Touches of Magic: Local Filmmaker Finds Inspiration in Community Theater

March 22, 2015   |   posted by Lara Klaberin Filmmakers

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Northeast Ohio is filled with many rich stories, interesting people, and authentic locations for director Ted Sikora. It’s why he likes staying close to his hometown to tell them.

His latest film, “Move On!” is about Near West Theater’s move from St. Patrick’s Club Hall in Ohio City to their own building in the Gordon Arts District. It started out as a small project chronicling the June 2014 rehearsal
period and performances of “Move On!” the final production in their home of 36 years.

“As I kept interviewing people and watching their process I became more and more
fascinated,” says Sikora. “It felt like I was getting these touches of magic each time I went.”

The Near West Theater has a unique identity as a grassroots intergenerational theater that has a mission to build relationships and engage diverse people through transformational theater arts experiences with an emphasis on serving youth.

“The actors really go for it. They are all-in on every number,” he says. “It’s very raw and fearless. I was never around such a richly diverse group of people. All different ages, ethnicities, backgrounds.”

He credits much of the program’s success to its leadership. He says its strength starts with Artistic Director Bob Navis, Jr.

“His directing style is unlike any I’ve ever seen,” Sikora says. “Then there’s this holistic balance from Executive Director Stephanie Morrison-Hrbek. It’s almost cultish—in all the ways that cults are good.”

Sikora is a natural fit for creating a documentary about a theater company. He
was heavily involved in writing two musicals in the ’90s, and when those initial runs were completed he had a sad feeling about the shows being done and gone. He likes that with filmmaking the work continues to exist for others to see exactly as the creators intended it.

He also is able to combine his filmmaking with his other passion, comic books. His voice lights up even more than usual as he talks about his ongoing comic book series, “Apama—The Undiscovered Animal,” based on a character he created in his highly-acclaimed first film, “Hero Tomorrow,” which screened at the 31st CIFF in 2007.

“Working on our comic book as a colorist has improved my cinematography,” explains Sikora, “because I’ve had to think much deeper about the way characters and scenery are affected by light.”

Recently, he and co-creator Milo Miller published a hardcover volume of the first
five issues of Apama. In addition, he has a new screenplay titled “Bloom,” about the origin of Apama’s arch-nemesis, a 1969 flowerchild who becomes Cleveland’s psychedelic mistress of mayhem!

Sikora acknowledges that to be successful with indie films, young filmmakers need a great story and should try to have an identifiable niche market.

“However much time you have spent—or imagine you’ll spend learning the craft of
filmmaking, plan to spend an equal amount of time writing stories and developing your own voice.”

Lisa Curland
Photo by Tim Safranek: Diane Davis Sikora (l) and Ted Sikora (r).

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Related Screenings:
03/22/15 @ 5:00 PM – Move On!
03/23/15 @ 2:10 PM – Move On!
03/24/15 @ 8:45 PM – Move On!

Related Events:
03/22/15 @ 5:00 PM – Capitol Theatre

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Traveling on Vincent's Road

March 21, 2015   |   posted by Lara Klaberin Filmmakers

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Gren Wells has something special in common with a lot of CIFF filmgoers: she fell in love with “Vincent Wants to Sea” from the moment she saw its trailer.

The film and television veteran, who has worked on both sides of the camera since the 1990s, knew that she had also found the perfect story for her directorial debut. She reached out to the film’s producers with her proposal: she wanted to adapt the film for broader English-speaking audiences. Three years after “Vincent” had begun traveling the Festival circuit, Wells was shooting “The Road Within.”

“Vincent’s” fans will feel right at home with the story. “In adapting the script,” Wells explains, “I didn’t have to change the structure much—because why change what’s working?” She did, however, want to explore the characters’ disorders in greater depth. She could relate to Marie (originally played by Karoline Herfurth and now portrayed by Zoë Vincent) in particular: “I suffered from anorexia and bulimia from age 15 to 21. It’s a horrible disease in which your brain warps what you see—I was 88 pounds and still thought I was fat!”

Actress Zoë Vincent went deep into the role of Marie, losing 20 pounds under the watchful eye of an on-set dietician both to achieve the authentic look of someone suffering from anorexia and to better inhabit the character’s mindset. “She nailed it,” Wells says. Vincent’s final day of shooting was the film’s sex scene, when audiences would see exactly how thin Marie was. “She had been preparing for this scene for months,” Wells remembers. “After I yelled cut on the last take, we had a bag of her favorite chips waiting for her, and she tore into them and ate the whole bag!”

Making the disorders feel as authentic, and as relatable, as possible, was a driving force, but Wells was careful not to let it overwhelm the story’s quirky charm. “In researching Tourette Syndrome, OCD and Anorexia, I wanted to show the pain of each of the disorders—how difficult they are to live with. But on the flip side, I also wanted to show that it is possible to laugh at yourself. We all have things about ourselves that we don’t like or are embarrassed about, so the message of the movie is that everyone is different in some way—and that’s okay!”

Keeping the offscreen atmosphere fun was equally important. “When you’re dealing with tough subject matter, you have to keep the mood on set light.” Wells started out by making sure that everyone knew that they could bring her their questions and problems, with one unique stipulation: “they had to curse when they did so.” The film’s 12-minute-long gag reel is, she thinks, one of the best testimonies to how much fun everyone ended up having on set.

“The Road Within” marks Wells’ first visit to Cleveland, and she’s excited to see the Festival. “I’ve heard that Cleveland audiences are amongst the best in the world, and that there is an incredible appreciation for film… I can’t wait to experience it for myself!”

Lara Klaber

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Related Screenings:
03/19/15 @ 9:15 PM – The Road Within
03/21/15 @ 6:00 PM – The Road Within

Related Events:
03/19/15 @ 7:00 PM – Chagrin Cinemas

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Watching Ideas Grow

March 21, 2015   |   posted by Lara Klaberin Filmmakers

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A film about making a film, got Veit Helmer hooked on the craft.

He was 14.

“I watched [François] Truffaut’s movie ‘Day for Night’ when I was 14,” Helmer says. It’s a story about a film shoot, “the magic that happens, when 60 people work together for two months and create something new and unique. I wanted to be part of that world.”

The next day, he started to shoot his first short film. He has been a filmmaker ever since.

His film "Baikonur," described as a “fairy-tale space romance,” screened at CIFF 35, but he didn’t accompany it to Cleveland. This time, he will be here for the screening, and it is his first trip to the city.

“[It] is really exciting for me,” he says. “CIFF is the North American premiere” of his latest feature, “Fiddlesticks,” a live-action adventure film starring young children. He says it is a story that both children and adults will enjoy.

The film, Helmer says, “tries to push the boundaries” and made other festivals “afraid” of it. “A filmmaker is allowed to experiment in films for grownups, but not in films for kids!”

Over the years, Helmer became known for his offbeat short films and he has been honored with more than 50 awards at numerous international film festivals. But it’s not the awards that keep him going.

“… What drives my passion is the idea for the project I am working on,” he says. “It needs to be a strong idea, because it sometimes takes five to six years from writing to post-production of a film.”

He equates filmmaking with marriage and children. “The idea is growing all the time. [And you must] protect the idea but let it grow.”

Anne M. DiTeodoro

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Related Screenings:
03/21/15 @ 5:15 PM – Fiddlesticks*
03/22/15 @ 1:50 PM – Fiddlesticks*

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The Wolves of Delancey Street

March 21, 2015   |   posted by Lara Klaberin Filmmakers

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For Crystal Moselle, director of “The Wolfpack,” it began with a sight that many of us might not even have noticed: a bunch of teenage boys running through the streets.

“I was cruising down First Avenue in the East Village,” she says, “and these kids with long hair ran past me, weaving through the crowd. I counted one, two three of them… then three more. My instinct took over, and I chased after them, catching up at a stop light.”

If she had been expecting them to come from an exotic locale, her next surprise came when they told her that they were from Delancey Street on the Lower East Side. She was every bit as exotic and fascinating to them, however, and they were delighted when they found out that she was a filmmaker. “We made a time to meet so I could show them some cameras,” she says.

This was how she met the Angulo brothers, who had spent the last fourteen years hidden away in their parents’ apartment. Their understanding of the world outside of that space had been shaped by the films they watched together. They were pure film students; the vocabulary of cinema was almost their native tongue.

“It was serendipitous that I met these boys the first week they started going out into the world,” Moselle says. “It almost felt as if I had discovering a long lost tribe, except it was not from the edges of the world but from the streets of Manhattan.” Soon, with their parents’ permission, Moselle was chronicling their discovery of the world around them.

While the film does not shrink way from issues of abuse and confinement—the boys’ adolescent rebellion against their father’s strict rules against leaving the apartment, after all, precipitated their discovery—Moselle was fascinated by the harmony that the Angulo family had managed to achieve, and by the level of creativity that the brothers had engaged in during their years inside.

“Their personal style is directly related to their favorite characters from their favorite movies,” she explains. Although much of their clothing came from the Salvation Army, they were already veteran costume designers. “They’d tape blue Nike swooshes on tennis shoes to look like Marty McFly’s, or cut up a woman's rain coat and sew it into the shape of Mad Max's leather biker vest.”

Quentin Tarantino, in particular, was an obsession for them, and they especially liked to dress in the suits of the “Reservoir Dogs” stars.

Five years later, the brothers are still discovering the world, although that process of discovery has changed. Only one of them, Govinda, has moved out of the apartment; several are embarking upon careers in film and stage.

“It has been an incredible journey for all of us,” Moselle reflects, “and it is strange to think that this story could never be told the same way again, with the same sense of innocence and discovery. Their minds and perceptions have already incorporated the rest of the outside world.”

— Lara Klaber

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Related Screenings:
03/21/15 @ 7:20 PM – The Wolfpack

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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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