Our CIFF48 picks: Two films with local connections

The 48th Cleveland International Film Festival (CIFF) gets underway at Playhouse Square next Wednesday, April 3 and runs through Saturday, April 13, followed by CIFF48 Streams online Sunday, April 14 through Sunday, April 21.  

The in-person Festival will showcase 137 feature films and 225 short films that represent 60 countries during its 11-day run, while CIFF48 Streams will present more than half of the Festival’s in-person feature films and almost the entire lineup of short films.

Tickets are on sale now for both the in-person and streaming films, so it’s time to narrow down your list.

The FreshWater Cleveland staff looked at all the spectacular films being show at CIFF48 and found two particular documentaries with a local flair that caught our attention: “What’s Next?” and “American Delivery.”

“What’s Next” follows 101-year-old Cleveland physician Howard Tucker and his grandson Austin Tucker and review the life and times of the neurologist, military veteran, and TikTok sensation.

In “American Delivery,”  The MetroHealth System is highlighted for their vital work addressing the country's maternal mortality epidemic and faculty with the Frances Payne Bolton School of Nursing at Case Western Reserve University served on the filmmakers' advisory team.

Still from the movie What's NextStill from the movie What's Next"What’s Next?"

Directed by Taylor Taglianetti and produced by Austin Tucker and Stephanie Troise Walter, along with Taglianetti, “What’s Next” follows Dr. Tucker and grandson Austin as the world’s oldest practicing doctor (as documented by the Guinness Book of World Records) approaches his 100th birthday—documenting the extraordinary life and career of a man who must adapt to the digital age, all while coming to terms with his own aging as the world around him tries to strip him of his independence.

“It's a celebration of my grandfather's life and his dedication to his patients,” says the younger Tucker. “I hope the film resonates with audiences and inspires others to live a meaningful life.”

Austin, who now lives in Brooklyn, New York and went to New York University, first got the idea to do a short film on his grandfather in 2020, during the pandemic, and approached his friend Taglianetti.

“I was witnessing my grandfather sneak out of his house during the pandemic to go practice medicine and treat his patients in the hospital,” he recalls. “And I was telling Taylor all about this, and it sort of clicked that maybe we should make a film.”

What started out as a short film project quickly evolved into a more in-depth documentary.  

Still from the movie What's NextStill from the movie What's Next“We soon realized that you can't do my grandfather's story justice in a short film format, that it needed to be a feature,” Austin recalls. “Every time we came back to Cleveland, something else would happen that would push the story along and it evolved right before our eyes. We witnessed my grandfather, my grandfather as well, evolve, and my relationship with him evolved throughout the course of filming, which was amazing for me.”

In hindsight, Austin says the experience was priceless. “I was personally thrilled to spend more time with him and have an opportunity, an excuse, to learn more about him and really understand his story,” he says.

Born in Cleveland, and a lifelong resident, Dr. Tucker spent 75 years treating patients at various Cleveland healthcare institutions. Austin says the exception was five or six years Dr. Tucker spent training at the Neurological Institute of New York and teaching at Columbia University.

“He would drive back and forth between Cleveland and New York because he was teaching at Western Reserve and teaching at Columbia at the same time,” says Austin. “And then he served during the Korean War—he was chief of neurology for the Atlantic Fleet. But other than that, his whole life has been in Cleveland.”

Austin says he learned a lot about his grandfather’s life, and a several life lessons, while filming “What’s Next?”

“My takeaway was on my grandfather’s approach toward leading a meaningful life,” he says. “He is someone that, at his age, doesn't like to be told he can't do something. He has this incredible curiosity about everything, he wants to understand everything.

“It's not just, ‘Austin, can you send this email for me?’ It's ‘Austin, can you teach me how to send an email so that I can do this on my own?’ And I got to see that firsthand throughout the filming of him just being curious.”

Austin says Dr. Tucker was interested in how the film was being made, why things were being done a certain way, and how everything worked.

Austin says he told his grandfather he could pursue a career in Hollywood when he’s done practicing medicine.

“He's lived through so many monumental events, historical moments in history, and to see him still pursuing what he loves to do at 100, and now101 years old, it was inspiring,” Austin says. “It made me put everything into perspective. My generation, we have a lot of craziness going on in the world but take a step back and just see how my grandfather processes the world around him and moves forward—that was my takeaway.”

What’s Next?” screens at the KeyBank State Theatre on Sunday, April 7 at 2:20 p.m. and Tuesday, April 9 at 2:25 p.m., and will be available during CIFF48 Streams.

American Delivery still - Asha and baby in TanzaniaAmerican Delivery still - Asha and baby in Tanzania“American Delivery”

More women die in childbirth In the United States than any other wealthy nation. With a mortality rate 10 times that of Europe (where prenatal and postpartum visits, universal healthcare, paid family leave, and nurse midwives attending most births are standards of maternal care), the U.S. must do better.

Directed by Carolyn Jones and produced by Lisa Frank, “American Delivery” showcases the dedication of healthcare professionals at The MetroHealth System in Cleveland, as well as nationally, who are working to improve maternal and infant health outcomes, especially among women of color, by directly engaging with the broken healthcare system and the mothers who fall through the cracks.

Carol Musil, dean of the Bolton School of Nursing and researcher, says she thinks this is an important issue to feature.

“Certainly any film that showcases nurses and is able to demonstrate the significant role that they play in the health of our nation is something to be applauded,” she says. “This film really looks at nursing from the perspective of meeting people where they are at—not just in terms of their physical and psychological needs, but literally in the places they inhabit.”

With Cleveland continuing to struggle with high infant mortality rates—especially among people of color—Musil says “American Delivery” is an important topic.

American Delivery still - Najwa's Baby at MetroHealth ClevelandAmerican Delivery still - Najwa's Baby at MetroHealth Cleveland“We're high in poverty, we're high in infant mortality, we're high in just wage disparities,” she says. “So there are a lot of factors that increase the risk. What you see [in “American Delivery”] is nurses, and not just in Cleveland, but nurses working with patients. You see patients preparing for labor and delivery, going through labor and delivery. You just see this real partnership that nurses create with women and their significant others to provide safe passage of this baby to the world—because that's really what it's all about.”

Musil points to the historical roots in nursing, in the sense of really working with and getting to know the people they help.

“Florence Nightingale, she used to go out to the battlefields, different areas of the city, and this is really what we're seeing here in this film,” she says. “It talks about nurses and shows the variety of things that nurses are able to do to help work with patients to help them have successful outcomes.”

Musil says she has not yet seen “American Delivery” in its entirety but is looking forward to it. She says that what she has seen has made an emotional impact.

“This film is so good, it'll bring tears to your eyes,” she says. “I’m excited that we are part of it, that the school of nursing had some role as a catalyst in the film.”

American Delivery” screens at the Mimi Ohio Theatre on Saturday, April 6 at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, April 7 at 9:45 a.m. and will be available during CIFF48 Streams.

Karin Connelly Rice
Karin Connelly Rice

About the Author: Karin Connelly Rice

Karin Connelly Rice enjoys telling people's stories, whether it's a promising startup or a life's passion. Over the past 20 years she has reported on the local business community for publications such as Inside Business and Cleveland Magazine. She was editor of the Rocky River/Lakewood edition of In the Neighborhood and was a reporter and photographer for the Amherst News-Times. At Fresh Water she enjoys telling the stories of Clevelanders who are shaping and embracing the business and research climate in Cleveland.