Exploring a Delicate Balance

March 21, 2015   |   posted by Lara Klaberin Filmmakers

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Marcy Cravat had already made several portrait-style documentaries about Bay Area artists when she discovered Jason Taylor’s “ambitious, compelling artwork,” a collection of underwater statues “housed” in Mexico’s National Marine Park off the coast of Cancún. She impulsively contacted Taylor, and he agreed to let her shoot a documentary about him.

“I think humans fantasize about living in the ocean,” she says. “Jason’s work has universal appeal because it transcends us into that mysterious aqua world.”

Initially, the documentary was all about the artist and his art. Cravat traveled to Cancún and filmed Taylor as he created a new statue—titled “Angel Azul”—and installed it in the underwater exhibit. Many of the other statues had become homes for fish, coral, and other aquatic life forms … which had always been part of the plan.

“Nature is hugely and endlessly responsible for my visual inspiration,” she says; “few
environments could be more inspiring.”

Midway through filming, everything changed for Cravat when she discovered that the new coral growing on the statues was already starting to die. It was then that “I became aware of a huge environmental problem,” she says, and the focus of her documentary shifted.

Her quest to understand what was happening to Taylor’s statues, and to the ocean as a whole, took her to the experts.

“Because I am not a scientist,” explains Cravat, “I brought in reputable scientists to explain the problems and solutions, and the film became a full-fledged environmental documentary.”

“Angel Azul” fuses Cravat’s meditations on Taylor’s statues with her analysis of the destructive forces threatening the oceans we dream about. “The deeper message of the film,” she explains, “is that everything connects.” A film driven by an environmental crisis could have become an excursion into alarmism, but Cravat’s belief in humanity’s creative spirit is unwavering: these are problems that she not only believes we must solve, but also knows we can. To her, Taylor’s statues “symbolize our role as a species to correct our mistakes.” Their beauty is a beauty that all humanity can achieve if we are willing.

Cravat is already filming her next documentary, “Dirt Rich,” which she believes contains a possible answer to the quandaries she uncovered while filming “Angel Azul.” It should be another life-changer. In the meantime, she hopes that Taylor’s spectacular statues will help show the world that “living in concert with the natural systems, rather than dominating them, is really our only hope for our species to survive on this planet,” and that none of the true beauty of life has to be sacrificed to make that possible.

—Lara Klaber

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Related Screenings:
03/20/15 @ 9:45 PM – Angel Azul
03/21/15 @ 4:10 PM – Angel Azul

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Shedding Light on Local Lore

March 21, 2015   |   posted by Lara Klaberin Filmmakers

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Director Eric Murphy’s list of the most talked about topics around his family’s dinner table is an interesting one.

“Jesus Christ. JFK. Frank Sinatra. Jim Traficant. And not necessarily in that order.”

This seemed to have been true for many Ohio households who knew of the local Congressman’s fame in the 1980s. For Eric Murphy growing up in Warren, Ohio, not only was Jim Traficant a permanent fixture in his childhood, but he has lived and breathed his name and legend for the last 10 years creating “Traficant: The Congressman of Crimetown,” a documentary on the rise and fall of the once greatly respected and admired Congressman of Youngstown, Ohio.

“He was a folk hero to everyone,” says Murphy. “He was always in the news. I used to scan the paper each morning for pictures and headlines of Traficant. He amused me.”

When the steel mills in Youngstown could no longer support the jobs of 50,000 of its residents, Traficant was the voice fighting for those struggling to get back on their feet. Naturally, locals were inclined to praise him for his efforts. Yet, after a slew of political accusations and prison time, there was plenty more of the story Murphy felt he needed to tell.

“The biggest challenge creating this film was to focus on one story for such a long time and create a living document of history,” says Murphy. Since many people learned the ups and downs of the Traficant story through the lens of the media, it was particularly difficult to find all the pieces of the story and bring multiple perspectives to light.

Murphy’s humble start in poetry writing while attending Youngstown State University eventually led to the creation of his own film marketing degree. A high school acquaintance connected him with the Tim Ryan congressional campaign where he ran communications and became very close with Ryan who was previously Traficant’s driver from Youngstown to surrounding districts. After listening to countless stories of the Congressman, Murphy decided to pursue his film career full time in Los Angeles with the dream of ultimately bringing Jim Traficant’s story to the big screen.

Murphy is thrilled to show his film in Cleveland, so close to where the events took place so many years ago. Fortunately, with the help of two Kickstarter campaigns and celebrity support in Ed O’Neill of “Modern Family” and “Married with Children,” a former resident of Youngstown, Murphy has been able to make his dream a reality.

“This means everything to me,” says Murphy. “My mom, friends, and family will all be there. It’s like coming home.”

Amy Brown

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Related Screenings:
03/21/15 @ 6:20 PM – Traficant: The Congressman of Crimetown
03/22/15 @ 4:00 PM – Traficant: The Congressman of Crimetown
03/23/15 @ 11:55 AM – Traficant: The Congressman of Crimetown

Related Events:
03/20/15 @ 7:00 PM – Knight and Day in Akron

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Hobos and knives and wolves. Oh my!

March 20, 2015   |   posted by Lara Klaberin Filmmakers

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When a director warns you that his children’s film is not for over-protective parents, it’s hard to know what that means. That is, until you see an image of a wolf dragging a young girl by her pant leg. The young actress is the director’s daughter, but more surprisingly, the wolf is real.

“The Incredible Adventures of JoJo (And His Annoying Little Sister)” is a thrilling adventure ride that will surely inspire laughing and giggling from young audiences along the way. Yet it’s the parents who seem to enjoy it the most, according to writer Brian Schmidt, who co-directs with his wife, Ann-Marie.

The film is about a boy named JoJo who feels he is being sidelined by the attention his baby sister is getting. They end up in a car accident deep in the woods and over the course of their grand adventure to find their way home, JoJo comes to terms with the fact that he loves his sister. And that he probably shouldn’t sell her to the circus, either.

“What we really want is for kids to realize there is an entire world of adventure they can have right in their own back doors,” Schmidt says. “We also hope parents remember when they were younger and they were the ones staying out until the street lights came on; and maybe they’ll let their kids have a little bit more freedom to get into their own adventures.”

The Schmidts use a narrator so that the audience can share in the experience by understanding how the kids perceive their environment. They credit their nephew ,Jojo, who plays the title character, with helping them work out what he thought would be the best way to accomplish what they were going for.

“When you’re a kid, you see the world in such a different light, it’s always endless possibilities,” Schmidt says. “As a filmmaker, we get a chance to play around with that vision and make things more fantastical.”

He likes that however bad things seem to get, Jojo and Avila are able to hold on to their optimism. In making the film, the Schmidts wanted to capture the spirit of the two children as much as possible, saying that even for the next year or so afterwards, JoJo would continue to refer to Avila as his sister.

“Avila had a bad habit of trying to eat anything she could get her hands on, sometimes with disasterous results like cigarette butts and other gross stuff she found in parks,” he says. “JoJo also has a unique look on life; and as a side note he was at that age where he had a penchant for peeing on stuff wherever he was.”

The Schmidts want people who see their film to learn that a good film can come from anywhere, not just Hollywood.

“We were living in the middle of nowhere [Suey Creek Canyon in Nipomo, CA], at the end of a very long dirt road,” he explains. “They have bullfrogs the size of softballs there, and you are constantly trying to dodge the deer that seem to lie in wait in the brush before they see your truck and then dash out at the last second. We got a camera, took our kids, went into the canyon, and we came out with a film that we’re very excited about.”

Lisa Curland

PDF  Download Related PDF [1.4 MB]

Related Screenings:
03/19/15 @ 2:10 PM – The Incredible Adventures of Jojo (and his annoying sister Avila)
03/20/15 @ 4:30 PM – The Incredible Adventures of Jojo (and his annoying sister Avila)
03/21/15 @ 7:30 PM – The Incredible Adventures of Jojo (and his annoying sister Avila)

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Inclusion in the Arts

March 20, 2015   |   posted by Lara Klaberin Filmmakers

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“Love Land,” is set against the backdrop of the Disability Rights Movement and features a cast with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

“These actors draw you into their world, move your emotions, make it impossible to look away,” says Filmmaker Joshua Tate. “Even in the moments that are less than comfortable.”

His story follows Ivy (Monica Gaseor), whose traumatic brain injury leaves her with impaired cognitive and motor function, and Roger (Michael Iovine), a young man with Down Syndrome. They meet at the Love Land Ranch, an institution for the intellectually disabled.

Initially, Tate made a short film focused on a caretaker at an institution who turns violent. But he realized that the residents with disabilities “were underdeveloped tools” for moving the story forward. Bothered by that discovery, he decided that his next project would be a feature told from the perspective of a person with a disability who lived in one of these institutions.

“Love Land” is “intended to stand as proof of the quality of work that artists with disabilities are capable of,” says Tate.

If his film sparks a conversation, it “would be a mark of success in my book,” says Tate.

He continues: “Love Land” is part of a growing movement toward empowerment and equality—joining the "nothing about us without us" chant in the entertainment arena.

The film is endorsed by several advocacy organizations, such as the Disability Cinema Coalition and Down Syndrome in Arts and Media.

The film made its world premiere at the New Orleans Film Festival in October 2014 and won its Special Jury Mention for Ensemble Cast Award.

Anne M. DiTeodoro

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Related Screenings:
03/20/15 @ 9:20 PM – Love Land and Guest Room
03/21/15 @ 12:10 PM – Love Land and Guest Room

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What "Made In China" Really Means

March 20, 2015   |   posted by Lara Klaberin Filmmakers

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Photo by Tim Safranek. "Factory Boss" director Zhang Wei receives a Cleveland HOG (Harley Owners Group) leather jacket from local Harley enthusiast David Bowen.

For most of us, the crisis in Chinese factories is a topic that we have at least a passing familiarity with. From the 2007 scandal with tainted pet food to the audits, exposés, and reforms associated with tech manufacturers like Foxconn, the news has painted a bleak picture of the factories that supply a large proportion of the products we buy. For Zhang Wei, director of “Factory Boss,” the story is more personal: this is a world he knows intimately, and he wants to give audiences around the world a better understanding of it.

“I used to work in the manufacturing sector for two decades,” Zhang says, “so I know it all too well.”

The idea of telling the story was what inspired him to direct films. He spent seven years developing the project, working with several screenwriters to build a story that would resonate with audiences.

“Factory Boss” tells the story of Mr. Lin, a toy factory owner, whose struggles to keep his business lead to some difficult—even dangerous—ethical compromises that might ultimately cost him everything. Yao Anlian’s performance won him the 2014 Best Actor award at the Montréal Film Festival. Zhang drew from some of his own experiences to create Mr. Lin, “but this is not to say I am [his] prototype. He is a combination of many characters.” He and his screenwriters drew from many real-life people and incidents to create the perfect narrative storm for Mr. Lin to weather; astute filmgoers may even recognize some of the rewritten incidents from news reports.

Zhang was able to use a real factory, which had recently been shut down and relocated in preparation for the construction of a new university campus. “In such a setting, which can be seen almost every day in Shenzhen, actors get into character fast.” It helped that many of the almost-1000 extras were former factory workers, themselves. “They were rendered jobless as their factories went bankrupt, and started to work as extras for actor recruitment agencies.” The resulting authenticity is an essential component of the film’s realism.

Zhang is drawn to powerful subject matter: he also directed “Xi He,” the story of a mother’s attempt to give her autistic son a normal life, and is in pre-production on two films exploring disability and transgender issues. All of these could easily be documentaries, but he prefers using narrative to draw in and challenge a broader audience and to offer an alternative to summer popcorn fare.

“I respect all directors of documentaries,” he clarifies. However, “China’s film market is growing rapidly . . . if these subjects are presented in narrative films, they will reach a wider audience. I hope more ordinary people will watch my films and get inspired, instead of opting only for ‘The Avengers’ and ‘Transformers’.” He hopes that, in the process, he can draw audiences past the headlines we all know, and into the real human stories behind them.

— Lara Klaber

PDF  Download Related PDF [1.4 MB]

Related Screenings:
03/19/15 @ 4:00 PM – Factory Boss
03/20/15 @ 7:15 PM – Factory Boss
03/21/15 @ 12:15 PM – Factory Boss

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