Hobos and knives and wolves. Oh my!

March 20, 2015   |   posted by Lara Klaber in 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

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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 Klaber in 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 Klaber in 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

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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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Defying Expectations

March 20, 2015   |   posted by Lara Klaber in Filmmakers

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Director Karina Epperlein invited several young men participating in the Akron based mentoring program, Alchemy, Inc., to become subjects in her film, “Finding the Gold Within.” She told them she was not interested in posturing or sound bites because the media is already full of those.

The film follows them for 3-1/2 years as they transition from the program to college life.

Epperlein became interested in making the film when she saw photos of Alchemy participants as little boys and again 7 years later when they were ready to graduate. Having worked as an artist in both drug rehab facilities and prisons, she was struck by the openness in these young men’s faces.

Afterwards, she felt an inner calling to tell their stories and “bust the stereotypes” of African American men.

“In the media young black men are portrayed as either big stars or down and out,” says Epperlein. “They seldom have a voice unless they’re music stars or sports stars or they’re in prison. When I talk to people about it in the white community everybody says, ‘Oh yeah, that’s really bad, but what can you do?’”

Epperlein sees programs like Alchemy Inc. as the future because it changes the narrative by preparing the men with the self-knowledge, critical thinking skills and the confidence to overcome their own adversity. Essentially, the program allows them a chance to “disprove society’s stereotypes and low expectations.”

Of the Alchemy core group that was selected, 26 of 28 went on to college, a fact that Epperlein finds “incredible.”

The film follows six of them to show “how different they are in character and personality and their choices; in their paths.”

Each of the young men was tested over the course of filming. Epperlein hadn’t expected them all to stick with it, but they all did.

The program itself is “very experiential.” The men sit in a circle telling myths to the beat of the African drum. The storytelling stops and the young men are asked to say what is resonating for them. Each time the storytelling stops, the questions get deeper and deeper, asking the men to reveal themselves in the process.

At times, Epperlein filmed from inside the circle to get a more intimate perspective.

“It’s really hard to imagine when you don’t see it,” Epperlein says. “Crying happens. All kinds of things happen. It’s very magical. And that’s not something one can describe in words, really.”

As an artist, Epperlein believes it is important for a filmmaker to get to the core of the story and tell its essence rather than reiterate what is in the news.

“People are amazed at the rawness, at the honesty, at the authenticity of these participants,” she says. “It’s amazing because it hits a nerve with people.”

Afterwards, Epperlein had the young men write their own lives as a myth which they turned into a theatrical performance titled, “The Gold Within – Feel Us!” which will be presented at the Heights Christian Church in Shaker Heights on Sunday, March 22.

“The overall plan all along was to involve the subjects and dialogue with the community,” says Epperlein. “I really want this film to have an impact with the audience and I’m excited that we can bring a hands-on dialogue and Q&A.”

Lisa Curland
Photo by Elaine Manusakis

PDF  Download Related PDF [1.4 MB]

Related Screenings:
03/20/15 @ 7:00 PM – Finding the Gold Within
03/21/15 @ 4:45 PM – Finding the Gold Within

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

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A Peek into the Unknown

March 20, 2015   |   posted by Lara Klaber in Filmmakers

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You don’t know what you don’t know, and chances are the average person knows next to nothing about slime molds, let alone understands they are, in fact, more than the stars of a sci-fi thriller. Jasper Sharp and Tim Grabham reveal much more than what’s beneath our feet in “The Creeping Garden.”

How does one develop such a strong interest in slime molds? According to Sharp, a combination of watching Ishiro Honda’s (the director of “Godzilla”) movie, “Matango: Fungus of Terror,” an evolving interest in photogenic fungi, mushrooms’ roles in the environment, and some entertaining time-lapse experiments.

“When Jasper introduced me to the existence of these organisms and suggested we make a film about them, one lure was having an opportunity to make a weird nature film full of macro time-lapse photography,” Grabham says. “To have a subject that there appeared to be no real creative response to in a feature length form was quite a gift.”

So, “The Creeping Garden” came to life—“SlimeWorld” a bit off-base from the film and “Call of the Mycomycetes” not as alluring as the final title that alludes to the magical discoveries found behind a locked door in the children’s book, “The Secret Garden,” Sharp says. “I think that’s the feeling we wanted to convey, of opening the door to a world you never knew existed, like falling down the rabbit hole or something.”

And what a rabbit hole it is. Slime mold research proves that while these unfamiliar beings made up of just a single cell are very simple, they are able to do more than anything a human can create.

“If you can model this behavior efficiently, or integrate it with computers or electronic circuits,” Sharp says, “you can do much more than what our existing computers or robots can do.”

Tracking these clever creatures, however, is not an easy task. The molds remain in their most captivating state for only a short period of time, so finding them in nature in this stage proves to be challenging.

“There are a lot of trips to the local woods and scrabbling around in the undergrowth searching for them, which end fruitlessly before you are lucky enough to slip into that window of time of a handful of hours where it is going about its business,” adds Grabham. “The byproduct of turning logs all afternoon is you find lots of wonderful insects, so it’s never a wasted trip.”

After three years in the making, Sharp and Grabham are thrilled to be bringing this beautiful glimpse of nature to the big screen. While much is to be learned from the film, they hope audiences take away something even bigger.

“Simply take a pause once in a while to look again at the natural world around us, and lift a log and be amazed at what you might find under there,” Grabham said. “As Heather Barnett says in the film, ‘Slow down, tune in and enter a different time frame.’”

Amy Brown

PDF  Download Related PDF [1.4 MB]

Related Screenings:
03/19/15 @ 9:20 PM – The Creeping Garden
03/20/15 @ 4:10 PM – The Creeping Garden
03/21/15 @ 8:30 PM – The Creeping Garden

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

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