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

Light and hope found in even the darkest concepts

April 06, 2018   |   posted by Lara Klaber in Filmmakers


Dana Nachman is a natural storyteller. She’s been doing it for most of her life.

She started out in journalism, rising in the NBC news ranks and winning an Emmy for “Close To Home,” a 2002 documentary about families impacted by the 9/11 terror attacks. Making that documentary was a life-changer.

“I thought ‘wow, this is so much better!’” she told the Philippine Star in October. Soon she would find herself moving away from journalism and focusing more and more on filmmaking. It helped that a filmmaker’s schedule was more compatible with raising three children. “I knew as time went on, I would see my kids less and less.”

After her first feature-length documentary, “Witch Hunt,” was released, she was finally ready to cut the cord with journalism altogether, switching to full-time filmmaking in 2009. A string of highly acclaimed films followed, including prior CIFF entries “The Human Experiment” (2013) and “Batkid Begins” (2015).

This year, Nachman is bringing the CIFF two exuberant films. “Pick of the Litter,” her feature-length documentary, follows the journey of five puppies as they train to be guide dogs for the blind. “The Final Show,” meanwhile, is her first narrative film: “A 98-year-old woman who dies at the breakfast table . . . gets transported to a place called the Between,” she explained. Reunited with prior loves, the woman must decide which one she wants to spend eternity with.

Nachman has a deft touch with topics and concepts – disability, mortality – that, in other hands, could be depressing and melodramatic. Instead, her stories are suffused with optimism and hope. “The Final Show” was actually inspired by cleaning out her grandmother’s apartment and finding an 80-year-old letter from a first love carefully tucked away. “It just made me think, ‘who would she choose now?’” she recalled.

For Nachman, finding inspiration is “sort of like finding love,” as she explained to Rogue Media. “As creative people, we just have a lot of ideas, and some just stick with you . . . it’s like they choose you, and you can’t let them go. I do think that in general, I like the story of an underdog.”

“Pick of the Litter,” which has been earning glowing reviews as it tours the Festival circuit, definitely qualifies. While not all of the puppies will make the cut to become guide dogs for the blind, all of their journeys get a sympathetic exploration. It’s “very light,” she explained. “We get into the isolation and being blind and other issues, but it’s also inherently a dog competition movie, so there’s some ease in that.”

Lara Klaber

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Related Screenings:
04/05/18 @ 9:15 AM – Comedy Shorts Program 1
04/05/18 @ 2:35 PM – Pick of the Litter
04/05/18 @ 6:35 PM – Hollywood Shorts Program
04/06/18 @ 7:00 PM – Pick of the Litter
04/07/18 @ 9:30 AM – Pick of the Litter
04/07/18 @ 9:40 PM – Comedy Shorts Program 1
04/14/18 @ 9:20 AM – Pick of the Litter

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FILM UPDATE: CIFF44 alum OLYMPIA, a documentary feature on Academy Award-winning actress Olympia Dukakis, will live stream on their Facebook page tonight at 8PM EST, followed by a post-film discussion with the director of the film and other special guests. To be part of the audience, please visit:

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