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

Documentary Explores Far-Reaching Impact of Childhood Trauma

April 03, 2016   |   posted by Lara Klaber in Filmmakers


People might forget childhood trauma as they grow older, but their bodies remember. This idea, carrying massive implications for public health, runs through the heart of “Resilience: The Biology of Stress & the Science of Hope.”

The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study, principally conducted by Drs. Vincent Felitti and Robert Anda in the mid-1990s, was the first study to connect childhood trauma to later health risks—substance abuse and depression to heart disease and obesity. The documentary features interviews with Felitti and Anda, as well as physicians, social workers, and educators who are fighting to back. It suggests that society can improve health and behavior by recognizing ACEs and working to prevent their damaging effects.

After hearing Felitti speak at a meeting of community leaders in New Haven, CT, producer Karen Pritzker felt changed by what she learned – that heartbreak could lead to actual heart illness—and wanted to share the information with a wider audience. “We spend millions of dollars fighting cardiac disease,” Pritzker says, “Yet we do very little to help a child through the crisis of being abandoned by a parent.” Having caring adults in children’s lives, she says, could have a major positive effect on their future health.

Pritzker shared what she learned about ACEs with director James Redford, and they decided to make two films on the subject from different perspectives. The other documentary, “Paper Tigers,” profiles an alternative high school with a radical approach to discipline and student care. “Resilience” is the duo’s third film, and Pritzker says they plan to produce a few more.

“He is a top notch interviewer who can both put people at ease and ask difficult questions,” Pritzker says of Redford. “He is a caring artist who can get right to the heart of the story.”

In this case, that story could fundamentally change the way viewers look at the world. It’s no surprise that “Resilience” is eligible for this year’s Greg Gund Memorial Standing Up Competition, in which audiences vote for their favorite socially impactful film.

“I have big dreams,” Pritzker says, “That parents and teachers won’t turn away when children are suffering. That more pediatricians and their staffs will be talking to children and families, not just about the right vaccines at the right age, but about how to help a child navigate loss and grief. I hope that schools will provide children with techniques for managing their stress and that children will be empowered to speak out when their bodies are being violated or when they have questions or concerns. And that schools are staffed with capable, caring adults vested in the success of all students.”

If the ideas addressed in the documentary spread and take hold, simple compassion could become a major part of making Americans more resilient.

Avinash Chak
In the Photo: Tori Cordiano (left), Karen Pritzker (center), and Donald Ford, MD (right) participate in the "Resilience" Film Forum.

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Related Screenings:
03/31/16 @ 2:30 PM – Resilience
04/01/16 @ 4:45 PM – Resilience
04/03/16 @ 1:50 PM – Resilience

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Just an Extra-Manic Monday

April 03, 2016   |   posted by Lara Klaber in Festival Events


Monday, April 4, is a big day for Cleveland and for the Film Festival. In addition to Cleveland State University Day – when students, faculty, and staff with a current CSU ID can request a free movie ticket – it’s also the Home Opener for the Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field. This means that there will be a lot of people pouring into the downtown area during the afternoon and evening, and a whole lot of traffic.

In recent years, parking has grown tighter and tighter downtown as new developments have gone up. It has grown harder and harder to find a good nearby parking spot, unless you arrive really early. As many of you may also know, attempting to leave Tower City when a game is letting out can be a logistical nightmare.

While tomorrow may have its challenges, that shouldn’t scare you away from all the great films we have lined up. All it means is that you should plan your day with care.

Give yourself extra time to get downtown and back home. With so many people pouring into Tower City, things may take a little longer than usual. There will be a lot more vehicle and foot traffic than usual. It’s much better to arrive early and do a little window shopping before the show than to be circling a parking lot when your screening begins.

Have contingency routes planned out. I made the mistake of trying to drive directly through downtown one night when a Cavs game was letting out, and it took me an hour to get ten blocks. If you can give yourself a detour that takes you away from the heart of downtown and the worst of the traffic, you may be able to get in and out more quickly. Check the Cleveland Realtime Traffic page to see where there are slowdowns and closures, and try to work around them.

Take RTA! All of the trains and many of the buses come directly to Tower City. RTA has parking lots throughout Cleveland where you can safely leave your car and then ride in. You won’t have to deal with traffic at all, and can completely avoid the headaches of parking.

Going to the game? Come see a film before or after! Most years, when the Home Opener and the Festival don’t coincide, you can expect to see the whole CIFF full-time staff in the stands, cheering on the Tribe. We’ll be with you in spirit this year, so stop by and keep the celebration going! We have some great films for you to choose from.

Yes, things may be very chaotic on Monday, but you can still have a wonderful time, both at the game and at the Festival, as long as you plan ahead. We’re looking forward to seeing you!

Lara Klaber
Photo: Elaine Manusakis

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Culture Clash Film Gives Voice to Underrepresented Groups

April 03, 2016   |   posted by Lara Klaber in Filmmakers


“Front Cover” follows Ryan, a Chinese American fashion stylist, who dreams of his work gracing the cover of a prestigious magazine. When a rival gets the assignment, Ryan is tasked with helping introduce Ning, an up-and-coming actor fresh from Beijing, to the American audience. Ryan is Americanized and openly gay, while Ning is proudly Chinese, macho, and homophobic. Needless to say, the two do not get along. That is, until Ning lets loose during a night out, and the relationship immediately changes.

“The film is called ‘Front Cover’ because it refers to how we sometimes try to put up a front in order to hide our insecurities or try to impress other people,” co-producer Stan Guingon says. “However, if we get to know and understand why people do what they do, then we may have more tolerance and compassion for them.”

Writer/director Ray Yeung is no stranger to the culture clash theme, as he has roots in Hong Kong, the UK, and New York. Guingon got involved in Yeung’s project because he found the story intriguing and also related to some of the main themes. As a Filipino-American growing up in mostly white neighborhoods in New Jersey, he says he was culturally detached from his heritage.

“I think the theme of ‘Front Cover’ is very relatable to any immigrant in this country,” Guingon says, “And for any second-generation immigrant, I’m sure they have all experienced trying to lose their cultural heritage in order to be cool.”

Guingon, who has previously worked with Yeung on shorts, calls the director a “passionate filmmaker who wants to focus on telling gay Asian stories.”

“He knows that gay Asian movies is possibly not going to help him break into the mainstream,” Guingon says, “But I think his mission is to give an under-represented group a voice.” Hence the name of their production company, NewVoice.

Guingon says it’s important for gay movies to screen at mainstream film festivals so they can reach a more diverse group—straight audiences as well as gay audiences. He adds that the filmmaking team is delighted with their community partnership with PFLAG Cleveland—an organization for parents, families, friends, and allies united with LGBTQ people—because of the film’s storyline that is particularly relevant to the relationships between parents and gay children.

Joining the Cleveland International Film Festival for its 40thanniversary is an honor and “the icing on the cake,” Guingon says. “It shows your city historically is very open to seeing stories coming from different backgrounds.”

Avinash Chak

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Related Screenings:
04/03/16 @ 7:20 PM – Front Cover
04/04/16 @ 2:45 PM – Front Cover

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The Sounds and Visions of a Magical Era

April 03, 2016   |   posted by Lara Klaber in Filmmakers


Sara Fishko, the director of “The Jazz Loft According to W. Eugene Smith,” was already a staple of New York Public Radio’s WNYC when she first found out about photojournalist W. Eugene Smith’s huge collection of jazz recordings and photos.

She was introduced to Sam Stephenson, a freelance writer who had discovered the treasure trove of jazz recordings—which have now been preserved on a staggering 5,089 CDs—that Smith had made between 1957 and 1978, while researching an article at the University of Arizona’s Center for Creative Photography. Stephenson was in the process of constructing a book chronicling Smith’s recordings, and he shared some of them with Fishko. “As soon as I heard a few minutes of Thelonious Monk's footsteps, and other jazz players walking and talking and playing music in this miserable old building—I was hooked!”

Soon she had made arrangements with Stephenson to produce a radio series as part of a multimedia accompaniment to his 2009 book, The Jazz Loft Project. “We got access to the audio from the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University, where Sam was digitizing the material at the time,” she says. “Later, for the film, the Smith Estate was kind enough to expand our access to include the photographs.”

Transitioning from the radio series to film brought some interesting new challenges. “With the 10-part radio series,” she explains, “I could be ‘episodic;’ that is, I could treat the material by subject, or person, or really any way that made sense.”

Her 88-minute movie is constructed completely differently—with interwoven stories. “It had to hold together as a single work,” Fishko says. “And of course the enormous volume of material … made doing that both easy and impossible!”

She decided to focus on two stories: the tale of the Jazz Loft itself, and the many brilliant musicians who hung out in it, and the story of W. Eugene Smith and his obsession with the Loft. “Neither one of those stories is nearly as interesting without the other, we found,” she says. “The richer the material about Gene and his obsessions and his passions, the more you understand what he was doing in this place. And the more you know about the place AND Gene, the more you see the obsessive work that goes into being an artist, and the price you sometimes have to pay to live that creative life. I'd like people to come away with that idea.”

Lara Klaber

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Related Screenings:
04/02/16 @ 11:25 AM – The Jazz Loft According to W. Eugene Smith
04/03/16 @ 5:00 PM – The Jazz Loft According to W. Eugene Smith

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Marriage on the Brink

April 03, 2016   |   posted by Lara Klaber in Filmmakers


Director Marc Meyers weaves a tale of lust, deception, and the conflicting emotions of an untimely romance. His star-studded cast, Matt McGorry (“How to Get Away with Murder,” “Orange Is the New Black”), and Amy Hargreaves (“Homeland,” “Blue Ruin”), bring to life a story of a steamy affair that quickly evolves into forbidden love.

“I’m happily married and we have a beautiful daughter, but I thought a story about an extra-marital affair is a great way to dig in and rattle what it means to fall in love and be in love,” says Meyers. “While the movie’s about this affair, it became increasingly clearer to the actors and filmmaking team how much the story is as much about marriage itself.”

According to Meyers, he and his wife and producing partner, Jody Girgenti, have a great team dynamic due to their shared work ethic and a deep level of trust. “How He Fell in Love” is their third feature together.

“It just makes sense,” he says. “We first and foremost agree on what projects to focus on. As I write a script, we develop the draft and revisions together and then work hand-in-hand to bring the various pieces and collaborators together.”

The duo’s film, “Harvest,” earned Best American Independent Film prize in 2010 at the 34thCleveland International Film Festival. As Meyers reflects on the film’s success, he looks forward to returning to this year’s festival to share his latest project.

“We shared ‘Harvest’ at the very beginning of its festival journey and the great response from the audience was such validation of our hard work and belief in telling that story of one family,” recalls Meyers. “To come back with a new film is very meaningful. I know firsthand, Cleveland audiences are wonderful and the festival is top- notch.”

Meyers will soon be spending even more time here in the Buckeye State shooting his next project that was inspired by a graphic novelist and childhood friend of the notorious Jeffrey Dahmer.

“We’re currently planning to shoot the next feature in Ohio,” says Meyers. “We optioned and adapted the award-winning graphic novel My Friend Dahmer, by Cleveland’s own Derf Backderf. My script landed on the 2014 Black List, which is a year-end survey in Hollywood of the best scripts. The pieces are coming together and we’re really excited about the movie ahead of us.”

Amy Brown

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Related Screenings:
04/03/16 @ 12:20 PM – How He Fell in Love
04/04/16 @ 8:15 PM – How He Fell in Love

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FILM UPDATE: #CIFF40 alum Kings, Queens, & In-Betweens will screen at Gateway Film Center on Friday, March 3rd! If you can't make the screening on March, 3rd, the film will also be available on VOD beginning Tuesday, March 7th. Check it out!

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