Documentaries show where women should go and men shouldn't

Cleveland-area filmmakers produced two of the documentaries showing at the 10th annual Chagrin Documentary Film Festival. Film students at St. Edward High School in Lakewood produced the award-winning documentary “Labyrinth.” Cleveland native Todd Thompson also returns to his home town to share a sneak-peek screening of his highly anticipated documentary, “Woman in Motion.”

More than 11,000 film buffs are expected to attend the festival, which runs Wednesday to Sunday, Oct. 2 to 6. It will screen 83 films from 37 countries in multiple venues around picturesque Chagrin Falls.

Changing the conversation

“How can our students address the topic of misogyny in film?” wondered Nicolas Kuhar, chairman of St. Edward High School’s Film Department. It was 2017, and allegations of sexual harassment and abuse were gaining fiery momentum in the news, through the social media movement #MeToo.  

This is an important topic because St. Edward is an all-male Catholic high school in the Holy Cross tradition, grades 9 to 12. Experiences in adolescent years can shape adult attitudes for a lifetime.

An idea crystallized for Kuhar after a close friend asked him, “How are you going to help your students empathize with this issue?”

Kuhar and staff discussed the possibilities. “Could students reframe the power of all the salacious content in the media with empathy for women’s perspectives?” Kuhar said. Staff and students agreed. Empathy became the lens of the young filmmakers’ documentary.

The International Baccalaureate film students produced “Labyrinth” in spring 2018, in partnership with the Cleveland Rape Crisis Center. The 22-minute documentary presents interviews of women navigating a maze of experiences involving misogyny, sexual harassment and assault, with lasting impact on their lives.

The film crew partnered with the Rape Crisis Center to better understand the issues women face. “The center helped the boys formulate the interview, using the right questions,” Kuhar says.

The crew planned to interview 17 women throughout Greater Cleveland about life in the challenging “labyrinth” they have to navigate, including in the workplace, saying “no,” after dark, exits, and in public settings like bars.

The Rape Crisis Center helped the youth find sources to interview. St. Edward’s film department partners with Cleveland organizations that help the students build skill sets in interviewing, audio, camera work and storytelling.

<span class="content-image-text">Chagrin Documentary Film Festival founder Mary Ann Ponce.</span>Chagrin Documentary Film Festival founder Mary Ann Ponce.Interviewers didn’t ask the women to recount traumatic experiences but rather to describe the lasting impact of the harassment or assault.

The student crew filmed only the eyes of the storytellers, not only to protect their identities but also to force the audience to make eye contact with the women as they told their stories.  

Kuhar and now the new chairwoman of the Film Department, Lydia Munnell, place a high priority on submitting student films to festivals. “We want our students to know that their work matters and their voices will be heard,” says Kuhar.   

“This is the voice of our next generation of filmmakers,” says festival founder Mary Ann Ponce. The documentary was directed by Malen Cuturic, Colin Donovan, Andre Holland, Sam Marshall, Brendan Ours, Kyle Sminchak, and James Welch. It won the award for Best Ohio Short at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

“Labyrinth” will screen Saturday, Oct. 5, at 3:15 p.m. in the Chagrin Falls Township Hall, 83 N. Main St. 440-247-8422.                                       

Gaining equal access to boldly go

Cleveland-born filmmaker Todd Thompson is returning to town to share a sneak peek of his highly anticipated film, “Woman in Motion,” and discuss the film industry in a panel discussion.

The story chronicles the life of actress Nichelle Nichols when she challenged NASA’s hiring practices in 1977 with the question, “Where are my people?” Nichols is well-known for her portrayal of the “Star Trek” character Lt. Nyota Uhura, communications officer aboard the multicultural crew of the starship Enterprise.  

<span class="content-image-text">Through Nichelle Nichols’ consulting firm, Women in Motion, she helped recruit 8,000 men and women for the Space Shuttle program, including the first women, African-Americans, Asians and other minorities.</span>Through Nichelle Nichols’ consulting firm, Women in Motion, she helped recruit 8,000 men and women for the Space Shuttle program, including the first women, African-Americans, Asians and other minorities.Through Nichols’ consulting firm, Women in Motion, she helped recruit 8,000 men and women for the Space Shuttle program, including the first women, African-Americans, Asians and other minorities. “This is the story about how Nichols changed our world for the better,” Thompson says.  

Thompson’s early passion for storytelling was launched by another science-fiction blockbuster decades before. “At the age of 7, I watched ‘Star Wars’ for the first time with my dad on a rainy, gray day in Parma,” says Thompson.  “I knew right then I wanted to become a filmmaker.” With help from friends and family, he began experimenting with his grandfather’s 8mm camera.  

He has more than 20 years of experience working with The Walt Disney Co. and other media companies, with a resume of award-winning films, including "Time & Again" starring Academy Award-nominee Seymour Cassel; "Once Not Far From Home"; "This Man's Life"; and "Amerigo," a personal homage to his grandfather.  

Thompson is a creative director, producer and writer based in Orlando, Florida. “My favorite role is storyteller,” he says. He is comfortable both in front of and behind the camera, involved in popular films such as "The Green Mile," "Rosewood," and "The Waterboy," and TV series such as "From The Earth to the Moon" and "Dawson's Creek."

“Woman In Motion” sold out three screenings at the recent 2019 Florida Film Festival. Roger Moore, Movie Nation film critic, gave the film three out of four stars.  

“'Woman in Motion' is a great American story with incredible global impact,” said Benjamin Crump, civil rights attorney and an executive producer of the film, in a press release. “Nichelle Nichols helped create the brighter future we are living in now–allowing all humankind to boldly go.”

“This is truly an inspiring story about what a strong woman can achieve,” says Ponce. “We are proud to present it. You can learn even more about this film and others through panel discussions, Q&A, and Meet & Greets at the festival.”

“Woman In Motion” will screen twice: Thursday, Oct. 3 at 5:15 p.m.; and Sunday, Oct. 6 at noon; at the CFIS Theater at Chagrin Falls Intermediate School, 65 Philomethian St. 440-893-7690.

The event will include a Q&A with the filmmakers. Director Thompson will also participate in a panel discussion, Industry Focus–The Changing Face of Documentary Film, on Saturday, Oct. 5, at 5 p.m. at Chagrin Falls Township Hall.

Cindy Hill
Cindy Hill

About the Author: Cindy Hill

Cindy Hill is a freelance writer based in Shaker Heights. She enjoys telling the stories of impact makers—the organizations and businesses that keep Cleveland at the forefront of innovation. For more than 22 years, she has produced award-winning curriculum, proposals, books, and articles, driven by her insatiable curiosity to find out “what’s next.”