Exposing the 'Less Seen and Less Heard'

March 28, 2014, 12:00 AM   |   posted by in Filmmakers


P J Raval is back in Cleveland presenting his second feature film, “Before You Know It.” His first feature, “Trinidad,” won the Nesnadny+Schwartz Documentary Competition at the 34th Cleveland International Film Festival. “Before You Know It” is a documentary film that examines aging, specifically amongst members of the gay community. Raval is being recognized in both CIFF’s “Someone to Watch” and “Focus on Filmmakers” programs.

“One of the things that does unite us, is that everyone gets older,” says Raval.“If there’s one thing that doesn’t discriminate, it’s the aging process.”

Raval was inspired to focus on gay seniors during the promotion of his first film.

“I was at a reception for the film [“Trinidad”] and there happened to be a large number of gay seniors in attendance,” he says. “That’s when I recognized them as a population.”

“I’m not 65 plus,” he laughs, “but what I can understand is the concept of outsiderness.” Which is what Raval believes about most people. “We can all overcome our challenges and be empowered,” he says.

The filmmaker started filming “Before You Know It” with the intention of exposing “less seen and less heard” stories. Raval feels that gay seniors “have a unique set of challenges,” and yet they are collective. “I wanted to make a documentary to look at these issues,” says Raval. “But when we look at their stories, we see they are universal and part of the human experience.”

The elderly gay community is not one of typical experience. “When people think about gay seniors, they usually think about super stylish men in San Francisco or maybe ex-activists in the Village,” Raval explains. “No one thinks about a closeted man in Florida who used to be married and now lives alone.”

“I want to combat the stereotype about gay seniors,” Raval continues.

That “closeted,” partner-less, elderly gay person is exactly who Raval wants to expose to the world. “These are people who were born pre-civil rights and are alive all the way up until gay marriage and marriage equality,” says Raval. “They are the living embodiment of what we could call the gay civil rights movement.”

“Before You Know It” illuminates what unites us as humans, even when it seems we could not be any more different.

—Molly Drake

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Related Screenings:
03/28/14 @ 6:20 PM – Before You Know It
03/28/14 @ 9:45 PM – Trinidad
03/29/14 @ 12:30 PM – Trinidad
03/29/14 @ 2:30 PM – Before You Know It

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Rick Whitbeck Evening at Cedar Lee

March 27, 2014, 12:35 AM   |   posted by in Festival Events


Each year, the Cleveland International Film Festival hosts an evening in memory of Rick Whitbeck at the Cedar Lee Theatre in Cleveland Heights. Whitbeck co-founded CIFF with Jon Forman who is President of Cleveland Cinemas. Forman greeted the audience of “The Winding Stream.”

“Oh, and thirty eight years ago,” said Forman, “I founded the Film Festival with Rick Whitbeck.”

Whitbeck passed away in 2008 at the age of 61. The co-founders met as students at Case Western Reserve University and quickly bonded over their love of film. Forman shared the results of Whitbeck’s feasibility study that revealed, “a film festival would not survive in Cleveland.”

Clearly, that study missed the mark. Tonight is not only the eighth day of the 38th CIFF, it marks the ninth consecutive year of the festival’s return to its original home at the Cedar Lee Theatre.

As the crowd entered the theater, the evening’s community sponsor, Roots of American Music (ROAM), entertained them. “The Winding Stream,” showcases the women of the Carter family and their powerful contribution to American music. The film’s director, Beth Harrington, attended along with her friends, family and associate producer, Laura Ross, who is a new Cleveland transplant.

Molly Drake

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Related Screenings:
03/26/14 @ 7:00 PM – The Winding Stream
03/26/14 @ 9:15 PM – Waltz for Monica

Related Events:
03/26/14 @ 7:00 PM – Rick Whitbeck Evening at the Cedar Lee Theatre

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Small actions making a big difference

March 27, 2014, 12:30 AM   |   posted by in Filmmakers


Hunger may inevitably be a global struggle until the end of time. While that seems like a tall order for someone looking to make a dent in the fight against it, three ultimate do-gooders are making a big difference with their seemingly small missions in their own communities. Jesse Roesler sheds some much deserved light on these selfless deeds in “The Starfish Throwers.”

“I was inspired by these people who looked at a seemingly unsolvable global problem and said essentially, ‘Even though I will never solve this, I will give it my all,’” Roesler explains. “I was so curious, where does this amazing courage and tenacity come from? And what I discovered is that our impact really does reach further than our individual action.”

Since Allan, Krishnan, and Katie, the heroes of the film, are not naturally eager to seek the limelight, getting them on board to share their stories with the masses took a bit of persuasion.

“All three of the subjects took a fair amount of convincing to be a part of the project,” Roesler recalls. “Once I was able to share my hopes and goals for the project and explain that we would have a very small imprint during production, all three became excited about the idea. And once we were able to meet and spend time together, we all became fast friends and it was like, ‘How could we NOT do this?’”

With a petite budget from the Jerome Foundation and the Minnesota State Arts Board endowments to start, the team earned additional funds through their Kickstarter campaign. Thankfully, between Roesler’s full-time role with commercial and corporate projects and a crew willing to work more as a labor of love in place of full salaries, the film was able to be completed.

“I'd say the biggest challenge was endurance to finish a feature length film on nights and weekends when 50+ hours a week are already committed to the commercial work,” says Roesler. “I could have never finished this film without the immense talent and commitment of the film's editor Bill Kersey. I've always edited my own films so it was a leap for me to have someone else cutting my footage. Bill brought so many things to the table that made this film sing in ways I had never considered. It's been the greatest collaboration of my artistic career in that regard.”

“The Starfish Throwers” shares the tales of unsung heroes that are doing incredible work right in our own neighborhoods. What began as simple acts of kindness are proving to others that no act of love is too small.

“I believe now more than ever after making this film that stories have an immense power to inspire positive change in our world.”

Amy Kersey

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Related Screenings:
03/27/14 @ 6:40 PM – The Starfish Throwers
03/29/14 @ 5:20 PM – The Starfish Throwers
03/30/14 @ 7:20 PM – The Starfish Throwers

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Embodying the Extraordinary: An Interview with Alec Whaite

March 27, 2014, 12:25 AM   |   posted by in Filmmakers


Alec Whaite from Claudia Pinto’s “The Longest Distance,” shares his inspiration for film, how he prepared for his role, and what’s on deck for his career.

CIFF: What inspired you to become an actor?
AW: My grandmother and I used to play mimicry games, and I remember loving that. I played Peter Pan in a school production when I was six years old, and I profoundly enjoyed it. It sort of always made sense to me. One of the greatest things I’ve been told about acting is, “Plays and great stories are about ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances of the soul.”

CIFF: Why did you decide to pursue a role in “The Longest Distance”?
AW: I never thought I’d get the role to begin with. When I auditioned for the film I was told that the character was in his mid-thirties, with long dark hair and muscle built. The audition tape would serve as training and in the best-case scenario an opportunity for me to send my work to a great director hoping that she might consider me for other future projects. When I read the script, I fell completely in love with Claudia’s compelling story. When I was offered the part, I don’t think I’ve ever said a quicker “Yes!” in my entire life.

CIFF: How did you prepare yourself for your role?
AW: I play Kayemó, a young man born and raised in the innocence of the Venezuelan Amazon who decided to run away in the pursuit of a better, more ambitious life. I underwent a specific diet regime that consisted of only eating food that one would find in the Great Plains: lots of vegetables, fruits, seeds and grains. I also started working out with a trainer so I could get his body type. I wanted to explore the dichotomy of Kayemó’s inner life, how he lost it and came to terms with leading a completely different lifestyle.

CIFF: How has your theatre training been different in L.A. compared to London?
AW: I’m eternally grateful to both, the Royal Central School of Speech & Drama in London and the Stella Adler Academy of Acting & Theatre in Los Angeles, for giving me so much. Theatre in London is beyond accessible. You can walk into a pub and on the back terrace they’re prepping for tomorrow’s fringe matinee. It’s absolutely wonderful. I found great relief in training at Stella Adler. In other words it became my everyday church. That transition period one might have to deal with was basically non-existent as I felt I had been there for years.

CIFF: What is next for you?
AW: I am currently developing a script with my brother, which we’d like to have ready before the end of the year. After having experienced The Longest Distance, I have been toying with the idea of writing for the screen, submerging myself in learning the craft and building it slowly.

CIFF: Is there anything else you think would interest CIFF audiences?
AW: Claudia Pinto’s film is the first movie ever to be developed and shot almost entirely in the Venezuelan Great Plains. The setting is the sixth biggest national park in the world as well as one of the oldest territories on our planet.

Amy Kersey

PDF  Download Related PDF [783.4 KB]

Related Screenings:
03/27/14 @ 6:45 PM – The Longest Distance
03/28/14 @ 3:45 PM – The Longest Distance
03/30/14 @ 9:35 AM – The Longest Distance

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How long is long enough?

March 27, 2014, 12:20 AM   |   posted by in Filmmakers


When four teenagers in Akron, Ohio, better known to locals as “The Cooler Bandits”, robbed a string of restaurants in 1991, no one argued that no matter what cards were already stacked against them, they were in the wrong. However, when they received prison sentences that ranged up to 500 years, even the restaurant owners found these enormous numbers unsettling. With no injuries incurred in any of the crimes, many wonder if the offense fairly matched the penalty.

John Lucas, a Northeast Ohio native, spent time working with the Big Brother/Big Sister program, and had the chance to meet several kids in Akron’s North Hill neighborhood. After moving to Los Angeles, Lucas stayed in touch with the people he worked with in Ohio to attempt to understand the unfortunate circumstances driving the community into poverty and incarceration. He began following the story of “The Cooler Bandits” from their trial, sentencing, imprisonment, and reintegration for the men trying to start life after jail.

While this is Lucas’ first feature film, his over 20 years of experience as a documentary photographer has developed his eye for “filling the frame.”

“Cropping has always been a dirty word to me,” says Lucas. “I take pride in an image that is full-frame, in the fact that what I was seeing and feeling as I looked through the camera is what the viewer sees.”

As for the significant attention to detail, Lucas says, “It’s often the moments without dialogue that hold the most weight for me; facial expressions, slight gestures that pull the viewer closer to the subject. In this film, that’s important to me because it’s the complex humanities of the guys that I’m most interested in and it’s the complex humanities that historically, have been ignored or denied to them.”

Ultimately, though, Lucas’ true inspiration was the men themselves.

“I watched them grow up in prison,” he says. “I watched them confront realities that most of us only consider theoretically. And, I admired how they did all this with strength, dignity and perseverance.”

Since these events occurred so close to home, it seems only natural for its debut to be right here in Northeast Ohio. “I can’t think of a better place to premiere the film!” Lucas exclaims. “The guys will be there, their families and friends. Well, all except Frankie Porter. He’s the only “cooler bandit” still incarcerated. Staring at this crazy, really unfathomable 200-500 year sentence.”

“The Cooler Bandits” is already inspiring positive change in the community. “Two original victims of the robberies, the only two I was successful tracking down, recently signed a petition we started, in which we will ask the governor to commute Frankie’s sentence,” Lucas says. This is a true testament that those directly affected by the crime of these men years ago are the very ones speaking out against their lengthy punishment.

Amy Kersey

PDF  Download Related PDF [783.4 KB]

Related Screenings:
03/26/14 @ 2:00 PM – The Cooler Bandits
03/27/14 @ 4:45 PM – The Cooler Bandits
03/28/14 @ 11:20 AM – The Cooler Bandits

Related Events:
03/26/14 @ 7:00 PM – Rick Whitbeck Evening at the Cedar Lee Theatre

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