An Improbable True Story

March 28, 2015   |   posted by Lara Klaber in Filmmakers

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Ohio native Ben Patterson, director of “Sweet Micky for President” says he doesn’t want to “sit through a boring movie about Haiti.” That’s why he wanted to make a movie that was “actually entertaining.”

He describes the film as an improbably true story about a musician, Michel Martelly, aka Sweet Micky, known for taking his pants down on stage. The film follows Martelly as he runs for the highest office in a country that is in turmoil.

“It’s an adventure ride, a political thriller and a comedy,” he says. “I don’t expect people to just care about Haiti. The fact that it’s a true story makes everything else that much more unbelievable”

The adventure starts when Pras Michel, of the Fugees, decides to convince Martelly to run for president. There’s also a corrupt government trying to steal the election and the satire of watching men who have no political experience “trying to figure things out.”

In one scene, Patterson asks Martelly how his background as a musician helped him prepare to be president.

“And he said, ‘well, I was in charge of my band. I picked the songs. I told them what I wanted to play.” Patterson couldn’t believe it. He thought, “Really, that’s it?”

Sean Penn, Bill Clinton, Ben Stiller also become part of the story. And when fellow Fugee member, Wyclef Jean, enters the race, there are fireworks.

Patterson knows how to tell a compelling story which captures his audience’s attention. In what he calls his “day job,” he is a director and producer of commercials and branded content for such brands as iHeart Radio and Steve Madden.

He says he likes telling “stories that are fascinating and interesting and connect with people.”

Having been born and raised in Ohio, Patterson says he values the Midwestern work ethic and it means a lot to him to have his film screening at CIFF. He attended a shorts program at the festival when he was in high school and says that was a long time ago.

Patterson thinks audiences will be inspired by the story of a person who wants to make some changes in the world but wasn’t born into politics.

“He [Martelly] was a quick study. He knew how to get people excited and I felt like he had the message and the charisma to deliver that message,” he says. “He wasn’t positioned for it, but he was the guy who felt like he could change his country.”

He says much of the focus of the film is also about Pras Michel, who “felt like he could make a difference, had an instinct about what could be done, really trusted himself and was ultimately able to help Martelly win the presidency.”

Lisa Curland

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Related Screenings:
03/27/15 @ 7:15 PM – Sweet Micky for President
03/28/15 @ 2:30 PM – Sweet Micky for President

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Restoring Afghanistan 'Frame by Frame'

March 28, 2015   |   posted by Lara Klaber in Filmmakers

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Living in the age of Instagram and Snapchat where taking a photo and sharing it with whomever you choose is as ordinary as waking up in the morning, it’s easy to forget that many parts of the world operate very differently. Alexandria Bombach and Mo Scarpelli bring us “Frame by By Frame,” a look at everyday life in Afghanistan through the lens of those who were once forbidden to be behind a camera—the local photographers.

From 1996 to 2001, photography was banned in Afghanistan under Taliban rule. As a result, the country has experienced a media revolution since the turn of the century. It wasn’t until 2012 when Bombach was working on a different project that gave her an idea.

“I was looking at Afghan footage of everyday b-roll of Kabul—people walking their dogs, drinking tea,” recalls Bombach. “I had these perceptions of [Afghanistan] locals being victims, suicide bombs, war. So I thought the local photographers would be the best way to tell a narrative story of Afghanistan.”

“I’m from a small town in Michigan and was used to seeing headlines in the news, and knew people who have gone into the military,” says Scarpelli. “When Alexandria approached me with this idea, I had the same “whoa, blow your hair back moment” of ‘Yes, normal life, why wouldn’t it go on? Of course!’ and knew I had to be a part of it.”

Off to Afghanistan they went, cruising the capital in a white Toyota Corolla with the help of a local fixer and driver. Bombach and Scarpelli worked long days balancing the stories of four different photographers native to the area.

“It was a privilege to work with them because they have such unique access and, in turn, gave us that access,” Bombach says. “They poked fun at us capturing a story of them capturing a story, but it was a lot of fun. They understood what we were trying to do and that we needed a true and honest story to tell.”

Local free press, although now legal, is still a challenge and sometimes dangerous. Fortunately, the featured photographers’ points of view contain a deeper understanding of their culture that lend a more authentic look at what everyday life is really like.

“We want to challenge people’s perceptions of Afghanistan of being hopeless and desperate,” Scarpelli says. “The people are resilient and are building their country in lots of ways.”

Amy Brown

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Related Screenings:
03/27/15 @ 6:20 PM – Frame By Frame
03/28/15 @ 1:20 PM – Frame By Frame
03/29/15 @ 4:50 PM – Frame By Frame

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Mike Ott Is Someone to Watch: This student of cinema is humbled by fans of his films

March 28, 2015   |   posted by Lara Klaber in Filmmakers

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Mike Ott grew up in a small town. A town literally divided by train tracks—one side was mostly white, while the other was mainly Mexican.

“Growing up, immigration was always a topic of contention and something I was constantly surrounded by,” he says.

Ott, who is being honored this year by the Cleveland International Film Festival as its “Someone to Watch,” has made three films—his Antelope Valley Trilogy, “Littlerock,” “Pearblossom Highway,” and “Lake Los Angeles”—that center around foreigners living in small-town America and following the American Dream.

Many of the actors in his films were recent immigrants to the U.S., so he let them “add a lot of their [own] ideas” into the dialogue, making it more realistic.

In addition to Ott’s engaging characters, many reviewers have noted that even the landscape of California’s Antelope Valley, the backdrop of the three films, becomes another character.

“It is such a strange and mysterious place,” he explains. “You can drive for miles with just empty desert, and then suddenly stumble across an abandoned dilapidated house, or 10 trashed television sets, or a burned-out Corvette covered in ash.”

Wondering about the “mysteriousness” of these things—how they got here, who brought them and why—gives the landscape “a character that has always attracted me,” he says.

His immigrants-in-search-of-the-American-Dream films have screened all over the world. And Ott has travelled with them to the many festivals. While in Europe with his latest film, “Lake Los Angeles,” he participated in a lively 45-minute Q&A session with French audiences.

“They were arguing with each other as well as with me,” he says. “It was a great debate.” A few weeks later, the film screened in Poland where the audience barely had anything to say and “seemed very numb to any of the issues in the film.”

Polish audiences aside, those who have viewed Ott’s films quickly become fans. In 2010, he was awarded the “Best Film Not Playing at a Theater Near You” at the Gotham Independent Film Awards and Film Independent’s “Someone to Watch” at the Spirit Awards for “Littlerock.”

Honors he wasn’t expecting. On the day of the Spirit Awards, Ott says: “I was actually getting very drunk … because I was sure I was going to lose. It was quite a surprise.”

This year, at the CIFF he is getting an award with the same name. He says he is flattered to be awarded anything, especially after seeing how many incredible filmmakers and films there are out there.

“I still feel like I’m a student of cinema and have so much to learn,” Ott says. “It’s humbling to be appreciated for my films.”

Anne M. DiTeodoro

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Related Screenings:
03/28/15 @ 5:45 PM – Littlerock
03/28/15 @ 7:45 PM – Pearblossom Hwy
03/28/15 @ 9:40 PM – Lake Los Angeles
03/29/15 @ 2:35 PM – Lake Los Angeles

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It Takes a Hero to Build a Monument

March 27, 2015   |   posted by Lara Klaber in Filmmakers

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March 5, 2009, was a fateful day for a small post-Communist town in Serbia. Marko is longing to regain the love of his wife who has promised him a divorce. But, with the timely announcement of Michael Jackson’s comeback tour, Marko decides the best way to rejuvenate his town, and his marriage, is to erect a monument as a tribute to the pop star right in the town’s Square. Typical win-her-back strategy.

Why the King of Pop? According to Darko Lungolov, director of “Monument to Michael Jackson,” it has less to do with taste in music and more in controversy.

“Growing up, he was always too disco for me,” Lungolove says of Jackson. “But I needed a figure that would start some conflict and needed to be a pop icon and thought nobody better than Michael Jackson.”

Lungolov was born in Serbia but fled to the United States in 1991 during the former Yugoslavia’s civil wars. What may seem to be a bizarre approach to revitalizing your hometown and wooing your wife, the gesture may not be as far-fetched for Serbian natives.

“Monument to Michael Jackson” is a comedy inspired by [a] bizarre trend happening recently in small towns of Serbia and Balkans: people building monuments to Hollywood and pop-icons (Rocky, Tarzan, Bruce Lee…),” says Lungolov.

The quirky comedy sheds light on a struggling Serbia who has suffered several civil wars and changed its identity numerous times in the last two decades.

“We’re in a moment where we don’t know who the real heroes are.” In turn, honoring figures of Hollywood feels more comfortable.

Erecting a monument, even in the movies, is no easy feat. When you add a helicopter flyover, that adds its own challenges.

“The fake monument was not secured well and when we flew over with the helicopter, it knocked it down,” Lungolov recalls. “The final scene took six days to complete, and it’s on screen four [to] six minutes.”

With a little humor and a big heart, Marko, the true hero of this story, is determined to pay homage to the pop legend and bring a little pride home along the way.

“Marko, an optimistic daydreamer, has a simple plan: he wants to breathe life into his dying Serbian hometown,” says Lungolov.

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Related Screenings:
03/26/15 @ 9:20 AM – Monument to Michael Jackson
03/27/15 @ 6:10 PM – Monument to Michael Jackson
03/28/15 @ 9:25 AM – Monument to Michael Jackson

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These Dancing Queens, Kings Hip Hop Across the Globe and into Your Hearts

March 27, 2015   |   posted by Lara Klaber in Filmmakers

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We all know the saying, “age is just a number.” But will you still be saying that when you are 95 years old? Perhaps. But will you be living it from a stage in Las Vegas while getting ready to perform in the finals of the World Hip Hop Dance Championship? Most likely not.

Then live vicariously through 95-year-old Maynie and her gal pals Kara, 94, and Terri, 93. Join them and the rest of their dance troupe as they travel from Waiheke Island, New Zealand, to Vegas and learn how to hip hop in "Hip Hop-eration."

Early in the schedule, the group performed at the regional/national Hip Hop Championships in Auckland, New Zealand, for the first time in public. The crew was anxious about how the dancers would be received by the public.

“There was every chance that they may be laughed at, and not taken seriously,” says Filmmaker Bryn Evans. “The performance was incredible, and when the group did their final dance movement, the audience went wild. This was the moment I knew we had a great story.”

Evans followed the group during rehearsals, their fundraising and recruiting efforts, and their performances. Although Evans has heard of lots of groups doing interesting things in New Zealand, hip hop was not one of them.

"But the strength of this story was also the incredible individuals that were part of the group," he says.

At first, though, it took some time for the dancers to relax in front of the cameras and stop ‘acting’ in front of the crew. Evans says that they thought that "everything that was said in front of the camera was going to be in the film."

In fact, the first time the entire group and crew went to see the film together, a number of members said "that they had had sleepless nights" due to something they had said --up to eight months earlier -- on camera.

"They were certain that every word spoken was going to be recorded in the film," laughs Evans. "Needless to say after the first screening, which was terrifying for me, everyone exploded with joy and happiness."

Evans is looking forward to visiting Cleveland for the first time and screening at the CIFF. It was word of mouth that got him here. A friend who had a film screened at the festival a couple of years ago told him that this was "a very enjoyable festival to attend." That made the decision easy for Evans.

Evans, who hopes to making films way into his 90s, believes that everyone should be "empowered with the simple right to grow old with dignity and respect."

"'Hip Hop-eration' shows us that no matter what your age, we can continue to have goals and ambition in our lives and still have a lot of fun along the way," he says.

--Anne M. DiTeodoro
Photo by Elaine Manusakis.

PDF  Download Related PDF [1.4 MB]

Related Screenings:
03/27/15 @ 5:30 PM – Hip Hop-eration
03/29/15 @ 1:50 PM – Hip Hop-eration

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