Cleveland International Film Festival } March 29 – April 9, 2017

Suffering with the Stigma: Fostering Awareness of a Misunderstood Condition

April 07, 2016   |   posted by Lara Klaber in Filmmakers


We’ve all had the experience of struggling to contain our emotions. Maybe a moment on a TV show, or a song, or a stray memory, brings on a surge of feeling that we aren’t comfortable expressing; it’s just not the right moment to cry or start laughing. And we’ve all probably experienced the embarrassment of not actually being able to fully contain that inappropriate reaction.

But imagine what it would be like to struggle with those impulses—and lose—every day.

“Beyond Laughter and Tears” co-directors Doug Blush and Lisa Klein first learned about PseudoBulbar Affect (PBA), a neurological disorder that causes uncontrolled fits of laughing and crying, after touring with their documentary on bipolar disorder, “Of Two Minds” (CIFF 36).

“A good friend, who was also a fan of our film, called me with an interesting story about people who were dealing with an
almost unknown but very intriguing condition,” Blush recalls.

As he and Klein began to research PBA, they discovered that it afflicts an estimated 2 million Americans, most of whom are either undiagnosed or misdiagnosed. The husband-and-wife team interviewed countless sufferers in order to find subjects for the film who could represent “the range of PBA experiences, as well as diversity of backgrounds and situations.”

Ultimately, they focused in on six individuals scattered across the country, including one in Canton, Ohio.

People with PBA often struggle not only with the disorder itself, but with the social stigmas that inevitably attach themselves to it and to other neurological disorders; those who don’t understand the condition tend to attribute its symptoms to weakness, rudeness, or moral failings. Blush and Klein hope to help change that perception with their film.

“Themes of stigma, displacement, and living outside the norms really interest us,” Blush explains. “Telling the stories of people who don’t live in the spotlight, who are heroic in very personal and understated ways, has always been an underlying part of our films.”

As with “Of Two Minds,” which opened up new dialogues within the bipolar community, they want to send out a strong, hopeful message to both the sufferers of PBA and their families and friends: “You are not alone.”

It’s an especially important message for those with PBA, many of whom end up isolated, with even the most innocuous social situations transformed into hazardous minefields. Disarming those mines requires understanding and acceptance, which Blush and Klein hope their film will foster.

They are already at work on their next film, “The S Word,” which follows the work of “those who have survived suicide attempts and are now activists to help others.”

Lara Klaber

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Related Screenings:
04/07/16 @ 5:10 PM – Beyond Laughter & Tears: A Journey of Hope
04/08/16 @ 11:50 AM – Beyond Laughter & Tears: A Journey of Hope
04/09/16 @ 8:30 PM – Beyond Laughter & Tears: A Journey of Hope

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A Cancer Film for People Who Are Never Going to Get Sick

April 06, 2016   |   posted by Lara Klaber in Filmmakers


O’Hara is on a quest to prevent cancer before people get it. So the cancer survivor made what she calls a rock-n-roll cancer documentary.

She describes her film, “The C Word,” as “an empowering and hopeful movie about what each and every one of us can do to fight cancer within our own bodies and help the people that we love avoid ever going down that cancer road in the first place.”

O’Hara says she set out to make a film that would be unexpected and a bit edgy in order to make the subject entertaining and accessible to everyone.

“It does feel like a bit of a wild ride and it definitely changes you,” she says. “You come out a little bit different after seeing it and I think that, to me, is the value of what we do.”

The movie reminds people that up to 70% of cancer deaths are preventable. O’Hara acknowledges that cancer is scary, but she felt it was important to make a movie that is entertaining, “that doesn’t feel like a trip to the chemo suite.”

She explains, “By having fun with it, you actually have more power over the disease than you might think. There’s so much we can do to prevent it. It’s time for cancer to be afraid of us.”

Morgan Freeman does the voiceover for the film and is an executive producer as well. His producing partner, Lori McCreary, worked with O’Hara to write for him in a way that “brings out Morgan the man, not Morgan playing a character.”

The film outlines the four pillars of cancer prevention: diet, exercise, stress management, and toxin avoidance. “And if you put all of those four elements together, they can have a profound effect on whether or not we will ever develop the disease within our bodies,” according to O’Hara.

“You could make an entire film on any one of these things, and many people have,” O’Hara admits. “But for us, the power of what we are talking about is when you put them all together.”

As an award-winning producer, O’Hara’s advice to filmmakers just starting out is to be confident in the story they want to tell and how they want to tell it.

“Own that; because as a director you have to,” she advises. “If you don’t, nobody will. At the same time, and this is something I learned from Michael Moore, be open to great ideas wherever they come from. I would say be collaborative, be open and be sure of yourself.”

—Lisa Curland

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Related Screenings:
04/06/16 @ 7:20 PM – The C Word
04/07/16 @ 1:40 PM – The C Word
04/08/16 @ 11:40 AM – The C Word

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Creative Therapy

April 06, 2016   |   posted by Lara Klaber in Filmmakers


Norwegian filmmaker Henrik Dahlsbakken made his film “Returning Home,” as a form of therapy.

His brother had just lost one of his best friends while serving in the army. The loss not only affected his brother, but affected their relationship.

He decided to make “Returning Home” in order to deal with the loss … “to tell an honest story about brotherhood, consequences of war, and family relations based on those real-life emotions.”

The film focuses on two young brothers in Norway and critics rave about the performances of the two actors. Most note that the young boys are truly believable as siblings. Dahlsbakken auditioned boys between ages 14 to 18 and only those that had previous film experience.

“The young actors had to understand the framework of filmmaking from the very beginning,” he says. The filmmaker was working with a limited budget, shooting with a limited supply of 35mm film, and was on a tight 15-day schedule. Åsmund Høeg and Fredrik Grøndahl were selected to play the two brothers in the film. The two “had this immediate connection between them, that felt very real,” says Dahlsbakken. “It was almost too easy to get them believable as brothers.”

His film not only has two great lead actors, but the film's heartfelt story is “something we all can relate to, I think, even though it's taking place in a distant country,” says Dahlsbakken. He also notes that “majestic Norwegian nature is something that needs to be experienced on a big screen.” (And he gives props to his then 20-year-old brother who beautifully captured the setting on 35mm in CinemaScope.)

Dahlsbakken’s aim with “Returning Home” was to make people think. “It's really about awareness and the ability to see the people around us,” he says. “The film's ending is quite devastating, but I think there's a hope in there. These people will get through the hard times because they are not alone. The importance of compassion cannot be underestimated.”

In a film focused on two brothers, it’s fitting that Dahlsbakken’s brother served as the film's cinematographer, and the two also did the production design together. “As you might imagine, this was a very special project for both of us,” he says.

This is Dahlsbakken’s first time visiting Cleveland. He’s only been to New York and Boston previously, “so the US is a whole new world to me,” he says. He’s glad to be here while “Returning Home,” screens. “The film is very dear to me,” he concludes. “I'm looking forward to screening it for Clevelanders.”

Anne M. DiTeodoro

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Related Screenings:
04/06/16 @ 6:30 PM – Returning Home
04/07/16 @ 12:10 PM – Returning Home

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The Style and Substance of Country

April 06, 2016   |   posted by Lara Klaber in Filmmakers


When you hear the term “country music,” chances are that it immediately conjures a strong image in your mind. You can probably imagine the distinctive sound of the music, but the image itself is more unique and personal, based on when you first became aware of the genre.

Maybe it’s Hank Williams in his cowboy hat, Johnny Cash in sober black, Dolly Parton’s bouffant hair and sparkly outfits, or Taylor Swift’s runway-model garb in concert. It probably depends on just when you first discovered the music, and who was performing at the time.

In “Country: Portraits of an American Sound,” Steven Kochones traces that changing look, and its underlying substance. “As the music evolved, so did the image, from humble hillbilly to rhinestone cowboy to pot-smoking outlaw to stadium-filling megastar,” he says. “Photography opened a window into that world.”

The documentary, which began as a 37-minute short film in conjunction with a 2014 exhibition at Los Angeles’ Annenberg Space for Photography, delves into the interlinkage between sound and vision.

“The thing that inspired me,” he explains, “was each artist’s strong connection to the ideals of country music. No matter how the styles have evolved, both musically and visually, the concept of ‘truth’ in storytelling has persisted over 90 years.”

Truth in storytelling is at the heart of what draws Kochones to his documentary subjects, which have included “Who Shot Rock & Roll: The Film” (2012), “The War Photographers” (2013), and episodes of the TV show “Artbound” (2015).

“I love the challenge of telling a big historical story,” he says, “by connecting the small, personal stories of the people who lived through that history—and doing it all without narration.”

Kochones met up with celebrated photographers like Michael Wilson and Les Leverett, tracing the relationships they forged with their subjects. He also interviewed many of country music’s most iconic stars.

“Kenny Rogers turned out to be a photographer!” he recalls. “And he is a serious one who has photographed for 30 years and won awards for his work. How perfect is that for a film that looks at country music through the lens of photography?”

He hopes that audiences, aside from simply getting to “enjoy the ride through the history of country music,” will get a deeper understanding of the genre and the artistry that goes into it. From classic shots taken at the Grand Ole Opry to Mary Stuart’s final portrait of Johnny Cash, the images are a window into the musical genre’s evolving soul.

“I hope they will appreciate how powerful images can be in understanding the artists whose music has meant so much to us and to American culture.”

Lara Klaber
Director Steven Kochones (far left) and DP Luke Geissbühler film Lyle Lovett and photographer Michael Wilson in Vienna, VA.

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Related Screenings:
04/06/16 @ 6:45 PM – Country: Portraits of an American Sound
04/07/16 @ 9:20 AM – Country: Portraits of an American Sound
04/09/16 @ 4:15 PM – Country: Portraits of an American Sound

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'Mad' about Cleveland

April 06, 2016   |   posted by Lara Klaber in Filmmakers


Native Clevelander and director Robert Putka brings us his first feature film, “Mad.” It’s “a drama with a comedy undercurrent,” he explains, that brings lighthearted moments to the challenges, and sometimes tragic reality, of the family dynamic.

After graduating from Brecksville-Broadview Heights High School, Putka enrolled in two years of media tech classes at the Cuyahoga Valley Career Center.

“I enjoyed writing, and connected with movies on a deeper level,” says Putka. “I’m constantly connecting with people, and movies are a way to bring people together.

Putting a piece of myself out there makes me feel less alone.”
Although shorts have been his strong suit in the past, he is now trying his hand at features. Putka drew from personal experiences to write his script, particularly the roles of the two sisters who possess a combination of Putka’s own personality traits.

“The feature is dialogue, actor-centric which is no different from my shorts,” he comments. “But I had to sustain my energy over a longer period of time. I was also juggling a larger cast and crew, but thanks to my producers, they were able to help guide me through that.”

Another challenge, although completely out of his control: his age.

“My age is a double-edged sword,” he says. “The work I’m doing is probably mature beyond my years, but you have to go the extra mile to get people to trust and believe in your vision.”

Nevertheless, at 25 years old, Putka is quick to offer some practical, common sense tips for other young, budding filmmakers just starting out.

“Make a ton of shorts, and keep them really cheap,” he says. “I focus on dialogue and characters. I write about what I know intimately, and things that hurt.”

Putka’s shorts have never actually been shown regionally, so he is even more proud to finally have a local platform to show his first feature.

“I’m incredibly thankful to the cast and crew for giving me their trust and respect,” he says. “I’m proud of the work we’ve done.”

He’s especially grateful to his Cleveland-based team of filmmakers who has been a solid foundation for Putka’s success from the very beginning. “The people here are the nicest, warmest, oddest bunch of people,” Putka says.

“I love Cleveland.”

—Amy Brown

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Related Screenings:
04/06/16 @ 5:00 PM – Mad
04/07/16 @ 9:10 PM – Mad
04/09/16 @ 12:30 PM – Mad

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