Cleveland International Film Festival } April 7 – April 18, 2021 } Playhouse Square

Defying Expectations

March 20, 2015   |   posted by Lara Klaber in Filmmakers


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

Permalink  [Permalink]

CIFF on Instagram

Follow us @clefilmfest

Less than one week until CIFF Streams teams up with Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards to present four feature films and two short programs as part of Cleveland Book Week, September 29 - October 4, 2020! Each feature film will be followed by a post-film conversation, with #CIFF44 alum @dopeisdeath kicking things off. All #CBW2020 events are free, but registration is required. Full info in CIFF Streams + AWBA link in bio!
#CIFF45 #ClevelandBookWeek #CBW2020 #AWBA2020 #CIFF #film #filmfestivals #independentfilm #internationalfilm #documentaries #shortfilms #cleveland #clevelandfilm #ohio #ohiofilm

Posted by clefilmfest at 7:00 PM

CIFF Tweets

Join us 9/29-10/4 as we partner with @AnisfieldWolf to present four feature films + two short programs as part of #CBW2020! All feature films will include a post-film Q&A, with DOPE IS DEATH up first. Events are free, but registration is required:

42 minutes ago   .   Reply   .   Retweet   .   Favorite

CIFF Facebook Posts

Join us September 24th - 27th for a special screening of AGGIE, the story of Clevelands own Agnes Aggie Gund who is equally known for her exquisite art collection and her fight for social justice. A post-film Q&A will take place with director Catherine Gund and the films namesake Agnes Aggie Gund:

42 minutes ago   .   Link

Questions? >


Check out our FAQs for answers to common questions about entering the film festival.

Donate >


Your donation helps fulfill our mission to promote artistically and culturally significant film arts through education and exhibition.

Sign up for our email newsletter

  • facebook
  • twitter
  • instagram
  • youtube
  • flickr
  • alexa
  • foursquare



We promise you, it will make a difference!

Give Today