'Israeli Paradise' in Iran lost but not forgotten

March 26, 2014, 12:15 AM   |   posted by Lara Klaber in Filmmakers

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Most cannot remember a time when the Middle East was not suffering from a reputation of violence, danger, and political unrest. Yet, history books tend to skip over the fact that there was such a thing as the “Israeli Paradise” in Iran only a handful of decades ago. Dan Shadur’s family experienced the dichotomy of life as Israelis before and after the Islamic Revolution in 1979, and the stark contrasts of the way life was and exists today were reason enough to shed light on not only a personal account of family history, but of a bigger, untold story of Israelis in Iran.

“The 60s and 70s were a golden age for foreign expats in Tehran, Israelis included,” Shadur comments. “My parents were there from late 1975 until early 1979, and I spent my first year there before diplomatic relations between Israel and Iran were cut and all Israelis were expelled from Tehran.”

Dan’s mother often reminisced about the family’s glory days and held on to stunning and mysterious photo albums that documented their lives in Iran before the revolution.

However, as Dan got older, he remembers, “The image of Iran for an Israeli growing up in the 80s and 90s became more and more intimidating and alien, and this contrast - between the utopian images and the dark reality - always fascinated me. When I started researching a few years back I realized that the story of the Israelis in Iran contained some aspects very different from the narrative laid down to me.”

Besides the typical trials associated with creating a project, Shadur’s major struggle for his first feature film was larger than finances or creative influences.

“The biggest challenge was striving for the right balance between the personal and political story in the film,” Shadur recalls. “Both contain extremely delicate and explosive components. I dealt with personal materials in my shorts, but none of them were intended to reach such a vast audience, and none had such a strong political aspect.”

After interviews and research conducted to complete “Before the Revolution,” Shadur has received a wide spectrum of opinions on the outlook for life to exist as it was before the revolution between Iran and Israel in his lifetime.

“I have had many encounters with Iranians, especially since the film was released, and most of them filled me with hope regarding the bond between the two people,” he says. “But, on a more strategic level, it's hard to be optimistic about the political climate in the Middle East, Israel and Iran included.”

“Before the Revolution” illustrates the life of an Israeli in a controversial era, but Shadur inspires viewers to look at the bigger picture. “I hope the audience will contemplate on the fragility of life, political hegemonies, the deceiving nature of nostalgia, and our responsibility for atrocities taking place under our nose.”

Amy Kersey

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Related Screenings:
03/26/14 @ 7:20 PM – Before the Revolution
03/27/14 @ 5:00 PM – Before the Revolution

Screening to His Peers at Film Slam

March 26, 2014, 12:10 AM   |   posted by Lara Klaber in Festival Events

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Film Slam is the Festival’s longest-running educational program, offering Northeast Ohio’s junior high and high school students the opportunity to see new films from innovative filmmakers around the world. More than 6,000 students from the region attend special morning programs during the Festival, watching films, engaging in question-and-answer sessions with filmmakers, and learning about media literacy. The program is celebrating its 22nd anniversary this year.

For sixteen-year-old Geoffrey James of Chagrin Falls, Film Slam has special significance: his film is playing in front of students his age. James is the director of “Check Please,” a live-action short about the lengths two friends will go to be the one who picks up a tab, playing in the Comedy Shorts collection and Ohio Shorts Program 1. James says that the story was inspired by a dinner that his family and some friends had, and the fifteen-minute negotiation over who would get to pay for it that occurred after the meal was done. He wrote and directed it over the summer of 2013, while fifteen, but he’s been making films for years.

When James was eight years old, a babysitter introduced him to iMovie. “I thought it was the coolest thing that you could make movies in your own house. I never thought that you could do that. I thought you had to go out to L. A. and be in Hollywood to make movies.”

James made movies using his laptop camera and posted them to YouTube, before he decided to take things to “the next level” two years ago. This led to a crash course for him, and his close friends and family, in the inner workings of filmmaking. He has a core group of friends who have helped him with all of his films, and his parents are deeply committed to his visions, too. None of them have connections to the film industry, but all of them have been willing to learn. James, meanwhile, “learned how to really produce, and pick up the phone and call people.”

The reactions that people had to those calls, particularly regarding his age, determined who would be on his crew. “Being sixteen, there’s two ways that people respond to it. They either have an immediate respect, or an immediate disrespect. And so, that’s really how I found this crew,” he explains. “If they don’t respect you when you’re on the phone, they’re not going to respect you on set.”

That’s where James is happiest. “I’m where I should be on set,” he says. “During the school year… it just doesn’t feel right to me because I’m just looking forward to the summer when I can finally get back on set.”

Showing “Check Please” to Film Slam audiences was exciting, too. “During certain parts of the film, they had the exact reactions I was hoping for, so that was really rewarding.” He thought it would be awkward to talk to other high school and junior high students, some of whom were older than him, until the questions started. “They were really intelligent questions that were fun to answer and fun to hear.”

Many of those questions came from aspiring filmmakers. His advice to anyone seeking to follow his path is straightforward enough: “Just grab a camera, write something or even improv it, and just go make movies, because that’s the way you learn: you learn by doing.”

Lara Klaber

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Related Screenings:
03/21/14 @ 9:40 PM – Ohio Shorts Program 1
03/23/14 @ 6:20 PM – Comedy Shorts Program
03/24/14 @ 9:10 AM – Ohio Shorts Program 1
03/24/14 @ 9:35 AM – Comedy Shorts Program
03/27/14 @ 1:30 PM – Ohio Shorts Program 1

Finding Perspective

March 26, 2014, 12:05 AM   |   posted by Lara Klaber in Filmmakers

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Focus on Filmmakers award winner, Michelle Ehlen, wears many different hats in her feature film, “Heterosexual Jill.” She not only plays a leading role in the film, Ehlen also wrote, directed, produced and edited it.

“I love doing all the various roles,” she says, “and, honestly, for me it’s more fun than difficult.” Ehlen says she enjoys directing herself because she is in control and can do whatever she chooses. As the editor, she can review the footage “with a more critical eye.”

“Heterosexual Jill” is inspired by Ehlen’s first feature film, “Butch Jamie.” “‘Butch Jamie’ has many of the same characters as this movie, so it was really an interest in exploring these characters and their relationships further,” says Ehlen.
“Butch Jamie” concentrates on gender issues, whereas “Heterosexual Jill” takes a deeper look at sexuality, Ehlen explains. The protagonist, Jill, thinks Jamie is a man, but when she finds out the truth, they have an affair anyway.

“The film looks at sexuality as existing on a continuum and capitalizes on the humor that arises from an over-attachment to one’s identity and what it’s supposed to mean,” she says.

Ehlen plays Jamie, whom, Ehlen says, “is a dyed-in-the-wool butch lesbian” who eventually “starts having a crisis after she dreams about men.” Jill, on the other hand, struggles with something completely opposite: “she would love to dream about men but she isn’t.”

Playing with these ideas of identity and sexuality, “Heterosexual Jill” questions what it means to be hetero, homo, bisexual, you name it.

“The main idea for me is that sometimes the way we think of ourselves clouds the reality of who we are,” says Ehlen. “Identity is both the way we understand ourselves and the way we misunderstand ourselves.”

Audiences will find “Heterosexual Jill” fun and entertaining, but are sure to see past the surface of the film. “Beyond being queer or not being queer,” Ehlen says, “it’s all about perspective on who we think we are and who we think we should be.”

— Molly Drake

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Related Screenings:
03/26/14 @ 8:45 PM – Heterosexual Jill
03/27/14 @ 2:00 PM – Heterosexual Jill

Documenting American Music's Hidden Royal Family

March 26, 2014, 12:00 AM   |   posted by Lara Klaber in Filmmakers

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Music has always been a central part of “The Winding Stream” director Beth Harrington’s life.

“I’m a musician myself,” she says. “I sang in rock’n’roll bands for years.” Her love of music, and music history, led her to the creation
 of “Welcome to the Club: The Women of Rockabilly.”

“While I was working on it, I met all these women who talked about their influences, and the Carters kept coming up.” The coincidences kept building as Roseanne Cash came on board to narrate the documentary. “I was aware of the connection between Johnny Cash and June Carter, and this original Carter family that goes back to the 1920s, and I thought, ‘Gee, no one’s really told that whole story.’”

Harrington decided that a documentary about the Carters would be her next project, and planned to contact Roseanne Cash about it once “Welcome to the Club” was finished, but Roseanne emailed her before she could do so. She had been vacationing with her family and had realized that she knew the perfect person to tell their story.

“She said, ‘Beth should be down here making a film about this.’” The invitation was exactly what Harrington had hoped for, and soon she found herself filming Johnny Cash in one of his final interviews before his death in 2003.

“Johnny Cash, I’d always known about and loved. But the Carters were just a set of figures where I didn’t think I had internalized their music.” Although she knew some Carter songs, she had no idea how ubiquitous their music was within American identity. “I didn’t know them the way I know Beatles music, but when I got to know the music, I realized, ‘Oh my god, this is in everything.’” Their body of work was “almost like an encyclopedia of American music.”

Harrington, who has worked on award-winning shows like NOVA and Frontline, has three themes that tend to run through all of her work: music, American culture, and—surprisingly—religion.

“I keep seeing it pop up. That’s a common thread that I don’t even expect,” she marvels. The religious and spiritual identities of different American groups fascinate her and frequently become a fundamental part of her examination of the diversity of American identity.

The Carters, in particular, intrigue her for the way their songs often trip off of the lips of people who have never consciously heard of them. “We might even think we don’t know who they are, but when we say ‘keep on the sunny side,’ or ‘will the circle be unbroken,’ people know those songs,” she points out. Now, people can know the family behind the songs as well.

—Lara Klaber
Photo by Nanekia Morgan

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Related Screenings:
03/25/14 @ 8:55 PM – The Winding Stream
03/26/14 @ 7:00 PM – The Winding Stream
03/27/14 @ 11:25 AM – The Winding Stream

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

Cleveland Foundation Day at CIFF

March 25, 2014, 12:30 AM   |   posted by Lara Klaber in Festival Events

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In celebration of their 100th anniversary, The Cleveland Foundation generously sponsored a free day at the Cleveland International Film Festival. Newcomers and festival regulars were delighted to enjoy a day of free films.

Lorie Novak couldn't wait to see a shorts program. She had heard about one of them while watching the recent Oscars, although she couldn't remember the name.

"It's about robot life," Novak says. "And I said, 'I gotta see it! I gotta see it.' That's why we're seeing it."

Lorie wasn’t the only one excited about films today. Further down the line, Benjamin Burney was waiting patiently. "This is the first year I joined the CIFF," he says. "I think it's phenomenal."

Others, who were already fans of the CIFF, were grateful to the Cleveland Foundation for allowing them to introduce friends to the festival. "This is the coolest, most brilliant thing ever!" said Amy Dawson.

Though lines were long, CIFF staff and volunteers helped move crowds quickly and efficiently in and out of theaters.

“It’s extremely well organized,” said Linda, a CIFF veteran. “I went to one of the first festivals when they started in Cleveland Heights over twenty years ago and it’s just gotten larger and larger and more fun every year.”

Regardless of age, height, race, or sex, all CIFF audiences are united in their love of film. Because of the free event, many first time patrons promised to be in attendance next year.

Thank you to our friends at the Cleveland Foundation, “And thanks for the candy, too!” We couldn’t have said it better ourselves.

-Anne DiTeodoro and Molly Drake

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