CIFF Awards Preview

March 30, 2014, 12:00 AM   |   posted by in Festival Events


The Closing Night Reception is special evening every year. Not only does it mark the end of the Festival, but it is also an opportunity for audiences to hear the award results. There are two kinds of awards given out by the Film Festival: Juried awards and Audience Choice awards.

Juried awards are judged by panels of experts with special knowledge of the specific types of films being reviewed. For example, one of the judges for the George Gund III Memorial Central and Eastern European Competition, Aleš Rumpel, is from the Czech Republic’s National Film Archive. And, all of the panelists on the Nesnadny + Schwartz Documentary Competition are established documentarians, themselves.

Tonight’s Jury Awards are:
George Gund III Memorial Central and Eastern European Competition: $10,000 cash prize
Nesnadny + Schwartz Documentary Competition: $7,500 cash prize
Shorts Jury Awards Program: $1,000 cash prize

Attendees are accustomed to grabbing a ballot on their way into a screening, as most of the CIFF awards are decided by audience vote. Those ballots are tallied up, and the resulting scores are averaged based attendance to ensure a fair score.

The longest-running audience choice award is the Roxanne T. Mueller Audience Choice Award for Best Film. Roxanne T. Mueller served as the film critic at The Plain Dealer from 1983-1988 until she lost her battle with cancer at the age of 36. She was a great supporter of the CIFF and helped promote film awareness in Cleveland through her writing. This award has been given since 1988 and The Callahan Foundation joins us in presenting the award winner with a $5,000 cash prize.

Tonight’s Audience Choice Awards are:
Greg Gund Memorial Standing Up Competition: $5,000 cash prize
Global Health Competition: $5,000 cash prize
American Independents Competition: $5,000 cash prize
Local Heroes Competition: $5,000 cash prize
Music Movies Competition: $5,000 cash prize
ReelWomenDirect Award for Excellence in Directing By a Woman: $7,500 cash prize
Roxanne T. Mueller Audience Choice Award For Best Film: $5,000 cash prize
Howard Hanna Audience Choice Award for Best Short Subject: $1,000 cash prize

The Short Films are always popular amongst CIFF audiences and the jurors are always challenged with choosing the best of the best. The shorts are screened and then the filmmakers are recognized and winners announced. Each award is accompanied with a $1,000 cash prize. From Best Documentary Short to Best Student Short Award, CIFF juror pick the winners for ten awards. The Best Animated Short Film Award winner and Best Live Action Short Film Award winner will qualify for the Short Films category of the annual Academy Awards. One such winner, 2011’s The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore, went on to win an Oscar.

Tonight’s Shorts Jury Awards are:
Best Animated Short Award* - sponsored by Reminger Co., L.P.A.
Best Documentary Short Award - sponsored by Jules and Fran Belkin
Best International Short Award - sponsored by MP Star Financial, Inc.
Best LGBT Short Award: Given in Celebration of the Life of Nikki Babbit – sponsored by Jan and Harold Babbit
Best Live Action Short Award* - sponsored by Anne Bloomberg and Alan Gordon Lipson & Judy Harris
Best Ohio Short Award - sponsored by Wayside Furniture
Best Student Short Award - sponsored by MP Star Financial, Inc.
Best Women’s Short Award - sponsored by Jinny and John Johnson
The Clover and Maggie Award: In Celebration of Life - sponsored by Barbara Hawley and David Goodman
The Spalding and Jackson Award: In Celebration of Joy - sponsored by Marcie Goodman

After hundreds of screenings, Q&A’s with filmmakers, a lot of popcorn, the CIFF says goodbye until next year.

Molly Drake and Lara Klaber

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A Glimpse into the World of Celebrity Impersonators

March 29, 2014, 12:25 AM   |   posted by in Filmmakers


What would you do if you saw Elvis, Oprah, and Dr. Phil eating lunch together? “It’s certainly an odd experience,” says “Just About Famous” co-director Matt Mamula. Though these people look like their celebrity counterparts, these are just professional impersonators. Co-director Jason Kovacsev read about a celebrity impersonator convention and it struck a chord.

“I was curious about how obsessed our society must be in order to pay regular people money just because they resemble someone famous,” says Kovacsev. “The whole concept seemed bizarre.”

But, Kovacsev and Mamula attended the event with vague curiosity. “Once we got there, our own interest piqued,” Mamula says.

The world of celebrity impersonators is not one for the faint hearted. “They are a group of people who belong to a minority that don’t feel understood by the masses,” explains Kovacsev. “But they have a community of others who accept them for their differences.”

The co-directors discovered more similarities than differences between themselves and the impersonators. “You think these people are crazy, you know?” says Mamula. “But then you realize it’s a profession and they work hard.”

He continues, “The dead ringers still have to work at it. Costumes, mannerisms, hair and makeup; they get nervous too, just like the rest of us.”

Mamula and Kovacsev introduced their short film to captivated audiences in 2010. “People wanted to see more of the impersonators,” Mamula says. “As filmmakers, we wanted to bring that world on screen to see what it is all about.”

Excited about the prospect of more storytelling and filmmaking, Mamula and Kovacsev found a strong sense respect for the impersonators. They had no intention of mockery, like many press people do. “Once you give these people a chance to get to know them, they reveal how they really are just like everyone else,” says Kovacsev. “Beside the fact that complete strangers get excited about taking pictures with them.”

The surreal lives of ordinary people in “Just About Famous” will have CIFF audiences enchanted and curious if Elvis really is still alive.

If you spot an American president at the festival, look again. These people are, after all, professionals.

— Molly Drake

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Related Screenings:
03/28/14 @ 8:40 PM – Just About Famous
03/29/14 @ 1:40 PM – Just About Famous
03/30/14 @ 7:05 PM – Just About Famous

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Heart of a Fly Fisherman

March 29, 2014, 12:20 AM   |   posted by in Filmmakers


Besides being one of the most well-known actors in Finland for starring in the most popular TV series in the nation’s history and several major box office hits, Jasper Pääkkönen is, first and foremost, a fly fisherman.

“I would say that being a fly fisherman defines me as a person more than anything else,” says Pääkkönen, who plays a violently racist Neo-Nazi, Harri, in “Heart of a Lion.”

“I travel the world with my fly rod. Last year I did Key West, Iceland, Northern Russia, Norway, Denmark etc. This year I'm doing most of the same trips, but I'm also going to Greenland and Alaska.”

He is also a brand ambassador for Vision, one of the largest fly fishing manufacturers in Europe. His passion for the sport has inspired him to take further action to protect it for years to come.

“I am highly involved in the fishing politics in Finland. My mission is to secure healthy and sustainable fisheries as well as bring down dams that block the salmon's spawning routes.”

When he wasn’t casting a line, Pääkkönen was preparing for his controversial role. “I have always tried selecting the more interesting parts, never the conventional ‘first crush’ or the ‘common man,’” he says. “I am an easy going fly fisherman myself, so casting myself ‘against the type’ with edgy, broken characters have always intrigued me.”

Giving life to any role requires a full commitment to the character being portrayed, regardless of how evil or menacing. The character, Harri, has a vulnerability that he overwhelmingly masks with outward hatred. Much of this is due, according to Pääkkönen, to his fear of losing the one person in his life that provides love and security: his big brother.

“An actor HAS to stand by, and trust his character, and have no doubts about what the character believes in,” Pääkkönen comments. “I am a very peace loving person and I have always had close friends from all races and colors. Needless to say, that creates quite a conflict with playing someone this devastatingly prejudiced and racist.”

What may seem like daunting subject matter, audiences of the film should prepare themselves for a deeper message. Pääkkönen says, “Heart is mainly a film about love and the fear of losing it. The love between a stepdad and his stepson, love between two brothers, love between friends, and what losing the love causes in one.”

— Amy Kersey

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Related Screenings:
03/28/14 @ 7:10 PM – Heart of a Lion
03/29/14 @ 2:40 PM – Heart of a Lion
03/30/14 @ 9:25 AM – Heart of a Lion

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No script. No Crew. No Problem.

March 29, 2014, 12:15 AM   |   posted by in Filmmakers


For James Ward Byrkit, films combined many of the things he loves. He would “draw stories and write strange music to go with the weird images,” he says. His drawings landed him in Hollywood where he drew storyboards of action sequences for two “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies.

As he began working on “bigger and bigger movies,” he says, he “always wanted to get back to the purity.”

When he’s directing, he loves being on set and “feeling the energy of the space, the immediate danger of making a mess and figuring it all out in the moment,” he continues. “I love randomness, and dealing with the unknown.” This is coming from someone who painstakingly mapped out every action on a storyboard.

So, for his latest film “Coherence,” he was craving the chance to try an experiment he had always envisioned. He got rid of “everything on film that slows me down,” he says. “Including the script. And the crew.”

Not to disparage big crews and great scripts, but he admits that a large part of filmmaking actually consists of waiting around -- resetting, relighting and “a million things that aren’t shooting,” says Byrkit. Just the opposite of theater, where he also spent some time, “when it’s all about the actors and the ideas.”

He decided to shift the focus to the actors for this sci-fi film, his first feature as a director. There was no script; instead, each day each actor would receive a set of notes explaining “general motivations and the backstory for their character.” Each actor would be familiar only with his or her character, but know nothing about the other actors’ notes.

Byrkit shot the film over five nights. “After the first night, the actors realized they were in good hands, and that fun things were going to happen to them,” he says. “They became so utterly committed to the process.”

Some reviews have called the film “cerebral;” there is also lots of talk of quantum mechanics and theoretical physics, but Byrkit says don’t let that scare you away. “It’s just a funhouse with twists and surprises and a puzzle and lots of mind-bending,” he says. “… Don’t worry if you find yourself as lost as the characters.”

The film received “a tidal wave” of support from Fantastic Fest in Austin, Texas, a festival specializing in horror, fantasy and sci-fi films, where it won the Next Wave Best Screenplay award. “For the first time, I’m seeing what kind of impact a film can have on people starved for this kind of experience,” recounts Byrkit. “I’ve had so many people come up to me after a screening, their eyes wide, their minds blown and they just need to talk about it.

“And that is absolutely amazing.”

— Anne M. DiTeodoro

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Related Screenings:
03/29/14 @ 11:30 PM – Coherence
03/30/14 @ 3:00 PM – Coherence

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Thommy T-Shirt Day: Remembering a Legend

March 29, 2014, 12:05 AM   |   posted by in Festival Events


This year, the Cleveland International Film Festival dedicates its annual T-shirt Day to the memory of longtime festival staff member, Thom Duke. He was a constant presence at Will Call, which was renamed the “Duke Desk” in honor of his 70th birthday nine years ago. He was also known for wearing a different t-shirt every day of the festival and for always knowing about every film in the festival. Duke passed away in January 2014, and his absence at the 38th CIFF has been felt.

“He was my high school history teacher, my CIFF cohort, my AFS colleague and a friend,” says Chris Blake, CIFF Vice President of Strategic Planning. “For me, though, and through CIFF, he will forever be tied to Iceland and his love and fascination with that country and its films.”

John Farina, CIFF staff member and longtime friend of Duke, adds: “He always knew about every film in the festival. If a guest had a question about a film, you could always send them to Thom. He always had an opinion about every film.”

Rose DeCapite, a close friend of Duke’s and festival staffer says, “He’s the only person I know who could see all these movies, but that wasn’t the hard part; he remembered them!
 He remembered their names and what they were about.”

“But being a history teacher, he had to remember,” responds her husband, Bill DeCapite. “And many of his students came, and always came to the theater here, and always remembered Thom and talked about how great he was as a teacher.”

Another CIFF staffer, Tim Smith, also remembers Thom as a teacher. “He taught everyone around him about film, about life, about politics, about how to treat people. He was a curmudgeon, but he was also a teddy bear, and he gave to everyone around him.”

Thank you, Thom Duke, for everything you gave to the CIFF and to this world.

—Bridget Kriner and Lara Klaber

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