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

'Zero Weeks' Puts the Paid Leave Movement in the Spotlight

April 08, 2018   |   posted by Lara Klaber in Filmmakers


The U.S. has no federal paid leave policy—and, in 2016, only 14 percent of American private sector workers had access to paid family leave via their jobs.

For parents with a newborn or anyone needing to take time off to deal with health issues or take care of aging parents, this lack of flexibility can cause immense financial and personal stress. In the eyes of Ky Dickens, director of “Zero Weeks,” it doesn’t have to be this way.

Her compelling documentary advocates for paid leave by weaving commentary from legislators, activists, and policymakers with six stories from a variety of people affected by draconian policies.

One of these experts is Ellen Bravo, the co-director of Family Values @ Work, a network of coalitions working to pass paid family and medical leave policies in 27 states.

Dickens approached Bravo to appear in the film, as the latter has been fighting for better policies for decades. In fact, she was part of the movement that helped convince federal legislators to pass the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) in 1993.

Upon seeing “Zero Weeks,” Bravo was particularly touched by the stories Dickens included, which put a human face on the modern push for paid leave. “I wasn’t surprised at the reality she uncovered,” she says, “but I was overwhelmed with how many details she captured in such a short space, the love and humor and determination, and how she honored them all.”

Bravo—who grew up on Chelton Road on the edge of Shaker Heights—has seen the impact of “Zero Weeks” first-hand at screenings and post-film discussion panels set up by Family Values @ Work’s coalitions in state houses, places of worship, bookstores, and colleges.

“What I’ve heard over and over is, ‘It’s shameful to learn how much of an outlier the U.S. is.’ But this film gave me hope that we can change that,” says Bravo.

Indeed, although the statistics and stories can be sobering, Bravo too is optimistic that paid leave movement will eventually prevail—thanks in no small part to movies such as “Zero Weeks.”

“A film that helps us see the consequences of a problem—and lays out a common sense, effective way to solve it—is more than a work of art,” she adds. “It’s an instrument for change.”

Annie Zaleski

PDF  Download Related PDF [1.7 MB]

Related Screenings:
04/07/18 @ 1:30 PM – Zero Weeks
04/08/18 @ 7:00 PM – Zero Weeks

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Using Fantasy to Reveal Truth

April 08, 2018   |   posted by Lara Klaber in Filmmakers


When filmgoers enter the world of “Liyana,” they are entering two worlds at once.

Both a documentary and a fantasy adventure, “Liyana” straddles the conventions of both film genres, as filmmaking team Aaron and Amanda Kopp explore the lives of real orphans in Swaziland and animator Shofela Coker brings their fantasies to vibrant life.

The result is transcendent magic.

Aaron Kopp, who grew up in Swaziland, wanted to evoke the magical feeling that suffused his childhood. “I had many wonderful adventures,” he recalls.“I had some great teachers, and my imagination was allowed to run wild.”

He wanted to give something back, especially to those children who have to make their own magical moments in the way that the orphans must, by conjuring them from their own dreams. “The unique structure of ‘Liyana’ came from our curiosity about how it might be possible to share these children’s ideas and experiences with the world in a way that dignified and respected them,” he reflects.

Striking that balance wasn’t easy. “It took us a long time to get it to a place where we felt that it worked,” Amanda Kopp admits. “There was a lot of trial and error.”

She brought her extensive photographic experience to bear, using the visuals to unify the two narratives and blending her cinematography with Shofela Coker’s animation. “We were striving to make every frame look beautiful.”

The visuals are striking. Coker, the son of an art professor in Lagos, Nigeria, first drew international attention with his 2007 short film, “Oni Ise Owo,” and works with a wide variety of media and techniques. For “Liyana,” he blends naturalistic images with more stylized forms. “I’ve always worked with hybrid forms and techniques to evoke a specific storytelling mood,” he explains, “an attempt to unearth an impressionistic otherworldly-ness often in naturalistic settings. Which is why ‘Liyana’ was such a perfect fit for my sensibilities.”

The trio hopes that the resulting narrative will open up hearts and minds to a part of the world that is often reduced to stereotype and caricature—“a dangerous single story—not entirely untrue, just incomplete,” says Aaron Kopp. “I hope ‘Liyana’ gives audiences a more complicated, and truer vision of Africa and the people who live there.”

Coker agrees, “I hope the poetry the film possesses will inspire a more nuanced and authentic view of a child’s life in an often misconstrued part of the world—a continent I grew up in.”

In the end, they let the children themselves guide them. “Good stories have a will of their own. Our job is just to get out of the way, and try to keep up,” Amanda Kopp says. “A guiding principle through the process was just that we needed to make a film that the children in the film would be proud to watch.

“In this case,” she continues, “we trusted fiction to bring us truth in a way that a conventional documentary could not.”

Lara Klaber

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Related Screenings:
04/07/18 @ 2:00 PM – Liyana
04/08/18 @ 6:45 PM – Liyana
04/09/18 @ 9:30 AM – Liyana

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Evidence Matters: Healing and Justice for Sexual Assault Survivors

April 07, 2018   |   posted by Lara Klaber in Filmmakers


Director Trish Adlesic is no stranger to evoking tangible change through her documentary film projects. The Oscar-nominated Gasland, an exposé on the dangers of fracking which she produced, ultimately led to a ban on fracking in the state of New York. Now, in partnership with producer and Law & Order: SVU’s Mariska Hargitay, she’s taking on our nation’s rape kit backlog in “I Am Evidence.”

“When you hear about the rape kit backlog, it’s easy to get outraged and want to do something to fix it,” says Adlesic. “When 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men are affected by sexual assault, if it’s not you personally, it’s someone you love who’s affected by this.”

While the rape kit backlog has received some media attention as of late, progress has been dismal. Adlesic and Hargitay felt a film illustrating women’s powerful testimonies would help bring awareness to a wider audience and inspire changes to law enforcement protocols and legislation.

“We looked at Cleveland, Detroit, and Los Angeles at different stages of this issue,” Adlesic says, “and for me, survivor voices are the most important ones because they are the most affected and impacted by the way we handle this crime.”

Between survivors and law enforcement officials at the forefront of this issue, it was a priority for Adlesic to give as many people as possible the opportunity to be heard.

“One of the biggest challenges was what’s the best way to tell this story,” says Adlesic. “It’s a massive subject, it’s a national issue, there are many cases, many survivors, and many cities and states either dealing with it to some degree or not dealing with it at all.”

Fortunately for Cleveland, Adlesic gives the city high praise for its dedication to addressing these thousands of cold cases.

“The results are there, and they’re getting convictions, and they’re making Cleveland a safer place, and Ohio a safer place, and for the country, too, because perpetrators cross state lines.”

Ultimately, Adlesic hopes the film will promote better care for sexual assault survivors, educate audiences about what a rape kit is and how it is used, and shift the perception of how society views and handles sexual assault. Fourteen women were interviewed, four of which are featured in the film, and the healing process is already under way.

“They couldn’t believe the film was being made," says Adlesic. "They didn’t think anybody cared. By being interviewed and being cared for [with therapeutic services], it’s incredible the transformative effects just by being heard in the right way and given a fair exchange just through the making of the film.”

Adlesic encourages audiences to visit to learn how this issue is being handled in your community and how to be part of the solution.

Amy Brown

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Related Screenings:
04/07/18 @ 7:40 PM – I Am Evidence
04/08/18 @ 12:30 PM – I Am Evidence

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Christina Kallas: 'Still in Love' with Cinema

April 07, 2018   |   posted by Lara Klaber in Filmmakers


Christina Kallas grew up in Thessaloniki, Greece, next door to an open air film theater.

“As a kid I could see all the films from our balcony—mostly American films, mostly mainstream,” she says. “Later, as a teenager, I would skip school and go to a gritty arthouse film theater in the backstreets of the city—to avoid being caught by some teacher or a friend of my parents.”

It was in that “that gritty, mostly empty film theater” that she discovered cinema.

“And I fell in love with how it opened up my world and my senses, how it made me think and feel at the same time,” Kallas says. “I am still in love.”

And Kallas, director and screenwriter of “The Rainbow Experiment,” calls every part of filmmaking, “a magical process.” Although, she doesn’t deny that it can be very humbling.

“There are moments when you feel like you don’t know what you are doing or that you are stuck in chaos—that it will never make sense, that you will never get it right,” she says. “And then suddenly it opens up and you can see clearly.

“And the more you experiment, the more you dare, the more rewarding it is,” she continues.

She began her career in filmmaking as a writer and producer. She made six feature films and two TV series before she sat in that director’s chair. As a director, she says, she leans toward “very complex, multi-protagonist stories which require a great degree of storytelling maturity and craft.” She knows she may have taken the long way to get to where she’s at today, but knows that without her prior experience as a screenwriter was “instrumental in being able to structure the kind of stories she wants to tell as a director.

She also has a musical background and believes that was influential on the way she makes films. “I like approaching my films as music compositions,” she says. “Ultimately, story is structure.”

Kallas, a former president of the Federation of Screenwriters in Europe, doesn’t notice a difference in European or American opportunities for women filmmakers.

“It is the same disaster everywhere,” she says. “If there were a country where women were offered the same opportunities as men, we would all move there.”

She credits her move to New York a liberating decision. “I don’t know if I would have started to direct if I hadn’t moved to New York,” she says. “You do feel like you can do anything you want here. You don’t have the same sense in Europe.”

It’s in America, where she can say, “I am who I want to be, and I can do what I want to do—my version of the American dream.”

Anne M. DiTeodoro

Photo: The inspiration for Christina Kallas’ “Rainbow Experiment” came from an e-mail she received from her son's school. The note informed her that two kids were injured in class and had been sent to the hospital. “The e-mail did not mention any names, and for a moment there I panicked,” she says. Her first thought, “what if it is my kid?” She also thought about the other parents, teachers and principal, and so on. “It was a matter of a few seconds, and I had the whole cast of characters and their emotions in my head,” she says. “And I could feel all of them, all at the same time.”

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Related Screenings:
04/07/18 @ 9:30 PM – The Rainbow Experiment
04/08/18 @ 11:00 AM – The Rainbow Experiment

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Who, How, Why: School violence through the lens of the misunderstood

April 07, 2018   |   posted by Lara Klaber in Filmmakers


Coming-of-age stories transport audiences back to their own awkward, insecure hallways of junior high, but the stakes seem higher for today’s adolescents. An avid true crime reader, director Vincent Grashaw partnered with producer Rebecca Green to lift an all-too-relatable story from the pages of Jim Shepard’s novel, Project X, about students planning a school shooting in “And Then I Go.”

Those who have read the novel will see a similar narrative in the film with varied plotlines to serve the story on the screen.

“There were elements in the script that weren’t in the book, and there were elements in the book which we couldn’t fit into the script,” says Grashaw. “You do run the risk of losing some of that nuance when you trim it down, so my main goal was for that nuance to come through our actors. They blew us away, and I am very excited to see how their careers develop.”

While Grashaw initially felt this story’s theme had been told before, this particular point of view offered a unique perspective, one he felt was absolutely necessary to share.

“Even with elements of bullying, alienation, anxiety, depression, having access to guns, [and] questionable parenting, what really got me was how accurately [the story] captured the power of friendship at that age,” says Grashaw, “and also how devastating it can be when that friendship starts to deteriorate. I remember having a falling out with one of my best friends in school, and it was awful. At the age of 14, you’re not necessarily equipped with processing such intense emotions. And these emotions can consume you.”

With school violence sitting front and center in our nation today – and countless reasons from all directions as to why – this film looks through the eyes of the kids who are struggling, and challenges audiences of all ages to reevaluate their view – and role – in this issue.

“I think it is much scarier for parents to believe their kids can relate to a lot of the same issues of those who commit these horrible crimes,” Grashaw says. “What I do know is that it is easier to categorize someone as a monster or evil for the purpose of moving on or receiving a semblance of closure, but in doing that I don’t believe you can learn anything.”

Trying to make sense of motives, root out who or what is to blame, and find real solutions can be painful and complicated. The film dares viewers to embrace the discomfort of this topic our country’s children face every day.

“Sadly, these tragedies have made their way into the fabric of our youth over many years,” says Grashaw. “That said, we are in a strange time. There’s been a shift, and people are not shying from tackling these issues and having difficult conversations on the matter.”

Amy Brown

PDF  Download Related PDF [1.5 MB]

Related Screenings:
04/07/18 @ 9:45 PM – And Then I Go
04/08/18 @ 2:50 PM – And Then I Go

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