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

Keepin' It Local

April 06, 2016   |   posted by Lara Klaber in Filmmakers


Those of us from Northeast Ohio love to keep things local. Akron native Brian O’Donnell enjoys it as well, hence the name of his film: “Akron.” (And it takes place in…? You guessed it: Akron, Ohio.)

“I was born and raised in Akron,” O’Donnell says. “So many important, formative moments of my life happened in Akron, so it’s not a great surprise to me that my writing would take me there.”

For O’Donnell, filming in his hometown wasn’t only symbolic, but essential to the development of the film as a whole. “We consider the environment to be another character in the film,” he says. “The end of winter in Ohio—when the snow and ice thaw and the color starts to come back to the sky and the fields—these help to further enhance the themes of the film.

The film focuses on the story of two University of Akron students, Benny and Christopher, who begin a relationship. When they discover a past event involving their two mothers, it threatens to destroy not only their relationship, but their families as well.

O’Donnell found the inspiration for his film while attending the opera with a friend. He thought to himself, “I’d like to write a movie with themes like these—two houses against each other because of fate, a strong love story, a strong mother-son relationship,” he says. He finishes his thought, “but with a central gay love story.”

Sasha King, who co-directed and co-produced with O’Donnell, praises O’Donnell’s script. It’s a “love story with two young men who had the full support of all of their family and friends in their relationship,” she says.

“The plot in the story has nothing to do with them being gay. Although we think this would be the normal in LGBT films, it is not.”

The crew has been thrilled by the response received from festivals and the press. “It has been universally embraced,” says King. Festival audiences have said that “Akron” is an “evolutionary step in LGBT filmmaking.”

The film screens first in Cleveland, then moves to, where else, Akron.

—Molly Drake

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Related Screenings:
04/06/16 @ 1:50 PM – Akron
04/08/16 @ 7:00 PM – Akron

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Long Years Invested in Animated Short Pay Off for Art Prof

April 05, 2016   |   posted by Lara Klaber in Filmmakers


The 20-minute animated film, “Claire & the Keys,” took John Ludwick five years and 24 drafts, but he doesn’t seem to mind. “In the world of work,” Ludwick says, “I’m the tortoise, not the hare. Iceberg deadlines suit me.”

Ludwick’s pace has suited the film as well, as the story of a young girl who wants to learn to play the piano against her mother’s wishes has been screening at festivals around the world. “Claire” has won several awards – including Best Animated Short at the Berlin Independent Film Festival, Best 2D Animation at the World Animation Celebration Film Festival, and Best Animation Screenplay at the Southampton International Film Festival.

The idea for “Claire” came to Ludwick during a trip to Poland with frequent collaborator, illustrator Dan Baldwin. They discussed the differences between themselves and the students they taught. Ludwick explains, “It propelled many ideas in me - regarding what people invest in, how knowledge passes from one generation to the next, how one generation doesn’t care what the last generation thinks.”

He sketched a small series of panels of a girl, who played piano with technique but without heart, and a teacher who tried to draw out that heart. The seed of “Claire & the Keys” was planted. As both of his sisters played the piano, “it just seemed right,” Ludwick says.

The Ball State University assistant professor, who is used to spending six months to a year on projects, worked on the film primarily outside his regular workday. He says independent films like “Claire,” unlike momentum-carrying blockbusters like “The Avengers,” are mainly fueled by the filmmaker’s enthusiasm. “There was a time ‘Claire’ almost died every month for a year,” Ludwick says. “It was angst-ridden for sure.”

But he says that working on the challenging project kept him driven. “Everyday I saw more of the film come together,” Ludwick says, “And it made me want to see more. I was becoming a better storyteller, animator, artist every day - and that meant a lot. I cared for the characters and wanted them to find release.” He calls all the aspects that kept him going during the arduous journey a “perfect storm.”

Ludwick was fortunate enough to show a draft of “Claire” to Mark Kennedy, head of story at Disney Feature Animation, and receive feedback. Ludwick says it made him feel more responsible. “I was fairly accomplished as a storyteller,” he says, “So to have Mark’s knowledge as a Disney storyteller brought to bear on my film helped me focus my film’s through-line.” The “subtle and nuanced” changes Kennedy suggested took Ludwick about four months to fix.

It is perhaps fitting that the educator’s film screens as part of the FilmSlam Shorts Program for Middle School Students, which provides Northeast Ohio students with the opportunity to see new films and engage in critical discussion and analysis.

Sharing his knowledge with a younger generation means a lot to Ludwick. “I was a late bloomer; I was a toe-dipper,” Ludwick says. “But I learned late in life to dive first. And I happily pass this hard-learned lesson on, if they'll hear it.”

—Avinash Chak

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Ethical Dilemma: Dealing with Suicide as a Filmmaker

April 05, 2016   |   posted by Lara Klaber in Filmmakers


“Forced into this life. Left on purpose.” Those were the words Mayer Vishner, an aging peace activist, penned for his own obituary.

When director Justin Schein first met Vishner, who had once stood with Abbie Hoffman as a core member of the Yippies (Youth International Party), he was “alive with wit and engaged with the movement for social justice,” Schein says. The filmmaker envisioned making a profile covering Vishner’s idealistic youth and his struggle to come to terms with his place in the world today.

Vishner warned him, "It’s very difficult to convey just how different I am when I’m out with people than when I‘m home alone for days at a time.”

Six months into the project, the depressed Vishner disclosed that he intended to end his own life. At that point, Schein knew he could not hide behind the camera any more.

“I decided that if this film was to go forward, the ethical dilemma of dealing with suicide as a filmmaker and friend had to be part of the story,” Schein said.

He wrestled with the question, “Can you in good conscience keep filming when your subject has declared that the film will be about his suicide—yet how do you stop filming when you believe the film is keeping your subject alive?”

Schein sought advice in order to deal with the issue in a responsible way. He met with a medical ethicist, lawyers, psychiatrists, and a professor of journalism ethics and documented each meeting on film. He also sought out an advisor to the film who was an expert in suicide prevention.

“Lastly, and most importantly, I don’t think I could have moved forward with the film if I didn’t know that Mayer was under the care of doctors who knew of his desire to die,” he said.

Schein told Vishner that if he knew the exact details of his plan, he might feel the need to intervene. Heading home on the plane the last time they saw each other it was not spoken explicitly, but Schein knew. “Thus the hug, the ‘I love you,’ and Mayer telling me that his one regret was that he wouldn’t see the film.”

Schein thinks it is important to point out that the suicide rate for men Mayer’s age has risen almost 50% in the past decade. He hopes his film will help begin a discussion on the issue.

“Mayer once told me that when you say that you are ‘dying of loneliness’ people think that you are writing a poem or a song or a story—they think that such pain is not real,” Schein said. He believes that Vishner would have wanted people to understand that psychic pain is as real as physical pain.

—Lisa Curland

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Related Screenings:
04/05/16 @ 4:15 PM – Left on Purpose
04/06/16 @ 9:20 PM – Left on Purpose

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Solace in the Sand

April 05, 2016   |   posted by Lara Klaber in Filmmakers


Preparing to die. Defying the odds. Choosing to live. Daniel Cardone documents the moving “Desert Migration,” as he depicts individuals who had all but given up but are bravely daring to begin again.

For Cardone, film has always been a natural form of expression.

“It was not a choice,” he says. “There was no question what I was going to do. As a child, I was obsessed with film.”

After his experience working with San Francisco’s HIV Story Project (a non-profit bridging HIV/AIDS with film, media and storytelling) and then moving to Palm Springs, California, and exploring a community of men living with HIV who found support in their neighborhood, Cardone decided to pursue his first feature documentary.

“There was a learning curve,” recalls Cardone. “It was letting go of control of the documentary to see where this goes, asking where is the movie taking me.”

While many men in the community were excited to see the finished product, fewer were willing to open up for the camera. In order for individuals to feel comfortable sharing the most intimate details of their lives, Cardone ensured a judgment-free environment. He reassured everyone, “You don’t have to justify yourself. I am here to tell your story.”

Mainstream media, for the most part, has gone quiet about HIV in recent years, and Cardone feels the news that does make it to the masses is often misinformed. His goal was to educate the audience without stripping the film of each character’s raw, emotional impact. As the narrative began to unfold, Cardone would pose an important question: “Would this be something we read in a pamphlet once or had in a dream once?”

He was sure to err on the side of dream.

“I made a very serious film, but I’m not a very serious person,” Cardone joked. “It was designed to be a transcendental, immersive experience, and was influenced by meditation.”

Cardone is excited to share his film with the Cleveland International Film Festival’s diverse audience of filmgoers, LGBT or otherwise, who are open to experiencing new worlds through film.

“The film was made to speak to people with no experience or [those who don’t] know anyone living with HIV,” says Cardone. “It’s not just about growing old as LGBT. It’s about growing old, period.”

—Amy Brown

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Related Screenings:
04/05/16 @ 9:30 PM – Desert Migration
04/06/16 @ 2:15 PM – Desert Migration

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Hanging on to Holden

April 05, 2016   |   posted by Lara Klaber in Filmmakers


For accomplished Emmy Award-winning director Jim Sadwith, The Catcher in the Rye was more than a high school English assignment. His shared experiences with the book’s lead character, Holden Caulfield, helped define his teenage years and inspired his search for the notoriously private author, J.D. Salinger. “Coming Through the Rye is Sadwith’s story.

“I’ve worked on a number of movies and TV miniseries, and so many people have asked me over the years when I was going to tell my story,” Sadwith says. “I thought, if I’m ever going to do it, I may as well do it.”

Besides a name change of the lead character from “James” to “Jamie,” Sadwith stuck to the script.

“I was a misfit at my boarding school, and I identified with Holden Caulfield,” recalls Sadwith. “I had an extra affinity for a guy going through the same thing. My personal experiences compared to Jamie’s [in the film] are 90-95% accurate. As for the conversations I had with J.D. Salinger, those are about 99% accurate.”

Naturally when casting for Jamie, Sadwith’s younger self, he had some specific requirements in mind. Fortunately after a worldwide casting call, Sadwith found Alex Wolff and felt he was a natural fit for the role.

“I was determined to have a real 16 year old play a 16 year old in the film,” Sadwith insisted.

Not to mention the uncanny resemblance.

“Alex looks just like me at that age,” he says. “We put my high school picture up next to his and people would do double-takes.”

Sadwith praised his cast and crew’s amazing enthusiasm and spirit for bringing his story to the big screen. As the writer, director, producer, and real-life embodiment of the film’s entire plot, he has lived and breathed this story for about 46 years.

“By the end of it, I didn’t think I ever wanted to see the film again,” Sadwith says.” But my favorite part of the whole process is going to the premieres and watching it with the audience.”

Sadwith has yet to miss a screening.

For audience members that aren’t familiar with The Catcher in the Rye, Sadwith assures the characters are timeless, and the events that unfold are relatable in any era. It may even inspire some to read or re-read the classic novel.

“It’s a story about courage and perseverance in the face of adversity,” he says. “It’s about falling in love. It’s about Jamie’s search for Salinger, but also the search for himself.”

—Amy Brown

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Related Screenings:
04/05/16 @ 11:35 AM – Coming Through the Rye
04/06/16 @ 7:00 PM – Coming Through the Rye
04/07/16 @ 4:20 PM – Coming Through the Rye

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