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

American Trauma, Through International Eyes

April 02, 2019   |   posted by Lara Klaber in Filmmakers

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“Stress” director Florian Baron has lived all over the world, but one of the surprising moments of culture shock came for him when he was living in, of all places, Pittsburgh.

“I lived as a visiting student in Pittsburgh for about a year,” he recalled in an interview for Germany’s Journalisten Akademie. “During this time, by chance, I met people of my age who were at war after 9/11. For me that was something surprising at first, something I had not expected. Until then, I always associated the term war veterans automatically with old men. I did not relate that to my generation at all.”

Much of the rest of the world may not understand the impact that 9/11 had on young Americans. It was something that he hadn’t understood until he began speaking with them. “These are people who grew up at the same time as me,” he observes. “They grew up with the same movies, the same music as me. Only then did they volunteer for the military at the age of 18, actually with the knowledge that they were going to war, and with this intention as well. This is a decision that is very strange to me, which I would never have made for myself.”

Baron started with a short documentary, “Joe Boots,” focusing on one veteran’s struggle to reintegrate into society, but realized that there was a much larger narrative that needed to be revealed. He put out calls, seeking out young veterans who, like Joe, wanted to discuss the trauma that they had brought back with them and their post-combat battles to get treatment.

The Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that roughly 11% to 20% of post-9/11 veterans suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. This number may be the tip of a very dark iceberg, however, because less than 50% of returning veterans who seek mental health services actually receive them, and approximately 20 veterans take their lives every day. In the wake of their service, which may have left them injured both in body and mind, our veterans often find themselves stigmatized and shunted to the margins.

Oddly enough, Baron found that many of the veterans he spoke to had an easier time opening up to him. “I and Johannes, the cameraman, come from Germany,” he points out. “We are not Americans who immediately classify all statements politically and have certain views. We were there out of genuine interest in [their stories].”

That approach, drawing out the stories of strangers, is at the heart of his filmmaking technique. “I find it most appealing to talk to other people, to get a glimpse into the lives of other people, which otherwise might be denied me,” he reflects. “I think for me, working on a documentary is also a way of jumping over one's own shadow or ignoring one's own prejudices and meeting people of fundamental interest.”

—Lara Klaber

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Related Screenings:
04/02/19 @ 8:55 PM – Stress
04/03/19 @ 6:20 PM – Stress
04/04/19 @ 2:20 PM – Stress

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Women are Making Themselves Heard . . . Finally

April 02, 2019   |   posted by Lara Klaber in Filmmakers

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When was the last time you saw a woman in a really strong leading role? If it was “Thelma and Louise,” the year was 1991. Times change, or do they?

Since the early days, Hollywood and the film industry are notoriously known as a male-dominated industry. Even today, actresses are not getting equal pay for their roles in films and stories of female directors being replaced with men on high-profile projects are rampant.

It’s just recently that woman have been speaking out on the issue.

Filmmaker Tom Donahue captures their stories in his latest feature documentary, “This Changes Everything.” He talks with actresses such as Geena Davis, Meryl Streep, Taraji P. Henson, and Cate Blanchett, about their experiences.

“We started by identifying the most vocal people on this issue and asking them for interviews,” says Donahue. “I knew within the first year of production that I wanted to tell the stories of Maria Giese [director] and Geena Davis [actress]. They both represented opposite sides of the same coin—Geena represented the struggle for greater equality in on-screen representation and Maria represented the struggle for equality in the workplace. It was this duality that would form the basis of the film’s structure.”

The film was a three-and-a-half-year journey, he says, and he makes it clear that he “was not hired by anyone to make the film,” but rather it was his independent production company—built on a reputation of featuring documentaries about social justice—that undertook the endeavor.

“We never go into a project with any sort of agenda,” he explains. “We approach our films as investigations.” His intent is to listen to each subject and then determine the best way to present the issues as well as potential solutions around a given topic.

More than 180 people were interviewed for his film. And he listened to each subject, created transcripts, found the best soundbytes, and created topic sequences. Eventually, he ended up with a “three-act structure” that editor Jasmin Way was able to build.

Along the way, he learned some disturbing information.

“I was probably most shocked by the stories of sexual harassment and abuse,” he says. “In 2015, a lot of those stories had not come out yet. I certainly knew these kinds of things happened but I did not know how prevalent and truly systemic they were.”

Anne M. DiTeodoro

PHOTO: After watching one of his films, filmmaker Tom Donahue considers it a success if somebody feels “what it’s like to walk in someone else’s shoes for 90 minutes.”

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Related Screenings:
04/02/19 @ 2:35 PM – This Changes Everything
04/03/19 @ 7:20 PM – This Changes Everything

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'Boys Will Be Boys' Is Not an Excuse

April 02, 2019   |   posted by Lara Klaber in Filmmakers

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Nancy Schwartzman has directed short documentary films, created the Circle of 6 mobile app (which has 350,000 users), and has presented internationally, including at the White House and United Nations. “My work over the past 10 years or more focused on the intersection of youth culture, technology, and sexuality,” she says. Her first feature-length documentary, “Roll Red Roll,” is her latest project.

The film covers the Steubenville, Ohio, rape case which made national headlines in 2012 when members of the high school football team assaulted a teenage girl in horrific fashion.

Schwartzman commented that what drew her to this particular case was “how social media influenced the telling of the story,” she says. “The availability of social media content really gave a window into how perpetrators and bystanders were treating [the situation].” The film goes into the heaps of evidence that were available regarding text messages and social media.

“Roll Red Roll” takes a different point of view. She notes that the focus is typically on the rape victim. “It all hinges and burdens the victim to tell her story, and we as the legal system and as the public are asked, ‘Do we believe this person?,’” she says.

Instead, Schwartzman focused on rape culture itself, the broader picture, and not just the perpetrators and victim. “With all the tweets talking about rape, joking about rape—‘Hey, did you see it,’ ‘Hey, we are going to do this’—it was so clear,” she remarks. “I had this really broad picture of not only how that night went down, but how the entire community and larger culture was accepting about that violence.”

The film fights against the “boys will be boys” mentality and the bystander effect—when people witness something, but do nothing to help. “We want people to take action from this film because what ‘Roll Red Roll’ lays bare is a callous, desensitized approach to sexual violence,” Schwartzman notes. “It’s letting it happen, seeing it, knowing about it, not doing anything, sharing, and laughing about it.”

Schwartzman did offer ways to fight back—starting with our local communities: schools, churches, teams, and friends. “We can all start with small steps, calling out the rape jokes, calling out the language, and taking it seriously,” she advises.

In spite of the difficult nature of her film, Schwartzman has a message of hope, change, and progress. She believes that our attitudes towards sexual assault can get better. “We can solve this,” she concludes. “This is not inevitable. This is not the way it has to be.”

W. Connor Drake

PHOTO: Nancy Schwartzman, a graduate of Columbia University, uses storytelling and technology to create safer communities for women and girls. Her Circle of 6 app helps young women get in quick contact with friends for help when a potential unsafe situation occurs.

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Related Screenings:
04/02/19 @ 7:15 PM – Roll Red Roll
04/03/19 @ 2:30 PM – Roll Red Roll

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Traveling to Tower City on Indians Opening Day

April 01, 2019   |   posted by Lara Klaber in Festival Events

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The Cleveland International Film Festival has completed its first weekend this year, and we still have a full week to go! As the work week starts up again, we thought it would be a good idea to alert festival-goers to some important things to keep in mind for the days ahead, especially today!

The Cleveland Indians are hosting their Home Opener today at 4:10 p.m. This means that, in addition to the usual business traffic that you are likely to encounter on a weekday, you will be dealing with an influx of baseball fans from the early afternoon onward. We have been told to expect Tower City’s parking to fill up by 10 am, and warned that Tower City’s nearby lots will likely fill up quickly as well. Please keep this in mind and plan accordingly, especially if you’re coming down for a movie this evening. Here are a few suggestions:

1. If you’re driving, give yourself extra time. Maybe a trip downtown normally only takes you 20 minutes, but the roads may be more congested and parking may take longer. You may also need to park further away than you’re accustomed to, so it may take longer for you to walk from your car to the theaters.

2. Have a few back-up plans for parking. Just in case the lot you normally park in is full, it’s a really good idea to have a plan of where else you can go. RTA has a great map of locations where you can park your car and then ride into Tower City in comfort. The Downtown Cleveland Alliance also provides parking information about areas somewhat away from Tower City.

3. Ride in on RTA! RTA tends to have added bus and train lines scheduled on game days, to accommodate the crowds. The blue, green, and red lines will all take you directly into Tower City. Plan on packed trains if you come that way, but it is definitely the easiest way to get to and from Tower City on game days.

4. Plan your exit strategy. Baseball games tend to last an average of three hours. That means that we should expect the Opener to let out sometime after 7:00 PM. If you’re leaving the cinemas around then, you will have a lot of heavy traffic to deal with. Check the CIFF schedule; there may be another movie starting around then that you could enjoy while you wait for the roads to clear. If that’s when you’re planning on arriving at Tower City, you’ll really want to make sure you have a plan in place; the roads may be clogged with the baseball crowd leaving downtown at the same time.

5. Plan for the next games, too! This is going to be a busy baseball week at Progressive Field, so here’s a quick glance at the Indians’ home schedule for the week:

  • Wednesday, April 3 – 1:10 p.m.– Chicago White Sox vs. Cleveland Indians
  • Thursday, April 4 – 6:10 p.m.– Toronto Blue Jays vs. Cleveland Indians
  • Friday, April 5 – 7:10 p.m.– Toronto Blue Jays vs. Cleveland Indians
  • Saturday, April 6 – 4:10 p.m.– Toronto Blue Jays vs. Cleveland Indians
  • Sunday, April 7 – 1:10 p.m.– Toronto Blue Jays vs. Cleveland Indians, and in addition,
  • Sunday, at 3:00 p.m.– San Antonio Spurs vs. Cleveland Cavaliers, Quicken Loans Arena

Don’t let any of that dissuade you from coming to join us! A little careful planning is all it takes to make sure that you don’t miss a beat. Indians and Cavs fans: if you don’t want to idle in your cars after the game, waiting to move a few feet every 10 minutes, we have a great lineup of evening films that can keep you entertained. Check out the CIFF schedule.

Enjoy the shows!

—Lara Klaber
Photo by Timothy Smith.

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Pain as Fuel to Do Something Good

April 01, 2019   |   posted by Lara Klaber in Filmmakers

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The United States, particularly Ohio, is all too familiar with the opioid epidemic. But as we focus on our own crisis and its devastating toll, it’s easy to forget that it runs much deeper in more fragile parts of the world. “Laila at the Bridge” serves as a window into modern-day Afghanistan—a war-torn country with the highest rate of opioid addiction in the world.

“We can’t pretend that this film represents the whole picture of Afghanistan—countries and societies are complex and no single film can claim to define them,” says Elizabeth Mirzaei, who directed the film with her Afghanistan-born husband, Gulistan. “But we hope that it offers an intimate glimpse into a world that many would never otherwise see and a greater understanding of one of the human—lesser known—costs of war.”

The film tells the story of Laila Haidari—known in Kabul as the “mother of addicts.” Every day, she ventures beneath an infamous bridge where scores of addicts get their fix. There, she gathers whomever she can to take them to an addiction center she founded. It’s the story of a woman who takes great risks—both personal and financial—to change her country for the better.

“I think that much of Laila’s determination comes from pain and suffering,” Mirzaei says. “She has survived much in her life—from child marriage to the pain her brother’s drug addiction caused her—to grow up as a refugee with very limited rights. She didn’t wallow in this pain; she transformed it into fuel to do something good.”

The opioid epidemics in the United States and Afghanistan, in many ways, are far different crises. The US epidemic, for example, is largely brought on by the over-prescription of legal opioids for physical pain. In Afghanistan, Mirzaei says, people have been traumatized by decades of war, which has led to the use of opium and heroin to try to lessen mental pain.

“Arguably, corruption played a role in both—whether from the pharmaceutical industry in the United States, or from officials in the Afghan government,” she says. “In both cases, ordinary citizens are the ones who suffer.”

Mirzaei moved to Afghanistan in 2007 as a volunteer photography instructor with AINA Photojournalism Institute. Gulistan, meanwhile, spent much of his life in Iran as a refugee but returned to Afghanistan following the fall of the Taliban in 2001 to work as assistant to the editor-in-chief at the country’s only independent newspaper.

Together, they’ve crafted a film that gives a voice to the voiceless and shows audiences that no matter the situation, struggle or circumstance, we can all work to make the world a more just place for society’s most vulnerable.

“I believe that Laila shows us how pain can be transformed into determination to do something good; how our sufferings or hardships don’t define us but can propel us to move forward and do great things,” Mirzaei says.

—Timothy Magaw

PHOTO: Husband-and-wife filmmakers Gulistan, left, and Elizabeth Mirzaei met when she moved to Kabul in 2007 as a volunteer photography instructor at AINA Photojournalism Institute.

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Related Screenings:
04/01/19 @ 1:50 PM – Laila at the Bridge
04/02/19 @ 6:50 PM – Laila at the Bridge
04/03/19 @ 9:20 AM – Laila at the Bridge

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