How long is long enough?

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

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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

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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

Family Values for the new millennium

March 27, 2014, 12:15 AM   |   posted by Lara Klaber in Festival Events

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There is no family cookie-cutter. Just as no two snowflakes are identical, every family unit looks differently, acts differently and operates differently. The common denominator, nonetheless, is love.

Family Diversity Projects presents their touring photo exhibit, “Love Makes a Family,” on display at Tower City through April 3, 2014. The exhibit is comprised of twenty family portraits that have lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) members, including quotes that share particular families’ messages to passersby. The unassuming display features families from all walks of life, young and old, and in all shades of humanity with the goal of debunking the myths and stereotypes of what it means to be a part of a family that has members of the LGBT community.

“Love Makes a Family” has traveled to schools, churches, museums, hospitals, and various other public establishments all across the nation to encourage onlookers to view these diverse families as if they were their own. Film audiences are encouraged to stop by and browse this positive imagery and read about their everyday challenges and successes. Family Diversity Projects is challenging people of all ages to embrace diversity and understand that these families face the same circumstances as any other family make up.

Presented by The Foundation Center Cleveland, “Love Makes a Family” is in Cleveland for the first time, thanks to the following co-sponsors: The LGBT Community Center of Greater Cleveland, Equality Ohio, Movement In Black, PFLAG Cleveland, GLSEN Northeast Ohio, and Gay Games 9. Spectators can view the photo exhibit at Tower City through April 3, 2014, located on concourse level 1 next to Payless. For more information, please visit www.familydiv.org.

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Miami's Soul Scene: An Interview with Dennis Scholl

March 27, 2014, 12:05 AM   |   posted by Lara Klaber in Filmmakers

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Dennis Scholl, Vice President/Arts of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and one of the team of directors who brought “Deep City: The Birth of the Miami Sound” to life, pays homage to Deep City Records, who was once the lifeblood of Miami’s soul scene.

CIFF: What inspired you to bring “Deep City” to the big screen?
DS: A friend sent me a re-issue of the Deep City music put out by Numero Records in Chicago. When I read the liner notes and found out that the music was all made in Miami, my home for the last 50 years, I was blown away. How could it be that something this extraordinary happened in my 305 and I knew nothing about it? So, with the partnership of two incredible African American filmmakers, we began to explore the legacy of [Miami Soul music].

CIFF: What were the first impressions of your main characters when you told them you wanted to share their story?
DS: The musicians were a bit reluctant at first, as their dreams and aspirations in the 1960s hadn’t been fully realized and they were not anxious to revisit that time in their lives. But my co-directors, Marlon Johnson and Chad Tingle, were relentless. They knew the Overtown and Liberty city community well, and they kept going back and letting the musicians know that the film was going to be an attempt to acknowledge and honor their contributions to American music. And little by little they came around, led by the irrepressible Willie Clarke, co-founder of Deep City, with Johnny Pearsall, who had passed away in 2000. Willie, Helene Smith and Clarence Reid signed on to the project and began to take us back to the 1960s in Miami, and the creation of the first black-owned record production company in Florida.

CIFF: What does it mean to you to have Deep City shown in Cleveland?
DS: To have the film shown at CIFF is a huge honor for the three of us. First and foremost, the festival is one of the most important independent film festivals in the world. Also, Cleveland, like Miami, had a scene like this led by Boddie Records, so I think audience members will respond to that.

CIFF: What important message would you like CIFF audiences to take away from the film?
DS: CIFF’s theme, “Home for Stories,” reminds us that we all have an internal narrative waiting to be expressed. Our neighborhoods are full of stories, and we want every single person to get a chance to tell their stories through the magic of filmmaking.

Interview by Amy Kersey

PDF  Download Related PDF [783.4 KB]

Related Screenings:
03/26/14 @ 5:10 PM – Deep City: The Birth of The Miami Sound and Who Shot Rock & Roll: The Film
03/27/14 @ 8:15 PM – Deep City: The Birth of The Miami Sound and Who Shot Rock & Roll: The Film
03/28/14 @ 11:15 AM – Deep City: The Birth of The Miami Sound and Who Shot Rock & Roll: The Film

Related Events:
03/27/14 @ 1:30 PM – Day and Knight in Akron

Neither Film School Nor School Film

March 27, 2014, 12:00 AM   |   posted by Lara Klaber in Filmmakers

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Robert Lemon has been bitten hard by the film bug.

Initially, when he began researching taco trucks, his focus was on dissertation work rather than a film. His original idea of exploring Mexican agriculture and cuisine soon developed into “how these taco trucks are considered across the United States in different cities.” While doing graduate work at Ohio State in 2004, he had become familiar with a controversy regarding the spread of taco trucks in lower-income neighborhoods in Columbus, Ohio, and decided to research the topic further. Soon, Columbus became the center of his story, and the dissertation had transformed into a documentary.

“I was always a photographer, so I’ve always taken photographs of everything I do anyway,” he explains. He swiftly amassed a large collection of pictures, but getting people to talk to him on video about the controversial issues connected to taco trucks—issues of race, poverty and immigration—proved difficult, until he made friends with Lidia Labra and decided to base a short film around her truck and her story.

“Transfusión” is actually a collection of six short films, an approach inspired by the common screening practices of film festivals Lemon attended. This approach freed him to tackle different issues and controversies that might not otherwise have fit together. “Every time the topic changes, it feels like you’re watching a different film,” he says.

The construction of the films was also influenced by his teaching position. “The whole time I was filming and editing I was thinking, ‘How am I going to use this in the classroom?’” His students were his first target audience, which has made the film a tough sell to mainstream festivals.

“I’m getting a lot of contacts from university libraries and Latin-American Studies departments to show the film,” he observes, but “the only [film festivals] that are accepting it are the ones that have more of an intellectual audience base or have immediate experience with the issues.”

Lemon has decided to treat that as a challenge, and hopes to produce an alternative cut that will have broader mainstream appeal. He says that there will definitely be a next film for him, too, although he isn’t sure if it will be “a documentary or a narrative or something in between.” Whether film complements his academic career, or steals him away from it entirely, remains to be seen.

—Lara Klaber

PDF  Download Related PDF [783.4 KB]

Related Screenings:
03/23/14 @ 4:45 PM – Transfusión
03/25/14 @ 2:10 PM – Transfusión
03/27/14 @ 8:00 PM – Transfusión

Related Events:
03/27/14 @ 1:30 PM – Day and Knight in Akron

The Weight and Texture of Memory

March 26, 2014, 12:20 AM   |   posted by Lara Klaber in Filmmakers

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It’s an iconic image for many: an enormous quilt spread out across the Washington Mall, seemingly endless, in memorial to everyone who had been lost to the AIDS epidemic, which Nadine Licostie calls “the most devastating pandemic in human history.” That epidemic was still new in 1987, when the NAMES Project Foundation AIDS Memorial Quilt made its first historic appearance. Hysteria and misinformation still ran riot; many funeral homes refused to handle HIV-positive remains and a memorial panel was the closest thing to a funeral service that many victims received.

After 1996, the quilt wasn’t displayed on the Mall again until the Smithsonian Institution organized its return for its 25th anniversary in 2012. When Licostie joined the team to help coordinate the exhibition, she immediately realized that a once-in-a-lifetime documentarian opportunity was unfolding. “We had to begin filming right away,” she says. Ultimately, this resulted in “The Last One,” a film that examines the Quilt’s inception, its rise to prominence, and its envisioned ultimate conclusion.

Twenty-five years after the Memorial Quilt first appeared in Washington, both it, and the devastating epidemic it represents, have receded in many memories. For Licostie, who specializes in documentaries about social justice issues, this was a chance to help revive both those memories and public awareness of the devastating toll that the HIV virus still takes.

Licostie suspects that most people will be surprised to realize that AIDS is still a major threat in the U.S., with 50,000 new infections per year. “For many people,” she points out, “HIV/AIDS is happening somewhere else, but the reality is that it is happening everywhere.”

Just as most people underestimate the current relevance of the Quilt, they may not be aware of how much stigma and discrimination remains attached to AIDS victims. Many remain under the impression that contracting AIDS is a sign of moral weakness and poor choices. “Ironically,” Licostie observes, “HIV/AIDS does not discriminate. We all suffer from the effects of this disease.”

The Quilt, however, remains one of the bright and vibrant aspects of what might otherwise seem like an unrelentingly bleak story. Through it, the film “honors all the people we’ve lost to HIV/AIDS and also all of the people that fought for those that were suffering. The public outcry broke through so many barriers and we became a better nation and a better world because of it.”

That legacy is something that she hopes audiences will come away with a better understanding of, even as they also realize how much work is left to be done, and how public awareness is still crucial to defeating AIDS completely. The story, she says, is woven into every aspect of our contemporary lives.

“This film gave me the chance to look at an issue that had many intersections: politics, media, health policy, social justice. All of it is there stitched into fabric.”

Lara Klaber

PDF  Download Related PDF [993.2 KB]

Related Screenings:
03/26/14 @ 6:15 PM – The Last One
03/27/14 @ 12:15 PM – The Last One

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