Cleveland International Film Festival } March 25 – April 5, 2020 } Tower City Cinemas

Many Languages, One Theme: Welcome!

April 07, 2019   |   posted by Lara Klaber in Festival Events

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When you have the word ‘international’ as part of your name, it goes without saying that languages and expressing the right messages are important to the CIFF.

Fusion Filmworks worked on the creative campaign for this year’s Festival. In addition to designing the artwork and producing the film trailer, this year they added translator to their list of responsibilities.

“We started out making a list of languages we thought were important to include in the trailer,” says Grace Nowak, executive producer, Fusion Filmworks. “After that we began the search for cast members.”

During the search process, they “stumbled upon a language or dialect we hadn’t anticipated,” she says.

For example, an Albanian woman introduced the creative team to a friend of hers from southern Nigeria who spoke Igbo. The Igbo word for welcome then became part of the list.

“The variety of backgrounds, languages and cultures is what really makes the ‘Welcome’ campaign genuine,” says Nowak.

With a little help from Google Translate, the languages were ultimately vetted by a translation company, along with a final proofread. Simple, right? Not so fast.

“A few of our cast members let us know that there were a number of ways to approach the concept of ‘Welcome' in their language,” Jon LaGuardia, director, Fusion Filmworks adds. “Most [languages] have a formal version that was rarely, if ever, spoken, and a casual everyday word or phrase that would be used even if it was not a direct match.

“Whether the word was able to be translated directly or not,” he says, “there was always a way to convey the concept of ‘Welcome.'”

--Anne M. DiTeodoro

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Personal Experiences Lead Filmmaker to Achieve Her American Dream

April 07, 2019   |   posted by Lara Klaber in Filmmakers

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The film “Crystal Swan” follows the story of a young woman, Velya, attempting to emigrate from Belarus to the United States in 1996. The heroine of the film has a typo in her visa which lands her in a backwater town in Belarus.

The film’s director, Darya Zhuk, has plenty in common with Velya. Zhuk left Belarus in the ’90s to study in the United States. Zhuk says, “Many times I had to stand in line for the US visa—and I found it one of the most stressful experiences over the years.”

Zhuk talks about how Americans do not understand how difficult it is to acquire a visa to the United States. “It’s personal experiences like that [that] led me to believe ‘Crystal Swan’ would be a good story to tell on screen.”

Travel to the United States for Belarusians is different today. Zhuk says that it is easier to find information with the Internet, and visas are simply more accessible. “There is less of a feeling that it’s now or never, it’s more fluid,” she remarks.

Though the visa situation may be somewhat changed, the story of Velya’s desire to travel the world still rings true. “The ideas of leaving your country to pursue a better life are very much in the air nowadays all over Eastern Europe, so the film resonates with young people,” Zhuk says. “The American Dream is something hugely relevant today, just like it was after the fall of the Soviet Union.”

The theme of following a dream is behind the production of this film as well. “Crystal Swan” is Zhuk’s first feature film, and though the financing was difficult, Zhuk found “at the end, I got a lot of creative freedom, so I feel lucky in how it came together. It’s always a challenge for filmmakers to make their first feature, and my advice is to keep the focus, and believe in your project.”

Zhuk’s website reads, “She strives to tell fun, unapologetically messy stories about always strong, diverse, and sometimes shocking, women.” When asked how the character Velya related, Zhuk responds, “Velya is a perfect embodiment of the type of characters I’d like to explore in my films.”

The film is layered with the goals of the character Velya, Zhuk’s past experiences, and Zhuk’s realized dream of creative direction on a feature film.

W. Connor Drake

PHOTO: At 16, Darya Zhuk left her homeland in post-Soviet Belarus to study at Harvard University, where she discovered filmmaking. She holds a degree in economics from Harvard and an MFA in film directing from Columbia University, both with honors.

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Related Screenings:
04/06/19 @ 9:35 PM – Crystal Swan
04/07/19 @ 1:25 PM – Crystal Swan

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Spend Closing Night at 'The Public'

April 07, 2019   |   posted by Lara Klaber in Filmmakers

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The mission statement of the Public Library of Cincinnati & Hamilton County is “Connecting people with the world of ideas and information.” Nowhere does it say that if you’re homeless or mentally ill, you are not welcome.

Public libraries are just that—public, free and open to all. However, one librarian from Salt Lake City, in an article he wrote for the Los Angeles Times in 2007, noted that his library, like “virtually all the urban libraries in the nation, is a de facto daytime shelter for the city’s homeless.” The article also noted that librarians have added the role of social worker to their responsibilities in these instances.

That article got Emilio Estevez thinking. It took him 12 years, but he finally finished his story with, “The Public,” tonight’s Closing Night film.

Estevez stars in the film as a librarian caught in the middle of a “sit in” by library patrons, most who are homeless or mentally ill, and won’t leave. The area shelters are full and they have nowhere else to turn on a wintry night.

He also wrote, directed, and co-produced the film. Scenes were filmed at night after hours in the Cincinnati library, or the Public, as it’s referred to. At first, the library administrators and staff were concerned that giving the crew access and filming onsite would be disruptive to patrons and “could negatively impact the mission of the public library.”

“I made it very clear that my intention was not to impinge the public right to freely access the library, its information, and its resources,” Estevez tells American Libraries. “It was important to convey how seriously I take the work of librarians and how important I believe libraries are as a crucial and essential public commons.”

Each night the crew of more than 100 people would wrap up their work “making sure that we left no discernible footprint,” he continues.

The film was originally set to be shot in Los Angeles, until Estevez was lured back to his family roots in Ohio. His mother was born in Cincinnati, and his father, actor Martin Sheen, grew up in Dayton. He was also able to get some significant tax incentives for shooting in Cincinnati.

The local premiere took place on March 30 in downtown Cincinnati, and Cincinnatians are proud and impressed that so many references to their Queen City are made in the movie. According to the Cincinnati Enquirer, Estevez peppers the script with multiple references to the city and its neighborhoods, as well as some insider lingo.

Also starring in the film are Alec Baldwin, Taylor Schilling, Gabrielle Union, and Christian Slater. It was co-produced with Kristen Schlotman, executive director of Film Cincinnati.

Anne M. DiTeodoro

PHOTO: Although we are at the Cleveland International Film Festival, we are going to give a little love to our southern Ohio neighbors in Cincinnati. Emilio Estevez’s “The Public” was filmed in 2017 partly in the Public Library of Cincinnati & Hamilton County’s main branch downtown.

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Related Screenings:
04/07/19 @ 6:45 PM – The Public

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No PhD Needed

April 06, 2019   |   posted by Lara Klaber in Filmmakers

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The co-director of “Chasing Einstein,” Timothy Wheeler, states, “The film does exactly what Einstein would have done, ask questions.” His fellow co-director, Steve Brown, followed up with some examples, “Why do we believe what we believe today? Is it possible that there will be a completely different explanation in the future?... Could we be on the threshold of a paradigm shift, possibly of the magnitude of Galileo or Einstein?”

“Chasing Einstein” delves deep into these paradigm shifting questions which challenge the entire framework of the last 100 years. Brown says, “When you hear the conclusion of today’s physics that 96% of the universe is made of a type of matter and energy that is impossible to detect, it seems that physics might be hitting some kind of wall, despite its phenomenal success of the past 100 years.”

The filmmakers ask serious questions of the current paradigm in which physics operates. It explores the world of physics today, 100 years since Einstein’s breakthroughs. Brown continues, “The open questions in physics today are so big and some of the explanations are so bizarre that it feels like we are bound for another paradigm shift.”

In spite of these massive and complex concepts, “Chasing Einstein” is meant for a broad crowd of many backgrounds. Prior to interviews with physicists, the directors often shared this quote from Einstein himself: “If you can't explain it to a six year old, you don't understand it yourself.” You do not need a PhD in physics to care about these questions, and you do not need a PhD to understand this film.

This attitude permeates “Chasing Einstein” and reveals interesting results. Brown elaborates, “The first question might be ‘What is gravity?’ and the first answer might be a technical answer. Then the follow-up question would be, “But what is gravity, really?” These kinds of questions continue Einstein’s thread of simplicity.

The approach allows physics to become more accessible. Brown said, “We were surprised to learn that some of the most basic questions turn out to be as much of a mystery to the physicists as to the rest of us.”

“Chasing Einstein” puts these universal questions into discussions of common ground. Brown remarked, “What we thought might be dumb questions turn out to be the most important questions that everyone still is trying to figure out.” The interviewees, the top of their field, are dealing with fundamental questions.

In the end, this is a film for anybody with curiosity. “Chasing Einstein” covers questions like, as Browns asks, “Where did we come from? Where are we going? What’s it all about?” The pursuit of knowledge is universal. Wheeler finished with, “There is a real spiritual element to science--the drive to understand.”

W. Connor Drake

PHOTO:

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Related Screenings:
04/06/19 @ 7:45 PM – Chasing Einstein
04/07/19 @ 12:10 PM – Chasing Einstein

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Suburbia, Through the Looking Glass

April 06, 2019   |   posted by Lara Klaber in Filmmakers

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It started off as a short film, a 15-minute 2015 excursion into a bizarre alternate suburban idyll. When “Greener Grass” creators Jocelyn DeBoer and Dawn Luebbe finished touring the festival circuit, their original hope was to turn the premise into a TV show. That didn’t come to pass, but the idea just wouldn’t let them go.

“What started happening,” they told Women and Hollywood, is that we kept finding ourselves saying ‘oh my God, this (particular unusual thing) is so “Greener Grass.”’ Or people who’d seen our short would pitch us things from their lives that were ‘so “Greener Grass.”’ And we naturally started building out the world, especially as bits we’d do with each other.”

In the aftermath of Election 2016, the timing was perfect, too. “The news started getting, well, very ‘Greener Grass,’” they continued. “Adults acting like petulant children, people in power unable to see past what’s right in front of them, and a desire permeating our country both politically and culturally, to return to the ‘good old days.’”

Skewering those imagined days was easier than ever given their shooting location: “The oh-so perfect world around us in Peachtree City (Georgia),” they enthused to 25 Years Later. “The people, the manicured lawns and brightly colored identical houses, the 100 miles of paved golf cart paths!”

In fact, they decided that nobody in their fictional world drove anything else. “We couldn’t show any vehicles other than golf carts,” they told Women in Hollywood, “which are comedy gold.”

They created a world in which the desire to compete and conform is so intense that everyone, even adults, wear braces in an attempt to make their teeth even more perfect, and if someone wears underpants as a scarf, everyone else will swiftly do the same. But even at its weirdest, it’s all just one small twist away from life. Except, probably, for the boy turning into a dog. Probably.

Although Luebbe and DeBoer had pulled in Saturday Night Live staple Paul Briganti to direct the short film, they decided that they wanted to co-direct the feature-length version themselves. “Our favorite thing to do as writers,” they said, “is create unusual worlds with their own unique logic and aesthetic. And we found that no one could better bring those specifics to life, exactly the way they exist in our brains, better than we could. So we started directing our own stuff.”

People warned them that it was a lot to take on, especially given that they had little experience with directing and no formal training. They didn’t let that deter them, and they don’t think it should deter anyone else.

“You don’t have to go to film school,” they told Women and Hollywood. “This applies to anyone, male or female, who hasn’t gone to film school and is afraid that means they can’t direct. It’s scary to feel like you don’t know all that technical stuff, but our experience has been that you learn those things fast when you’re thrown to the lions. And you’ll be surprised--you probably know more than you think.”

Lara Klaber

PHOTO: Directors Jocelyn DeBoer, left, and Dawn Luebbe, right, told Collider that “Greener Grass” is “a horror film in the skins of a comedy, satirizing the world of suburbia.”


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Related Screenings:
04/05/19 @ 4:20 PM – Greener Grass
04/06/19 @ 9:40 PM – Greener Grass
04/07/19 @ 1:50 PM – Greener Grass

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Film update: #CIFF43 alum @rollredrolldoc will broadcast nationally tonight at 10/9c as the season opener of PBS's @povdocs program. Full info at www.pbs.org/pov

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