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

Czech Documentary Shows How Counterculture Inspired Revolution

April 01, 2016   |   posted by Lara Klaber in Filmmakers


The generation coming of age in the 1980s—known in the West as “Generation X”—in Czechoslovakia takes the name “Vinyl Generation” in director Keith Jones’ latest documentary.

“Vinyl Generation” follows Otto M. Urban, now an art historian and exhibition curator, and Ondřej Šturma, now an alternative music promoter and producer, from the mid-1980s to the present. They, like many others, illegally traded vinyl records as teenagers. As students, they played a large role in the Velvet Revolution of 1989 that led to democracy in the Czech Republic and Slovakia. The documentary examines the counterculture they helped develop during the era of Communist rule—when nonconformist literature and art where banned, and punk rock was true rebel music.

“Director Keith Jones has dedicated a great deal of time to Czech alternative culture and its role in society and did a great job of incorporating all elements,” says producer Jeffrey Brown, who has lived in the Czech Republic since its transitional period of the early 1990s. Brown says the film tries to capture the emotions of Urban’s and Sturma’s generation and its perspectives today. He likens the themes to those addressed in the filmmaking team’s 2012 documentary, “Punk in Africa,” which tells the story of punk music’s revolutionary role in southern Africa.

Brown says it’s an honor for “Vinyl Generation” to screen at the Cleveland International Film Festival’s 40thanniversary and to be in the Greg Gund Memorial Standing Up Competition, in which audiences will vote for their favorite “film with a conscience.”

The presence of Cleveland’s major Slavic community makes it even more special, according to Brown, as “there will possibly be a greater sense of identifying with the issues in the film compared to other places.”

“It would be rewarding if people not only saw Czech culture in a new light,” Brown says, “But also took an interest or renewed their interest in what is happening there today.”

Acknowledging the risk of sounding cliché, he calls the story covered in the film “a great example of the power of art and music to impact a culture and give people hope for change.”

—Avinash Chak

In the photo: Producer Jeffrey Brown

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Related Screenings:
03/31/16 @ 4:30 PM – Vinyl Generation
04/02/16 @ 9:30 AM – Vinyl Generation
04/03/16 @ 3:10 PM – Vinyl Generation

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Filmmaker describes his film as funny, dangerous, shocking, and powerful

April 01, 2016   |   posted by Lara Klaber in Filmmakers


“I thought, ‘is this exploitative or is this empowerment?’” Heath Cozens asks himself when approached with the idea for the documentary film “Doglegs.”

“It sounded funny, it sounded amazing,” he continues. “But it also sounded like it could be some very exploitative endeavor with an evil circus ringmaster type cracking the whip while freaks came parading out for people’s entertainment.”

What is “Doglegs?” The short version: handicapped professional wrestling.

Cozens says his first experience with “Doglegs” was “morally and emotionally confusing” and he didn’t know how to feel.

Let’s go to Tokyo 1996 where a small community of handicapped men join together to form a boxing league called Doglegs. The participants range from paralyzed wrestlers to those living with autism and the fights range from boxing to martial arts and World Wrestling Entertainment- style matches. Cozens captures not only the theatrics of the league but life today in Japan.

Despite having worked in various production capacities in his native New Zealand, Cozens took a six-year hiatus while living in Japan before making his first film, “Kiwi Tsunami.” He says he needed to better understand the Japanese culture and language before he could make a film about it.

“I was living in Japan (18 years, in fact), and one day, a good journalist friend of mine and I were teaming up to pitch stories to the Wall Street Journal,” says Cozens. “He mentioned this off-limits, taboo subject that pretty much all the foreign correspondents in Tokyo had already pitched, everyone getting the same response—'this is amazing, but there's no way we can touch it.’”

To Cozens the idea sounded funny, dangerous, shocking, and powerful. He says, “Somehow, in tracing where those reactions came from, I got to meet a side of myself that I didn’t know I had.”

He compares the film to a surgical operation. What the wrestlers are doing is “performing brain surgery, heart surgery on the audience, changing the audience from the inside out.”

Richard Wittaker from The Austin Chronicle described the film as the following: “Great documentaries don’t just change how you look at the world. They change how you think about yourself. That’s “Doglegs.” Fearless, challenging, provocative, and touching in ways you will never see coming.”

Molly Drake

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Related Screenings:
04/01/16 @ 2:05 PM – Doglegs
04/02/16 @ 9:30 PM – Doglegs

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Home Is Where We Can Take Our Makeup Off

April 01, 2016   |   posted by Lara Klaber in Filmmakers


If you have ever questioned your aspirations for success, you know what it’s like to feel you have let yourself down. For filmmakers Michael Curtis Johnson and Tomas Pais, making “Hunky Dory” allowed them to channel their experiences to develop a character who isn’t ready to let go of his dreams.

In “Hunky Dory,” the two have created an earnest father-and-son story, according to Johnson, the film’s director. “Think Charlie Chaplin’s, ‘The Kid,’ with a contemporary spin,” he says.

In the film, Sidney, a glam rock dilettante played by Pais, is so busy being everything to everybody to get what he wants, home becomes the place where he can “take his makeup off” and be himself. Whoever that is. It all starts to change when his ex disappears, leaving their 11-year-old son, George, in his care.

Sidney starts out “wanting his George to think he's a rock star and not see him vulnerable,” according to Johnson. “That's really what the film is all about, Sidney learning to share his life and his home with George. To stop ‘performing’ for George.”

The performances, which are anchored by Pais and Edouard Holdener, who plays George, won a Jury Award for acting at Slamdance and are at the heart of this film according to Johnson.

“This is a film about performance,” he says. “The roles we play with different people. Sidney is confident and charismatic, but he doesn't really know who he is when we meet him. Even with his own son—who he loves dearly—he struggles to show the real Sidney.”

For Pais, doubt, as part of his life’s journey, was integral in the creation of Sidney while Johnson says he shares Sidney’s struggles balancing parental obligations with his creative aspirations. “He makes morally questionable choices, but he does what he must to survive.”

Their efforts earned them, along with their director of photography, Magela Crosignani, a spot in the prestigious Independent Filmmaker Labs, a yearlong fellowship for rookie filmmakers.

“Creatively, the Labs allowed us to find what our film was about. That was important, because we wrote and shot this incredibly quickly [a 10-day shooting schedule]. IFP taught us how to consider, reflect, and really shape our film in post-production,” says Johnson.

The two men already have the script for their next project "Fall River" and Pais will again star. Johnson says, “It’s a familiar story, but Tomas' character is once again... unconventional.”

Lisa Curland

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Related Screenings:
04/01/16 @ 7:30 PM – Hunky Dory
04/02/16 @ 11:30 AM – Hunky Dory
04/03/16 @ 9:30 AM – Hunky Dory

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Celebrating America's Birthday and the Antics that Ensue

April 01, 2016   |   posted by Lara Klaber in Filmmakers


Sometimes the best ideas start with a yard, a grill, and a neighborhood of firework enthusiasts on the Fourth of July. As Andre Hyland juggled the roles of director, writer, editor, and lead actor of “The 4th,” he learned the most difficult obstacle of all to overcome in a Los Angeles neighborhood: parking.

“The shoot was on a busy street—well, they’re all busy streets—and parking was terrible,” Hyland says. “There’s a scene where two cars are parked on the side of the street, one right behind the other,” a rare occurrence by LA standards.

Even when their cars were in place, there were still no guarantees. When the beloved Volvo of the film’s main character Jamie was parked overnight, already in position for the next morning’s shoot, a stranger’s Fiat came cruising around a bend in the road.

After impact, “The car was bent into an accordion, and only the front passenger-side door would open,” Hyland recalls. “The back bumper looked like a handlebar moustache.” The totaled car, Hyland’s own, would not live to see the end of the film. The crew had no choice but to get creative on how to shoot the remainder of the scenes without it.

Setbacks aside, Hyland seemed to take it all in stride. While he’s created a number of shorts, TV segments, and television pilots, “The 4th” is his first feature film.

“In TV development, you can work on a project over a year and it may or may not ever be seen,” he comments. “Sometimes you never get to finish the story you started writing. A feature is more artistically fulfilling because you know it will exist out in the world in some way.”

Originally from Cincinnati, Hyland is looking forward to upping his twice-a-year visit back to the Midwest to attend the 40th anniversary of the Cleveland International Film Festival. He and co-star Paul Erling Oyen, a Cleveland native, have teamed up on many projects in LA, but this will be the first they’re debuting together back in Ohio.

“I’m excited for my friends and family from Cincinnati to be able to see the film,” Hyland says. “It’s great to leave your home state and come back to show what you’ve been doing.”

Amy Brown

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Related Screenings:
04/01/16 @ 4:20 PM – The 4th
04/02/16 @ 9:40 PM – The 4th
04/03/16 @ 9:40 AM – The 4th

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NFL Great Jim Brown on a Mission: To Transform At-Risk Youth

April 01, 2016   |   posted by Lara Klaber in Filmmakers


Most people know Jim Brown, former star fullback for the Cleveland Browns, for his accomplishments on the football field. However, director Aurora Ferlin says it pales in comparison to the lives that he has changed off the field through his work with the Amer-I-Can Program.

Wanting to use her filmmaking background to effect change, Ferlin—who moved to Los Angeles from her native Belgium—attended an Amer-I-Can graduation, where she heard many stories of transformation from program participants, most of whom are former gang members and inmates. Afterwards, she went through the class herself and started documenting the work the organization does in juvenile halls, schools, and jails.

Her film, “Jim Brown’s Amer-I-Can Dream,” tells the stories of the young men and women who have gone through the program, how it has changed their lives, and, as a result, has also changed their families and communities.

“The film is about Jim’s social legacy and, more particularly, it’s about his mission that he’s been on the last 30 years—to stop the deadly wave of violence that’s been disproportionately affecting young men of color,” says Ferlin. “He has really taken on his shoulders an incredibly difficult mission of ending senseless violence among our youth.”

According to Ferlin, the organization has quantified their successes in reducing crime in the neighborhoods where they operate and increasing GPAs at the schools where they have a presence. She also has seen first-hand that the organization has changed lives in ways that aren’t necessarily measurable.

“How do you measure, for example, a father who is now involved in his children’s lives because he changed his life?” she asks. “How do you measure a man that changed his life and has become an inspiration to his younger siblings and his community?”

Sharing these stories is the reason Ferlin wanted to make the film. For her, one of the more difficult challenges was to decide which stories to tell and which to leave out. “Everybody has an amazing story that’s worth being told,” she says. “It’s almost impossible not to be personally affected by them.”

The film was 12 years in the making, and Ferlin calls it a labor of love for everyone who was involved. What stood out for her throughout the journey was the huge level of commitment Brown and his wife, Monique, have to their work.

“When I say this man eats, sleeps, and breathes his mission, that’s really what he does,” she says.

Lisa Curland

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Related Screenings:
04/01/16 @ 4:00 PM – Jim Brown's Amer-I-Can Dream
04/02/16 @ 2:15 PM – Jim Brown's Amer-I-Can Dream

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CIFF Facebook Posts

ICYMI: Steve James named as CIFF41 Director's Spotlight Award recipient. Thanks to our friends at Crain's Cleveland Business or covering the story:

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CIFF Tweets

Great read from @ssuttell at @CrainsCleveland on our #CIFF41 Director's Spotlight Award recipient Steve James!

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