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

Deconstructing Memory and Identity

April 09, 2016   |   posted by Lara Klaber in Filmmakers


Memories: what would life be like without them? “Memories are imperfect,” says director Claire Carré. “They’re not a perfect picture stored away in your brain like a photo on a hard drive, remembering is actually reconstruction.”

Carré deconstructs the idea of retaining (and losing) memories in her first feature film, “Embers.”

In her film, the human raced has been plagued by a global neurological epidemic and though people look the same, they are unable to form new memories. Only two of the principal characters have any recollection of the past.

“The moments I remember, and the aspects of them that I’ve kept and the elements that I’ve forgotten are totally unique to me,” explains Carré. “And they will continue to change over my lifetime.”

But “Embers” doesn’t only remove memory from the equation, it forces us to look at what our lives would be like without our own stories. Carré is also curious about what would happen to our manmade civilization. “Things would grind to a halt,” she says.

While Carré was researching the film, she came across a book, The World Without Us, by Alan Weisman, and noted that it was full of facts on what would happen if people disappeared. “It’s incredible how quickly the manmade world would fall apart, buildings would decay, and nature would take over,” she says.

“Embers” is not only a science fiction film taking place in the future, it is a film about love and loss and choice in a post-apocalyptic setting. “It’s very grounded in what we all experience,” says Carré.

The film will definitely make you think, and possibly ask yourself (like Carré): “If my memories are a unique core element of who I think of as myself, who would I be without them?”

—Molly Drake

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Related Screenings:
04/08/16 @ 9:20 AM – Embers
04/09/16 @ 7:35 PM – Embers
04/10/16 @ 12:30 PM – Embers

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Exploring the Darkness for Disturbing Treasures

April 09, 2016   |   posted by Lara Klaber in Filmmakers


For “Follow” director Owen Egerton, mysteries are meant to be savored even more than solved. “Some of my favorite stories ask questions that can never quite be answered,” says Egerton. “[Author] Tim O’Brien said that, ‘as writers our job is not to explain the mystery, but to expand it.’”

British-born Egerton, who makes his home in Austin, Texas, has been writing and acting for years, wowing his readers and audiences with his daring work. The Austin Chronicle’s Wayne Allen Brenner calls him “a writer with a deft touch, who’s unafraid to spend a few nights in the wetter caves of human transgression and return with tales to make you laugh, cry, or wonder what drugs he may be on.”

With “Follow,” Egerton proves that he is every bit as deft as a director. “This is my first feature to direct and I loved doing it,” he says. “I loved working with the actors to find the soul of a character. I loved seeing those words I wrote come to life.”

The inspiration for “Follow,” interestingly enough, began with the biblical story of Abraham and Isaac. “This story terrifies me,” Egerton explains. “Here’s Abraham, a man of deep faith, being asked by the God he loves and trusts to destroy the child he loves. The source of Good is demanding an act of Evil.”

Egerton began imagining a similar scenario within a couple’s relationship. “The same kind of test—to what extent do you trust the one you love? To what extent do you know them?”

The story, “Christmas,” initially appeared in his 2014 short story anthology, How Best to Avoid Dying. For the film, he paired it with another story from the anthology, “Tonight at Noon,” to fashion a tale about a loving relationship that goes completely off the rails and into the darkness.

“I’m a fan of the dark,” he says. “Stories that dip into the nightmarish, especially if they’re making us laugh as they do. I love stories that surprise and challenge—stories that place characters in a nearly impossible situation.”

Whether writing, directing, acting, or teaching workshops, Egerton believes in giving everything he has. “Do all you can to wow the crowd, to thrill the page, to catch the moment,” he says. “I want to light myself on fire and burn. I want learn and fail and go again. I want to go deeper and surprise myself. I want to reach just beyond what I know and find something.”

He is preparing to direct another of his scripts, and one of his novels, 2010’s The Book of Harold: the Illegitimate Son of God, has been optioned by Warner Brothers Television. “Exploring the expanded storytelling of TV is tantalizing!” he says. “I’ll be living in the horror world for a while … and I love that!”

Lara Klaber

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Related Screenings:
04/08/16 @ 11:30 PM – Follow
04/09/16 @ 2:30 PM – Follow

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Returning, with Love

April 09, 2016   |   posted by Lara Klaber in Filmmakers


Friendships are tested when first loves begin to blossom. As teenagers face the challenges of growing up, they somehow fumble their way into finding themselves. After winning big at last year’s Cleveland International Film Festival, Kerem Sanga returns to this year’s CIFF with “First Girl I Loved.”

Sanga called Cleveland home for a short while during his elementary school years. On his first visit back, he proudly took home the 2015 Best American Independent Feature Film at last year's festival with “The Young Kieslowski.” To return this year is not only a testament of his perseverance, but also a bit of an ode to CIFF audiences.

“When I came to Cleveland last year, I didn't know what to expect,” he says. “What I found was a brilliant festival team, fantastic audiences (every screening was packed), and a wonderful community of filmmakers.”

Sanga continues, “I remember festivalgoers during the Q&A asking what I was doing next. I'd tell them about ‘First Girl,’ and they would inevitably respond, ‘Will you bring it to Cleveland next year?’”

He didn’t want to let his newfound fans down, but he realized that they were asking a lot. “Most filmgoers don't generally think about how fragile a film in pre-production is,” he says. “Even if you've got most of the money and a lot of cast, the film can still go down in flames. And at the time we had almost no money or cast. “

He didn’t want to make promises that he was afraid he couldn’t keep. “I'd say, ‘maybe it'd be ready the year after next,” he says, trying to temper expectations. In reality, he was thinking that there was a good chance that “this film I wanted to make so badly might never materialize.”

Of course, making that deadline was no easy task. The weeks heading into production were full of last-minute financial, casting, and location challenges, but ultimately Sanga and his team navigated a smooth production process. However, this was quickly followed by a short editing window and a tight deadline to meet.

“Shane (the editor) and I had about seven weeks after production to get the cut together, which meant working every day and adjusting to sleeping much less,” recalls Sanga. “Pre-production was a psychic challenge; editing was a physical one.”

But, he’s proud to share it now with CIFF audiences. “To be able to bring it to Cleveland just one year later—it means a lot,” he says.

For up-and-coming filmmakers, Sanga suggests partnering with people who are just as “desperate and hungry” to make your film as you are.

“The competition is so great, the barriers to entry so enormous, that working with people who aren't willing to give everything will only hold you back,” Sanga advises. “I was lucky enough to find such passionate collaborators early on.

Amy Brown

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Related Screenings:
04/08/16 @ 4:10 PM – First Girl I Loved
04/09/16 @ 8:45 PM – First Girl I Loved

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Behind the Veil of an Uncanny Comedy

April 09, 2016   |   posted by Lara Klaber in Filmmakers


Harrison Atkins was watching “Begotten” (1990), E. Elias Merhige’s (“Shadow of the Vampire”) first film, when inspiration hit.

“It’s just this really hardcore, grainy, black-and-white, grotesque horror movie,” he recalls, “and I started thinking, what if Whit Stillman or Woody Allen directed something like this, and it was sort of a comedy?”

From there, he developed the idea of combining “the darkest, most dread-inducing horror film with something kind of talky and cerebral and relationship-based,” and “Lace Crater” was born.

The film’s tone occupies the “dissonant space between naturalism and surrealism,” as 20-something Ruth’s (Lindsay Burge) one-night-stand turns out to be a ghost who has given her a supernatural STD. Her normal life swiftly unravels, giving her a peek into a strange, disturbing other world lurking just behind the veil of normalcy.

Bringing that surreal world onto the screen proved a challenge. Atkins recruited his friend, Chicago-based special effects wizard Ben Gojer. “We had lots of long phone calls before the shoot to cognize how we would pull off the effects gags,” recounts Atkins. “He did makeup throughout the entire movie, created latex prosthetics and masks, and manifested a variety of uncanny liquids.”

Those effects allowed them to create the heroine’s spooky encounter with her unearthly lover, as well as the resulting symptoms of her ectoplasmic infection. They also spent a lot of time on the uncanny burlap costume worn by the ghostly Michael (Peter Vack).

“I had a pretty specific idea of how Michael should look,” Atkins remembers, “and the development process mainly consisted of iterating versions of the costume in my living room and making discoveries until it felt right.”

Actress Lindsay Burge was Atkins’ first and only choice for Ruth. “I think she’s a mind-blowing actor,” he marvels. “She has an extremely complicated mind, and that totally manifests in the depth of her performances.”

As for his future plans, he hopes to experiment with a lot of genres, and has several short films in postproduction. “I’m hoping to make films that I would want to see—from really dumb, gaggy, absurd comedies to character-based relationship movies.”

There may even be some more spooky features in his future. “Horror films are really interesting too; there’s a lot of potential for experimental formal language in horror filmmaking, and I find that really exciting,” he says.

Lara Klaber

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Related Screenings:
04/08/16 @ 9:35 PM – Lace Crater
04/09/16 @ 2:50 PM – Lace Crater

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Disappearing Act: One Town's Struggle for Survival

April 09, 2016   |   posted by Lara Klaber in Filmmakers


Coal has fueled the American economy for decades, but at what cost? Photographer and documentary filmmaker Eve Morgenstern illustrates the dwindling community “Cheshire, Ohio,” and the industry that is booming at its expense.

“When I read The New York Times front page article that announced that an entire village was bought out by American Electric Power (AEP), it immediately captivated my imagination,” recalls Morgenstern. “There were obviously so many layers to the story—the loss of an American town, the problem of pollution from coal-fired power plants—that could be told through an intimate focus on one community but resonate on a larger scale.”

Morgenstern traveled to Cheshire, a small town nestled between the Ohio River and the West Virginia border, and began interviewing the resilient residents that remained. Their painful stories, with a backdrop of the coal plant’s heavy blue haze hanging low over the town, were only the beginning.

“I originally set out to make a film about the buyout and the end of the town,” says Morgenstern. “But I could never quite complete that film. Something was just missing.”

She took a hiatus from her project—for several years, in fact—until she read about the workers who were suing AEP for damages to their health that resulted from working at that very same coal ash landfill in Cheshire. “I knew I could finish the film with more power as a revisit to the almost empty town,” she says.

With Cheshire being just shy of a four-hour road trip from Cleveland, Morgenstern is thrilled the film is debuting at this year’s Cleveland International Film Festival.

“I think having the film premiere in Ohio and in Cleveland at such a great festival is just perfect,” Morgenstern says. “Ohio audiences will connect with the story of this quintessential American town struggling with the challenge of having big industry in their backyard, which is typical of so many communities in Ohio. Ohio is also one of the top producers of coal-powered energy in the United States, so launching the film here is important.”

Morgenstern hopes the residents of Cheshire featured in the film will motivate audiences to take action, such as supporting elected officials in favor of clean energy, being mindful of how to be more energy-efficient in their everyday lives, or working towards job creation for former coal industry workers.

“I really hope this film will make people think about the damage coal-fired power plants can wreak on local communities,” she concludes. “And in turn, the damage these plants do to all of us with their devastating impact on climate change, our air quality, and our health.”

Amy Brown

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Related Screenings:
04/09/16 @ 5:15 PM – Cheshire, Ohio
04/10/16 @ 2:45 PM – Cheshire, Ohio

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