CIFF 2021 Recap

It’s been a couple of months since the Cleveland International Film Festival held their 2021 event. Again this year, all films were available through streaming; they should be back to live and in person beginning on March 30, 2022!

Beth, Mary and I were lucky enough to be able to attend the Film Festival, watching a total of 11 films all together, from around the world, including the film sponsored by Rocky River Public Library, For Madmen Only, directed by Heather Ross.

We chatted about all the movies we watched – you can check it out on our YouTube channel. We really enjoyed all the movies we picked, which is not always the case :).

Beth watched: A Perfectly Normal Family (Denmark, 2020), Games People Play (Finland, 2020), Spaceboy (Belgium, 2020) and Goodbye Soviet Union (Estonia, 2020).

Mary watched: Masha (Russia, 2020), Felicita (France, 2020 – available on Amazon Prime), The Tailor (Greece, 2020), and Amy Tan: Unintended Memoir (U.S., 2020 – available on PBS)

I watched: The Columnist (2019) and The Dog Who Wouldn’t Be Quiet (Argentina, 2020).

Don’t forget that you can find a lot of independent, CIFF-type movies on Kanopy and Hoopla. In fact, I’m sure you can find some past CIFF films there, too!

This summer, explore some some indie films – you’ll be glad you did!

~ Dori

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Before she was Helen

by Caroline B. Cooney

Clemmie Lakefield alias Helen Stephens has been living a lie for over 50 years. Helen is a semi-retired high school Latin teacher who lives in Sun City, South Carolina, a close-knit retirement community. Helen checks in on her recluse neighbor Dom Spesante daily. When Dom doesn’t answer his phone or reply to her text messages, she uses her emergency key to check his home. Helen notices another door in an unusual place that connects Dom’s home with his other neighbor. Of course, she checks it out and discovers an unusual glass sculpture. She sends a picture to her great-nephew who immediately posts it on the internet. The sculpture is stolen. Suddenly Helen becomes the target of a deadly drug dealer attempting to retrieve the sculpture and a large amount of cash. When a dead body is found in Dom’s garage, Helen fears her past life as Clemmie Lakefield may be uncovered as police investigate. Her past life dealt with the death of a favorite basketball coach at her high school.

A prolific author for young adults. This is her first adult novel which is full of twists and turns.

~Emma

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Have you heard that (Cleveland’s own) Paula McLain has a brand-new book out? You’ll want to place your hold for When the Stars Go Dark right now.

In this novel, Anna Hart, a missing persons detective in San Francisco, is very good at her job. Having suffered trauma as a teenager in foster care herself, Anna is an outspoken advocate for young girls in trouble. After a personal tragedy, Anna takes a break from her life and work in San Francisco and flees to her one-time home in Mendocino, California to regroup. There, she rents a cabin in the woods and reunites with her childhood friend, Will, who is now the local sheriff. When Will tells her about a series of missing local girls, Anna quickly becomes engrossed in the investigation.

Paula McLain is well-known and loved as an author of bestselling, meticulously-researched novels of historical fiction. When the Stars Go Dark is more of a suspense novel, though, and is inspired by the author’s own personal experiences with foster care and abuse. With well-drawn characters, many edge-of-your-seat moments, and a satisfying conclusion, McLain delivers a truly compelling read. Just try and put this one down!

What We’re Reading Now…

Ride the Pink Horse  by Dorothy B. Hughes

Senator Douglas left Sailor in Chicago facing the heat of a murder investigation and without the promised payoff. Determined to collect this owed money, Sailor follows the Senator out of Chicago to Sante Fe. Disembarking from a long bus trip, Sailor finds himself unexpectedly in the height of Fiesta and without a hotel room. Difficulties compound when Sailor realizes he’s not the only did Sailor come down from Chicago, but so did a homicide detective with an interest in both Sailor and the Senator. With Ride the Pink Horse, Hughes writes another beautiful noir and a psychological thriller ahead of its time. Trent 

The Kingdoms by Natasha Pulley 

An excellent speculative fiction alternate history set during the Napoleonic Wars, featuring a time travelling LGBTQ+ love story. Joe Tournier wakes up on a train station platform with no memory of who he is. It’s London, but everyone is speaking French. When he is given a postcard mailed a hundred years ago, Joe journeys to the lighthouse pictured on the card and is kidnapped through a portal into the past by a mysterious man. Comes out May 25! Shannon 

The Hollow Places by T. Kingfisher

An engaging dark fantasy inspired by Blackwood’s “The Willows”, a story that apparently terrified Lovecraft and clearly helped to birth the menacing and other worldly willows found in Kingfisher’s novel. The story follows recently divorced Kara as she moves into her Uncle Earl’s eclectic and odd Wonder Museum to escape having to live with her parents again. The Museum is a place near and dear to her heart and Kara is ready for a fresh start, but soon after her arrival an odd hole appears in a museum wall while Uncle Earl is away recovering from knee surgery. It soon becomes clear the hole is much more than a simple drywall puncture, but rather a portal leading to an impossible concrete bunker, which takes Kara and her neighbor Simon to an alternate dimension reminiscent of a nefarious Narnia, full of invisible monsters and a thinly veiled skin between one reality and the next. Nicole 

Homeland Elegies by Ayad Akhtar 

Listed as NYT’s 10 Best Books of 2020, I’m so glad I made the time to read this one.  The book blends fact with fiction, keeping the reader constantly wondering, am I reading a nonfiction book?  This is a very personal story about acceptance and marginalization in a nation greatly divided.  It’s also a coming-of-age story of a young American-born son of immigrant parents and the complexities of family.  The young narrator disagrees with his immigrant father, being a staunch American patriot and Trump supporter,  but quietly comes to terms with who his father is and a better understanding of the country he was born in.  Mary 

 A Swim in a Pond in the Rain: In Which Four Russians Give a Master Class on Writing, Reading, and Life by George Saunders

This work takes readers through seven classic Russian short stories. This is a technical, yet accessible examination of how fiction works and why it is important.  Beth 

 


American cosmic : UFOs, religions, technology by Diane Walsh Pasulka 

Pasulka, a professor of religious studies at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, writes about her research into the belief of UFOs and how it is shaped and developed through media and technology. Pasulka likens this to the creation of a new religion and belief structure. One of the main points that she brings up is that instances of this phenomenon are too numerous to not be studied, while also withholding a conclusion on what is occurring. The author presents her research in a narrative style, introducing us to researchers and academics who speak only anonymously due to the stigma of studying UFOs. An engaging book that peaks reader’s curiosity and allows them to draw their own conclusions. Greg 

The Venice Sketchbook by Rhys Bowen  

Spanning three decades in the early 20th century and skipping ahead to the 2000’s, this is mostly the story of Caroline’s great-aunt Lettie (Juliet). At 18, Juliet took a trip to Venice with her aunt where she met Leo. Ten years later art teacher Juliet is back in Venice chaperoning a high school trip when she encounters Leo again. Juliet is given the opportunity to study art in Venice for a year when she meets up with Leo who is now married. Their attraction is strong, and Juliet becomes pregnant.  Skip ahead to 2001 when on her deathbed Lettie bequeaths a box with drawings and 3 keys to Caroline. Caroline heads to Venice to discover the unknown history of Lettie’s life there. Great historical fiction for fans of Rhys Bowen.  Emma 

The Northern Spy by Flynn Berry

This novel is a riveting tale of two sisters in Northern Ireland. Although the IRA supposedly has been underground for decades, everyone in the small village of Greyabbey knows differently. Bomb threats, robberies, security checkpoints and raids have become a part of everyday life. Tess, a BBC producer and her sister, Marian, a paramedic, have never been particularly political, and have lived their whole lives in the same town, hoping for peace and an end to violence. Imagine Tessa’s shock while watching news coverage of a recent robbery involving the IRA, when she sees footage of her sister Marian pulling a black ski mask over her face. The police are convinced that Marian is a longtime IRA member, but Tessa just can’t reconcile this with her sister’s quiet single life, as a daughter, sister and beloved aunt and believes she has been brainwashed or coerced. Tess is determined to find out the truth and protect her sister, but how far is she willing to go in a deeply divided society where people face impossible choices? Sara

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It’s a wrap or so they say in show biz, for The Cleveland International Film Festival 2021. I had the pleasure of viewing 5 films offered during the Film fest, and greatly enjoyed them all.

For Madmen Only: the stories of Del Close

Synopsis:

“Even if you’ve never heard the name Del Close, you’ve undoubtedly seen the products of his teachings. The list of performers—including decades of SNL cast members from Belushi to Poehler—whom Del mentored in the ways of long-form improv is endless. Although he lives on through the generations of comedians inspired by his instruction at The Second City and iO, Del never got his moment in the spotlight. But Heather Ross’s lively documentary places the comedy guru front and center, chipping away at the myth to catch glimpses of the man. Always the eccentric, Del made clear he was more interested in “truth” than “fact.” His tall tales were the stuff of legend. Accenting Del’s life story with surreal cells from his semi-autobiographical DC comic series Wasteland, FOR MADMEN ONLY utilizes multiple modes—talking heads from those who knew him best, animated cutouts, archival recordings, and quirky reenactments—to paint a spirited portrait of a funnyman who reached both the heights of genius and depths of despair. ” CIFF

Amy Tan: Unintended Memoir Poster

Amy Tan: Unintended Memoir

Synopsis:

“AMY TAN: UNINTENDED MEMOIR is an intimate and candid profile examining the life and work of Amy Tan, famed author of The Joy Luck Club. Tan candidly describes her journey to become a writer, detailing traumatic childhood memories riddled with chaos, loss, and grief, as well as recounting the life experiences and people who shaped her. Similar memories and details are found in her works’ pages, cleverly tucked into her fictional worlds’ narratives describing universal family experiences. This distinct trait of her writing is reflected in the documentary’s structure. The film creatively weaves Tan’s interviews, public talks, film footage, narrated memoir readings, and animated memories into a cohesive and insightful portrait of this trailblazing writer. The late James Redford’s final film, this documentary is an intricate look at what shapes us, how truth can inform fictional work, and the cyclical and interconnected nature of an artist’s life and art.” CIFF

*This film will premiere on American Masters/PBS, May 3rd at 9pm.

Felicita

Synopsis:

“It’s the last day of summer vacation, and Tommy can’t wait for the first day of school tomorrow. Her parents promised to get her there on time this year. Being punctual for such an occasion doesn’t seem like a big ask for typical parents, but for Tim and Chloe life isn’t planned much further than the day’s next decision. Although the film takes place in a 24-hour period, audiences can assume no two days look alike for this unconventional but devoted family of three. With their whimsical spontaneity and unpredictable sense of humor, Tommy’s parents have their own methods of instilling life lessons in their young daughter. In every moment of the day, there is always a choice. To escape or be found. To witness or ignore. To live as your true self at the cost of being normal. Original, unexpected, and wildly entertaining, FELICITÀ is a comedy-drama-thriller triple threat. (In French with subtitles)CIFF

*This film is currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video

Tailor

Synopsis:

Shirt pressed, cufflinks fastened, and not a stray thread to be found. Nikos meticulously prepares for a busy day in his elderly father’s tailor shop that nobody visits. Times are changing in Athens, and the demand for expensive Italian suits has been replaced by faster, cheaper tastes in attire. When his father falls ill and the shop faces closure due to crippling debt, Nikos fashions a shop-on-wheels to peddle their fine wares to a more casual clientele. Parked among street vendors selling t-shirts, books, fish, and marmalade, Nikos decides to shift the shop’s current offerings to fulfill his passersby’s requests: custom wedding dresses. As Nikos reinvents the family business to serve these blushing brides, he welcomes the help of his neighbor Olga, who brings her sewing skills, womenswear knowledge, and companionship he didn’t know he was missing. THE TAILOR, in its sweet, quirky, elegant manner, will have audiences rooting for a shop that is determined to keep the sewing machine running and its wheels in motion. (In Greek with subtitles) CIFF

Masha

Synopsis:

“Everyone who meets 13-year-old Masha can’t help but love her. With her charm, unrestrained laughter, and a rather feisty streak, it’s not hard for her to light up a room. The young, natural performer dreams of one day becoming a jazz singer. But for now her chosen audience is her Uncle “Pops” and his band of gangsters who run their provincial Russian town. Daylighting as boxers, Masha happily spends her time with the young men whom she considers her best friends. However, by night, these friends are known to terrorize their community, killing and robbing at Pops’ behest. Being the apple of their eye, Masha receives attention and protection in abundance. As time goes on, the severity of her loved ones’ actions starts to sink in, but isn’t fully realized until it’s too late. Years later, Masha is grown up and thriving in Moscow as a singer. But will her success be enough to fend off the reemergence of her unstable past? In the gritty world of MASHA, to come-of-age is to escape with your life. (In Russian with subtitles)CIFF

Head to our YouTube page here and watch our interview with the director of For Madmen Only, Heather Ross, and a separate video of an impromptu discussion among staff sharing their reactions to the films they explored.

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If you like slow-burning, character-driven stories, pick up The Survivors by Jane Harper. This new mystery is set in Tasmania in the fictional coastal town of Evelyn Bay. 30-year-old Kieran and his young family have returned to help his parents move to a facility for help with Kieran’s dad’s advancing dementia.

Kieran hasn’t been home in twelve years, since the day a fateful storm. During that storm, Gabby, a fourteen-year-old girl, disappeared and was never found. That same day, Kieran’s brother Finn, and his friend, Toby drowned while attempting to rescue Kieran and his summer fling Olivia, Gabby’s sister. Kieran’s feelings of guilt about that day have kept him away.

The community of Evelyn Bay, fractured by the events of that long-ago storm, is a resentful bunch. Tensions are high when, on the night Kieran returns, a young woman is found dead on the same beach where Abby went missing. Could these crimes be connected?

Set against a backdrop of perilous cliffs and treacherous caverns, The Survivors is an evocative read. Read it for its surprises, intrigue, and plenty of suspicious characters with long-held grudges. Like the other Jane Harper mysteries I’ve read, The Survivors will keep you guessing until the end. Place your hold here.

-Carol

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The Consequences of Fear: A Maisie Dobbs Novel

by
Jacqueline Winspear

It’s 1941 when 12-year-old Freddie Hackett, a government message runner in London, witnesses a murder. Freddie and the killer soon meet when he delivers a message directly to the killer. Freddie reports the crime to the police but no body is found and the case is dismissed. Determined Freddie contacts Maisie Dobbs who takes his eyewitness account seriously. The killer has some unusual facial characteristics that Freddie can identify. In addition to her detective work, Maisie works for the “Special Operations Executive” helping to recruit and interview workers for the French resistance. Maisie’s American boyfriend, Mark Scott, also works for his government and is in and out of the story. He adores Maisie and Anna, the little girl she adopted.

These are fun books for those who enjoy light British mysteries. I heartily recommend reading all of them in order to get the background story of Maisie. her friends, and family.

Maisie Dobbs
   1. Maisie Dobbs (2003)
   2. Birds of a Feather (2004)
   3. Pardonable Lies (2005)
   4. Messenger of Truth (2006)
   5. An Incomplete Revenge (2008)
   6. Among the Mad (2009)
   7. The Mapping of Love and Death (2010)
   8. A Lesson in Secrets (2011)
   9. Elegy for Eddie (2012)
   10. Leaving Everything Most Loved (2013)
   11. A Dangerous Place (2015)
   12. Journey to Munich (2016)
   13. In This Grave Hour (2017)
   14. To Die but Once (2018)
   15. The American Agent (2019)
   16. The Consequences of Fear (2021)

~Emma