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

Close-ups Draw Audience In to Radwanski's Characters

March 31, 2016   |   posted by Lara Klaber in Filmmakers


When he begins making a film, Kazik Radwanski doesn’t follow the rules most of us expect. For one thing, he doesn’t like to share his scripts with the actors who will be in the film. The writer and director of "How Heavy This Hammer" finds it works best for him if the dialogue is found through improvising.

"As the scene progresses, I'll start to feed them lines from the script,” he says. “Working this way really grounds my process. It's similar to how a cinematographer might work with natural light. I want to learn and finesse how the character talks and behaves before burdening them with scripted dialogue.

In Radwanski’s second feature, Erwin van Cotthem plays Erwin, a husband and father who loses himself in video games rather than participate in his family. The video game is one of the few ways Erwin is able to bond with his children. Radwanski sees it as a positive that Erwin would have learned about the game from his children.

“Some of my favorite childhood memories are of playing video games with my dad,” he says. “Also, the game does bring [Erwin] some peace. I'd think we'd view it quite differently if he were addicted to chess or solitaire.”

In creating Erwin, Radwanski wanted to find a hero who was weak but also powerful at the same time. Erwin is desperate, but he’s still able to push people away. He knows how to end a conversation.

“A lot of people I know don't like to talk about their feelings and don't want to go to the doctor,” explains Radwanski. “I feel like Erwin's problems are much more common than people would like to think. Many lives are defined by small, everyday mundane moments of crisis. I find that both terrifying and moving.”

To allow the audience to understand what motivates Erwin, the film relies extensively on close ups to hone in on the character. It’s a trademark approach that Radwanski uses in all of his films.

“I like the intimacy but at the same time I like that it's a little uncomfortable,” he says. “I think we should feel uncomfortable when watching people this closely. I want the audience a little off-balance and disoriented. This helps avoid an easy reading of the characters and prevents them from being pre-judged.”

Lisa Curland

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Related Screenings:
03/31/16 @ 9:35 PM – How Heavy This Hammer
04/01/16 @ 2:20 PM – How Heavy This Hammer

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Rehabilitating Hate: Creating Unexpected Friendships

March 31, 2016   |   posted by Lara Klaber in Filmmakers


In a presidential election year when race relations and the growth of hate groups are hot issues in the U.S., “Accidental Courtesy: Daryl Davis, Race & America” is sparking conversations and winning awards.

The film follows Daryl Davis, an African American piano player who has befriended, and in many cases reformed, Ku Klux Klan (KKK) members’ perspectives.

“My hope is that audiences will walk away from the film wanting to have a discussion about some topics that still tend to be taboo,” says Matt Ornstein, the film’s director. “My greatest fear is that people will watch and not have any opinion.”

In the film, Davis repeatedly asks: “How can you hate me when you don’t know me?” He says he wants to start a conversation with his opponents … to “redirect their thinking and perhaps rehabilitate their ideology.”

Davis spent his childhood living all over the world because his father was a member of the Foreign Service. He learned to get along with anybody and everybody no matter what they looked like or what they believed.

As an adult, Davis played piano alongside Rock & Roll Hall of Famer Chuck Berry. His talent is what initially brought him in contact with members of the KKK. He was playing at a country bar in Maryland when a member of the audience was so impressed that he offered to buy Davis a drink. The fan, a member of the Klan, admitted that he had never had a drink with a black man. Music was a common bond and soon other Klan members were coming to hear Davis and his music.

“Accidental Courtesy” won a Special Jury Recognition for a Portrait Documentary at the SXSW Festival in Austin, Texas. Ornstein says he is looking forward to coming to Cleveland and hearing what people here have to say.

“I think a lot of people in America are scared right now,” Ornstein says. “And we are seeing that fear turn to anger, just like Daryl talks about in the film. When people are scared, they historically tend to embrace people with easy answers.”

—Lisa Curland

In the photo: Frank Ancona, Imperial Wizard and President of the Traditionalist American Knights of the KKK presents Daryl Davis with a certificate of friendship in "Accidental Courtesy: Daryl Davis, Race & America." The Traditionalist American Knights of the KKK, based in St. Louis, MO, is currently the largest KKK group in the US.

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Related Screenings:
03/31/16 @ 8:45 PM – Accidental Courtesy: Daryl Davis, Race & America
04/01/16 @ 4:05 PM – Accidental Courtesy: Daryl Davis, Race & America
04/03/16 @ 12:30 PM – Accidental Courtesy: Daryl Davis, Race & America

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Taking a Brave Step, Paving the Way for Future Gay Athletes

March 31, 2016   |   posted by Lara Klaber in Filmmakers


Paying-it-forward sometimes requires bravery. Malcolm Ingram’s film, “Out to Win,” captures that spirit by showcasing professional athletes who have come out as gay in their career.

Finding gay athletes to speak openly with Ingram about their sexuality was remarkably easy, he noted. He spoke first with former NBA player John Amaechi and from there it multiplied. Amaechi introduced him to Jason Collins, another NBA player, who introduced him to WNBA star Brittney Griner, and so on.

Ingram said that the pro athletes who talked to him understood the importance of paving the road a little more for the people who will be in their shoes in the future.

“What has been happening, and what continues to happen, is that everybody who comes out opens a door for somebody else to come out,” he says. “If I’m an athlete and I see someone who makes that brave step, it makes it so much easier to follow in their path.”

For Ingram, the opportunity to speak with tennis superstars and living legends Billie Jean King and Martina Navratilova was a highlight of making the film. He admires King for being such “a strong activist in the women’s movement in the ‘70s” and credits Navratilova for “being involved in queer issues from the beginning.”

“They were two very strong people who were at the top of their game and used their celebrity to help,” he continues. “I think it’s an important thing to not just sit on your haunches and be the best, but to actually use the power it gives you for the good of the people around you.”

Just as important as the history, Ingram’s film recognizes that the past has opened doors for future athletes to come out. The film crystallizes this concept through the experiences of two college athletes Chandler Whitney and Conner Mertens.

“Here were two athletes who probably wouldn’t have come out if there had not been the people before them,” says Ingram. “Conner and Chandler were very much affected by Jason Collins, who was very much affected by [former NFL player] Wade Davis.”

“Out to Win” is the sixth film Ingram has directed. He credits much of his success to his tenacity and ambition. “I think the most important part of my career is that I never waited for permission to do anything, and that follows me to this day,” he says.

He recognizes that shooting in film in the past could be prohibitively expensive for some filmmakers. “But now you can shoot and edit something completely on your phone,” he says. “So, there’s nothing that should be stopping anybody who wants to go out there and tell a story. The only thing stopping them is themselves.”

His next project, which he calls a “quirky, indie film” is “The Phantom of Winnipeg,” about Brian DePalma’s 1974 film, “Phantom of Paradise,” which “bombed everywhere in North America,” except Winnipeg, the capital of Manitoba, in Canada.

Lisa Curland

In the photo: Conner Mertens, left, and Chandler Whitney, right, out to their college teammates in 2014. Mertens was a placekicker for the Williamette University Bearcats football team and Whitney was an outfielder for the Walla Walla Community College baseball team.

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Related Screenings:
03/31/16 @ 4:40 PM – Out to Win
04/01/16 @ 11:30 AM – Out to Win

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German Filmmaker Curious How Americans Will React to His Comedy

March 31, 2016   |   posted by Lara Klaber in Filmmakers


The title of Dietrich Brüggemann’s latest film may evoke the grimness of straight-armed salutes and “white power” cries, but the German writer/director aims more for silly, calling it a “reckless comedy.”

In “HEIL,” a group of inept neo-Nazis in the small German town of Prittwitz run into Sebastian, an African-German writer and activist on a book tour. After a blow to the head, Sebastian loses his memory and can only repeat what he hears. As the neo-Nazis use him as an anti-integration puppet while also plotting an invasion of Poland, Sebastian’s pregnant girlfriend travels to Prittwitz and teams up with a local police officer to rescue him.

Brüggemann says he drew inspiration from the news—namely from the story of the National Socialist Underground murders that broke in 2011—and from “Four Lions”—a 2010 British dark comedy about Islamist suicide bombers. Brüggemann also names “lots and lots of Monty Python” and the Coen brothers among his stylistic influences. Like “Four Lions,” this film doesn’t tread sensitively over easily offensive material. “HEIL” tramples modern German identity, mocking everyone from neo-Nazis to liberal intellectuals.

“Satire is the only serious way of dealing with politics when you're a filmmaker,” Brueggemann says.

He is known for more serious films, such as “Stations of the Cross,” which screened at last year’s Cleveland International Film Festival. But Brueggemann sees a funny side to all of his films.

Although he normally considers it wise to “abandon a film when it’s been premiered”—at the 2015 Munich International Film Festival in this case—the writer/director is curious to see how differently the American audience reacts to “HEIL.” “A comedy,” he says, “more than other films, is like a machine that you build and then enjoy watching how it works—or fails.”

Like the CIFF, Brüggemann himself recently turned 40. “It's horrible!” he says. “I guess I'd just do my best to support the festival and help it get through these hard days without too much emotional turmoil and midlife self-deprecation.”

Brüggemann is full of self-deprecation as he muses about audiences throwing tomatoes at the screen or at him. Although he isn’t quite sure how Americans will react to his latest film, he says he’s “looking forward to all those Donald Trump references when people talk about the film afterwards.”

Avinash Chak

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Related Screenings:
03/31/16 @ 9:45 PM – Heil
04/01/16 @ 11:20 AM – Heil

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Moore's 'Madtown' Has That Cold-Weather, Working-Class Motif

March 31, 2016   |   posted by Lara Klaber in Filmmakers


Denny Briggs isn’t very funny. On the run from a murder, he takes the stage as a stand-up comedian.

“The more the audience laughs the higher the odds are that I’ll die onstage,” he says. There’s only one problem: the audience loves him.

Briggs is the main character in Clevelander Charles Moore’s first feature. Originally from Mentor, Moore decided to film “Madtown” right here. “Being a Clevelander and writing a story that had an overall cold-weather, working-class motif, shooting in CLE was a natural choice/location to best … serve the story on the page,” Moore says.

According to the Plain Dealer, the shoot took place in spring of 2014 in such places as Edgewater Beach in Cleveland, North Olmsted, and Parma Heights, where the filmmakers built a comedy club in the basement of a space on York and Pearl Roads.

Moore has always been interested in storytelling, no matter which format; so, when starting the writing his screenplay, his conversations made their way into the story. “My typical verbal conversational batter tends to be very branch-ish,” he says. “I’ll start discussions on some random topic, and then stop before finishing that topic to branch off on another topic. Stop again. Branch again. And repeat.”

With “Madtown,” Moore never had a clear-cut story idea in mind. “But rather the process of throwing several themes and items that inspired me into a mental blender,” he says. For example, family bonds, the perceptions of truth and lies, menus at family restaurants, music as a healing device, comedy albums, and so on.

His film explores all of these ideas, specifically truth and lies and family structures. Moore is fascinated with family bonds and hopes that those viewing the film will “raise questions in their own minds on how they comprehend their own interpersonal relationships.”

The audience, according the Moore, “is the reason why us crazy filmmakers struggle, cry, hope, fail, start over, laugh, dream, pray, move back with the parents … and continue to move forward in such an emotionally demanding and daunting medium.”

Get ready for some serious self-analysis through the world premiere of “Madtown,” as we, the audience, are forced to process how the consequences of our actions continue to write our own life stories.

—Molly Drake

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Related Screenings:
03/31/16 @ 7:00 PM – Madtown
04/01/16 @ 2:10 PM – Madtown

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

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