The Cleveland International Film Festival promotes artistically and culturally significant film arts through education and exhibition to enrich the life of the community.
April 06, 2017 | posted by Lara Klaber in Filmmakers
Sometimes cinematic inspiration turns up unexpectedly. For example, director/producer Melissa Dowler met Marty—the subject of her moving debut documentary, “Letting Go of Adele,” whose world premiere is at CIFF—because the women were neighbors in a downtown Boston apartment building.
“One day, Marty approached me [because] she knew I worked in video production, and wondered if I could help her make a fundraising video,” Dowler recalls. “She explained that Adele, her current service dog, was retiring, and she needed to raise money to get a new dog.”
Dowler was moved by the story her neighbor subsequently shared. Born with a heart condition that induced fainting, Marty had physical limitations that caused her great anguish.
Getting Adele, who was actually the first cardiac alert service dog in the world, “almost instantly transformed her life,” Dowler says. The animal could sense when Marty might pass out and also provided help with chores such as laundry, as well as physical comfort.
“I felt that Marty and Adele’s story would resonate with anyone who had ever loved, and learned to let go,” Dowler says. “I wanted to explore Marty’s journey, because I felt other women would relate to her strength, bravery, and vulnerability.”
“Letting Go of Adele” was filmed over a two-year period. The documentary shadows Marty at home in Massachusetts and also in Cochranville, Pennsylvania, where she trained with a new service dog, Hector, at the headquarters of Canine Partners for Life, the non-profit that also paired her with Adele.
Being able to spend time with the puppies in Cochranville was one perk for Dowler, a self-proclaimed dog lover. However, she is also especially proud that making her film ended up a women-centric endeavor.
“As a woman in the film industry, I spend a lot of time surrounded by men, and one of the other great joys of this film was that our stars were women, and many of our crew members were women, too,” Dowler says.
Still, the director says that one of the biggest challenges associated with telling Marty’s story was convincing her to open up about her life and experiences.
An afternoon interview with Marty—where she opened up about growing up in a place “where women hid their pain behind bright lipstick and big hair,” Dowler says—finally helped the documentary coalesce.
Being on the receiving end of such poignant revelations had a profound impact on Dowler’s life.
“I feel privileged that Marty opened up her life to me,” she says. “To be trusted with the responsibility of turning her truth into a work of art is an honor.
“As filmmakers, we document the way our subjects grow and change, and through that process, we too evolve,” she continues. “Marty and Adele taught me what it means to truly love, and I’m a better person for witnessing their transformational relationship.”
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