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

Children's Village Is the 'Real Deal'

April 05, 2018   |   posted by Lara Klaber in Filmmakers

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When Marvin Blunte first heard about Children’s Village, he had no interest in visiting it. He changed his mind and “decided to check it out because I had nothing better to do,” he says. “In truth, I really didn't want to go. I had no interest in any sort of orphanage.”

Much more than an orphanage, Blunte found out when he visited, it is a small democratic free school in Kanchanaburi, Thailand.

“It was the students that took control and taught me the ways of the village,” Blunte explains. “Children here have much more authority and it was obvious, though I didn't understand it at the time.”

During the first day of his visit, Blunte was taking photos while the children went off to class. “But one kept following me around,” he says. “I tried to make him go away, but he wouldn't leave my side.”

He later found out that his “little friend” was not simply skipping class, but was “studying” him, “because he was interested in my camera,” Blunte explains. One of the English-speaking adults from the village explained to him that Children's Village is a democratic school. That means students are allowed to choose what they want to study.

“That was when the light went off in my head and I knew I had to learn more,” he says. He spent two years researching the village for his film and also made a couple of lengthy visits during that time.

“I finally realized this place was the real deal, and it was a story I needed to tell,” Blunte says.

“6 Weeks to Mother’s Day” is Blunte’s finished piece. The documentary follows the students as they prepare a special celebration to honor Rajani Dhongchai, the school’s founder, who is affectionately called mother by all of the children. They will together be celebrating her 35th Mother’s Day at the school.

Blunte has 14 years of directing experience in television and film, including TLC’s “Miami Ink” and the Discovery Channel’s “Construction Intervention.”

Documentaries are his passion. Documentary film, he says, “is the most powerful form of storytelling because it is rooted in realism … there is nothing more engaging and relatable than watching a true story unfold in front of your eyes.”

—Anne M. DiTeodoro

Photo: Director Marvin Blunte first heard about Children’s Village from his colleague, Ladawan Sondak, who also ended up producing the film. Photo courtesy of Ladawan Sondak

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Related Screenings:
04/05/18 @ 7:00 PM – 6 Weeks to Mother's Day
04/06/18 @ 4:50 PM – 6 Weeks to Mother's Day
04/07/18 @ 5:25 PM – 6 Weeks to Mother's Day

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Need Advice? Just Ask the Sexpert

April 05, 2018   |   posted by Lara Klaber in Filmmakers

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Sex. We can’t say we’ve all talked about it, experienced it, thought about it, but many of us have. And when we have questions about it, who do we consult? Well a Sexpert, of course!

Dr. Mahinder Watsa is the feature character in “Ask the Sexpert,” a documentary film by Vaishali Sinha, that follows the 93-year-old sexologist who writes a daily column (Ask the Sexpert) in the Mumbai Mirror.

"Sex is a joyful thing," says Watsa, "but a number of writers tend to become rather medical and serious.” Watsa approaches his advice column with humor and honesty in order to educate his readers. He says, "I'm talking their language, they accept it better. The man talking to you is one of you."

It might sound sweet at first: an elderly gentleman answering sex questions; but as we learn from the film, conversation around the sex subject is very unusual in India. In a third of all Indian states, there is no sex education in schools. When the central government started the Adolescence Education Programme in 2007, “Thirteen states called for an immediate ban as they felt that comprehensive sexuality education was against the Indian culture. Little has changed in the last 10 years.” (Source: NDTV.com).

Dr. Watsa started his career in the 1950s as a gynecologist, obstetrician, and, believe it or not, a columnist. As he started receiving letters for his medical advice column at the magazine Trend, more and more women began writing to him about molestation and rape. "These women had no one to turn to, so they wrote to the magazine," Watsa told BBC.

His focus turned from medical advice to sex education and therapy in the 1970s. He estimates that he has answered over 40,000 questions, most seeking basic information.

Watsa continues educating his readers by answering letters, running a sexology clinic from his apartment, and is going global by taking over Twitter feeds, such as DurexIndia just yesterday.

“Ask the Sexpert” is a film focused on Dr. Watsa, and it is funny, honest, and educational. “All human beings are sexual,” says Dr. Watsa. “Learning about sexuality begins from a time a child is born, and continues until the end of life.”

—Molly Drake

Photo: “Ask the Sexpert,” a film directed by Vaishali Sinha, pictured, is a documentary about Dr. Mahinder Watsa, a 93-year-old sex advice columnist.

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Related Screenings:
04/05/18 @ 7:05 PM – Ask the Sexpert
04/06/18 @ 2:10 PM – Ask the Sexpert
04/08/18 @ 9:30 AM – Ask the Sexpert

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A Film that Plays Like an Album

April 05, 2018   |   posted by Lara Klaber in Filmmakers

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Southern rock and Lynyrd Skynryd are one and the same to most classic rock fans. But Stephen Kijak assures CIFF filmgoers who aren’t familiar with the band or don’t particularly care for its music that they will still enjoy “If I Leave Here Tomorrow: A Film About Lynyrd Skynyrd.”

Kijak is a fan. ”The first five studio albums and the one live album are extraordinary achievements in the history of American recorded music,” he says. “From songwriting to production, it is a near perfect run of albums.”

So when he was approached by Brian Philips, then-president of CMT cable television channel and a friend of the band, about making a film about them, he took the project on with gusto.

Besides filming interviews and rifling through old film footage and pictures, he dug deeper and uncovered “a lot of never-before-seen sources,” family albums, fan photos, and a recently discovered Super 8 movie of the band.

“It gives the film a real intimate and old-school vibe,” Kijak says.

Not a fan? This film still can hold your interest, assures Kijak. It’s much more than a film about sex, drugs, and rock and roll.

“It’s about music, it’s about America, the American South,” notes Kijak. “It’s the story of hard work and determination and great success cut down by great tragedy.

“I challenge any non-fan to see the film and not come away with a new appreciation for them,” he continues.

This is not Kijak’s first music-themeddocumentary: He’s also made films focused on The Rolling Stones; Backstreet Boys; electric bass legend Jaco Pastorius; and British-American pop icon Scott Walker. The latter, “Scott Walker—30 Century Man,” was executive produced by David Bowie.

After that, the music docs kept coming.

“I love music,” he says. “I love sharing it with people, turning people on to new (or old) sounds.”

Kijak himself is a drummer--a talent he finds useful not on the stage, but when he’s editing a film.

“It helps having the beat when you’re in the edit suite,” he notes. “The films have to play like a good album.”

Anne M. DiTeodoro

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Related Screenings:
04/05/18 @ 8:40 PM – If I Leave Here Tomorrow: A Film About Lynyrd Skynyrd
04/06/18 @ 4:20 PM – If I Leave Here Tomorrow: A Film About Lynyrd Skynyrd
04/07/18 @ 4:20 PM – If I Leave Here Tomorrow: A Film About Lynyrd Skynyrd

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Forgotten Footage Finds a Second Wind

April 05, 2018   |   posted by Lara Klaber in Filmmakers

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If there was ever a moment you felt those old, shaky home videos collecting dust in your basement were better off in the garbage, director and film archivist Steve Wystrach would beg to differ. “Never, EVER throw out film!” he proclaims. Wystrach’s first feature documentary, “Manry at Sea~In the Wake of a Dream,” about Robert Manry’s sailing voyage from Cape Cod to England, would have never seen the big screen had it not been for a fortunate rescue.

“It took me two years to locate [Manry’s] brother who was planning on throwing out Manry’s footage with the spring cleaning,” Wystrach recalls. “The footage would’ve been lost, and there wouldn’t have been a film. The following morning, there was a stack of pre-addressed FedEx envelopes on his doorstep.”

Manry, who graduated from Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio, and lived in Cleveland with his family for many years, was a former copy editor for Cleveland’s newspaper, The Plain Dealer (PD). He embarked on his solo sail in 1965, a 16mm camera in hand to capture footage from the open seas. Manry left the PD to write about his adventure. His book, Tinkerbelle, named after his sail boat, was published in 1966 and became a best seller.

“I was familiar with [Manry’s] book and read it for the third time in 1997 while I was preparing to sail a boat from Los Angeles to Hawaii’s Big Island,” says Wystrach. “His book was very inspiring and included an extensive appendix for sailors including a complete equipment list. When I noticed he kept a camera, bells started ringing.”

For two decades, Wystrach worked with Manry’s book editor, his two children, and siblings, and located archival news footage, old radio interviews, and a recording of a lecture Manry gave describing his entire voyage. Four years ago, Wystrach began working with a film editor to start piecing it all together.

“The fact that it took so long was a good thing,” says Wystrach. “Some footage I was only able to locate a year ago, which turned out to be key to the film for a much more interesting, entertaining, thorough story.”

And Cleveland audiences should be grateful for the wait. Wystrach hopes to bring recognition for Manry to his hometown roots.

“He’s become a forgotten character, and he’s certainly a local hero,” Wystrach says. “Most importantly, I want audiences to consider what he did and what he stands for to do whatever it takes to fulfill your dreams. Find a way to keep it alive, prepare for it, and do it.”

Amy Brown

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Related Screenings:
04/05/18 @ 6:15 PM – Manry at Sea ~ In the Wake of a Dream
04/06/18 @ 1:50 PM – Manry at Sea ~ In the Wake of a Dream
04/07/18 @ 9:35 AM – Manry at Sea ~ In the Wake of a Dream
04/14/18 @ 9:25 AM – Manry at Sea ~ In the Wake of a Dream

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The Creative behind the Curiosity

April 04, 2018   |   posted by Lara Klaber in The Daily

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This year, the Cleveland International Film Festival encourages patrons to ‘Embrace Curiosity.’

That’s according to Brittyn DeWerth, owner & creative director of Type Twenty Seven, the creative force behind CIFF 42’s marketing campaign.

“Maybe you will see something you did not anticipate,” she explains about this year’s theme.

Look at the posters, program guides, and other marketing materials. To some, a specific symbol pops out of the “dots.” To others, “what you see up close does not make sense until you look at it from a distance,” she says.

DeWerth and her team start planning for the next year during the current Festival. “Often we sit and sketch in the crowded theater as we wait for a film to start,” she says. “The energy is so contagious, it really promotes creativity.”

Type Twenty Seven works year round on a variety of Festival projects. August is when it really gears up with “figuring out the look and feel for the upcoming year.”

DeWerth has been working with the Festival in some capacity for more than 14 years, the last six as CIFF’s creative partner. The Type Twenty Seven team completes more than 2,800 pieces each and every year.

“We are incredibly fortunate to be involved with an organization who embraces creativity and is vested in each step of the process,” she says.

Anne M. DiTeodoro

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