FilmForums: Great Homes for More Stories

March 24, 2014, 12:00 AM   |   posted by Lara Klaber in Festival Events

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The Cleveland International Film Festival is committed to using film as a catalyst for thought-provoking conversations and ideas that address the issues faced by our world today. Our FilmForums, moderated panel discussions that offer audience members the opportunity to learn more about issues brought up by our different films, are wonderful ways to have those conversations and build upon the important issues that come up in our films. This year, we are please to present eleven FilmForums, attached to films with topics ranging the future of farming to immigration policies and marriage equality.

Sunday night’s FilmForum, following the film “Transfusión,” asked the question “What is the cost, and what is lost, when enforcing immigration policies?” The film itself is about the proliferation of taco trucks, many of them managed by undocumented immigrants, in American cities, examining both the cultural impact and the backlash that they have produced. The panel examining the topic included the film’s director, Robert Douglas Lemon; Cleveland immigration lawyer Richard Herman, from the Herman Legal group; retired City of Columbus Neighborhood Services Community Relations Representative Bonita Lee; and Columbus New American Initiative Coordinator Guadalupe Velasquez. The panel was moderated by Ideastream’s David C. Barnett.

One topic that came up in particular was the positive effect that encouraging an influx of immigration can actually have on a local economy. The four panelists agreed that, in their experience, the belief that immigrants take jobs away from locals actually is not true at all; instead, those immigrants often provide economic stimulus and can prevent a region from becoming, in Herman’s words, “parochial and insular.” He expressed the belief that an incident several years ago, in which Somali cab drivers were essentially frozen out of Cleveland, had contributed to the city’s economic woes, and suggested that following Columbus’s examples of expanded inclusivity would be much more rewarding.

Lara Klaber
Photo by Laura Watilo Blake

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Related Screenings:
03/23/14 @ 4:45 PM – Transfusión

Seizing Every Moment

March 23, 2014, 12:30 AM   |   posted by Lara Klaber in Filmmakers

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For Kristin Hanggi, transformation, and the trials of youth, are themes that run through all of her projects. There is almost always “a young person at the center who’s going through an exploration of self,” she explains. That was part of what drew her to “Grantham and Rose,” a story about the bond between a juvenile offender and an elderly woman who takes him under her wing, based on a similar relationship that writer-producer Ryan Spahn observed while in boarding school.

“I thought it was a very charming, moving, coming-of-age script,” says Hanggi.

One of the things she loved best about shooting the film was watching the leads, Jake T. Austin and Marla Gibbs, bond on set. Both were the exact ages of the characters that they played.

“Watching their dynamic was amazing,” says Hanggi. “I didn’t realize how much fun we were going to have together.”

That joyous approach to creation is characteristic of all of Hanggi’s work. Her Tony-nominated musical “Rock of Ages” took Broadway by storm—and set a new Guinness World Record for the largest air guitar ensemble—and she divides her time between film work and the stage. She chooses “projects where I feel my heart moved, and where I feel a connection inside the material.”

The result is a body of work which often features “stories where two strangers come together, and a bond is formed, especially when it’s two people coming from very different perspectives in life,” like Grantham and Rose.

Each medium, stage and film, comes with its unique challenges and thrills. A stage performance “is a living, breathing, in-the-moment thing… responding to the audience,” while the emotional impact of a film scene must often be captured in one “perfect moment” and finessed in the editing room. Hanggi is energized by both processes. Her upcoming projects include stage productions of “Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion” and “Clueless,” and she is currently in post-production on “Naomi and Ely’s No-Kiss List,” from the authors of “Nick and Nora’s Infinite Playlist.”

A firm believer that the creative process brings its own energy, her advice to aspiring filmmakers is: “If you have an idea, run with it, and use the resources that you have at the moment, and just start!” So far, this joyous seize-the-moment philosophy has been working out beautifully for her.

— Lara Klaber

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Related Screenings:
03/23/14 @ 5:00 PM – Grantham & Rose
03/24/14 @ 2:10 PM – Grantham & Rose

Visiting Copenhagen with Mark Raso

March 23, 2014, 12:25 AM   |   posted by Lara Klaber in Filmmakers

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Mark Raso, writer and director of “Copenhagen,” fell in love with the city when he lived there for a year with his wife. His film is a coming of age story that questions the nature of forbidden relationships.

“I want to blur lines and open up our view of the world,” says Mark Raso. “We really should live in the grey area more often. People are not all good or all bad.”

And blur lines, he does. After the death of his father, the protagonist William travels to Copenhagen to seek his estranged grandfather. He meets a local girl, Effy, who decides to help him on his quest; however, she only makes matters more complicated for the confused character.

Like his main character, Raso found himself on his own quest, and came upon unexpected odds during production. But he was determined to bring his story to life.

“Copenhagen” shows all sides of the city from the iconic landmarks, like The Little Mermaid statue and Tivoli, as well as the hidden streets and dark corners.

“I wanted to get a little of the native experience,” he says, “and create the city to be like a character in the film.”

It wasn’t always easy for Raso and his crew. Filming on a budget in one of the most expensive cities in the world definitely comes with challenges.

“We didn’t really realize what we were up against,” says Raso, “but we were very lucky in a way.”

Raso won the Golden Ace Award for his short film “Under,” which helped bring attention to Raso and the development of “Copenhagen.” With the help of both sponsors and Danish volunteers, Raso completed the journey.

“It was a lot of work and I am very critical of my writing,” Raso says. “But I think it is a story worth telling.” Not only is it a story worth telling, audiences will connect with “Copenhagen” and it’s “smarmy main character,” according to Raso.

“People are complicated,” says Raso simply. “But there’s hope for everyone.”

Molly Drake

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Related Screenings:
03/23/14 @ 9:40 PM – Copenhagen
03/24/14 @ 12:40 PM – Copenhagen
03/25/14 @ 11:45 AM – Copenhagen

An Authentic American Hero

March 23, 2014, 12:20 AM   |   posted by Lara Klaber in Documentaries

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Over the course of his too-short life, Mark Bingham surprised his mother with a number of life-transforming announcements. While his last one—his call from within United Flight 93 on September 11th, telling his mother that the plane he was in had been hijacked—is probably the most famous, another moment sticks in Alice Hoagland’s memory.

“Mark came home from school and said ‘Mom, I’ve got a sport! RUGBY!’ Oh my gosh,” Alice Hoagland laughs. “All the stereotypes about rugby flashed through my mind, and I was a little bit afraid that my son was going to be maimed or killed on the rugby pitch. But 
as it turns out, rugby is safer than American gridiron football.”

Mark had a gift for challenging stereotypes, part of what drew filmmaker Scott Gracheff to his story.

“He seemed like an incredible guy,” says Gracheff, “someone who I would have wanted to meet, hang out and become friends with.”

Although they never met in life, Gracheff was able to forge a connection with his subject through the enormous collection of videos that Mark had shot over the years, and through the enthusiastic support of Mark’s family and friends, resulting in “The Rugby Player.”

In addition to overcoming physical pain on the rugby field, Mark was also a gay man who faced prejudice and discrimination throughout his life. His mother has championed LGBT causes in his name, noting that “one thing
 that Mark dreaded when he was alive was the idea that gay people were so badly reviled in the press, and in literature, and in the movies,” which would have portrayed him as someone incapable of the heroic acts he performed, both in everyday life and on the final day of his life.

“The mainstream media often takes the
 easy way out, simplifying stories, leaving out details and settling for convenience over truth,” Gracheff agrees. Countering with rich, complex stories and marginalized perspectives, like Mark’s, is his mission.

Although “The Rugby Player” has screened almost exclusively at LGBT film festivals so far, both Hoagland and Gracheff have high hopes that it will get a wider release, given how crucial its message is.

“The world needs to see,” Gracheff explains, “that when someone makes the decision to come out as gay and live honestly and openly in society, and when they are met with love and support as opposed to intolerance and violence, they can grow up to be extraordinary individuals, and in Mark’s case, they can even grow up to be heroes.”

— Lara Klaber

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Related Screenings:
03/23/14 @ 7:15 PM – The Rugby Player
03/24/14 @ 3:20 PM – The Rugby Player

Pursuing Their Passion

March 23, 2014, 12:15 AM   |   posted by Lara Klaber in Filmmakers

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Husband and wife. Guitars and drums. Shovels & Rope.

“‘The Ballad of Shovels and Rope’ is about pursuing your passions in the face of doubt and uncertainty,” explains Jace Freeman, the film’s director. The screening at the Cleveland International Film Festival is the film’s world premiere.

The musical act, Shovels & Rope, is a husband-and-wife duo, Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent—“two hardworking, creative people paving a way for themselves in a difficult environment,” says Freeman.

Freeman and producer Sean Clark met the couple via a mutual friend and produced a few videos for them to use for promotional purposes. During the video shoot, everyone hit
 it off, plus the filmmakers really enjoyed the music. After the initial project was completed, Freeman and Clark knew they wanted more.

“It was evident that this was a unique combination of talents,” says Freeman. While filming one of their songs “that had this Bonnie-and-Clyde, you-and-me-against-the-world feel,” Freeman decided to capture the story of these two young lovers setting
off across the country to pursue their fortune.

The duo, plus their dog, were travelling from town to town playing gigs and living out of their van while writing their first record. Freeman and Clark followed them on the journey to over a dozen cities throughout the U.S. and filmed more than 100 hours of them recording their music in hotel rooms and in their van.

Being in such close quarters with their subjects, the filmmakers had to establish trust. They also wanted to be as unobtrusive and as observational as possible.

“It is difficult to try to insert yourself in the most intimate of relationships,” says Freeman. “Being on the road together for extended periods of time definitely helped to develop a feel of solidarity and kinship.”
 The hard work is paying off for the musicians. Shovels & Rope made their network television debut on the “Late Show with David Letterman,” in January 2013. Producer Clark was so proud. “It was the first tangible indication that this crazy plan of theirs to make a sustainable career by playing music may actually come to pass,” he says.

Even those who are not fans of Shovels & Rope’s music, this “fun musical journey with a great soundtrack” is still for you.

“If you don’t come out of the film loving the band,” he continues. “I promise at least you’ll be in love with Michael and Cary Ann.”

Anne M. DiTeodoro

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Related Screenings:
03/23/14 @ 8:00 PM – The Ballad of Shovels and Rope
03/24/14 @ 7:20 PM – The Ballad of Shovels and Rope
03/25/14 @ 12:15 PM – The Ballad of Shovels and Rope

Related Events:
03/23/14 @ 6:00 PM – Evening at the Beachland Ballroom

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