three must-see films for clevelanders at the 2012 cle international film festival

Welcome to the 2012 Cleveland International Film Festival!

Associate Director, Patrick Shepherd, calls the festival one of Cleveland’s strongest cultural institutions. Creative Director Michael Raisler of Cinereach, a non-profit film funding organization, takes Shepherd’s sentiments a step further. “Having attended many of the world’s largest film festivals, including Berlin, Toronto and Cannes, I felt I had experienced everything a festival could offer,” he wrote to The Mandel Center For Nonprofit Organizations. “This preconception was shattered, however, upon recently participating in the Cleveland International Film Festival. I was blown away.”

This year’s festival is up to 318 films from 60 countries, ranging from documentary to feature-length drama. But the cinephile fun doesn’t stop there. “The film festival experience is enriched by the presence of over 150 filmmakers and other special guests,” Shepherd says. “The opportunity to interact with these guests adds to the vibrancy of the CIFF for our audience.”

Below are three films that will be of particular interest to Clevelanders. All documentaries, the flicks cover post-recession life of Detroit, Alcoholics Anonymous co-founder Bill Wilson, and what it means to be black in today’s society.

Filmmakers from the three films will be available after select screenings to answer questions from audience members. Each film is also partnering with a local Cleveland organization in “Lights! Camera! Action Steps!” Moviegoers will receive a fact sheet explaining how they can get involved and help alleviate the problems addressed in the film they’re watching right here in C-Town.


Directed by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady


Hollowed-out buildings sprinkled about a once great metropolis in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. Like it or not, this is how many see the Motor City and even our own beloved Forest City.

Detropia co-director Heidi Ewing explains, “Both cities have seen [their] share of steel and car production leave the state” along with steep population declines. But Ewing and her fellow filmmaker, Rachel Grady, didn’t set out to paint yet another gloom-and-doom narrative about the Rust Belt. But it is difficult to escape the stark realities of life in Detroit -- and painful similarities with many struggling neighborhoods of Cleveland -- as Ewing describes a scene in which they film Detroiters illegally dismantling a former Cadillac repair shop.  

While their situation is indeed dire, Ewing sees hope in the people of Detroit. “It's within each and every one of our subjects. It's in their intelligence, bravery, pluck, grit,” she says. “Nobody we filmed has any intention of leaving the city. That in and of itself speaks to a very deep, wonderful American optimism. These Detroiters are warriors.” And there’s no doubt in her mind that our respective cities will press on. “Both Cleveland and Detroit represent a new era for American cities.”

Most of all, Ewing hopes the film serves as a wake up call for the rest of the country. “It is indeed about the 99% versus the 1%,” proclaims Ewing, explaining this is a topic Detroiters have been discussing for years with the rest of the country just now catching up. “Detroit is the canary in the coal mine that is the United States.”

Saturday, March 31, 8:10 p.m.
Sunday, April 1, 3:00 p.m. (with FilmForum)

Bill W.

Directed by Kevin Hanlon and Dan Carracino


“Alcoholism affects so many people,” says Bill W. co-director Kevin Hanlon. "Whenever anyone asked Dan [Carracino, co-director] or me what the subject of the film was, almost without exception we would hear in reply, ‘Oh, I have a brother, or I have an aunt, or I have a friend, or I have a cousin who’s an alcoholic.’”

Hanlon and Carracino have seen the devastating effects of alcoholism on friends and loved ones first-hand. No doubt this disease has touched many Clevelanders as well. But there is a way out. Hanlon and Carracino can testify themselves to witnessing Alcoholic Anonymous’ ability to help people reclaim their lives. That and the fact that no documentary has ever been made on the life of AA co-founder William Griffith Wilson (aka Bill W.) served as inspiration to make their first foray into filmmaking.

Bill W. chronicles Wilson’s own struggles with alcoholism and his partnership with Dr. Bob Smith in Akron, where the two worked together to create a program that would help alcoholics cope with their disease. “Here was a man who at a time when there was virtually no hope for alcoholics, came to the very brink of dying from his addiction and then not only found a way to save his own life, but created a fellowship that has since saved the lives of millions of other people, too.”

Monday, March 26, 7:15 p.m. at Plaza Cinemas
Tuesday, March 27, 4:10 p.m. (with FilmForum)
Wednesday, March 28, 11:45 p.m.

Colour Me

Directed by Sherien Barsoum


“What does it mean to be black today?” That’s the question Director Sherien Barsoum sought to answer when she and cinematographer John A. Tran followed high school dropout turned motivational speaker Anthony McLean around Fletcher’s Meadow High School in Brampton, Ontario -- “a school with both a predominantly Black-Canadian population and an academic performance rate in the bottom 30 percent.”

Barsoum was drawn to McLean as a fellow youth worker for a number of years. “The struggles around identity Anthony faced as an adult were the very same struggles I watched my youth struggle with,” she says.

Identity indeed is a tricky beast, regardless of race. “Who am I?” might be the most frequently asked rhetorical question one poses to themselves in the mirror. And Barsoum wants Clevelanders take the task head on.

“I know that talking about race and ethnicity can make many people uncomfortable,” she acknowledges, adding “I believe Colour Me allows audiences to enter a safe space to think about where we all belong in the conversation around acceptance.” And that’s precisely what film festivals are for: showcasing films that challenge the viewer a wee bit more than Michael Bay’s latest orgy of robots.

“I hope viewers are challenged to find their story in Colour Me and that they walk away feeling empowered and challenged to reevaluate how they think about race and ethnicity. “

Saturday, March 24, 6:05 p.m.
Sunday, March 25, 12:50 p.m. (with FilmForum)
Monday, March 26, 12:20 p.m.

NOTE: Download the Cleveland International Film Festival App
(Available on iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad and Droid)

The CIFF app is now available for download, featuring a daily newsletter, easy links to film trailers and film festival locations with addresses that connect to Google Maps. The app also keeps track of late addition films, added screenings and a list of films on standby -- all of which you can't find in the printed Program Guide.

Joe Baur
Joe Baur

About the Author: Joe Baur

Joe Baur is an author, writer and filmmaker who has worked for a variety of local and national publications including Matador Network, Yahoo! Travel, National Geographic and BBC Travel. In addition to freelance writing, he is the author of Best Hikes Near Cleveland and director of numerous travelogues from across the globe. You'll currently find him working in Ciudad Colón, Costa Rica, because spending the first year of marriage where others vacation seemed like a good idea.