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

Exploring the World of Extreme Travel

April 10, 2018   |   posted by Lara Klaber in Filmmakers


Although “Tripped Up” takes place mostly in Europe, its ties to Cleveland—and to the CIFF—are profound. Director Laura Watilo Blake is a long-time Festival alum and former Daily editor, cinematographer Bob Reiland is the driving force behind the Festival’s “Meet the Filmmakers” and “Daily Buzz” video programs, and Competitours founder Steve Belkin is the son of CIFF board member, and Belkin Productions co-founder, Jules Belkin.

Don’t think for a second that the film was a shoo-in because of family ties, though. “Tripped Up” is an extraordinary, riveting tale about an unconventional travel agency—billed as “an ‘Amazing Race’ for regular people” by the Chicago Tribune—that takes its customers on wild, whirlwind adventures across the world. Blake and Reiland accompanied a tour group in 2015 as they explored Europe, and their adventures are captured in the resulting film.

Blake was first introduced to Belkin by his mother, Fran, in 2009, shortly after he formed Competitours, and she wrote a piece about the company for a local magazine. Both of them are obsessed with traveling—Blake has been to 101 countries, at last count, and Belkin’s “travel hacking” has taken him all over the world—and she had been considering doing a video series about extreme travelers.

“I am constantly embracing curiosity by exploring the world,” she says, “and getting to know other cultures and places. I am interested in people and their stories, so I suppose that’s why I became a journalist. As you can imagine, it can be pretty costly to follow around these world adventurers.”

Then Fran approached her again in 2015 with the idea of filming a Competitours adventure. Blake decided that it would be “the perfect vehicle for getting to know Steve, his entrepreneurial endeavors, and his unorthodox approach to travel.”

She recruited Reiland early on. “Laura reached out to me to be another set of hands, and quickly it evolved into a full-on cinematographer role,” he says.

The two had known each other for several years at that point; Blake had begun managing the CIFF Media Hub in 2005, and Reiland came on board in 2011, initially to help edit the videos she was shooting and eventually to run the video production wing.

“We worked together for a couple years,” he recalls, “and we stayed good friends. We shot some stuff outside of [the Festival] to prove that we could work well together.”

When Blake reached out to Reiland in 2015, the timing was perfect; he was preparing to make the leap to full-time freelance videography. Traveling to Europe for a 12-day filming excursion took filmmaking to an entirely new level for him, most critically teaching him how to pack, and budget, for location work.

“It was very bare-bones filmmaking,” he explains, “essentially what I could fit into a carry-on. It’s also really expensive to just walk into the closest store in another country, and say, ‘I need a terabyte.’”

Lara Klaber

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Related Screenings:
04/10/18 @ 7:20 PM – Tripped Up
04/11/18 @ 2:00 PM – Tripped Up

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Awareness and Hope For An Industry in Crisis

April 09, 2018   |   posted by Lara Klaber in Filmmakers


If you’ve had a positive experience in the healthcare system of the United States, you’re one of the lucky ones. Medical errors rank as the third leading cause of death in the United States, just behind heart disease and cancer. Director Mike Eisenberg talks with The Daily about his film “To Err is Human,” an awareness-driven and hopeful documentary about an industry in crisis.

Q: How does it feel to be making the world premiere of your film to “Err is Human” at the Cleveland International Film Festival?

A: We are thrilled to premier in Cleveland. I spent 7 years in Ohio, so it’s a homecoming of sorts. If Ohio is the America’s heartland, Cleveland is the heartland of healthcare. Some of the best in the world come here to learn and practice medicine, but even the best make mistakes, so there’s no better place to launch the film.

Q. What is the motive behind this documentary?

A. There is no question that we are all at risk of these preventable errors in medicine. This documentary is not designed to scare you. Once we catch up with the current state of healthcare, “To Err Is Human” turns its focus on the hopeful story of one family’s transition into an empowered voice for patients, and showcases real-world efforts already underway to improve the care we all receive. The film provides every viewer with actual takeaways to bring into their own healthcare experience.

Q. What can we do about making a change in our system or in the quality of our healthcare?

A. Don’t leave it up to somebody else. For too long we have assumed the healthcare system will fix itself. While some are trying, they can’t do it alone. There is so much we can do as patients, from keeping tabs on how our clinicians wash their hands to bringing/being an advocate for people at the doctor’s office. It is up to us to show the healthcare system that we care.

Q. What do you hope CIFF audiences to learn from this film?

A. I want the audience to feel empowered with knowledge to protect themselves when the healthcare system does not. The audience will leave the theater with real talking points to share with family and friends, or to use themselves next time they receive care. You will know what to look for next time you are in a hospital and how to know beforehand whether that hospital is safe or not.

Molly Drake

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Related Screenings:
04/09/18 @ 11:35 AM – To Err Is Human
04/10/18 @ 5:00 PM – To Err Is Human
04/11/18 @ 7:00 PM – To Err Is Human

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Exploring Grandville from the Inside

April 09, 2018   |   posted by Lara Klaber in Festival Events


For Sasha Levinson, releasing “Welcome to Grandville” is a deeply personal experience.

“To have you watch this film is to have you visit my world,” she says. It’s fitting that, rather than using the traditional narrative form of film, she and her partner, Alexandre Lefebvre, have opted for an immersive, interactive format.

“Interactive media is something that I didn’t think too much about until I met my partner Alex,” Levinson admits. “I’ve always loved this idea of creating immersive worlds—that’s how I experienced movies as a kid, and what made me want to make them.”

“Welcome to Grandville” follows three generations of mothers and daughters as they struggle with the fallout of a suicide. For Pam, her husband’s death has forced her to return home and confront her past. Her daughter, Sydney, is struggling with the loss of her father and the onset of adolescence, while her mother, Georgia, is in the middle of a bitter mayoral reelection battle. In an ordinary film, these stories would play out in chunks, with many moments left on the cutting room floor and only referred to in passing by other characters. But visitors to the CIFF Perspectives screening, where “Welcome to Grandville” is being showcased, get to make their own editorial decisions.

Viewers will be able to choose which of the characters to follow, although at any point they will have the option of seeing what is happening to other characters at the same time. The choices they make, of what they see and what they don’t see, will shape the emotional tenor of the experience. The result is that every viewing of the story is unique, and no two repeat viewings will ever be quite the same.

Levinson began in short film, but quickly made a name for herself in the music video industry.

“Everything I’ve ever created has had some musical element to it,” she says. “Some piece of transformation that is incited by music and the human response to it. I think making music videos taught me how to be visual without relying on language, something I come to really love in film.”

While virtual reality, interactive media, and immersive media are still very new and finding their way, Levinson already has plans for it. “I don’t know what will happen next in the medium but I do know what I would like to do,” she says. “I’d like to create an episodic series based on Grandville in which we populate an entire town with a tapestry of drama and wonderful conflict and we give our audience keys to the town. Really, I want to take the concept of what we’ve done so far and do it on a much larger scale.”

So stop by Perspectives, and see if Grandville is a place in which you would like to spend time. No matter which way you go into it, you’re sure to see something new and surprising.

Lara Klaber

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Power Struggle: Nigeria's Fight to Keep the Lights On

April 09, 2018   |   posted by Lara Klaber in Filmmakers


A slow internet connection or a blinking microwave clock after a hard thunderstorm hardly seem relevant when considering only half of Nigeria’s population has access to electricity. After studying broadcast journalism and shifting into documentary filmmaking, director Shasha Nakhai unveils “Take Light,” a glimpse into the nation of her childhood where reliable energy is a luxury.

“I remember going into our backyard shed with a flashlight in the middle of the night to turn on our diesel generator,” Nakhai recalls. “I remember being fanned to sleep by my parents during week-long blackout periods. Power was very much a defining factor of life in Nigeria, even for a privileged oyibo [non-African] like me. The problem affected everyone, rich and poor, and it continued to affect me in ways I couldn’t even imagine, long after I moved to Canada at age 15.”

When Nakhai and her team set out to document the impacts of Nigeria’s energy crisis, they were introduced to Martins, a crew member of the country’s power distribution company.

“He had an honesty and radiance about him that made him very charming and funny,” says Nakhai. “But when it was time to work, he was very serious and dedicated while everyone else would be joking around. He just seemed like a genuinely good person, and that’s what drew us to him.”

As filming progressed, Martins felt more at ease having the film crew capture his day-to-day work mending dangerous power lines and facing frustrated residents. More challenges arose, however, with Nigeria’s bureaucracy and growing suspicions.

“Many communities in the Niger Delta have a strong distrust and curiosity in what foreigners are doing there, and justifiably so, given their history with colonialism, foreign non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and extractive industries,” Nakhai says.

“Getting over that initial distrust by taking the time to explain ourselves and diffusing hairy situations with humor was crucial to getting anything done, but it [was] also something that could be dangerous, and time-consuming.”

Despite these hurdles, the film reveals the humility, the character, and the sustained hope these residents have in their nation’s future. For many viewers, this may be a rare, yet refreshing, look at a people often misrepresented in America’s mainstream media.

“I hope this film helps to build bridges of understanding and helps CIFF audiences develop a more complex idea of Nigeria that pushes beyond tired tropes and stereotypes,” says Nakhai. “I also hope this film will spark conversations about the global transition to renewable energy.”

Amy Brown

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Related Screenings:
04/08/18 @ 11:25 AM – Take Light
04/09/18 @ 7:35 PM – Take Light

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Skills Picked Up Along the Way

April 08, 2018   |   posted by Lara Klaber in Filmmakers


Shaz Bennett has led a life every bit as colorful as RuPaul’s outfits. From working in a cannery in Alaska to bartending in a mafia bar, her life has been full of adventure. But it was a moment in New York City that gave her one of the first kernels of her new film, “Alaska is a Drag.”

“I performed in a drag sister act with a 7-foot-tall black drag queen,” she recalls. “Once, after a show, walking home dressed in matching fabulous outfits—we were attacked by two homophobic jerks. I’m a pacifist and a wimp and immediately cowered but my sister was fearless—she ran straight at them throwing hard punches and they ran away. She saved me. I asked her where she learned to fight like that and she said, ‘A girl picks up skills along the way.’”

That moment contributed to one of the many facets of Leo’s personality, as Bennett began exploring the complexities of gender and performance. It was something that had always been an issue for her.

“I wanted to explore gender and the labels of masculine and feminine—and why is one considered stronger or more powerful,” she explains. “Femininity is not a bad thing. A lot of the movie was coming from that. I wanted to explore the time in someone’s life where they don’t even know what their sexuality is, but people are defining them for how they present themselves on the outside. I grew up with four brothers, played basketball, and was more of a tomboy. I remember being told I was in the wrong bathroom when I was a kid.”

Even then, Bennett fought against the constraints people put on her. “I grew up a mutt in Salt Lake City, Utah. I felt trapped and dreamed of living in Paris in the 20s or ‘Paris Is Burning’—somewhere else.”

Working as a ticket taker at the Sundance Film Festival showed her the world that she wanted to be part of, but it would still be a long journey to get there. Along the way, she took an unexpected detour into Alaska.

“I fell for an ad that said you’ll make $50,000 in a summer,” she admits ruefully. “What I ended up doing was slicing and processing fish in a cannery, being paid minimum wage for a really horrible job. I think I responded to being in a small town that’s so gorgeous and beautiful and there’s such incredible ethereal beauty in landscape, but the people there can be unforgiving, and if you stand out in the crowd you can kind of be ‘other-ized.’”

That setting, Bennett realized, would be the perfect foil for a character like Leo, who is struggling for a more complex identity and careening between the hypermasculine world of boxing and the ultrafeminine world of drag.

“I’m drawn to and obsessed with the flamboyance and bravado of boxers and drag queens—they are the funhouse mirrors of each other,” she points out. “One is wholly female and the other wholly male—in a way that doesn’t always exist in real life.

“I love the power of drag—there’s great strength and energy in tapping into and subverting the norms.”

Lara Klaber

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Related Screenings:
04/07/18 @ 7:35 PM – Alaska is a Drag
04/08/18 @ 11:05 AM – Alaska is a Drag

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