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

Sci-Fi, Yes, but with a Human Touch

April 04, 2019   |   posted by Lara Klaber in Filmmakers


The co-directors of “Freaks,” Adam B. Stein and Zachary Lipovsky, met 12 years ago as contestants on the television show “On the Lot,” “basically an American Idol-type show,” as Stein describes it. The two were collaborators and competitors for a million-dollar development deal at DreamWorks.

They separated after the show, but they continued to return to one another after, as Stein put it, “finding the nature of our collaboration very rewarding.” The two recently finished directing the big-budget Disney film, “Kim Possible,” which they worked on after finishing “Freaks.” Stein says, “We love working and collaborating because we can build on each other’s ideas and solve problems together.”

The skills, challenges, and camaraderie of their collaboration come to fruition in “Freaks.” Although the movie can be generally classified as a sci-fi thriller, it tends to meld and break genres. Part of the reason for this is that the movie is told from the perspective of a child played by Lexy Kolker.

Lipovsky elaborates, “When things are scary for her, the movie feels more like a horror movie and when she’s full of wonder, it starts to feel more like a Spielberg Amblin movie… so the mix of genres is motivated from her character journey.”

The film focuses on the relationship between father and daughter. Emile Hirsch plays the father, and the directors highly praise his work. “We wanted it to feel real, intimate, and character-based, so we knew the story would capture small moments of the family relationships and go deep on the emotions—that was more important to capture than a big sci-fi story,” Lipovsky says.

The film attracted two-time Oscar nominee Bruce Dern, who was 82 years old at the time of shooting. Stein remarks that Dern is always looking for “deep, grounded characters,” but has shied away from science fiction since “Silent Running” in 1972 because of its lack of depth in emotion. “But luckily Bruce saw something in our story that he wanted to sink his teeth into,” says Stein. “He really connected to the father-daughter story, because of his own relationship with his daughter.”

The focus is not on the science fiction, but on what the devices of the genre can reveal. Stein comments, “One of the things that makes science fiction so interesting is how it can hold up a mirror to our own world.”

“Freaks” has become more relevant in recent times. Without going into too much detail, Stein remarks, “When we were writing the movie, the idea that children could be torn away from their parents and detained by the government was science fiction; now a couple years later it’s happening in America.”

While the film investigates major issues, travels between genres, and has excellent characters, Stein and Lipovsky keep it grounded. “We were very focused on keeping it intimate and just see the impact on a single family,” Stein concludes.

W. Connor Drake

PHOTO: From left, Adam B. Stein, originally from Miami, Florida, graduated from Harvard University and the directing program at the USC School of Cinematic Arts. Zach Lipovsky, from Vancouver, Canada, started in the business as a child actor.

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Related Screenings:
04/04/19 @ 5:00 PM – Freaks
04/05/19 @ 11:30 PM – Freaks
04/07/19 @ 11:25 AM – Freaks

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Shining a Light into the Dark Side of Medicine

April 04, 2019   |   posted by Lara Klaber in Filmmakers


The media has a tendency to romanticize doctors. From “Doctor Kildare” and “Ben Casey” to “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Chicago Med,” and even “General Hospital,” we have been taking escapist journeys into the lives and dramas of medical professionals for years. But there’s a dark reality behind these glamorous stories, one that is killing both doctors and their patients, that “Do No Harm” director Robyn Symon wants to make sure we see.

“In 2014,” she recalls, “someone sent me an article about two young doctors who jumped from the roofs of their hospitals in New York City.” When she looked into the story further, she realized that the incidents were part of “a hidden epidemic that needs to be exposed and fixed.”

Symon comes from a family with many doctors, although her own path led tojournalism. After working as a TV reporter in Texas in the ’80s, she joined the production staff at PBS and has produced hundreds of shows, ranging from public affairs programs to documentaries and TV series. “Documentaries can take years to make,” she says, “so I choose subjects that will impact the widest audience and a topic where a film can have social impact, and perhaps contribute to solutions that make the world a safer place.”

As she dug into the story of the suicides, trying to figure out “the causes that would lead these brilliant young doctors to think that ending their lives was a logical solution to their problems,” she realized that their deaths were symptoms of “a toxic system that begins in medical school and then, when they become practicing physicians, they face a healthcare system that’s run more like an assembly line.”

That system, she realized, was killing patients as well as doctors. “Medical errors are the third leading cause of death in the US behind heart disease and cancer,” she points out. “One of the scariest discoveries was that . . . young doctors, residents, are working up to 28-hour shifts, taking care of patients when many studies show that after 16 hours the brain is not functioning normally.”

This system means that many new physicians are, “in a sense, set up to fail,” Symon says. And those failures are costly for all involved.

“One expert says ‘a night without sleep is like being legally drunk,’” she reveals. That level of impairment leads to errors that devastate patients, their families, and the doctors who begin to question their own competence and ability. Worse, the doctors have few resources to turn to. “The inability for physicians to get emotional help, because it could jeopardize their careers, leads to drug abuse and isolation.”

Symon hopes that her film can effect change for this broken system. “I would like audiences to . . . be more vigilant about the care you and loved ones are receiving. For physicians, this is a time to start talking openly about the bullying, the sleep deprivation—the corporatization of health care, and how we need to come together to ensure the highest standard of care. Do No Harm to doctors and patients.”

Lara Klaber

PHOTO: Robyn Symons is excited to hold the premiere of her film at the CIFF. “We hope physicians and patients will come to the screenings and engage in an open dialogue about the challenges we face in our health care system—and find pathways forward to make medicine more rewarding for our healers and safer for patients.”

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Related Screenings:
04/04/19 @ 7:25 PM – Do No Harm
04/05/19 @ 11:45 AM – Do No Harm
04/06/19 @ 1:45 PM – Do No Harm

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Her Big, Glam, Persian Wedding

April 03, 2019   |   posted by Lara Klaber in Filmmakers


When Sara Zandieh’s family and friends arrived at the L.A. Film Fest premiere of “Simple Wedding” at the Arclight, it almost looked as if they were there for an actual wedding.

“The premiere was wild and there was a big Persian audience,” Zandieh recalled in an interview with The Movable Fest. “When they show up, they show up glam. They were dressed to the nines and it did feel like a wedding.”

Or, maybe, a birth. “Simple Wedding” is Zandieh’s first feature-length film, and it has swiftly become a darling of the Festivals, revealing a strong comic knack and a brilliantly relatable story. “I just wanted to do my take on a romcom,” Zandieh remembers. She began six years ago, loosely basing the plot on elements of her own romantic life at the time. “I’m Iranian, and he was a progressive white guy from Vancouver, and we wanted to represent ourselves, because we felt it was fresh and new and something that we hadn’t seen before.”

Although the story initially started out deeply personal, she moved outward, incorporating the stories of friends and relatives to heighten the dramatic and comedic impact. “I started hearing stories of multicultural relationships,” she says, “and I talked to a lot of Persian cousins and friends who came from much more traditional families where if you’re 30 and not married, it was like the families are freaking out.”

In the process, her heroine’s family became far more conservative than her own, and reflective of the broader intercultural negotiations that many Iranian-Americans negotiate. Many of the families fled to the United States in the wake of the Iranian Revolution, aware that they were viewed as too western and secular by the new regime but determined to hang onto their unique cultural identities.

“A lot of the Iranians,” she explains, “are really adaptable and just trying to hold on to some semblance of tradition.”

In fact, she notes, in the film Nousha’s family doesn’t even bat an eye when her boyfriend Alex introduces his two fathers to them. Their sticking point is cohabitation before marriage. Nousha and Alex find themselves under pressure from both of their families to marry, even though they have only been dating for a few months.

According to The Movable Fest, Nousha’s character continued to evolve once Zandieh found and cast Tara Grammy to play her. She had gone to see Grammy perform onstage in her one-woman show, “Mahmoud.” That performance locked her in. “She’s brave and funny, and what I saw in that show is she cared about the same things that I cared about and the message of the movie, which was that love is greater than all of us and it goes beyond any cultural, religious, socioeconomic difference.”

While Zandieh was tailoring the role, even adding in Grammy’s brilliant Celine Dion impression, Grammy was watching her closely and taking on some of her mannerisms for Nousha. “She started playing me, essentially. . . . [One day] I told her, ‘I like your hair tie.’ And she’s like, ‘I know. It’s what you wear.’”

Lara Klaber

PHOTO: “I think that everybody can find their own emotional association with the film,” director Sara Zandieh says, “and I love that [it] can have such a multigenerational audience that appreciates it in their own way.”

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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

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'Loopers:' Not Just for Golf Fans

April 03, 2019   |   posted by Lara Klaber in Filmmakers


Behind every great golfer, there’s a great caddie.

The multi-dimensional relationship that forms on the links is unique in the world of sports and finally earns the exploration it always deserved in “Loopers: The Caddie’s Long Walk.” The film—narrated by comedy legend (and former caddie) Bill Murray—shifts the spotlight from the characters who dominate the fairways to their trusted advisers, confidantes, and oftentimes, lifelong friends.

“I always knew there was an employee-employer relationship, but many progress into more of a friendship,” says Jim Packer, the film’s executive producer, who has been with his caddie for 25 years. “What I felt came through in the movie is the passion of these caddies—it’s far more than just a job. Some people have been caddying for 40 years or more. It is their true passion in life.”

Bill Murray, who along with his brother, Brian Doyle-Murray, was responsible for perhaps the most iconic golf film ever made, “Caddyshack,” was the preferred choice to narrate the film. The Murray brothers grew up caddying at Indian Hill Club in Winnetka, Ill.

Renowned loopers, or golf caddies, like Steve Williams (Tiger Woods and Adam Scott) and Fanny Sunesson (Nick Faldo) naturally get their stories explored, but so do lesser-known characters, including Greg Puga, the Bel-Air Country Club caddie who qualified for the Masters tournament.

Renowned caddie master Mike Kiely of Canterbury Golf Club in Beachwood, Ohio, is also one of those loopers elevated to, as Packer describes it, their “rightful place” in sports lore. Over the last 50-plus years, Kiely has mentored and trained thousands in the art and science of caddying. Kiely was introduced to Packer by Michael Murphy, a native of Cleveland and president of Gravitas Ventures, a global entertainment distribution company.

The film, directed by Jason Baffa, traces the roots of caddying—a story that starts more than a century back ago in Scotland and Ireland before coming to the United States. It explores how the job evolved from a task delegated to those who worked at the bar or in the kitchen to the well-respected profession it is today. The narrative also weaves through some of the most iconic locales in the golf world—Augusta National Golf Club, Pebble Beach, and The Old Course at St. Andrews in Scotland, among others.

And it’s not just a film for golf fans, but anyone interested in the testament of the human spirit and the relationships that form among those with shared passions.

“The most misunderstood thing about caddies are that they just carry the bag,” Packer says. “What this movie does is show what really goes on between those two people.”

Timothy Magaw

PHOTO: Executive Producer Jim Packer loves the game of golf and knows that a caddie is much more than a silent sidekick to a golfer.

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Related Screenings:
04/03/19 @ 7:00 PM – Loopers: The Caddie's Long Walk
04/04/19 @ 5:20 PM – Loopers: The Caddie's Long Walk
04/05/19 @ 1:55 PM – Loopers: The Caddie's Long Walk

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A Producer's Quest to Bring Unique Voices Into the Light

April 02, 2019   |   posted by Lara Klaber in Filmmakers


Shrihari Sathe first met Bassam Jarbawi when they were both attending Columbia University. Although they graduated a year apart, they began working on their film, “Screwdriver,” almost immediately.

“From the initial treatment stage to premiere was eight years on this film,” Sathe told Dear Producer. “It’s the longest I have worked on any film.”

“Screwdriver” is a gritty drama about a young Palestinian man who, after being caught up in one of the waves of violence and reprisals and sent to prison, returns home to find that he’s now a stranger in his own land.

An accomplished producer who recently took home an Independent Spirit Award for his production work, Sathe is especially interested in drawing attention to “stories typically not being told in mainstream cinema or, in some cases, even in art house cinema.”

Although his productions have now spanned the globe, he’s most often drawn to a voice. “I’m primarily drawn to the screenplay, the content, and the filmmaker’s vision,” he says. “I don’t go out to seek a film from a particular country or a particular language. It’s mainly a director’s voice and what they want to tell about the current state of the human society.”

Jarbawi’s voice drew him immediately, although it took them some time to find the right angles to take. “We went through a few drafts and then we realized that he had to write from an insider’s perspective,” Sathe recalls. “He did the Rawi Screenwriters’ Lab in Jordan, and then moved back to Palestine, to Ramallah, to work on the screenplay. The script started changing because he was able to do a lot of research and do a lot of interviews within his community.”

While that insider’s voice gave the story new authenticity, it came with its own problems. “We couldn't take equipment into occupied Palestine and were not allowed to see other actors,” Jarbawi described in a recent interview. “David McFarlandour's entrance and exit from the country were problems even though he is our director of photography.”

For Sathe, the production headaches extended to funding. “In the U.S., it’s very hard to finance a non-English language film,” he explains. “‘Non-popular’ film languages are extremely difficult to get financing out of India because there’s no such traditional marketplace for them. Financiers don’t really have metrics to work in terms of recoupment or sales estimates. It is definitely challenging.”

Further, a film about the occupation of Palestine is, itself, a delicate prospect. As recent headlines have shown, critics of the Israeli policies, including the occupation, often run the risk of being labeled anti-Semitic. Putting together adequate financing was “challenging,” Sathe admits, “because the subject matter of the film itself is very challenging.”

Another roadblock is distribution, which can be tricky to line up. “Netflix is greatly reducing the amount of independent films they are buying in favor of original content,” he says. But he has a plan.

“I think we have to take a page from documentary filmmakers in terms of outreach,” he says. “I think the kind of films that I’m doing can benefit from that approach because they discuss social issues as the underlying themes of the film.”

Lara Klaber

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Related Screenings:
04/02/19 @ 7:20 PM – Screwdriver
04/04/19 @ 11:40 AM – Screwdriver

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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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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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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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