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

Catching Up with Sara Zandieh

April 06, 2019   |   posted by Lara Klaber in Filmmakers


“Simple Wedding,” a rollicking comedy that deftly explores the clashes of cultures and generations even as they try to come together, has been taking audiences by storm. We caught up with director Sara Zandieh and asked her a few additional questions about her film, which she was only too happy to answer.

I’ve read that the story of “Simple Wedding” evolved from an initially very personalized story to a more universal one. What was that evolution like for you as a writer?
It certainly was an evolution. It began as a very personal story and evolved into something pretty different. As it happened, I attended several multicultural weddings over the course of writing the movie and watched many friends and family enter into intercultural relationships. I started to enlist these stories and merge them with mine. Also, I worked on the screenplay for nearly six years, on and off, and kept growing and evolving as a person. A big transformation also happened when I started casting. I like to tailor the roles to my actors. When I cast Tara Grammy, I did a big rewrite for her. The original character that was written was kind of a quiet, timid girl. When I found Tara, I felt inspired to rewrite the lead to be a more assertive, rebellious, sexually liberated Persian girl. It felt more fresh, right, and relevant.

Certain themes seem to run through your work: family, relationships, and cultural intersection/clashes. What draws you to these themes, and what other kinds of themes do you like to explore?
I usually start by writing something personal... and these are the themes that keep surfacing. Simple Wedding explores family, relationship, and culture clash because these themes are very personal to me. My family is as multicultural as the UN. Everyone has married into a different culture, so I’ve watched different kinds of families merge together. I just went to my cousin’s Iranian-Chinese-American wedding, and watching those two cultures come together was fascinating. Observing their differences and similarities. It’s really inspiring to watch love transcend cultural, social boundaries. I think Simple Wedding also explores the theme of “faith”. For me, its central message is that we should frame our faith around love as opposed to any religions or cultural subscription.

Comedy tends to have a spontaneous, found-moment quality to it much of the time. How did the film evolve during production?
We found many hilarious moments on set. I’m an open and spontaneous director but I also stick to a method. I usually do several takes, loyal to the script. Once I know I have it, I give the actors one or two takes (depending on time) to riff and play. Sometimes we would find gems in these improvs. It’s great to offer the actors some freedom to play around, let loose, and remind them to have fun. It’s a tight balancing act of creating an atmosphere of play while keeping the train on track and moving quickly.

You have worked in a number of genres and roles so far. Which ones feel most natural and comfortable to you?
I would say dramedy, and sometimes just straight comedy as in Simple Wedding. I have an inherent levity of being and I usually gravitate towards people who have that same vibration. Even when I’m making a drama, I try to pull out the moments of humor. I think the tone of life is between a serious drama and an absurdist comedy.

What do you hope audiences will take away from your film?
On a basic level, I hope they walk away from the movie feeling delighted and less stressed out. I also hope that they’ll feel inspired to celebrate our diversity instead of questioning it. I hope it inspires a renewed sense of faith around love, whatever they may be facing in their own lives. I refer to this movie as a cross-cultural “love bomb” in our current fear machine. I think the movies tries to remind us of a simple message, that love is our greatest asset on earth. Also maybe they’ll feel inspired to call their Grandmother to say “Hi! I fell in love with someone you totally won’t understand, but that is ok. Love you, Bye.”

PDF  Download Related PDF [1.1 MB]

Related Screenings:
04/03/19 @ 6:50 PM – Simple Wedding
04/05/19 @ 11:30 AM – Simple Wedding
04/06/19 @ 9:35 AM – Simple Wedding

Permalink  [Permalink]

A Dream Gone Dry

April 06, 2019   |   posted by Lara Klaber in Filmmakers


California City—all 186.5-square-miles of it—is the third-largest city by area in the state of California. That size makes it the 11th largest in the nation.

Never heard of it? Not surprising. Although it has size behind it, this city in the Mojave Desert never materialized in what it was set out to be—a thriving metropolis, with cheap land for sale with a California address. It was 1958 when developer Nat Mendelsohn was selling this American Dream. After an initial fervor of interest, things just dried up. Today, the city has a mere 14,000 residents, miles of dirt roads, and no real industry to support those who fell for the dream.

“My father told me about California City because he’d seen a short segment about it on Italian TV,” says Fabrizio Maltese, the director of “California Dreaming,” a documentary based on this hoped-for grand city. “He told me about it because he thought it would be interesting for me as a photographer.”

Maltese, a freelance photographer born in Italy and now living in Luxembourg, was intrigued. The next time he was in California, he rented a car and drove to California City.

“What struck me, once I got there, was how the whole place could, in a sense, function as a kind of physical representation of how the American Dream had evolved from the time the city was starting to be planned, in the late 1950s, to today,” he says.

The idea was better suited to film, rather than still photography.

Maltese began his research and found several active community groups to contact. Although they were eager to help with his project, “They were very surprised that someone wanted to make a film about California City,” he recalls.

He met Jean-Paul Leblanc, who came to California City 50 years ago from Quebec in Canada. Maltese follows Leblanc for several months, and it is Leblanc’s story that ends up becoming the focus of the film. Although Leblanc “opened a lot of doors” for Maltese and led him to others and their stories, the filmmaker notes that it still was not easy to get people to open up on camera.

“Meeting a potential character is only the beginning,” Maltese says. “Before they will really let you into their lives with a camera, they need to trust you and understand where you are coming from, and that’s something that takes months of preparation and work.”

It is the characters he meets that truly make his documentaries resonate with audiences. And he finds satisfaction in the filmmaking process, especially when he sees “how an idea can blossom from an initial concept and research into a reality through shooting and editing.

“But the most fun is definitely sharing it with others and hearing their reactions,” he continues.

Maltese is thrilled to share his film with CIFF audiences. And since this is his first time in Ohio, he and his husband, film critic Boyd van Hoeij, who is also in town for CIFF’s New Direction Jury, are looking forward to visiting the Cleveland Museum of Art “to see its photography exhibitions and, of course, their Caravaggio.”

Anne M. DiTeodoro

PHOTO: Fabrizio Maltese has two other documentaries that takes place in the desert. “Twenty-Five Palms” was shot in Palm Springs and “50 Days in the Desert” takes place in the Sahara.

PDF  Download Related PDF [1.1 MB]

Related Screenings:
04/05/19 @ 8:50 PM – California Dreaming
04/06/19 @ 4:15 PM – California Dreaming
04/07/19 @ 4:25 PM – California Dreaming

Permalink  [Permalink]

Rima Das Lets Us Explore Indian Village Life Through Her Eyes

April 06, 2019   |   posted by Lara Klaber in Filmmakers


At first glance, one would be forgiven for mistaking Rima Das for a Bollywood actress. Once upon a time, she had planned to become one. But her trajectory took her away from the center of Bollywood and is now making her one of India’s most celebrated new filmmakers. With three feature-length films under her belt—two of which, “Village Rockstars” and “Bulbul Can Sing,” are playing today—and a string of awards and nominations, Rima Das is definitely Someone to Watch.

Born in Assam, a state in the far northeastern corner of India, Das grew up along the bank of the Brahmputra River in the village of Chaygaon, far from the bustle and glitter of Mumbai and Bollywood.

“My younger brothers and I were brought up under strict supervision, which never worked, and the three of us, despite pressures on studies, had played around in the river, fishing, climbing trees, making a banana raft during floods,” she recalled in an interview with WMF India. “I had an eventful childhood. But now I feel so blessed that I lived with these amazing times within the village and experienced the simple, yet powerful life.”

Das earned a master’s degree in Sociology at Pune University before traveling to Mumbai with hopes of breaking into film. She struggled to compete against actresses who were far more fluent in English, but found herself enthralled by filmmaking itself. “I got really interested in films by Iranian director Majid Majidi and Wong Kar Wai,” she told Hollywood Reporter, “in addition to masters such as Ingmar Bergman.”

She bought a Canon 5D Mark II digital camera in 2011, and began working behind the camera. “That has been my constant companion for all of my movies,” she reminisces.

Das has made most of her films on shoestring budgets, as labors of love, relying on local amateur talent and self-financing. “I have actually been more comfortable working with nonprofessional actors,” she explains, “because they totally surrender to you and trust you.”

“Village Rockstars” was inspired by a chance encounter on a trip home. “When I was back after staying in Mumbai city for a while,” she told WMF India, “one evening I stumbled upon these boys playing in a gathering with fake instruments. My journey started then.”

For both “Village Rockstars” and “Bulbul Can Sing,” Das has created strong, empowered female protagonists living in nuanced, realistic worlds. There is music, but don’t expect the flamboyant musical productions of a Bollywood film.

“I make cinema for myself first,” she explains, “and never for the audience in mind. When I shoot I completely absorb myself in the storyline and begin to deeply relate with my characters. I won’t give up until I achieve my vision.”

But it’s a vision that audiences strongly relate to. “I never expected that [“Village Rockstars”] would end up going to so many festivals and get the kind of response that it did,” she marveled to Hollywood Reporter.

And as the accolades keep flowing in, we know there will be much more to watch from her in the future.

Lara Klaber

PHOTO: “Making an independent film as a woman in a country with deep patriarchal mindsets is never easy,” Rima Das told WMF India. “But I look beyond and aspire to become good at my job. I have many ideas and I am so excited that in these coming years, I will stay true to my ideas.”

PDF  Download Related PDF [1.1 MB]

Related Screenings:
04/06/19 @ 12:35 PM – Village Rockstars
04/06/19 @ 2:45 PM – Bulbul Can Sing
04/07/19 @ 1:45 PM – Village Rockstars
04/07/19 @ 4:00 PM – Bulbul Can Sing

Permalink  [Permalink]

Pulitzer Talked 'Fake News' More than 100 Years Ago

April 05, 2019   |   posted by Lara Klaber in Filmmakers


With his films, Oren Rudavsky prefers to give voices to the voiceless. So, why does Joseph Pulitzer--the namesake for one of the most revered awards in popular culture--fall into that category?

“Not only has he been misrepresented, but people know little to nothing about him, aside from the Pulitzer Prizes,” Rudavsky says. “And here’s a man who, unlike William Randolph Hearst, kept a progressive agenda throughout his life, one his family maintained for generations, but who suffered for decades despite his great wealth.”

A complicated figure, no doubt. “Joseph Pulitzer: Voice of the People” strives to pull back the curtain of one of the most mysterious individuals in media history. An immigrant himself, Pulitzer was a champion for the working people and others from humble beginnings. He remained true to his democratic ideals and ferocity for a free press, though he wasn’t without his flaws.

Pulitzer spoke of “fake news” more than a century ago--well before the Trump presidency infused it back into the mainstream. Pulitzer, too, drew the ire of a president. Teddy Roosevelt accused the famed publisher of libel for claiming the Panama Canal was little more than colonialist overreach and threatened him with imprisonment. If he considered it news, Pulitzer printed it in The World--without any fear of whom he offended.

“I hope people see both its timeliness and its timelessness, since powerful governments and political leaders have always sought to destroy the credibility of those that oppose them,” Rudavsky says of the film he directed. “Today, the struggle is both financial and political, and we're at a very dangerous place. The US seems to be surviving in terms of freedom of the press, but when our president barely condemns the death of a journalist living in the US by a foreign power, it’s a fragile time.”

It’s also a fragile time for the news industry, particularly newspapers, which have been ravaged by steep declines in advertising revenue and staff cuts. Look no further than The Plain Dealer in Cleveland as evidence of that. That said, are there still lessons to be learned from the man who shaped the press as we know it today?

“Tell your story as honestly and truthfully as you can,” Rudavsky says. “Entertain your audience. Write journalism as a story you would want to read. And find new forms of storytelling that will excite your audience. And make sure to make a living either through journalism or in another way so you can write with independence. All very hard to do even with deep conviction in the importance of doing this.”

Timothy Magaw

PHOTO: Oren Rudavsky’s film focuses on Joseph Pulitzer, a name many of us recognize, but know little about.

PDF  Download Related PDF [1.3 MB]

Related Screenings:
04/05/19 @ 5:45 PM – Joseph Pulitzer: Voice of the People
04/06/19 @ 11:10 AM – Joseph Pulitzer: Voice of the People
04/07/19 @ 2:30 PM – Joseph Pulitzer: Voice of the People

Permalink  [Permalink]

Age: It's Only a Number

April 05, 2019   |   posted by Lara Klaber in Filmmakers


Mark Baker, ukulele slinger extraordinaire, first met filmmaker Susan Gluth when she came to film the Sun City Ukulele Club for her film, "Very Senior--Attitude is Everything." He’s the founder of the club, which began with six members, and now boasts more than 150 musicians.

“Susan filmed our group focusing on how much fun everyone was having,” he says.

Sun City retirement community is nestled in the Arizona desert. Just because all of its residents are over 55 years of age, don’t expect to see sad and decrepit seniors here. Sun City bills itself as an active adult community, and the emphasis is definitely on active. There is ukulele playing, tap dancing, swimming, and everything in between. German filmmaker Gluth was intrigued. The synopsis on her website notes: “Seen from Europe, Sun City seems like a utopian vision: a town designed on the drawing board that looks like some extra-terrestrial apparition.”

This utopia is home to Baker, a Texan, who has been a singer songwriter/performer for most of his life. He is having a great time as a senior citizen.

“It is all about attitude and the attitude of all our ukulele players is ‘Top-Shelf Positive Fun,’” he exclaims, who notes that it’s a “thrill” to teach and direct this group. “[It] has truly been a highlight of my musical career.”

He was more than happy to share that enthusiasm with Gluth during the filming of her documentary. “[She] seemed like she was having as much fun capturing smiles and the enjoyment this wonderful little musical instrument brings to everyone,” he says.

Filmmaker Gluth studied at the Academy of Film and Television in Munich in 1995, only after she spent some time as a forest ranger, cook, and a veterinarian. She studied business and commerce in her hometown of Hamburg and began travelling to Italy and France in the 1990s, where she developed her photography skills. She worked in advertising, before she began working on TV programs and films. She’s been a freelance filmmaker since 2003.

Gluth spent two weeks in Sun City meeting residents and shooting them as they go about their activities.

“My aim is to look at age in a different way,” she told Independent Newspapers’ Cecilia Chan. “You can consider age not as the last step toward death, but as another step in life and make the best of it.”

That’s exactly how Baker feels. “If there is any question as to what a person can and is capable of doing in their last 10-30 years, just take a peek at this film,” he says. “This special time of your life can be some of the best the world has to offer…. I’m having so much fun!”

Ask him yourself just how much fun he is having. Baker will be here to answer audience questions before and after the screenings of the film.

--Anne M. DiTeodoro

PDF  Download Related PDF [1.3 MB]

Related Screenings:
04/04/19 @ 4:25 PM – Very Senior - Attitude is Everything
04/05/19 @ 11:40 AM – Very Senior - Attitude is Everything
04/06/19 @ 12:40 PM – Very Senior - Attitude is Everything

Permalink  [Permalink]

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:

about 6 hours ago   .   Reply   .   Retweet   .   Favorite

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!

about 6 hours ago   .   Link

CIFF on Instagram

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.

Posted by clefilmfest at 7:00 PM

Questions? >


Check out our FAQs for answers to common questions about entering the film festival.

Become A CIFF Member >

Become A CIFF Member

We have six different levels of membership to choose from, so find the one that best fits your film appetite!

Sign up for our email newsletter

  • facebook
  • twitter
  • instagram
  • youtube
  • flickr
  • alexa
  • foursquare



Sign up to receive news and updates


No thanks, maybe later.