleveland time.”

Taxel has a “fabulous career based in Cleveland” that began in the early 1970s. He specializes in food, architectural, corporate, health care, and still-life photography for agencies, designers, architects, publications, institutions, and manufacturers.

He credits his long career to "maintaining the highest production values, learning from mistakes, staying focused, staying open to opportunities, and being considerate of others," says Taxel. Those qualities "usually yield the desired result." He also suggests that artists, filmmakers, and other creative types make sure they "keep in touch with the creative spark" that launched them into the field to begin with.

Taxel and his wife, writer Laura Taxel, have been great film fans and supporters of the CIFF for years. Look for them at the festival.

— Anne DiTeodoro
Photo by Nanekia Morgan.

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Related Screenings:
03/20/14 @ 5:10 PM – The Ghosts in Our Machine
03/21/14 @ 3:00 PM – The Ghosts in Our Machine

The Morning After

March 21, 2014, 12:05 AM   |   posted by Lara Klaber in Filmmakers

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“Can you make a romantic comedy about the least romantic thing in the world?” Director and producer Jason James asked himself this question many times when developing the idea for his feature film “That Burning Feeling.” The film follows the foibles of Adam, a charming young professional whose favorite pastime is seducing women. However, he quickly finds that too much of a good thing only makes him itch and burn.

“It plays with the ideas of finding one’s authentic self and authentic relationships,” James says. “The disease is the jumping off point of this discovery.” He adds, “If you can get past the ick factor.”

“I have a love-hate relationships with romantic comedies,” James continues, “Because they are some of the best films and a lot of the worst films ever made.”

“That Burning Feeling” is not your typical romantic comedy. It may be a film that fits into the romantic-comedy genre, but the “painful subject matter,” says James, “addresses the consequences of our actions, even if it is fun.”

When he was pitching the idea, James began asking himself what this film was really about. He asked himself a lot of questions.

“Can I make this happen?” he wondered. “People have so many choices of what to go see. I wanted to present something bold and challenging.”

Even with a killer comedic cast, the premise is not all fun and games. It focuses on the “morning after” situation, where we are witnesses of the dark side to Adam’s exploits. It pays homage to a classical approach to the romantic-comedy genre, “Like Billy Wilder’s ‘The Apartment,’” James suggests. “Films that have dramatic premises wrapped in a comedic shroud.”

In his film, James addresses the darker side to sex that isn’t quite as charming as many other films in the genre.

“It promotes a healthy sexual lifestyle, whatever your direction is,” says James. “I think it expresses modern relationships in a fun and funny, heartfelt way.”

There’s one universal truth about relationships: we all have them. One moment of meaningless activity for Adam turns into what is a, literally, painful journey of accountability and self-discovery.

—Molly Drake

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Related Screenings:
03/21/14 @ 2:00 PM – That Burning Feeling
03/22/14 @ 8:00 PM – That Burning Feeling
03/29/14 @ 7:00 PM – That Burning Feeling

A Camera, a Story, and a Curiosity: An Interview with Ryan White and Ben Cotner

March 21, 2014, 12:00 AM   |   posted by Lara Klaber in Filmmakers

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Someone to Watch Award-winner Ryan White debuts “The Case Against 8” at the 38th Cleveland International Film Festival. His first film, “Pelada,” played at SXSW in 2010. His Co-Director Ben Cotner on “The Case Against 8” also provided some insight. Both White and Cotner are recognized as part of CIFF’s Focus on Filmmakers series this year.

CIFF: You have earned the Someone to Watch Award for this year’s festival. What does this recognition mean to you?
RW: I feel incredibly honored. “The Case Against 8” is my third film so it is still pretty early in my career. My second film, “Good ol’ Freda,” won the audience award at last year’s CIFF, and I’m excited to be showing my first film, “Pelada,” at this year’s festival, especially in a year of a World Cup.

CIFF: How did you decide to pursue a career as a documentary filmmaker?
RW: I grew up as a film nerd. I watched movies as much as possible, and I was one of those kids who asked to stay up late to watch the Oscars. I had a passion for photography, but I discovered documentary filmmaking in my first year of college and haven’t strayed since.

CIFF: “The Case Against 8” and “Pelada” depict very different topics — same-sex marriage and pick-up soccer games. What about these stories inspired you to bring them to life via film?
RW: I’m a curious person. Some people might call it nosy. I enjoy stories about people who don’t seek the limelight. “The Case Against 8” features two regular, day-to-day couples who never intended to be the face of such a huge social issue.
BC: It is a character film, not an advocacy film, and is edited in a way for audiences to be drawn into the journey instead of focusing on whether same-sex marriage is right or wrong.
RW: “Pelada” is about two soccer players
 who travel the world playing pick-up soccer
 with locals who aren’t making millions or endorsements, but instead playing for their own personal reasons. I am not a soccer player, but I fell in love with it over the four years it took to make the film and came to realize soccer is a universal language. I’m drawn to the characters that have smaller, quieter stories.

CIFF: What films or filmmakers have influenced the work you create?

RW: I enjoy watching as many other documentaries as I can. I love coming to regional film festivals to see the work of local filmmakers who may not get a chance to attend the bigger film events. Everything I watch shapes the way I create my films.

CIFF: What advice do you have for up-and-coming filmmakers today?

RW: Roll the dice. Take the risk. Find a story that gets you excited. You can make films relatively cheap and pretty much on your own if you have a camera, a story and the curiosity.

—Interview by Amy Kersey

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Related Screenings:
03/21/14 @ 4:15 PM – Pelada
03/21/14 @ 6:10 PM – The Case Against 8
03/22/14 @ 2:50 PM – Pelada
03/22/14 @ 4:20 PM – The Case Against 8

Saving the Stories: Plagiarism at the New York Times

March 20, 2014, 12:20 AM   |   posted by Lara Klaber in Filmmakers

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When Samantha Grant was five years old, she would fall asleep to the sound of her father banging away on his typewriter. As a writer for Time magazine, he frequently pulled all-nighters; she was convinced that was not the life she wanted.

“As I got older, I was compelled to tell stories in every way but journalism,” Grant remembers. “I tried fiction. Songwriting. Ultimately, I relented. I realized there was no way I was getting out of this so I may as well embrace it.”

When she was a graduate student at the University of California Berkeley, Grant was seeking a topic for her thesis film. In a class on law and ethics of journalism, she was reminded of the Jayson Blair plagiarism scandal that had recently struck the New York Times. It was a prime opportunity to share the complicated story of a very compelling character.

“Journalism is near and dear to my heart,” Grant says. “I wanted to show that Jayson Blair is not a typical journalist. He is not an example of anything but himself.”

Production of “A Fragile Trust: Plagiarism, Power, and Jayson Blair at the New York Times” began three years after the scandal was revealed. At the time of the scandal, the digital transition of the media world was just beginning. Tech-savvy Blair took advantage of the transition by pulling together bits and pieces of other journalists’ stories, then filling in the blanks with fabrications. Details about places he had been, things he had seen and people with whom he had spoken were all spun, while he never left his apartment in Park Slope, Brooklyn.

In the seven years it took Grant to complete “A Fragile Trust,” editors evolved with the new media era. While some say it is much easier to plagiarize these days, the flip side is that it is also much easier to catch.

“Different types of software can now be used to check writing for plagiarism,” says Grant. “However, plagiarism is not something that is happening that often. It is not the norm.”

Even though her film reveals flaws in one of the biggest journalism institutions in the country, Grant is still a strong supporter of the news media.

“In this era where anyone can publish, which is a great thing,” she says, “I don’t think independent journalists will ever replace institutional journalism. These institutions have the ability to take on other big institutions like major corporations or the government. Consumers need to support them by reading them, sharing them and donating to them now more than ever.”

Amy Kersey

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Related Screenings:
03/20/14 @ 9:00 PM – A Fragile Trust: Plagiarism, Power, and Jayson Blair
03/27/14 @ 9:45 PM – A Fragile Trust: Plagiarism, Power, and Jayson Blair
03/28/14 @ 4:15 PM – A Fragile Trust: Plagiarism, Power, and Jayson Blair

A Different Kind of Ghost Story

March 20, 2014, 12:15 AM   |   posted by Lara Klaber in Filmmakers

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“I want people to see them,” says Liz Marshall. She is talking about ghosts. No, not the supernatural, but the hidden and forgotten beings that end up in our shopping malls and on the shelves in our grocery stores.

“When we step back and look at the greater picture and see that 90% of the planet consumes animals,” she explains, “we are struck that this is a real dilemma.”

These ghosts become visible to audiences in her gut-wrenching documentary film, “The Ghosts in Our Machine.”

“I wanted to make a film about the ‘animal question,’” she explains. “I became very aware about how complex it is.”

Marshall has been an activist for many years, and while developing her thesis in film and media studies in the early 90s, she “recognized during that phase that [she] was very interested in complex human narratives and in people that were making a difference in the world.”

Marshall describes a scene in the film where the protagonist, photographer Joanne MacArthur, is walking down the street in New York, amidst a sea of people.

“All around her are the bits and parts of animals,” Marshall explains. “This reminds us that individuals can really make a difference because they have all throughout history.”

As much as she is an activist, she is equally a filmmaker.

“I love the language of filmmaking,” she says. “I want to create a marriage between form and content.”

Marshall, who is the film’s writer, director, producer and cinematographer, sees her film
as a “bridge designed to engage all these different facets of such incredible and inspiring movements.” Her greatest “‘Aha!’ moment,” she recalls, is when she realized she could bring different activist movements together in her filmmaking.

While Marshall had been a committed vegetarian for some time, her professional focus was not on animal rights. She began making documentaries about human rights and though she maintained her vegetarian diet, she “lost touch with the ethics because [she] wasn’t focused on those [animal] issues.”

Then about 10 years ago, Marshall found herself in a new relationship with a vegan and animal rights activist.

“I became reintroduced in a more radical way to the world of animal rights and veganism,” she says. “I wanted to devote myself to creating a film that would be accessible to a broader audience.”

— Molly Drake

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Related Screenings:
03/20/14 @ 5:10 PM – The Ghosts in Our Machine
03/21/14 @ 3:00 PM – The Ghosts in Our Machine

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