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

Hero Hooligan: Revealing China's Truth

April 05, 2016   |   posted by Lara Klaber in Filmmakers


Ye Haiyan, known as Hooligan Sparrow throughout China and by her 70,000 social media followers, is making a bold statement for human rights in the face of a suppressive Chinese government. Despite the danger, Director Nanfu Wang documents the activist’s story that’s forbidden to be told.

Wang came to the US to major in media studies at Ohio University where she discovered she wanted to pursue a career in documentary filmmaking. After going on to study at New York University, Wang created a number of shorts dedicated to sharing the untold stories of social injustice. “Hooligan Sparrow,” her first feature film, follows suit.

“Although I was born in China and spent almost my entire life there, I didn’t know the things that happened in the film were happening in China,” Wang says. “Most ordinary people don’t know these things because the government strictly controls the flow of information. I felt responsible to document what I witnessed and share it with the world.”

The journey was an eye-opening experience. The dangers and unfair scrutiny the activists faced quickly hit close to home when she and her loved ones were suddenly under the same spotlight.

“I saw Hooligan Sparrow arrested and evicted from multiple homes,” recounts Wang. “I saw her fellow activists harassed, threatened, and followed by uniformed and plain-clothed police. Even my own family, friends, and myself were interrogated by the police.”

Wang was forced to be discreet while filming the story.

“To avoid endangering my subjects or myself, I ended up carrying only a backpack with a Canon 60D DSLR camera, a small point-and-shoot, a pair of glasses with an embedded micro camera, and an Edirol audio recorder,” she says. “With the exception of the interviews, almost every shot was filmed [with a] handheld [camera], which allowed me to blend in more easily than if I had been filming with a tripod.”

Beyond that, getting the footage out of China was no easy task. With the government always watching, Wang kept her footage with her at all times for fear that it would be confiscated.

Wang hopes the film will influence the perception audiences may have of China.

“The narrative about China now seems to be that it’s this powerhouse of economic development and that it’s rising on the world stage, but the life situation of the average Chinese person is hidden from the world’s view.”

As an Ohio U alumna, Wang looks forward to sharing this film with audiences at the Cleveland International Film Festival and returning to where her passion for film was born.

“Ohio was the first place I went when I came to the US,” Wang recalls. “It was there that I touched a video camera for the first time. It’s also where I learned how to film and how to edit, and I was encouraged to make films there. It’s like going back to my hometown, and I feel very proud.”

—Amy Brown

PDF  Download Related PDF [6.1 MB]

Related Screenings:
04/05/16 @ 5:00 PM – Hooligan Sparrow
04/06/16 @ 6:25 PM – Hooligan Sparrow

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From New Orleans to Israel: Internet Turns Amateur Singer into Viral Video Sensation

April 05, 2016   |   posted by Lara Klaber in Filmmakers


Samantha Montgomery begins receiving email messages from strangers about her music. Yes, she’s posted some videos of herself singing a cappella on YouTube. No, she doesn’t know what they are referring to.

Turns out Israeli musician and viral-videoartist Kutiman (Ophir Kutiel) ran across this New Orleans-based amateur singer/songwriter—who posts on YouTube under the handle of Princess Shaw—and combined her voice with other amateur videos from around the world. This mash-up music video, and many others, are part of his ongoing “Thru You” and “Thru You Too” web projects.

Kutiman’s webpage uses the tag line: “What you see is what you hear” and the opening page encourages viewers to watch the credits because “you might find yourself.”

That’s how Israeli documentarian Ido Haar first discovered Montgomery. Intrigued by Kutiman’s project, Haar created a film about YouTubers that appear in these mash-up projects. “As time went by, in my heart, I felt I wanted to go to New Orleans and focus more on Samantha’s story,” says Haar.

Haar contacted Montgomery and began following her. Almost overnight, Montgomery has gone from working in a retirement home to being the lead subject of the documentary, “Presenting Princess Shaw.”

“It was weird at first,” she says.

She soon forgot about the filming and began to simply think that it was just “one man, Ido, me, and his camera,” she says. “He stayed out of my space like a fly on the wall kind of thing.”

Soon she opens up to Haar and the camera and shares her life, her music, and her dreams with the director.

Throughout the film, audiences will see Montgomery’s struggles and triumphs. Her advice to those who are also going through challenges while pursuing their dreams: “Grab every opportunity, no matter how small,” she says. “Face your fears and, yes, NEVER GIVE UP.”

—Anne M. DiTeodoro

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Related Screenings:
04/05/16 @ 7:20 PM – Presenting Princess Shaw
04/06/16 @ 4:15 PM – Presenting Princess Shaw

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Lessons from Shakespeare: Inspiration through Spoken Word

April 05, 2016   |   posted by Lara Klaber in Filmmakers


In Richmond, California, resident Donté Clark sees the gang rivalries and gun violence of his hometown as modern-day scenes of feuding families in Romeo and Juliet. When he decides to create an adaptation for the classic story, Jason Zeldes seeks how Shakespeare and a local spoken word program became an outlet for community expression in “Romeo is Bleeding.”

“Prior to making the film, I was a huge fan of Donté’s poetry, so it felt like a tremendous opportunity to help introduce such a prolific writer and performer to the world,” says Zeldes. “Having undergone the process of documenting his life, I count him as a friend—which is lucky because it doesn’t always go that way!”

As Clark soon realized, however, even though the inspiring work he was doing with his spoken word program, RAW Talent, was the main focal point of the film, it was serving an even larger purpose.

“It’s the story of new life and new voices coming from forgotten corners of our country,” says Zeldes. “For that reason, he always was—and continues to be—on board for whatever it takes to spread the message.”

For teens, adults, and people of all ages who feel their voices go unheard, or for others who have a narrow view of communities unlike their own, Zeldes urges them to “look again.”

“I think that Donté and his students at RAW Talent are an incredible reminder of youth finding power in speaking up about their lived experiences,” says Zeldes. “The most neglected corners of our society can be a hotbed for incredible creative talent looking for the right sort of outlet.”

The film’s title is a modern twist on Shakespeare’s classic, a suggestion from a boss and mentor of Zeldes.

“It was a vast improvement upon my first working title for the film, ‘RAW’ (after the RAW Talent creative writing program), but then everyone thought the film was about sushi, so I was happy when we found ‘Romeo is Bleeding,’” Zeldes recalls.

As his first time in the director’s chair, Zeldes learned how crucial it was to find his creative process—so much so that he offers that as one of the most important skills to master as a filmmaker.

“Work and learn from other filmmakers in order to see their creative process, and pick and choose the steps of their process that mesh with your way of thinking,” Zeldes advises. “If you trust in your process, you’ll continually get the results you’re looking for.”

Amy Brown

PDF  Download Related PDF [6.1 MB]

Related Screenings:
04/05/16 @ 6:15 PM – Romeo Is Bleeding
04/07/16 @ 11:30 AM – Romeo Is Bleeding

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Tuesday is Take-Two with the Tribe!

April 04, 2016   |   posted by Lara Klaber in Festival Events


As many of you make your plans for tomorrow, there is a new development that you will want to keep in mind: the Indians Home Opener, originally scheduled for 4:10 pm today, was rescheduled to 1:05 pm Tuesday! Fortunately, tomorrow’s weather – sunny with a high of 35° – will be much better for the game, so we don’t expect any hitches then… but it does mean that traffic will be every bit as messy as it was today!

Check out our “Manic Monday” post for some tips and tricks to cut down on the headache the extra traffic might cause you. Also, if you were snowed out of the Home Opener today, we have a special deal just for you:

When you order tickets, either online or at the box office, use the code INDIANS to get a $2 discount. Also, when you show your Opening Day ticket at the Tower City Cinemas concession stands, you will receive a FREE 32 oz. popcorn!

No matter what, it’s always good weather for a good film, so don’t let snow, traffic, or postponements get you down. You’re always welcome home with us!

Lara Klaber

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Digging Out of the Darkness

April 04, 2016   |   posted by Lara Klaber in Filmmakers


“Buried Above Ground” director Ben Selkow hadn’t planned to be a documentarian when he enrolled in film school; he was hoping to be the next George Lucas. He even wrote his application essay on “Star Wars.”

For a while, it seemed as if he was on a path to achieve that dream. “After college, serendipitously, I met Harrison Ford and he gave me my first job on a film set,” he recalls. He had the opportunity to work on productions helmed by Sydney Pollack (“The Firm,” Out of Africa,” and Robert Zameckis (“Forrest Gump,” “Romancing the Stone,”), but he remained far from the center of the creative process.

“I thought making a documentary,” he explains, “I would have more agency and be in the cut more. I didn’t have any idea how thick it really gets as an independent documentary filmmaker.”

Sixteen years later, Selkow’s IMDb resume is populated with fascinating projects, including the two feature-length documentaries where he has served as writer, director, cinematographer, and producer. “A Summer in the Cage” (2007) chronicled a friend’s struggle with bipolar disorder. “Buried Above Ground,” in turn, follows three sufferers of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) over a six-year period as they struggle with managing their illness.

Selkow is in awe of just how much his subjects let him into their lives. “For all the challenges, their courage, trust, and perseverance to battle PTSD everyday and then allow a 6’2” dude to be in their homes, cars, or therapy sessions to document it, was very humbling … ultimately, I was granted permission to enter the most vulnerable arenas of their life. What a gift.”

Community, he found, is a crucial element of functionality, and something that PTSD sufferers are frequently denied. He became acutely aware of how, “at various stages, they had little or no community, intimacy or support,” in contrast to the supportive network of friends, family, and colleagues that surrounded him, he says.

“The best part of directing is forging these dynamic and rich collaborations and relationships with your subjects of course, but also the DP [director of photography], producer, and especially the editor,” he points out. “Sharing the rollercoaster with all the key partners, as opposed to being a one-man band, is the great joy of filmmaking.”

That kind of shared journey is often denied to PTSD sufferers. “To borrow from the irrepressible journalist and author Sebastian Junger, there is a crisis of connection that needs disruption.”

He hopes the film will provide that disruption, by helping to facilitate the understanding needed to rebuild those connections. “Restoring the eroded trust, rebuilding relationships, and crafting a community are the keys to survival and recovery.”

Selkow has partnered up with Mental Health America, the Carter Center, and NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) Greater Cleveland to work on ways to use his film as a touchpoint for igniting conversation about PTSD. For both sufferers of the disorder, and those who love them, he feels it’s important that they know that “there is hope, light, and possibility on the other side of all the despair, darkness, and pain that can come with a mental health condition.”

Lara Klaber
Photo: Missy Chambless

PDF  Download Related PDF [6.0 MB]

Related Screenings:
04/04/16 @ 7:25 PM – Buried Above Ground
04/05/16 @ 1:50 PM – Buried Above Ground

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