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

Filmmaker Tackles Poverty and Crisis with Positive Spin

March 28, 2019   |   posted by Lara Klaber in Filmmakers


John Papola, the writer, director, and producer of “The Pursuit,” developed his interest in economics as a result of crises. While he was working in New York in the television industry, the dot-com bust, 9/11, and a global financial crisis hit. It was during his daily commute into the city that he engrossed himself in economics, delving into audiobooks, podcasts, and TED talks.

During this time, Papola found the writings and talks of Arthur Brooks, the lead of this documentary. Papola was intrigued by the pragmatic approach that Brooks offered.

“I shared his fundamental motivation in thinking about economic problems in terms of how to empower those at the bottom, those at the margins of society,” says Papola. “I also came to share his dual belief in free enterprise as a positive force for good AND that it is fully compatible with a safety net.”

Although Papola was inspired by crises, and his film covers the difficult topic of poverty, it still is able to strike a positive tone.

“The Pursuit “cites undeniable progress in everything from literacy to infant mortality to billions lifted out of starvation poverty all in the last few decades.

And it all begins with Arthur Brooks. Papola remarks, “He (Brooks) truly loves people and takes a genuine interest in the concerns of everyone he meets… he went from being a thinker I admire, to a human being I respect.”

Although “The Pursuit” has a focus on the United States, it travels across the globe to film Brooks’ conversations—to Barcelona and Mumbai.

Papola’s film roars against the pessimist, and he encourages all of us to not despair.

“How can we make progress as a society if we delude ourselves into thinking everything is going to hell to the point where we miss what’s going right and fail to understand the things that really do work,” he says. “In short, there’s every reason in the world to be an optimist, even if it’s not a popular thing to be.”

–W. Connor Drake

PHOTO: In “The Pursuit,” John Papola attempts to bring a message that everybody can find worth listening to, regardless of personal bias. “I really hope that the film can demonstrate a different tone for engaging in debates about important issues,” he says.

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Related Screenings:
03/28/19 @ 4:45 PM – The Pursuit
03/29/19 @ 7:40 PM – The Pursuit
03/31/19 @ 9:30 AM – The Pursuit

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First-time Actress Draws on Personal Past for Role

March 28, 2019   |   posted by Lara Klaber in Filmmakers


Ritu Sarin and Tenzing Sonam's gorgeous and moving film, "The Sweet Requiem," is driven by the graceful acting of Tenzin Dolker.

In the film, she portrays Dolkar, a Tibet-born esthetician living in modern-day Delhi who navigates deep childhood trauma from a harrowing Himalayan journey. She and her father were on their way to India in search of a better life there.

Dolker's portrayal becomes especially nuanced as upsetting revelations about this trek accumulate and inflict more emotional anguish.

Incredibly enough, "The Sweet Requiem" is her acting debut—and she had to be convinced to audition for the film. She was busy with the process of immigrating to the U.S. when she initially saw a social media call for auditions.

However, she ended up taping a try-out video after a good friend reached out and encouraged her to apply. "The rest is history," Dolker recalls.

The first-time actress was drawn to the film for personal reasons—namely that she was born and raised in a refugee settlement in India, and heard her own father tell "extraordinary" stories about what it was like to flee Tibet.

"I grew up hearing these stories, and eventually come to realize my connection with their story and continuation of the story," she says. "I then began to share those stories at various levels. This story [in the film] was one such platform, and a call to tell their story."

Dolker, who is also a dancer, yoga instructor, and photographer, naturally drew on her own life experiences as she approached portraying Dolkar.

"I wanted my character [to be] someone who is joyful, passionate, rooted, open, resilient—yet fragile, secretive, and alone," she explains. "Approaching her character came natural to me, since I identify myself in her or she in me in so many ways."

However, she also felt a responsibility toward other people she knows who have similar life experiences as she acted—and emphasizes the important messages "The Sweet Requiem" conveys.

"[The film] addresses issues of our Tibetan community as well as of refugees around the globe," she says. "The constant struggle to survive; to assert as full-fledged human beings; the struggle to adapt to a new life and integrate, while also living with the fear of losing culture and identity; the constant guilt of living in exile while making effort to find peace with the past.

"I hope this story helps people create more space in their heart and find empathy for the ones who are driven away from home, for whatever reasons," she adds, "[and] allows people to view others as human beings—and beyond labels [such as] 'refugees,' 'migrants' or 'immigrants.'"

Annie Zaleski

PHOTO: Tenzin Dolker plays the role of Dolkar, a young refugee who relives a childhood trauma in search of retribution and closure. Movie still by Pablo Bartholomew.

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Related Screenings:
03/28/19 @ 6:00 PM – The Sweet Requiem
03/29/19 @ 12:00 PM – The Sweet Requiem

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Battling, not only on the court, but emotionally

March 28, 2019   |   posted by Lara Klaber in Filmmakers


We idolize sports figures in our culture. If the team is winning, we overlook any “issues” a player may have. We may chalk it up to their passion for the game, or their drive to produce a winner; we certainly don’t want to blame it on depression, anxiety, or any other mental illness.

“We’ve seen athletes come back from drugs, from orthopaedic ruin, even from prison,” says Johnny Sweet, director of “Quiet Storm.” “But you never see a guy, especially a star player, come back from what many dismiss as crazy.”

In 2010, after sinking the game-winning shot that made the Los Angeles Lakers world champions, Ron Artest thanked his psychologist, Dr. Santhi Periasamy. It was a bold move, and one that paved the way for others to start talking openly about mental illness, including Cleveland Cavalier Kevin Love, who recently opened up about his panic attacks.

“Ron said those words because he is truly guileless,” says Sweet. “There was no plan, no [public service announcement] pre-built campaign.”

Sweet knew that Artest didn’t have to share that information “in front of the world at the top of the mountain.” As a filmmaker, he felt that this story should be amplified for that reason.

Artest, now known as Metta World Peace, had battled with demons for years. He grew up in Queensbridge Houses in New York City, the county’s largest public housing development, and had a difficult childhood. It wasn’t something he outgrew, either; it followed him through college and into the NBA.

In addition to hearing from the subject himself, Sweet talks with Kobe Bryant and Jermaine O’Neal, both former teammates of Artest, and other NBA stars. Sweet was surprised by the “myriad of emotions and reactions” he witnessed from all those interviewed. Artest’s story is “full of surprises and iconic signposts—funny, tragic, and in the end, improbably inspirational,” he says.

“Quiet Storm” has screened at several other film festivals across the country, and Sweet has seen the audience react. “There’s been crying, laughter, just a whole mix of different emotional reactions,” he says. During the Q-and-A sessions after the film, he notes, some audience members have confessed that they also are battling mental struggles.

—Anne M. DiTeodoro

PHOTO: Johnny Sweet in Queensbridge, Ron Artest’s neighborhood in Queens, NY.“Right on the court where he (Ron) learned to play ball from his pops,” says Sweet.

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Related Screenings:
03/28/19 @ 8:00 PM – Quiet Storm: The Ron Artest Story
03/29/19 @ 1:50 PM – Quiet Storm: The Ron Artest Story

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Former Journalist Tackles Racial Terrorism in Debut Doc

March 28, 2019   |   posted by Lara Klaber in Filmmakers


For four years, Jacqueline Olive had been filming and working on a documentary about historic lynchings in the U.S. Her focus was on how families of both perpetrators and victims “were confronting this form of racial terrorism in order to memorialize the victims, repair the damage, and move their communities towards healing,” she says.

Olive had wrapped up filming and thought she was finished with production. Then she heard about Lennon Lacy. This 17-year-old boy was found hanging from a swing set in Bladenboro, North Carolina. The year was 2014.

She couldn’t stop now. Olive reached out to the teen’s mother, Claudia. Although the death was ruled a suicide, she believes her son was lynched.

After talking with the grieving mother, Olive noticed “the sharper the parallels became between the horror that people in Bladenboro were facing and what others had been confronting in the communities where I’d already been filming,” she says.

She knew she had to include this recent story in her first feature documentary, “Always in Season,” with Claudia’s fight for justice framing the narrative.

“Regardless of whether Lennon was lynched, the community had a right for the case to be investigated thoroughly, given the racial divisions in Bladenboro and the history of lynching terrorism in the U.S.,” Olive explains.

Imagine hearing sad stories, interviewing angry subjects, and examining dozens of lynching photographs over-and-over again.

“While it was sometimes difficult, making the film has always been incredibly important to me,” Olive says. “What’s been inspiring for me is getting to know and film with people who are not ignoring generations of dehumanization and brutality, but are grappling with the connections between the past and the present in order to help repair the damage and move their communities towards reconciliation.”

After 10 years of working on an intensely emotional film, she has a final product to share with audiences.

“Processing the anger and pain that comes with directly tackling this history has ultimately been empowering for most of the people featured in ‘Always in Season,’ as well as for me,” Olive concludes. “I hope audiences of the film will feel the same.”

—Anne M. DiTeodoro

Photo: This is former journalist Jacqueline Olive's first feature documentary. “I eventually traded in 60-second news stories for creating in-depth narratives of my own,” she says. “I love every aspect of documentary filmmaking because it combines artistry with analysis and is a highly collaborative process that allows for nuanced storytelling.” Photo by Teo Olive.

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Related Screenings:
03/28/19 @ 6:35 PM – Always in Season
03/29/19 @ 1:35 PM – Always in Season

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Family Bonds: Heartwarming Family Film Kicks Off 2019 Festival

March 27, 2019   |   posted by Lara Klaber in Filmmakers


Drama, comedy, tears, laughter, and a darling newborn baby. It doesn’t get much better than this for Opening Night at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

“The Etruscan Smile,” has stars many will recognize, is produced by an award-winning international filmmaker, and has stunning scenery.

The film premiered in Berlin and screened globally at such festivals as Montreal, Boston, and Stony Brook, New York, to the delight of audiences.

“The film connects to something very simple in our humanity: what makes a life a good life, and it is always encouraging to see the impact smaller films can have when given the chance,” note the directors Oded Binnun and Mihal Brezis.

When the directing duo were approached by producer Arthur Cohn about the project, the two personally connected to the story.

“We were ourselves at a stage in life quite similar to that of the first-time parents in the film—our son was not much older than the baby in the story,” say the filmmakers. “We were discovering for the first time the great bond that is formed between those who are just at the start of their lives, and those who are on the other end of the line, our parents.”

They found a “common and clear understanding of what really matters in life” at these two very opposite ends of a lifespan.

The film is based on the novel by José Luis Sampedro, La sonrisa etrusca, and centers on Scottish curmudgeon Rory MacNeil who leaves his home to travel to San Francisco for medical treatment. He moves in with his estranged son and his family, and begins to form a strong bond with his newborn grandson.

Binnun and Brezis credit their “incredible cast,” of which Brian Cox, as Rory, has gotten wonderful reviews. Audiences may recognize Cox, one of Scotland’s notable actors in film and Shakespearean theater, from such films as “Braveheart,” Woody Allen’s “Match Point,” and as Hannibal Lecter in “Manhunter.”

The directors knew immediately that Cox would be perfect for the role. They first saw him in “The Good Heart” by the Icelandic director Dagur Kari. In that film Cox, according to Binnun and Brezis, “portrays the most extreme, wild, dark humored, and yet heartwarming, character. Very few actors can be as tough and rugged on the outside while being so vulnerable and lovable.”

While the two worked on the final draft of the screenplay, they had Cox in mind for the lead role. “There was a big sigh of relief when he actually got the script and said he wants to do it,” say the filmmakers. “We really didn’t have any plan B for that role.”

But they credit all the actors for their contribution to the final product, “It is their soul and performance above all else that carries the story and gives the film its heart,” they say.

– Anne M. DiTeodoro

PHOTO: Israeli filmmakers Mihal Brezis, left, and Oded Binnun previously had great success with the short film, “Aya.” It was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Live Action Short Film in 2015. This is their first feature film.

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Related Screenings:
03/27/19 @ 7:00 PM – The Etruscan Smile
04/07/19 @ 9:00 AM – The Etruscan Smile

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CIFF Tweets

Hey film fans! We’re looking for a few good people to join the CIFF seasonal staff! Take a look at what positions we have available and see if you might fit the bill. For job openings and application form, visit:

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CIFF Facebook Posts

Hey film fans! Were looking for a few good people to join the CIFF seasonal staff! Take a look at what positions we have available and see if you might fit the bill. For job openings and application form, visit: the link!

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Follow us @clefilmfest

Here we go film fans – CIFF44’s Opening Night and Closing Night Films are announced! Join us ‪on Wednesday, March 25th‬ @playhousesquare for our Opening Night Film MILITARY WIVES, and ‪on Sunday, April 5th‬ for our Closing Night Film DREAM HORSE! Tickets for Opening Night are now on sale at, with all other tickets going on sale ‪Friday, March 6th‬ for members, ‪Friday, March 13th‬ for non-members.

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