Inspired by History

March 27, 2015   |   posted by Lara Klaber in Filmmakers

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Story is always what leads Kyle Rideout and Josh Epstein toward what they choose to work on.

For their first feature film, “Eadweard,” the two friends sensed that Eadweard Muybridge was “one of those historical figures, who never quite got his due.”

“We were shocked that the story has never been made into a feature film. He is the godfather of cinema, but his obsessions got the best of him,” Rideout says.

The two men started writing the script while touring with a successful stage production of “Studies in Motion,” a play about Muybridge’s life.

They say their passion came directly from living inside Muybridge’s story. According to Rideout, they were intrigued by Muybridge’s life and wanted to dig deeper.

In the early days of the script, Rideout and Epstein travelled to Philadelphia, where Muybridge originally photographed his motion study series, to learn more about the character. Fast forward to being on the set where they had goats, pigs, dogs, horses, and “a lot of nude people.”

“The real Eadweard took photos that very few people in his time were able to do. We had this constantly in our minds and were so inspired as we walked and worked in Eadweard’s dusty boots,” Rideout says.

Rideout says the thing that kept him up at night the most while making this film was thinking about how to create Muybridge’s full white beard so the details would look realistic in ultra-high definition. Luckily, Michael Eklund, who plays the lead role, “graciously volunteered to grow a glorious beard and let us bleach it white.”

While this is their first feature film together, Rideout and Epstein have previously produced several award-winning shorts together.

With this experience in hand, the two were willing to challenge convention and make a period indie for their first feature because they felt the story wouldn’t be told if they waited. They credit their crew in Vancouver and the theater company they grew up with for helping them pull it off.

To make the project happen on the budget they had, they said they knew they had to make it fun.

“Partnerships only work well if you challenge each other to be better, to work harder, achieve more,” according to Rideout. He says the two constantly try to outwork each other while working towards the same goal.

Lisa Curland
Photo by Jason Miller.

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Related Screenings:
03/26/15 @ 4:25 PM – Eadweard
03/27/15 @ 6:00 PM – Eadweard
03/29/15 @ 12:00 PM – Eadweard

Related Events:
03/27/15 @ 6:00 PM – Cleveland Museum of Art Gartner Auditorium

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Earning Respect: Artist to Artist

March 27, 2015   |   posted by Lara Klaber in Filmmakers

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Old rock music—Aerosmith and early Metallica specifically—brought filmmaker Nick Cavalier and Cleveland artist Derek Hess together. It was how Cavalier got the gifted, but very private, artist to open up.

Hess, says Cavalier, is a very interesting and complex guy, but a difficult interview. “He doesn’t really open up too easy,” Cavalier explains. “So getting to know him as a friend first was super important.”

Cavalier, a Solon, Ohio, native and Hess fan since the age of 14, was surprised that no one else had approached the artist about a film.

He emailed Hess through his website, via Marty Geramita, Hess’s manager.

“I really had no expectation that they would even get back to me,” says Cavalier.

Cavalier wanted to tell the story of this brilliant, but troubled, artist. Hess—who started out drawing flyers for concerts at the Euclid Tavern and now has his art displayed at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum and the Louvre—struggled with mental health issues and addiction.

“I did not want to present those things in a bad light,” says Cavalier. “At the same time, we absolutely need to expose that, because that, in my opinion, is where his strength lies as an artist.”

Cavalier knows what it’s like being the troubled kid. He could draw, too. And it was art that “straightened” him out, he says.

“Being bipolar myself, I can speak for Derek and say we feel everything more intensely than normal people,” says Cavalier. “... We have both been through similar life challenges that shaped us.”

That common ground was what earned Hess’s respect. “He knew I was coming from a genuine place, not an exploitive one,” says Cavalier.

The filmmaker, who is now based out of Los Angeles, will be back in Cleveland on his birthday, no less, for the world premiere of his first feature film, “Forced Perspective.”

“Cleveland means a lot to me,” he says. “This is an exciting time in my life, and I feel now more than ever before, Cleveland ‘has my back.’”

Anne M. DiTeodoro

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Related Screenings:
03/27/15 @ 8:30 PM – Forced Perspective
03/28/15 @ 6:30 PM – Forced Perspective

Related Events:
03/27/15 @ 6:00 PM – Cleveland Museum of Art Gartner Auditorium

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An International Producer With Cleveland Roots

March 26, 2015   |   posted by Lara Klaber in Filmmakers

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Producer Jim Stark’s latest film, “Mirage,” may be set in Hungary, but his Cleveland connections run deep.

“I first fell in love with movies watching films by European directors like Fellini and Bergman at the old Heights Art Theater,” he says. Part of him dreamed of making films that powerful, but somehow, law school beckoned instead. That is, until he met another special Cleveland connection: Jim Jarmusch. The rest is synergy.

“Stranger Than Paradise,” Jarmusch’s second film and Stark’s first foray into filmmaking, was partly shot in the Cleveland area. Stark’s and Jarmusch’s families housed the crew for the shoot, and Stark’s 86-year-old grandmother starred as “Aunt Lotte.”

“If I hadn’t done that film with Jim,” he admits, “I would probably still be practicing law.” Instead, he found a new outlet for his creative talents.

Most people, when they think of film producers, imagine men in suits who hold the purse strings and interfere with directors’ creative visions, but the truth is far different. Often, a producer is a primary source of a film’s creative vision.

“A producer like me,” he explains, “has to choose and shape the idea and story of the film, helps to pick the cast and crew, is active in the film’s final form (how it is edited) and then strategizes the way the film goes out into the world . . . People think filmmaking is all about the weeks that a film is shooting. In fact, from first idea to release online or home video, an independent producer like me works on a film for at least three or four years, and I have done films that took a decade to finish.”

Stark became a regular collaborator with Jarmusch, producing iconic films like “Mystery Train” and “Night on Earth.”

“The films I did with Jim had a strong visual esthetic, a deadpan sense of humor, and small budgets,” he says. “Most of the films I have done since then have had the same characteristics.”

Those characteristics got the attention of Hungarian director Szabolcs Hajdu, who approached him when he was on the jury of Romania’s Transilvanian Film Festival. Hajdu wanted to dramatize the plight of cattle ranchers in the Hungarian puszta, many of whom are exploited as serfs by unscrupulous cartels that rose in the wake of the Iron Curtain’s fall.

Initially, Hajdu had tried to make a documentary about the situation, but had to abandon the project after one of the puszta farm bosses threatened to kill him. Now he had decided to make a narrative feature film, but with a twist: “he decided he would actually prefer to tell the story in the form of a classic Western.” The idea appealed to Stark. “I liked him, and thought it was a crazy idea, so I agreed to do it.”

Stark’s filmmaking projects take him around the world. He is finishing production on several films in Mexico, and recently took a turn in front of the camera as “a gonzo American journalist in a Japanese film called ‘The Shell Collector.’” But his films keep bringing him back to Cleveland, and the CIFF, and it’s always a special journey. “These days, I seem to find new things to like about Cleveland every time I come to visit.”

— Lara Klaber

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Related Screenings:
03/26/15 @ 7:00 PM – Mirage
03/27/15 @ 11:45 AM – Mirage

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It's Never Too Late to Be Inspired

March 26, 2015   |   posted by Lara Klaber in Filmmakers

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Sooner or later, almost all of us are faced with the prospect of aging. Jilann Spitzmiller thinks keeping life meaningful for our most senior citizens is a huge question and one that has many answers.

She hopes “Still Dreaming,” the documentary she co-wrote and directed with Hank Rogerson will help fuel that conversation. The film follows a group of retirees at the Lillian Booth Actors Home as they rehearsed and performed Shakespeare's “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

Because The Home is a retirement facility for people in the entertainment business and their family members, the administration was very open to the idea of having the residents engage more fully by doing an entire play with an outside director.

“There were certain things that we knew to look for that are very powerful in the rehearsal process, like when a person really connects their own history with what a character is going through,” says Spitzmiller. “There is an uncanny connection for the woman playing Hermia in this production, for example.”

Once they started filming, they found that “Still Dreaming” became a tale of the ups and downs of the cast as they tried to move forward towards a performance.

“We didn’t foresee how much the mental and physical challenges of aging would become an issue for the players,” she says. “There were so many obstacles in the way for each of them. But that made the actual performance experience very rich, and the outcome was eventually very rewarding.”

One of the most beloved of those players, Charlotte Fairchild, started her entertainment career at the Cleveland Playhouse. Charlotte went on to New York City and became a well-known singer and dancer in over 50 productions. On Broadway, she starred in “42nd Street,” “Damn Yankees,” “Mr. President,” and “Fiorello.” She was also an understudy for Angela Lansbury in “Mame.” Fairchild still has family in the Cleveland area who will be attending the festival.

Spitzmiller says that what the residents at the Lillian Booth Home were able to experience doing “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” just blew her mind and it made her very optimistic about her last years, if she is lucky enough to make it to old age. It also taught her not to wait to go for her biggest dreams.

In addition to launching “Still Dreaming,” Spitzmiller is collaborating on a film called “Fantasies of Flying,” which is an autobiographical film about suicide, trauma and healing by a Canadian Cree filmmaker, Georgina Lightning.

Spitzmiller’s advice to young filmmakers is to find their own voice by listening to the stories that tap them on the shoulder and won’t let go. She encourages them to read books on storytelling structure and analyze how the story is told.

Spitzmiller and Rogerson hope their film helps people be more optimistic about their own aging process, and also more proactive.

“We hope this film inspires people, no matter their age, to jump into the things they absolutely love doing, that light them up, and that they don’t wait until it’s too late,” she says. “It’s these very things that can keep life rich and joyful until the end. I think life should be as full, as meaningful and as enjoyable as possible.”

Lisa Curland

PDF  Download Related PDF [1.3 MB]

Related Screenings:
03/24/15 @ 11:45 AM – Still Dreaming
03/25/15 @ 11:50 AM – Still Dreaming
03/26/15 @ 6:00 PM – Still Dreaming

Related Events:
03/26/15 @ 6:00 PM – Hanna Theatre at Playhouse Square

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To Ban or Not to Ban: The Bottled Water Debate

March 26, 2015   |   posted by Lara Klaber in Filmmakers

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Concord, Massachusetts, home of “the shot heard round the world” that kicked off the American Revolution, has had a long history of patriots and statement makers. The latest in the line of activists is 84-year-old Jean Hill who has taken on the uphill battle against plastic water bottles.

“When I first read of Jean’s 2010 attempt to pass a bottle ban, the story was reminiscent of Rocky, if Stallone were replaced with a fiery grandmother,” says director Kris Kaczor. “Worried that Jean’s efforts would be lost to history, in 2011 we began to film her third attempt battling the third largest corporation in the world.”

Kaczor’s film, “Divide in Concord” takes a look at a town divided over the issue of bottled water bans. Similar debates are happening in several other cities across the country, so the topic is timely.

“We feel most nations today are living in a way that Earth cannot sustain,” Kaczor says. “We also feel communities have the right to maintain the quality and control of their own public water supply. Concord’s unique story was precisely where these two notions intersect.”

The specific issue of banning the sale of single-serve plastic bottles is a major point of contention in Concord for residents on both sides of the issue. However, the heated debates are not arbitrary but rather come from very practical reasoning to ban or not to ban.

“Most everyone easily agreed to on-camera interviews to have their opinions documented,” says Kaczor. “We were quickly taken aback at how knowledgeable the citizens of Concord were on the various positions they held. It became clear that, although divided, they were not misinformed.”

Even though locals were more than willing to participate, other aspects of the filmmaking process proved challenging in many ways.

“Besides creepy hauntings, vehicle break-ins, self-funding the film, and random hotel fires, the largest challenge in making this film was giving equal respect to the opinions of a clearly divided town,” Kaczor says. “We wanted the film to be a mirror to reality, rather than a platform to preach.”

Whether audiences agree or disagree with Jean Hill and her firm stance for a bottle ban, she is a reminder that one individual can, in fact, make an impact in a big way.

“Instead of complaining about something, a person should do their best to make it better,” says Kaczor. “As Jean hopes, ‘This bottle ban has to pass. People will say, if Concord can do it, so can we.’ And it will spread like a stone in the water and the circles going around it.’”

Amy Brown

PDF  Download Related PDF [1.3 MB]

Related Screenings:
03/26/15 @ 8:30 PM – Divide in Concord
03/27/15 @ 4:20 PM – Divide in Concord

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