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

Shaker Heights native returns home with first feature

April 05, 2019   |   posted by Lara Klaber in Filmmakers

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At 20 years old, Phil Kibbe dropped out of college and accepted an internship with the Cleveland Film Commission, the start of his budding film career.

Working as a production assistant on local independent films and commercials, he eventually bought his own camera to continue developing his videography and cinematography skills. After seeing some footage of F1D model planes in flight, Kibbe was inspired to begin shooting his first feature documentary, “Float.”

“My producer on the film, who ended up being one of the characters, used to fly those planes all throughout high school and started getting back into it in his late 20s,” recalls Kibbe. “Half of this film definitely belongs to him. Without him, there would be no ‘Float.’”

That producer was Ben Saks, a friend of Kibbe’s since he was 12 years old. At the time the two decided to team up, successful competition documentaries like “King of Con!” and “Spellbound” were released, a genre Kibbe absolutely loved and wanted to be part of.

“What inspired me was not only the beauty of the planes, but the obscurity of the characters,” Kibbe says. “To devote so much time and energy to something that no one has ever heard of and that reaps no material reward, I really wanted to learn more about them as much as the planes.”

The level of dedication these individuals had to pursue something so complex and intricate fascinated Kibbe. Yet, in front of the camera, these incredibly talented F1D pilots were far more interested in their craft and less invested in performing or entertaining for a feature-length film.

“For the most part, they were very reserved, very suspicious, calculated, measured individuals,” says Kibbe, “which makes perfect sense [because that’s] what the hobby requires.”

After nine years of interviewing F1D pilots from all around the world and learning how to create an educational narrative for the masses about this niche subject matter, Kibbe hopes this may encourage people to become involved. With rumors this particular artform is dying, the film might breathe some much-needed life into the sport.

“This activity provides a home for a group of people who may have a hard time fitting in,” says Kibbe. “Hopefully the film helps it survive a little longer.”

Kibbe, a freelance videographer in New York City, looks forward to returning home. Originally from Shaker Heights, Ohio, he couldn’t think of a better city to premiere his first feature film.

“It’s fantastic,” exclaims Kibbe. “This is the town I started in, I grew up in, and to get all my friends and family to come out and see it is so worth it to me.”

Amy Brown

PHOTO: As a teenager at the height of the 1990s, Director Phil Kibbe began immersing himself in the language of cinema, inspired by innovative directors of the time, like Wes Anderson, Sam Mendes, and Darren Aronofsky.

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Related Screenings:
04/05/19 @ 7:40 PM – Float
04/06/19 @ 5:30 PM – Float
04/07/19 @ 9:00 AM – Float

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Conversations about the Universe

April 04, 2019   |   posted by Lara Klaber in Filmmakers

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It’s probably fair to say not many modern films are inspired by books from the late 1600s. All it took to make one happen was a chance visit to a crumbling chateau outside of Paris for director Oliver Krimpas.

The chateau, which had been purchased by Krimpas’ oldest friend, had been the setting for Bernard Le Bovier de Fontenelle’s Conversations on the Plurality of Worlds, widely considered the first work of popular science. The book is a thinly fictionalized account of Fontenelle’s relationship with the lady of the house--five nights of flirtatious evening walks and discussions of the cosmos.

When a film Krimpas and his partner Jon Kiefer has been working on failed to materialize, the duo pursued a smaller production with only a few characters at a single location. What resulted was “Around the Sun,” which tells the story of a film location scout (Gethin Anthony of “Game of Thrones” fame) touring an aging chateau. Over the course of an afternoon, he falls for the owner’s representative (Cara Theobold of “Downtown Abbey”), who is recounting the story of a popular book whose story took place on the grounds.

Sounds like everyone’s favorite 17th century cosmic romance, no?

“(Kiefer) came up with various ideas for stories we could set there, but it wasn’t until he brought Fontenelle into the mix that it all seemed to gel,” Krimpas says. “And he very quickly wrote a draft that’s pretty close to what you’ll see on screen.”

The cosmic energy between Anthony and Theobold is the heart of the film, though the chateau serves as an almost character itself. Being surrounded by so much beauty at the chateau, Krimpas says, was “incredibly nourishing creatively and so stimulating to be around.”

“(Cara and Gethin) also had an enormous amount of dialogue to learn, so they were sequestered after each shoot day learning the following day’s lines,” Krimpas says. “So it really helps that they got on so well. There is great intimacy in the film, but it’s all conveyed by how they act in reaction to each other, rather than with each other, so we had to have a palpable sense of unrequited attraction. And boy did they pull that off.”

The Cleveland International Film Festival is hosting the world premiere for the film. As for what he hopes audiences get from the film, Krimpas has no expectations, only curiosities.

“What’s most interesting about a film is that you can never really tell what an audience will get from it,” Krimpas says. “Once it’s out there, it’s theirs. So what I’m really looking forward to is hearing what people bring to the film as much as what they take away from it. Or how their own experience allows them to see things in the film that I could never have imagined.”

– Timothy Magaw


PHOTO: British Director and Producer Oliver Krimpas, left, went to film school at Boston University. He is now based in London.

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Related Screenings:
04/04/19 @ 7:20 PM – Around the Sun
04/05/19 @ 11:55 AM – Around the Sun
04/06/19 @ 9:25 AM – Around the Sun

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Freedom of the Press. Or Not.

April 04, 2019   |   posted by Lara Klaber in Filmmakers

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Mike Diana’s twisted art might not be for the masses, but the lessons of his relentless fight to ensure he wasn’t silenced are relevant to us all–or at least anyone who values freedom of speech.

“Boiled Angels: The Trial of Mike Diana” recounts the story of an illustrator who was the first artist convicted of obscenity. His crime? Publishing what was considered an inappropriate comic book. The court found that Diana’s ultra-violent “Boiled Angels” series “lacked serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value.” It’s a timeless story, according to the film’s producer, Mike Hunchback, with continued relevance.

“One of the realities of human society is that there will always be these forces that arise wherein people band together out of being overwhelmed with seeing their preferred brand of morality collapsing,” Hunchback says. “They can't change the world, so they pick easy targets and rally to extinguish these minor, often irrelevant, fires. Awareness of this faulty human tendency is extremely important–[it’s] the mistakes we make when we forget that are the real obscenity.”

The film is narrated by Jello Biafra, the iconic front man of punk pioneers The Dead Kennedys, and a frequent target of the so-called moral majority. The first time Hunchback says he heard of Mike Diana was on one of Biafra’s spoken word albums–not long after Diana’s case started to leak into the mainstream.

“Boiled Angels,” though, isn’t just the story of Mike Diana. It’s explores the history of underground comics–and the people who cherish them, Hunchback says. In Hunchback’s view, Diana’s art is as comparable to Pasolini and Goya as it is to R. Crumb and GG Allin, two other iconic artists who tapped into the underground with their unique brands of gore and grit.

Hunchback’s hope? That this documentary inches us ever closer to a culture where such comparisons aren't shocking.

“As someone who finds a very serious value in Mike's art, I hope that people can see that this vision of a unified, hateful underground is false,” Hunchback says. “People that read Mike's comix, or listen to death metal, or watch nasty, disturbing horror films aren't bad people.”

– Timothy Magaw

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Related Screenings:
04/04/19 @ 8:50 PM – Boiled Angels: The Trial of Mike Diana
04/05/19 @ 4:50 PM – Boiled Angels: The Trial of Mike Diana
04/06/19 @ 2:30 PM – Boiled Angels: The Trial of Mike Diana

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Tracking the Magic of Technology

April 04, 2019   |   posted by Lara Klaber in Filmmakers

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When Sarah Kerruish filmed the initial footage for the documentary "General Magic," times were much different.

It was Silicon Valley in 1992, and she was tasked with documenting an under-the-radar startup that had spun out of Apple. Called General Magic, the company was motivated to not just transform, but invent, elements of communication technology.

The reality ended up unfortunately being much different. Although the company did develop cutting-edge software and an operating system, it closed in 2002. Still, in hindsight, Kerruish's early footage ended up being rather illuminating.

"Looking from face to face it was incredible to see the founders of eBay, LinkedIn, Android, and Nest sitting there," co-director Matt Maude says now. "Engineers and designers that now lead Samsung, Apple, Facebook, Google. Imagine one class at a high school and every single student going onto to change the lives of billions.

"It makes you think, what was in the special ingredients in this place that led to the technology we use today? What can we learn from this story?," he continues.

Those questions are central to "General Magic," which is built around Kerruish's archival film, which she amassed over the course of a few years. Her access was unparalleled and fruitful—"The engineers, designers and entrepreneurs who worked there, known as Magicians, became my friends, my family," she says. "I met my husband working there!"—and elevated the documentary.

"We couldn’t have made the film without the archival footage, and I think that’s what audiences have really responded to at other festivals," Maude says. "The footage allows audiences to really live at the company back in the 1990s, to really spend time living with the characters, discovering as they do."

Kerruish's idea on how to arrange and structure her footage was also crucial, he adds. "One of the great things about working with Sarah, and all the experience she brings, is that as soon as we started development she suggested that we script the documentary as if it’s a fiction film. It quickly became clear that the film was a three-act film. We built the documentary around that narrative spine."

Kerruish caught the Silicon Valley bug and still works there—in fact, she's currently the chief strategy officer of a med-tech startup—and her time in the trenches informs her thinking with the documentary.

"It wasn’t until I went through my own catastrophic failure in business did I begin to think about the role of failure in future success," she says. "I wanted to specifically understand its role in bringing big ideas to life. I knew this experience wasn’t unique to me and in many ways is a central part of creation. I also wanted people to understand the different contexts for failure."

Still, "General Magic" also captures a unique time in the internet's infancy, when possibility dominated all. "There’s a wonder in that creation time," Maude says. "It’s infectious. It makes each of the characters relatable. They are brilliant, but ordinary people doing something extra to create extraordinary things. The products we all use today to live our lives.

"By making 'General Magic,' I wanted to show the backstories, the earnest interaction and relatability of the people who have made the incredible technology we use today,” he continues. “It is when ordinary people do something extra that they create something extraordinary."

Annie Zaleski

PHOTO: Matt Maude and Sarah Kerruish have teamed up to bring us a revealing look back in time, to the beginnings of a medium that now dominates our ives.

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Related Screenings:
04/04/19 @ 11:50 AM – General Magic
04/05/19 @ 4:00 PM – General Magic
04/06/19 @ 7:10 PM – General Magic

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Sealed Lips and Iron Curtains: A Glimpse of a Forgotten Time

April 04, 2019   |   posted by Lara Klaber in Filmmakers

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For many Americans, Berlin conjures up images of the days, in November 1989, when the wall separating the two halves of the city was taken down by residents as the Cold War thawed. But most of us only have notional, half-formed ideas of what life on the eastern side of that wall was really like. For “Sealed Lips” producer Alexander Martens, it was home.

“Like (director) Bernd Böhlich, I grew up in East Berlin,” Martens says. “We weren't privileged or members of the Socialist Party--but I remember sunny childhood days and happy years with friends and classmates, my family. I will never forget the trips in the camper van through East Germany to the Black Sea in Bulgaria. There was always enough of the necessities and sometimes also bananas or western chocolate. It may sound strangely unreflected to an American, but I had a fulfilled and happy childhood and youth.”

The Wall came down, just as he was becoming aware of the constraints that it might put on his life. “After my graduation there was for me an education and no Abitur (qualifying exams),” he explains, “since my parents both came from (academia) and not from the working class. There I noticed the limits for the first time. The Wall fell when I was just 19 years old. Certainly [if it hadn’t], I would have gotten more problems.”

As Germany reunified, though, Martens noticed that Western perceptions about communism dominated the narratives of East German life that circulated. “After the fall of the Wall,” he recalls, “there was a time when East Germans preferred to hide with their stories. Especially when they weren't always about resistance.”

These stories still percolated up, and there are certain touchstones that Westerners might miss, but which Martens and others who lived behind the Iron Curtain can instantly recognize. One of those touchstones sparked the idea for “Sealed Lips.”

“Swetlana Schönfeld, who plays Antonia's mother in our film, was herself born in a Soviet gulag as the daughter of a communist imprisoned by Stalin's accomplices,” he reveals. “Approximately 10 years ago, I had read in her travel documents for another project: born in Workuta. I asked and she told an incredible story. After that Bernd Böhlich and I never let go of that story.”

Martens and Böhlich have collaborated several times, and it felt natural to work together again on “Sealed Lips.”

“I have been working with Bernd for almost 20 years,” he says. “I like his narrative style as an author very much. . . . The staging is free of effects, the content determines the form and not vice versa. The actors love it.”

Together, they have woven a riveting tale of life behind the iron curtain, both at its worst and at its best. He hopes that it will encourage audiences to ask a fundamental question: “What is the value of an idea that promises us justice and prosperity—but with exactly the same despicable means of the opponents?”

It’s a question that applies as much today as back then. “I am not a communist myself,” Martens says. “But there is hope for a reasonable social order with reasonable people. This will not succeed without a fundamental change in our social and ecological behavior.”

Lara Klaber

PDF  Download Related PDF [1.3 MB]

Related Screenings:
04/04/19 @ 7:05 PM – Sealed Lips
04/05/19 @ 2:15 PM – Sealed Lips
04/06/19 @ 11:50 AM – Sealed Lips

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