Four #CIFF44 filmmakers with Cleveland connections are ready for their closeup

Update: CIFF44 Streams takes place from April 15 to 28 at this website. The cost is $8 per film or $75 for an all-access pass. See Frequently Asked Questions here.
It’s been a rollercoaster month for filmmakers chosen to screen their work at this year’s Cleveland International Film Festival.

First, many of them proudly announced on their websites that their film is an “Official Selection” of #CIFF44. Then March 11, in a move that was not unexpected, the festival was canceled due to the coronavirus crisis. Then March 25, the festival announced that many of its films would be available in April for streaming to a public expected to shelter in place.

Details are still being worked out for the online version. But one thing is certain. Being a CIFF pick can be a major career boost for filmmakers trying to get noticed in this competitive industry.

We talked with four CIFF filmmakers with Cleveland connections. Their work may or may not be coming soon to a theater near you, but they are making strides in their chosen field.

Emmett GoodmanEmmett Goodman

Emmett Goodman became serious about filmmaking at age 16. His specific passion is in animation, which drew him in even before that.  

“Break Down” is the fourth film Goodman has directed. The four-minute animated short was made as a final project for his master's program at the School of Visual Arts in New York. He also wrote the screenplay. The inspiration stemmed from a personal fear. “It involves two characters trapped in an elevator, which is a minor issue that I have myself.”

He has exhibited at film festivals but says the Cleveland International Film Festival would have been his biggest yet. “I grew up in Shaker Heights, Ohio, and I knew of the Cleveland film festival. I had only ever gone to a couple of its screenings, but it was always like a goal for me to get my work shown back home in Cleveland.”

Goodman, who has also written articles on animation culture and has been published in ASIFA Magazine, hopes to see the animation and visual effects industry in Cleveland continue to grow and get as big as the city’s film industry. — Nicky Grusenmeyer

Hamoody JaafarHamoody Jaafar

“Basketball is my life. It’s a unifier that brings people from all aspects of life together,” says filmmaker Hamoody Jaafar while discussing his latest documentary, “Cleveland Cavaliers: Enter the Cavaliers.” Although he focuses on the history of basketball in Cleveland, Jaafar and Rory McHarg, creative director at Woodward Original, reveal how the Cavaliers’ story goes far beyond Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse.

Originally from Detroit, Jaafar is a first-generation American, and he found many similarities between himself and original Cavs owner Nick Mileti. Jaafar was shocked to find that many Clevelanders hadn’t heard of a man who’d accomplished so much for their city, and he structured the documentary in a way that contextualized his accomplishments.

“Mileti really changed Cleveland’s trajectory,” said Jaafar. “I hope people celebrate him more after watching the film.”

In total, it took five days to film the documentary, though the editing process took longer than expected. Since they were focusing on our city’s rich basketball history, both men wanted to find archival footage to match the narration of Mileti and former Cavaliers players. For b-roll footage, they visited local neighborhoods and spoke to children who used basketball as an outlet for emotion and have a passion for the sport.

“Enter the Cavaliers” would’ve been Jaafar’s second film to premiere at the CIFF, his first being “Detroit Diamond,” which came out in 2018. Despite the local connection his documentary already has, Jaafar was eager to present his film in Cleveland for its rich film culture.

“The people of Cleveland love film and respect it,” said Jaafar. “The hardships they have faced allow them to relate to people on a deeper level.”  — Dana Shugrue

Zach ChristyZach Christy

Zach Christy’s animated short “Calls for Archie” was inspired by his own life. As explained in his short, he received his first cellphone in 2003, and in the 17 years since, he has received hundreds of calls for a man named Archie.

“I made a short film last year that had gotten a fair amount of press and buzz, but it wasn’t personable to me,” he says. “So that’s why I decided to make this film. Honestly, I just wanted to make something that felt a little bit more connected to who I am as a person.”

Christy later discovered that Archie was a landlord, and their phone numbers have switched final digits.

Christy grew up in Cleveland and has a soft spot for the city, even though he moved away in 2016. He lives in Los Angeles now, but he’s glad to see that Cleveland is going through transformations to become bigger and greater.

Christy's first two submissions to the Cleveland International Film Festival were not accepted. “Calls for Archie” was his third try. “I was super excited. Even when I was making it, it wasn’t necessarily my goal to get into the Cleveland International Film Fest, but I was hoping that it was something that would happen along the way.” — Nicky Grusenmeyer

Kevin TaylorKevin Taylor

Before he made his mark in the film industry, producer-director Kevin Taylor was infatuated with music and how lyrics paint a picture for listeners. The more time he invested in lyric writing, the more interested the Cleveland native became in visual storytelling, which led him to film. He became successful too, as two of his films have been featured in the Cleveland International Film Festival. This year, his short film “Under a Watchful Eye” was set to premiere in Tower City.

His inspiration for the film came from playwright John Busser—Taylor attended one of his shows and was thoroughly impressed by a monologue scene between a daughter and her comatose father. After getting Busser’s permission to make a film adaptation of the scene, Taylor worked closely with him and made a few changes to the scene as he’d originally seen it.

“Busser originally had a white daughter and father act out the scene, but I wanted to add a different perspective,” Taylor says. “Instead, I hired a black mother, white father and mixed daughter for the scene, to add more of a dynamic.”

Taylor ran into several obstacles while filming, as all directors do. Since the entire scene takes place in a hospital room, he had to find a connection in the medical field. Eventually, one of his relatives found him a nursing home room to use. Additionally, his lead actress was set to move to California a few days into filming, so the Cleveland shoot moved at a rapid pace.

As with each film he creates, “Under a Watchful Eye” put Taylor to the test. “My biggest challenge was making a monologue interesting for 12 minutes,” he said. “But I think I was able to accomplish that.”   — Dana Shugrue