A Stand-Up Guy in the Classroom

March 26, 2015   |   posted by Lara Klaber in Filmmakers

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What happens when a stand-up comedian decides to retire from the road and start a family? For “Teacher of the Year” director Jason Strouse, that meant it was time to take up teaching AP English.

“I got married, so stand-up comedy wasn’t really as attractive anymore,” he says. “It’s a real young man’s job, and I didn’t want to travel anymore. And I knew that the writing would come and go, but you gotta pay your bills consistently.”

He wasn’t sure whether teaching was the answer, but it turned out that he was a natural. “I adapted to teaching so quickly because of my stand-up comedy experience. It’s so similar, except it’s easier because the audience is sober and they can’t leave.”

Almost immediately, he found himself playing problem-solver. “When I first arrived, the kids had just lost their film club . . . and then I was talking to the principal of the school, and she was complaining about the work-study program. She said, ‘I get these kids these great placements in doctors’ offices and working in law firms, but then they come back and they tell me all they’re doing is making copies and getting coffee.’”

Meanwhile Strouse had received financing for a film but needed to keep costs down. “I said, ‘well, you know, I want to make a movie, and if you let me use the school, I’ll give them some real jobs where they’ll get some real experience.’ She said, ‘that sounds great to us.’”

Although he had originally been working with a different script, “Teacher of the Year” developed naturally as a result.

“When TV shows and movies are about teaching,” he points out, “they’re usually overly dramatic. I think that there’s an inherent drama in just educating kids, but there’s comedy there, and it doesn’t have to be so big, because the small daily aspects of the job are just so funny to me.”

At the same time, “Teacher of the Year” does not pull any punches. The hard choice that the film’s protagonist faces, whether or not to take a better-paying job that he finds morally repugnant, is a situation that constantly robs school systems of talent.

“One of the things that I experienced during my career,” he says, “is a number of brilliant teachers who left the profession just because they couldn’t afford to be teachers.” Strouse believes that teachers earn a small fraction of what they truly deserve to be paid, based on their impact on society.

He saw evidence of that impact during the summer film shoot, when kids from his classes joined his crew. “They were just amazing. The adults just couldn’t believe it. And I said, ‘look, these are not regular kids, you know, the kid over there with the camera is going to be an engineer someday, and the girl over there wrangling extras is gonna be a surgeon.’ I knew they could do it. I knew they would come through.”

And that is what makes a Teacher of the Year.

Lara Klaber

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Related Screenings:
03/26/15 @ 8:30 PM – Teacher of the Year
03/27/15 @ 9:40 PM – Teacher of the Year
03/28/15 @ 11:35 AM – Teacher of the Year

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

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Return to the Beachland Ballroom

March 25, 2015   |   posted by Lara Klaber in Festival Events

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The Cleveland International Film Festival made its return to the Beachland Ballroom & Tavern in Cleveland’s Collinwood neighborhood for the second year in a row. Although the original structure was built in 1950 as the Croatian Liberty Home, the venue has been a popular music venue since 2000 playing host to a diverse range of musical acts.

With such an ideal setting for the music scene, it seemed only fitting to feature films dedicated to the art. First up was “Heaven Adores You,” a documentary on the late singer-songwriter Elliott Smith that honors his life as a talented musician, person and friend. The film captures intimate interviews with those who knew him best to give audiences a closer look at the life he led and impact he made on others.

Tuesday evening turned soulful with “Take Me to the River,” a musical journey to Memphis, Tennesee, the home of Stax Records in the 1960s. The documentary showcases impromptu jam sessions with legendary artists paired with today’s up-and-coming talent to demonstrate the importance of collaboration and honor the traditions of Stax Records that have always been true to the music.

On Wednesday, Rob Montague’s “Long Way to the Top” screened followed by an after party, which featured two bands: Maura Rogers and the Bellows, and Filmstrip.

Neighborhood screenings nestled in the Waterloo Arts District have been very well-received by moviegoers. Cindy Barber, one of the owners of the Beachland Ballroom, hopes to incorporate a live musical performance after feature films are shown at next year’s festival in 2016.

Amy Brown

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Related Screenings:
03/22/15 @ 7:00 PM – Take Me to the River
03/22/15 @ 9:30 PM – Heaven Adores You
03/23/15 @ 5:45 PM – Heaven Adores You
03/23/15 @ 8:00 PM – Take Me to the River
03/23/15 @ 9:25 PM – Long Way to the Top
03/24/15 @ 11:50 AM – Take Me to the River
03/24/15 @ 6:00 PM – Long Way to the Top
03/24/15 @ 7:30 PM – Long Way to the Top After Party
03/25/15 @ 12:30 PM – Long Way to the Top
03/29/15 @ 9:00 AM – Take Me to the River

Related Events:
03/23/15 @ 5:45 PM – Two Evenings at the Beachland Ballroom

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Inspiring Performances at Tower City Fountain

March 25, 2015   |   posted by Lara Klaber in Festival Events

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Festival-goers were treated to a string quartet playing everything from Michael Jackson to Handel on Tuesday evening. The Music Settlement sponsored the performance in advance of two screenings of “Crescendo! The Power of Music.”

The quartet members were Taylor Beckwith and Kennedy Smith (alternating 1st and 2nd violin), faculty member James Rhodes (viola) and Mahogany Richardson (cello). All three students have been training under Cleveland Orchestra member Isabel Trautwein as part of the “El Sistema” program at Rainey since it began three years ago.

“El Sistema,” the film’s subject, emphasizes community-based orchestra training from a young age, with a focus on making music fun and inspiring young musicians with a passion for music and for life.

The Music Settlement is sponsoring an additional performance at the Tower City fountain on Wednesday at 1:30 p.m.

Lisa Curland

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Related Screenings:
03/24/15 @ 6:50 PM – Crescendo! The Power of Music
03/25/15 @ 2:25 PM – Crescendo! The Power of Music

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Exploring Loyalty, Regret, and Family

March 25, 2015   |   posted by Lara Klaber in Filmmakers

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Wade Gasque was enjoying a successful run as an actor in theater and commercials. Then one day, he “just got tired of doing sorta crappy theater,” and turned his talents to writing and directing.

“It was very liberating to be able to create my own projects,” he says.

His latest project is his first feature film, “Tiger Orange,” about two estranged gay brothers who reconnect after the death of their father.

His life partner, Mark Strano, who plays the lead character, Chet, conceived the idea, wrote the screenplay, and asked Gasque to direct it. Once he read it, he fell in love with it.

The story, he explains, is “compact and intimate storytelling.” It’s truly Mark and Frankie’s [Valenti, who plays Chet’s brother Todd] performances, their connection. “It's a very relatable story about home and how we define that and how it defines us,” he says.

Chet is the repressed brother who never left his family’s small-town home. His brother Todd leaves at 18 and never looks back. (Valenti, who plays Todd, is a former gay porn star known as Johnny Hazzard.)

“And the irony is that they're both struggling with the same feelings of emptiness, resentment, and lack of intimacy,” explains Gasque. “I think anyone with a sibling or a family … they’re going to relate to what these brothers are going through.”

And audiences have been relating to the film. It’s been to several festivals around the world and Gasque has gotten a lot of “That’s my brother up there.” A more boisterous reaction happened at the film’s premiere in Los Angeles last July. The audience started clapping and screaming, “Go Chet! Go girl!,” when Chet steps out of his comfort zone and does something bold and out of character.

“As a director, you sit in a dark edit bay for so long with the movie and you're never really sure how it's going to land,” he says. “It's VERY gratifying to get that kind of acknowledgment in a theater.”

Although now a feature filmmaker, the actor in him is still there. Gasque cast himself in small role in the film. “It's very early on, so don't blink or you'll miss it,” he jokes. “To be honest, I just didn't feel like going through the casting process for such a small role so I took the role myself to make things easier.”

Anne M. DiTeodoro
Photo by Tim Safranek

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Related Screenings:
03/25/15 @ 4:45 PM – Tiger Orange
03/27/15 @ 11:50 AM – Tiger Orange
03/28/15 @ 8:15 PM – Tiger Orange

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A Sampling of Home-Grown Hits

March 25, 2015   |   posted by Lara Klaber in Filmmakers

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Photo by Nanekia Morgan. L-R: Jake Thomas ("Hotwire"), Hernan Barangan ("The Road Rebellion"), and Erin Brown ("Hotwire") are ready for action!

The CIFF may be an international film festival—with films from 60 countries—but few programs hit closer to home than our Ohio Shorts programs. These are short films made by or about people (or issues) from Ohio, or shot in Ohio, representing some of the best locally grown talent.

Hernan Barangan’s “The Road Rebellion” is connected to a larger series of videos that he has been producing for the last few years under the umbrella of “The Cancer Rebellion.” A cancer survivor himself, he teamed up with Teen Cancer America “because I realized that the one thing that’s common to nearly every young cancer patient is the fact that they are horribly isolated. This was a huge part of my own experience when I was going through treatment, and I struggled with it for many years after I beat cancer.”

His special Cleveland connection is with Char and Chuck Fowler, who established the Angie Fowler Adolescent and Young Adult Cancer Institute at Cleveland’s Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital.

“Teens and young adults must have access to age-appropriate cancer treatment,” he explains. “This is the first step to ensuring that they get through treatment and move past it to live healthy lives.”

Once he finishes his tour of the nation, he plans to assemble a video library and a feature film “that people can turn to for hope,” and that will also serve as a call to arms.

On the narrative fiction side, husband-wife writer-director dynamic duo Jake Thomas and Erin Brown, graduates of Canton’s Malone University, have cooked up an action-adventure excursion into magical realism with “Hotwire.” Inspiration struck when the couple was waiting for a table at one of their favorite restaurants, and Erin reassured Jake that he didn’t have to worry “because she’s ‘not a time bomb,’” he recalls. “That was a funny idea that stuck with me throughout dinner, so we brainstormed a story about a man living out an action-movie fantasy in his head while navigating a stressful dinner date.”

After several drafts, they had their script: the story of shy, daydreaming Stan (Hans Obma, “The Vampire Diaries”), who has one chance to win the woman of his dreams (Teri Reeves, “Chicago Fire”) before she leaves for an overseas job. His inner action hero knows exactly how to do it in his dream world, but now he must balance that world with reality.

Reality intruded upon fantasy during their film shoot, too: “Erin and Beth Napoli were on the roof of the Warehaas [in Los Angeles] with the ninja performers and camera crew,” Thomas remembers. “When she called ‘Action!’ the actors took off running and leapt down into camera frame. The building shook a little, but kept on rocking. While everyone was amazed at how much force the actors exerted throughout the structure, in reality a light earthquake had rattled the whole city. It’s the take we used in the very first shot in the film!”

Lara Klaber

PDF  Download Related PDF [1.3 MB]

Related Screenings:
03/19/15 @ 8:50 PM – Ohio Shorts Program 1
03/25/15 @ 9:20 PM – Ohio Shorts Program 2
03/26/15 @ 9:40 PM – Ohio Shorts Program 3

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