Cleveland International Film Festival } March 27 – April 7, 2019 } Tower City Cinemas

Embrace Poro!

April 15, 2018   |   posted by Lara Klaber in Festival Events

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Lake County’s Mark Porostosky has been to CIFF in the last few years and has seen one or two films. But he never believed he would actually be a part of the Festival. It’s his song, “Embrace,” that audiences have been listening to (sometimes multiple times) each day.

“It’s a song that can mean something to everyone,” says Porostosky, who plays mandolin and guitars for the band Poro.

And he loves what Fusion Filmworks, who produced the trailer, did with his music and the graphics.

“It’s so perfectly done,” he says. “It flows really well.”

For Sunday’s Closing Night, CIFF guests can hear the band do a special performance, with Andrea Belding (violin), Sam Harman (French horn), Heather Storey (oboe), Evan Storey (drums) and Brandon Lichtinger (electric guitar) joining permanent members Porostosky, Ryan Walker (bass, banjo) and Susan Ulle (keys). The band goes on at 8:50 p.m.

We know you have been singing along for the past 12 days, so now you will know the complete lyrics:

Embrace

Stop, I don’t want to go
I don’t want to lose this place I’ve known

Stop, I don’t want to see,
Everything I want taken from me

It takes another chance to fall in love
It takes a second hand to finally know your done/ (finally come undone),

And we'll say
What it was was never what it was

Staring from a cloud, we’ll find out when we fall what will stay
I want to embrace your love

A new compilation of songs is planned for release this summer. Join the band at the Beachland Tavern on August 17 for their release show. “Embrace” is sure to be on the set list!

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"Larger Than Life" shines a light on influential makeup artist Kevyn Aucoin

April 15, 2018   |   posted by Lara Klaber in Filmmakers

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In the ’80s and ’90s, makeup artist Kevyn Aucoin amplified the beauty of glamorous celebrities, Hollywood actresses, and flawless supermodels. Sadly, he passed away in 2002 at the age of 40, leaving behind an undeniable legacy and legions of heartbroken fans.

These admirers include Tiffany Bartok. The actress and makeup artist considers Aucoin her “biggest inspiration,” which explains why she was a natural to direct a documentary on his life and work, “Larger Than Life: The Kevyn Aucoin Story.”

“Kevyn was an incredible makeup artist, without question,” she says. “But, more than that, he was an incredible man. And he was human: He had struggles, fears, and weaknesses that he strived to rise above every day. I think people are surprised to see that side of Kevyn, and strangely comforted by it.”

“Larger Than Life” features testimonials from famous clients—including Tori Amos, Kate Moss, Cher, and Naomi Campbell—spliced with footage of Aucoin’s life, including “hilarious” videos that Bartok says reveal him to be “a maverick creative force.”

Given the caliber of commentary, one of her biggest challenges involved choosing which stories and observations to include, and which ones needed to be left on the proverbial cutting-room floor.

“There is a lot more to Kevyn than just the ability to do great makeup,” Bartok says. “There are more levels to his personality, his struggle, his activism, and his humanity than one person could ever fit in 102 minutes.”

Above all, when people watch the film, Bartok wants Aucoin’s humanity and generosity to resonate.

“Kevyn thought everyone with a beautiful heart was beautiful,” she says. “His only job was to help everyone see their own true beauty. And he succeeded in [doing] that on a superior level.”

—Annie Zaleski

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Related Screenings:
04/13/18 @ 1:25 PM – Larger Than Life: The Kevyn Aucoin Story
04/14/18 @ 5:05 PM – Larger Than Life: The Kevyn Aucoin Story
04/15/18 @ 10:15 AM – Larger Than Life: The Kevyn Aucoin Story

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Winding Back to 1994

April 15, 2018   |   posted by Lara Klaber in Filmmakers

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For “Bernadette” director John Psathas, something crucial has been missing from young adult films in recent years: a groun-ding in the ordeals that real teens experience.

“I can’t relate to what it means to survive a . . . werewolf in my high school,” he points out, “but I remember bullies. I can’t truly understand the struggle of being in the middle of a love triangle while in the midst of a dystopian future homage to Battle Royale . . . but I can remember missing the game-winning shot with everyone watching. I also remember being so hopelessly paralyzed by teenage desire that I couldn’t speak.”

It’s those more down-to-earth moments that intrigue and inspire him. “I’m really drawn to coming-of-age stories—the moments, choices, and relationships in our young lives that have far greater impacts than we are able to comprehend at the time,” he says.

Psathas and his production partner and co-writer, fellow DePaul University professor Patrick Wimp, started swapping stories from their own past. “Each one started with the phrase, ‘I remember this one time . . . ’ At the end of the day, we realized how much we wanted to capture those wistful emotions onscreen.”

The film continued to evolve as they brought their students into the process. “Over three sequential courses, [we] led 14 sophomore-year students through each stage in [“Bernadette’s”] production—from story revisions all the way to festival strategies. Over the course of that entire year . . . we collaborated with them as peers.”

He set the film in 1994, a watershed year for him that also harks back to a period when many classic coming-of-age films—“The Sandlot” (1993), “Camp Nowhere” (1994), “Clueless” (1995)—dominated the box office. “It was not only a big year for events in pop culture but, more importantly, it was the last summer before the Internet really exploded … That summer, my world was smaller and I knew it well.”

Originally from Cleveland, Psathas has attended prior Festivals and is excited to have one of his creations play in his hometown. And, as both a filmmaker and film professor, he has wonderful advice for aspiring film-makers.

“Don’t make anything because you think other people or film festivals will like it—make films that you’ll love, because you’re going to live with them forever,” he says. “Always hold onto the heart of the film, but don’t be afraid of change. At every stage, the film will evolve—that’s just the reality for independent, low-budget filmmakers—it’s your job to make sure that these changes are for the better and stay true to the story.”

What makes the final cut can, in fact, be a painful process. “Sadly, many terrific scenes and moments were left on the cutting-room floor … As a director, it was simply heartbreaking to let that go, but the truth is that it’s just part of the process. That’s what director’s cuts are for, right?”

We had a similar problem here at the Daily; Psathas gave us so many extraordinary answers that there wasn’t room for all of them. Below is the unexpurgated Q&A, with everything he had to say about Bernadette and Filmmaking.

Lara Klaber

CIFF: How did you first come up with the idea of “Bernadette,” and how did it evolve for you from those first days to now?

John Psathas: Bernadette has been a roller coaster, for sure. When I began writing the film in 2014 with my longtime collaborator and producer/DP, we started off just telling wild stories about our own teenage antics. Each one started with the phrase, "I remember this one time...." At the end of the day, we realized how much we wanted to capture those wistful emotions onscreen.

In all honesty, one of the main reasons we started writing and producing Bernadette was simple… we missed the coming-of-age films of our youth. Looking around, they didn’t seem to exist anymore- something nostalgic, funny, touching but, maybe, tinged with a little sadness. Lately, coming-of-age films seemed to have conflicts that revolved around some very intense stakes. While they can be very entertaining, their conflicts didn’t seem to express some of the more commonplace struggles that most teenagers grapple with and that, as adults, we wax nostalgic upon… first love, first heartbreak, friendship, parents, courage, identity.

I can’t relate to what it means to survive a serial killer/werewolf in my high school... but I remember bullies. I can’t truly understand the struggle of being in the middle a love triangle while in the midst of a dystopian future homage to Battle Royale... but I can remember missing the game winning shot with everyone watching. I also remember being so hopelessly paralyzed by teenage desire that I couldn’t speak. I remember the laughs and good times that forged the strongest friendships of my life- friends I have to this very day. I remember being shocked as the black-and-white dichotomy that was my understanding of people and the world slowly, painfully, revealed itself in shades of grey. Those bittersweet teenage milestones are shared. The way they make us smile- and sigh- is the reason we made Bernadette.

Like all indie films, Bernadette evolved organically- changed by each person that helped collaborate on it. In the editing room, however, it got really challenging. We had so many great moments and characters that it was impossible to keep everything. The world we created was just too big. Sadly, many terrific scenes and moments were left on the cutting room floor. That last stage of the storytelling was the hardest, where major story elements were reshaped in order to provide a laser focus on the narrative. As a director, it was simply heartbreaking to let them go but the truth is that it's just part of the process. That's what director's cuts are for, right?

CIFF: What kinds of stories are you drawn to as a writer and a director?

JP: As a writer and director, I'm really drawn to coming of age stories – the moments, choices, and relationships in our young lives that have far greater impacts than we are able to comprehend at the time. A huge fan of the genre, I had always wanted to tell a story that captured the naivete, confusion, and comedy of being on the cusp of adulthood— that time when you mistake teenage lust for true love, when every choice and every day seem both tantamount and trivial. Lately it's been comedy, absurdity, and bittersweet moments that are at the heart of stories that I like to tell.

CIFF: You set the film in 1994. Why did you choose that time for the setting?

JP: At first blush, my reasons might seem selfish... I was a teenager in the 90s and a lot of my own memories and stories are woven into the film. But when it came to picking an exact year, I went with 1994 because it was not only a big year for events in pop culture but, more importantly, it was the last summer before the internet really exploded. In my own life, it was the last time that the rest of the world was not at my fingertips. That summer, my world was smaller and I knew it well. It was more intimate and, despite that knowledge, so much more delicate. In a way, that reality made 1994 feel like the perfect setting for first love.

CIFF: As a film professor, what advice do you feel is most important for aspiring filmmakers?

JP: Keep making films. Never give up. Never settle. Embrace your voice. Lean into your style. Don't make anything because you think other people or film festivals will like it— make films that you'll love because you're going to live with them forever. Always hold onto the heart of the film but don't be afraid of change. At every stage, the film will evolve—that's just the reality for independent, low-budget filmmakers—it's your job to make sure that these changes are for the better and stay true to the emotion of your story.

CIFF: Every year, the CIFF has a theme, and this year’s theme is “Embrace Curiosity.” What does that mean to you, and how do you “embrace curiosity” through your work?

JP: "Embrace Curiosity" is a terrific theme— it's a driving force at the core of every single filmmaker and the impetus for viewers to watch our work. Whether that's exploring a new genre or style, presenting new worldviews, or revealing characters and stories so that they speak to, surprise, shatter, and amaze all of us, curiosity is at the center of who we are as storytellers. For me, it's about always challenging myself to create films where I'm trying things that I've never done before- pushing myself to experiment, learn, and grow as a filmmaker.

CIFF: What are some of your upcoming projects that we can look forward to?

JP: Right now, I'm developing a couple films and a series, all spread across different genres. While I've never been a huge fan of horror films they certainly fascinate me on a conceptual level. With that in mind, I'm looking to try my hand at one— from a coming-of-age angle, of course.

CIFF: Do you have anything else that you would like to say to the CIFF audience?

JP: Thank you so much for having us and coming to see “Bernadette!” Being from Cleveland and attending CIFF as an audience member in the past, I'm so honored to be a part of this year's festival. There is one other thing that I'd like to mention— something that I always try to share about Bernadette that I think surprises most audiences. This film, a feature length period piece, was made almost entirely by a crew of undergraduate film students. Over three sequential courses, another faculty member and I led 14 sophomore year students through each stage in its production— from story revisions all the way to festival strategies. Over the course of that entire year, my colleague and I helped these students grow as filmmakers and, eventually, we collaborated with them as peers. I can say, without reservation, that this one-of-a-kind experience was my most rewarding as both a filmmaker and educator. The film you see before you is a direct result of their dedication and commitment to the project and a testament to their capabilities as filmmakers- we really hope you enjoy it.

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Related Screenings:
04/14/18 @ 8:40 PM – Bernadette
04/15/18 @ 4:15 PM – Bernadette

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Longing to Belong

April 14, 2018   |   posted by Lara Klaber in Filmmakers

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Life can sometimes change in an instant, as the protagonists of the suspense-filled thriller “Blind Alley” are all too aware.

One night, while sitting in a car, brothers Alex and Michel are shot by an unknown assailant, leaving the former paralyzed from the waist down. As the siblings wrestle with this new reality (and Michel contemplates trying to find a way to pay for a healing surgery for Alex) they also come under a cloud of criminal suspicion.

There’s no good reason for this distrust—it’s rooted in baseless prejudice—and the burden of stereotypical expectations, self-fulfilling prophecies, and betrayal haunts the rest of the movie.

“It doesn’t matter if we’re born here,” Alex says at one point. “We don’t look like them.”

For director/screenwriter Manuel Concha—who was born and raised in Sweden to parents hailing from Chile—the themes of the movie resonated deeply with him. “My appearance doesn’t look like a typical Swede, so all my life I’ve been struggling with my identity, explaining to other people that I’m a Swede,” he says. “This feeling of being an outsider and not belonging somewhere is something I can [relate to] with the characters in the movie.”

“Blind Alley” is also based on true events, which makes the movie even more meaningful to Concha. “It’s a personal film, because some parts of the story happened to me in real life,” he says. “I wanted to tell about this dark period in my hometown that happened where white supremacy is gaining popularity. Sadly, it’s happening in other places around the world also.”

As far as film takeaways go, he says “an awareness of your own prejudice” is his top priority. “We all have them,” he says. “But I think we as human beings have to stop think[ing] so negative about other people, and instead think that everyone on this planet has their own battles in life.”

Annie Zaleski

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Related Screenings:
04/14/18 @ 8:30 PM – Blind Alley
04/15/18 @ 1:30 PM – Blind Alley

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No Sibling Rivalry-Just Two Filmmaker Brothers Living the Dream

April 14, 2018   |   posted by Lara Klaber in Filmmakers

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“Boy Band” is not a film about the Jonas Brothers or *NSYNC. “It’s a movie with drugs and cyborgs and Questlove playing an alien,” says Joel Moss Levinson, the film’s director. But despite all that, he says, “it’s actually got a core of emotional honesty.”

Just from that explanation, you probably get the idea that Levinson is a funny guy. This movie, which he made with his brother Stephen, shows people “what we could do when our sense of humor was given a chance to breathe,” he says.

No sibling rivalry here. The two complement each other. “Stephen is a writer, I’m a director,” says Levinson. “He continues to try to come up with spur-of-the-moment jokes, I try to incorporate them into what we’re shooting. We’re really lucky that our dynamic lines up so well.”

[This project] “was a dream come true,” he continues.

Yes, audiences will laugh while watching the film. But there is a serious side. Levinson says that the film is an “allegory for the evolution we are all as men facing in the 20th to 21st century transition.” He explains that things that worked before (in the 20th century) “don’t cut it anymore, and we have to evolve if we want to survive in the 21st.”

It’s a struggle, he says “as we attempt to become better representatives of our gender.”

He sees a bit of himself in the film’s characters. “I, like a Boy Band member, was continuing to do things into my thirties … without really evolving and doing it for diminishing returns, just like them.” Decision time—either continue doing the same old thing, or try something new, even if it means stepping out of the comfort zone.

The film takes place in Dayton, Ohio, where the Levinson brothers grew up, and nearby Yellow Springs, where Levinson lives now. Two cities, Levinson says, that “are filled with wonderful, creative people, dirt cheap locations, and other total awesomeness I was excited to showcase.”

He wanted to prove a point, that “there are different kinds of comedy movies that deserve to get made, and they don’t all have to be funneled through the executive decision making of Los Angeles or New York.”

Bonus—shooting in Ohio stretched the budget two to three times further.

Since Dayton is about a four-hour drive south of Cleveland, the Levinson sibs will have friends, family, investors, cast, and crew driving up for the World Premiere screening here.

Levinson admits that during the screening, his nerves may be evident, “until I hear the first laugh,” he says. “After that, I’ll relax and just ride it.”

He’ll be paying attention to what jokes get laughs.

“Here’s hoping it makes people laugh and brings them along for a very weird ride,” he concludes.

Anne M. DiTeodoro

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Related Screenings:
04/14/18 @ 5:30 PM – Boy Band
04/15/18 @ 3:00 PM – Boy Band

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